- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #1970
The situation in NSW is extremely serious. The Delta strain is far more infectious and deadly than earlier strains. Almost ten per cent of those who tested positive have been hospitalised. It is hitting young and old, including a sixteen-year-old in ICU, and at the time of writing there had been two COVID-linked deaths. The NSW government waited far too long to impose any form of lockdown and even then, it was not a hard lockdown.
It is a health, economic, and political crisis. Workers and their families have taken yet another hit. Many small businesses are on the brink. The federal government is still proving incapable of governing. The vaccine roll-out is shambolic. Messaging is confusing. Millions of dollars have been spent on advertisements to convince people to get vaccinated when the main barrier to being vaccinated is a lack of supply of an appropriate vaccine – a failing of the federal government. Dedicated, fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities are months away and only seen as complementary to, not a replacement for hotel quarantine.
The NSW government has not kept up with the spread of the virus, despite the herculean efforts of contact tracers. The virus has now spread to regional NSW and into Victoria.
There is a lag time of up of five or more days between a close contact spreading the virus and someone testing positive. Most worryingly, there are literally hundreds of people who tested positive in the past ten days who were in the community while infectious. The number is rising exponentially. With only twelve per cent of the adult population fully vaccinated and thirty-three per cent having had one dose, the country is ill-prepared and on the back foot.
The lockdown should have been swift and hard following the first cases as called for by medical experts because of highly infectious nature of the Delta strain. Instead, the government delayed any form of lockdown, and still, it is not hard enough. It is commonly referred to as a “Clayton’s” lockdown because of its inadequate nature. A harder lockdown would involve a 5km limit on travel, closure of all non-essential retail outlets and a curfew at night.
The NSW government sent in the police when the virus hit working class suburbs in south-west Sydney. This was not done when the cases were in the wealthier eastern suburbs. It should have directed its resources to a health response, improving communications, encouraging people to get vaccinated.
It is worth remembering that this outbreak started with one unimmunised limousine driver, apparently not wearing a mask, transporting flight crew. At the time, that was not contrary to health directives. A month later, there were more than 700 cases.
CONFUSION & DIVISIONS
The majority of cases are presently coming from south-west Sydney which has a large ethnic community. Shortcomings in communications did not help
The public has been told not to browse but to stay home except for a specified list of essential reasons such as performing essential work, shopping for food, health care, vaccination, and exercise. But major retail stores selling non-essential goods are permitted to and remain open at the time of writing. What constitutes essential work is left to the individual or their employer to decide. The health directives do not define who can and cannot go to work. This puts employers in a powerful position to pressure workers to do non-essential work.
The confusion and misinformation around COVID make the situation more difficult for the government. In NSW the cabinet is divided over whether to prioritise the economy and live with the virus or impose a lockdown. Treasurer Dominic Perrottet argued strongly against an extension of the lockdown when it was extended for another week on Friday 9th July. Fortunately, Berejiklian held firm and adopted the lockdown, albeit questionably not hard enough. The lockdown has now been extended another fortnight.
At the federal level, Queensland National Party Senator Matt Canavan demanded an end to the Sydney lockdown saying it did not “justify the cost” and that we should “learn to live with this [COVID].”
Nationals’ leader, Barnaby Joyce, has a let-it-rip approach. In an interview with NewsCorp, he said, “You have to learn to live with it.”
Clive Palmer continues to distribute his conspiracy theory leaflets and lies about the development of vaccines. The leaflets, falsely and dangerously, claim that 210 Australians died due to receiving a coronavirus vaccination and that fifty per cent of animals died during animal trials – claims that play to animal rights and anti-vaxxer groups.
From the very outset, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demonstrated complacency and incompetence in the handling of the pandemic. The roll-out of the vaccines has been and still is shambolic. Hotel quarantine has been a failure with the inevitable leakages from totally unsuitable facilities.
There is still no plan for an orderly roll-out to reach the most vulnerable. When the vaccination “program” was initially announced, it outlined a staged roll-out with Groups 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b and 3 to be followed in order.
Group 1a consists of quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability care staff. Group 1b includes elderly adults aged 70 years and over, aged care and disability residents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 55, younger adults with an underlying medical condition including those with the disability, and critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire emergency services, and meat processing. And so forth.
The roll-out failed to follow this strategy. Some priority groups remain largely unvaccinated. In most instances vaccines were not taken to people. For example, some workers in aged care centres received leftovers. The majority were left to their own devices. It meant taking time off work, possibly facing no pay if they were casuals and if laid low with side-effects experiencing a further loss of income. Less than a quarter of disability care workers are fully vaccinated.
Now, younger people may have the AstraZeneca vaccine, but are advised to consult their GP first. The government is keen to use the excess supply of AZ. The risk of blood clots is still very small compared with the risks associated with COVID. Around ten per cent of COVID patients suffer “long COVID” with illness continuing for months.
Unfortunately, the government put all its eggs in too few baskets. It knocked back an offer of many more Pfizer shots, has an oversupply of AstraZeneca, and its third option was the University of Queensland vaccine which never made it to roll-out. It should have ordered a wider range such as Moderna and Novavax. Now it is frantically playing catch-up.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT PACKAGE
Morrison told the media, “You do what works, it worked last time we are doing it again.” Except the government is not doing it again. JobKeeper has not been restored. The JobSeeker supplement has not been restored
Anyone in NSW who has lost 8-20 hours of work will be eligible for $375 a week, an increase of $50 on the existing disaster payment. For those who have lost more than twenty hours of work, the payment will be $600 – up from $500.
These sums are below the minimum wage of $772.60 per week for full-time workers. $600 hardly covers Sydney rental for a family, let alone $375. Sole parents, mostly women, casuals and those on low incomes will be hardest hit. It is just not good enough.
There is nothing for the unemployed.
“JobKeeper gave people job security and just enough support to get through. We know it works,” Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus said. “Instead of guaranteeing workers weekly pay and a connection to their jobs, workers now have to navigate Centrelink and hope their employers keep them on.”
There are payments for small to medium businesses of between $1,500 and $10,000 that have experienced a thirty per cent loss of income and retain their employees. The payments are part of a joint agreement with the NSW government. Other features of the package include payroll tax deferral, and rental moratoria for people who have lost a fifth of their income.
Delta is now the dominant strain hitting countries around the world. Some that have not received a single dose of vaccine. Only one per cent of people in low-income countries have had at least one dose. Globally, a quarter of the world’s population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (ourworldindata.org)
“The Delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in COVID-19 cases and death,” World Health Organisation (WHO) Secretary-General Adhanom Tedros said. He called on countries with many times the vaccines they could possibly use and the pharmaceutical companies to contribute vaccines to COVAX, the WHO’s central vaccine distribution agency set up to distribute vaccines to medium-low- and low-income countries.
But the EU, Canada, the US, and the UK are moving quickly to put in place deals with Pfizer for the years ahead. The EU has contracts for as many as 2.4 billion doses – more than five times the population to be covered. The Canadian government struck an agreement with Pfizer in April to buy up to 125 million doses of the company’s vaccine in 2022 and 2023, more than three times the country’s population. This hoarding is criminal when millions of people in low-income countries are still contracting COVID and hundreds of thousands are dying.
The NSW government should impose a hard lockdown to curb Delta before it spreads further.
The Communist Party of Australia is calling on the federal government to:
- Plan the vaccine roll-out, prioritising the remainder of Groups 1a and then 1b.
- Reinstate the JobSeeker supplement on a permanent basis
- Reinstate JobKeeper
- Ensure care workers have permanent, full-time, well paid work
- Start manufacturing mRNA vaccines in Australia
- Listen to and act on the advice of the epidemiologists
- Order a mix of vaccines
- Give people a choice of vaccines
- Contribute to COVAX
- Support the waiver of COVID patents at the World Trade Organisation
- Put people’s health before profits.
Footnote: The Grey Knights were out in force at the vaccination centre at Olympic Park where hundreds of people queued for a jab. Their free vaccine cost many of them a $270 parking fine!