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Issue #1913      May 4, 2020

A REFLECTION ON COVID-19 IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA

The COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in Wuhan in Hubei province in China where it infected over 80,000 people, before the Chinese government brought it under control. While there are still some new cases reported daily, most of these are from travellers returning to China from other countries to which it has now spread and, in a few cases, reaching levels exceeding those seen in China.

The COVID Clinic at Ainslie House on Murray Street, Perth. (Photo: Daniel Wilkins)

It has reached Australia, including the city of Perth, Western Australia, which recorded its first death from the virus on 1st March 2020 of a man brought home from the Japanese port of Yokohama where he was a passenger on the cruise liner, Diamond Princess. He died while being cared for in a special quarantine facility at Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital.

On 26th March, a second man died at the Joondalup Health Campus after having disembarked from the Celebrity Solstice cruise liner in Sydney earlier in the week.

On 3rd April, a German tourist died at the Joondalup Health Campus after being taken from the cruise liner, Artania, where he had tested positive while the ship was docked in the port of Fremantle. All were in their seventies.

In the time since COVID-19 was first brought into WA, the state government of Premier Mark McGowan has taken steps to control the spread of the disease. These steps included a vigorous campaign of education and information; controlling the movement of people into the state from overseas and other parts of Australia; and the implementation of “hard borders” within WA. The latter entailed setting up roadblocks and checkpoints on roads where they cross into other regions. People in one region cannot travel to another region without good cause, but freight and logistics can continue to move around the state.

Most people accept the social distancing and social gathering norms put into place, and they can be seen being practised in shopping centres, city malls, restaurants, cafes where people must queue (1.5 m apart) to enter the premises. Only a certain number of people may be in a store at any one time or in the case of cafes and the restaurants still open to buy takeaway only. However, many businesses could not continue to remain open under the new conditions, closing their businesses and laying off staff.

Schools and universities also closed although the impact was not so great on schools as they merely started their school holidays one week earlier. Universities and some high schools have also gone into online or virtual mode. By 28th April, schools had reopened. Some government departments were closed but not those deemed essential. I am a permanent public servant in one such agency and in this role I have till now continued to come to the office in the Central Business District of Perth.

I commute to work on a bicycle, and the changes I have seen take place as I travel to work and back every day have been palpable. I have seen the traffic diminish on the roads, the shops, cafes, and restaurants – especially in the nightlife district of Northbridge. Some parents decided to take their children out of school or early childhood education to protect them from the virus or because they were laid off from work or could work from home.

I live close to the flightpath of Perth airport and notice the volume of planes flying overhead has dropped off considerably. Less traffic on the main roads has created a stillness and almost silence from early evening into daybreak, punctuated by the occasional emergency services sirens.

On the news, I hear reports that emissions have slipped back to levels not seen since the 1990s. During the day, however, people are still walking around. Those who are confined to their house or encouraged to stay at home, are required to exercise to maintain robust health and fitness at this time to help stave off the virus should it be passed to them.

People’s social lives have moved online, and organised sport has been cancelled or postponed until many months into the future. In Perth, our biggest public participation event, the annual “12 KM Run for a Reason”, usually held at the end of May, was cancelled. The national men’s basketball finals series ended mid-stream, but sufficient games had been played between the Sydney Kings and the Perth Wildcats to enable the Wildcats to be declared the champions.

The AFL and Rugby League started to play games but then packed up, even though the AFL games were played in near-empty stadiums. Women’s netball never started, but they like all the professional sporting codes, are looking to the federal government’s rescue packages for support as they are workers like the rest of us.

With no sport to distract us, many people are hungry for information to stay in touch with the evolving pandemic. Many also look to our community, business, and government leaders to try to steer us through these difficult and challenging times. People around the world can see clearly which systems and leaders are coping well, just surviving, and which are failing badly.

Many people are thinking and saying the world will not be the same after the virus is contained, and neither should it. There is no reason to prop up the capitalist status quo to wait for the next crisis.

After this pandemic a new social and economic system is needed where people are put before profits. Sounds like socialism!

Next article – WHAT A MESS!

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