Australia’s reckless response to the coronavirus | Red flag
As Victoria entered a seven-day lockdown to contain a rapidly growing group of another hotel quarantine leak, Scott Morrison put on his best ‘fatherly’ tone of voice. He praised the “unwavering resilience of the Australian people”, as well as all those who have worked in the “many rings of containment” which “protect Australians from the virus”.
We need to be clear that Morrison’s main contribution to these “many rings of containment” has been attempting to destroy them. His government constant attacks on Victoria’s long lockdown last year would have cost countless lives had it been factored in. More recently, as the federal election approached, Morrison had to adjust to the political reality that blockades to prevent mass deaths were popular. However, his government has so far refused to grant economic aid, such as JobKeeper and the additional allowances for job seekers, needed to help workers get through them.
There is also the federal rollout of the vaccine in Australia, handed over to private contractors under a veil of “trade with confidence”. secret. These entrepreneurs went through procedures that left many GPs supposed to administer the vaccine bewildered– and without vaccines. The government has responded to criticism by appointing Commodore Eric Young of the Royal Australian Navy as the leading figure in vaccine distribution. It’s a classic Scott Morrison move: if you can’t actually to be well you can at least try to see decisive by designating a guy in military uniform alongside the Minister of Health during press conferences, while he stammers his non-answers.
And there is the absolute failure of the federal government to build a functioning quarantine system, essential to keeping the virus at bay in Australia. The Australian government spends well over $ 1 billion a year to hold a few hundred refugees in offshore detention, subjecting people who pose no threat to torture from indefinite prison. Still, he failed to build a single facility to prevent a once-in-a-century deadly pandemic from entering the country.
Barbed wire and racism are worth the money, it seems. Protecting the lives of ordinary people, not so much. Without a doubt, there’s also Morrison’s cynical calculation that it’s politically better to allow state governments to take the heat when hotel quarantine goes down.
There has been a series of such failures. They are in part the result of a privatized model of service delivery that has become unchallenged orthodoxy for Liberal and Labor governments. Famously, the Andrews Labor government initially gave the task of securing quarantine hotels to night flight security companies notoriously for their underpayments, which gave their contracted staff training in almost zero health and safety. The second wave of Victoria is the result of this approach.
At least as serious an issue is the inability of federal and state governments over the past year to build quarantine facilities to suit their needs. Victoria is now paying the price for this failure.
The current outbreak started in a quarantine hotel in Adelaide. According to a report from the South Australian Department of Health, on May 3, a COVID-positive person at the Playford Hotel opened their door, picked up food from the hallway and closed their door. Eighteen seconds later, a 30-year-old Melbourne man living on the same floor did the same. Later in the day, the same streak unfolded, with a twelve-minute gap between opening and closing the two doors.
That’s all it took for the Melbourne man to be infected. He returned home to the northern Melbourne suburbs the next day. Since then, the virus, which spread through such a fleeting air transfer in a hotel corridor, has spread to workplaces, gymnasiums, sports fields, cafes, pubs and nightclubs in Melbourne, more than 150 exhibition venues in total.
It’s yet another, potentially deadly, reminder of the critical need to take airborne transmission of the coronavirus seriously, especially in a quarantine hotel. And it’s a reminder of the urgent need to build more facilities similar to the old construction camp used for quarantine at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. At Howard Springs, accommodation is in self-contained demountable huts that do not share a closed hallway or air conditioning system. For this reason, aerosol transmission is much more unlikely. The Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction in Australia that has not had a serious hotel quarantine violation.
Official recognition of airborne transmission has been slow and reluctant in Australia and elsewhere. Indeed, it is relatively inexpensive to pay someone minimum wage to wipe a rag on a hard surface, while taking the role of airborne transmission seriously means a total and costly overhaul of air conditioning and ventilation systems. .
Victoria was no exception to this reluctance to take airborne spread seriously and follow the consequences. It wasn’t until early May of this year – fourteen months after the first lockdown – that Acting Prime Minister James Merlino said: âThe best time to start an alternate quarantine was twelve months ago, the next best time is now â. Which begs the question: if the best time to build a facility was twelve months ago, what has the Victorian government done in the meantime, when the federal government has refused to lift a finger?
Although a role for airborne transmission was recognized by Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Brett Sutton last year, the movement towards a workable solution for it has been criminally slow. A five-day Melbourne-wide lockdown was triggered in February when a cluster of 22 cases spread from staff at the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel, likely due to poor ventilation and a failure to provide suitable masks. Incredibly, according to the Australian Medical Association, the Victorian government did not conduct a ventilation audit at the Holiday Inn or many similar establishments until they became quarantine hotels.
This slowness in recognizing and acting on airborne transmission costs lives and health. Taking the threat seriously will cost money. The Victorian government is currently negotiating with the federal government to fund a new Howard Springs-style quarantine facility on the outskirts of Melbourne for between $ 200 million and $ 700 million. It will probably be completed when the entire population is finally vaccinated. But better late than never.
A range of things now seem to be working much better than last year – over 50,000 tests per day can be done (although often after waiting times of up to five hours) and contact tracing appears to be more. sophisticated, after the government relied on privatized and outsourced contractors and inefficient software for most of the past year. However, the overall response over the past 12 months has been hampered because the state government was woefully ill-prepared in all aspects of dealing with a severe outbreak.
the Age reported that the government was repeatedly told in 2019 that the state’s public health unit was the least resourced in the country, one source saying: âBasically six nurses and a few team leaders had to put in place all of the case management, outbreak management and contacts find groups, train all new people, request physical space, computers … correct all mistakes made by new people â.
The shortcomings are not just a hangover from previous Liberal governments. Andrews, a former health minister, has been prime minister for over six years. During this period, Victoria’s health and hospital systems remained extremely stressed. Unions have gained a few steps forward on wages and classifications in public sector company agreements, but the âlean productionâ model introduced in the 1990s remains intact.
As a result, Victorian health departments and hospitals were as overwhelmed as others across the country during last year’s COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath, with multiple media reports detailing charges unmanageable workloads for staff and unsafe waiting times for patients.
It’s not like the money isn’t there for public health (and to support workers during a lockdown, for that matter). The first day of the Victorian lockdown coincided with the publication of the annual Rich 200 list in the Australian Financial Review. The total wealth of Australia’s richest 200 today stands at $ 479.6 billion, an increase of $ 137 billion in wealth since the last rich 200 list before the pandemic, in May 2019. The ten people Melbourne’s richest increased their wealth by $ 6.6 billion in just six months.
Reorienting this staggering wealth to fund vital services would be one of the central pillars of a socialist response to the pandemic. Using the company’s enormous resources to build health and quarantine facilities would enable repatriation flights and medical aid to people in the region and around the world. Ending privatized services and building government-owned facilities, under the control of the workers who operate them, would be a huge step forward.
Scott Morrison and his gang will always prioritize profits and “business as usual” over human life. Labor has failed to challenge these priorities in practice, as evidenced by its delay in tackling the spread of aerosols, its inability to build quarantine facilities quickly, and its timid approach to taxing the rich for pay what is needed. In contrast, a socialist response to the COVID crisis involves workers, in healthcare and beyond, organizing and mobilizing to pressure governments to break with the status quo and spend what which is necessary to preserve life and health.