Anna Nicholson and Bronwyn Carter
Victorians have faced another rough week. For many in public health, our early optimism and pride for our State’s cautious approach to easing restrictions has been replaced with fatigue. Our enthusiastic discussions about opportunities for reform in early education, social support, local supply chains and active transport have been displaced, to a degree, by practical and immediate needs for our families, our workplaces, and our communities.
We watch the numbers closely and try not to make too much of the fluctuations in counts from day to day. We clock the cumulative case count and ICU admissions with concern. We feel compassion for our Chief Health Officers, as they modify the restrictions to reflect the current, rapidly evolving evidence on a virus that is (by nature) always a few steps ahead. As we listen to stories of missed or delayed notifications and a mounting tally of cases from an unknown source, our hearts sink for our contact tracers, who are under such immense strain. Our frustration that 1 in 4 people in isolation are not home when checks are conducted is tempered by our awareness that this behaviour is not simply disregard. It’s all pretty tiring, even from the periphery.
We understand some things could have been done better, if we were able to wind back the clock. However, this is not the time for accusations and blame. That discourse fuels fear and distrust in an already anxious population, at a time when community trust and compassion is paramount.
Of course more can be done to strengthen this trust, particularly with those communities and settings that have been hardest hit. However, it will be much harder to engender that trust without a clear demonstration of public solidarity.
Things will continue to be difficult for many Australians for some time yet.
But here’s something to celebrate. A Burnet study published in the MJA earlier this week found that between 9,000 and 37,000 cases were averted last month, when new restrictions came into effect in metropolitan areas.
Perhaps the flattening of the curve is slower than we were hoping for. Of course we would like to return to single digits and open borders. But there is cause to be optimistic, and to feel grateful to live in a nation where evidence and experts are guiding the way.
To our Victorian members – please be kind to yourselves. PHAA Vic Branch has partnered with VicHealth and other health promotion peaks to compile the Health Promotion Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Hub, which includes this page on mental wellbeing for workplaces. You can also access Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus support service on 1800 512 348, where you can access trained counsellors 24/7.
Image credit: William West AFP
Anna Nicholson is the President of PHAA’s Victoria Branch and is a public health practitioner from regional Victoria. Anna has a background in public health research, policy and program evaluation, and systems interventions for chronic disease prevention. Anna completed a PhD in public health at Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin in 2016.
Bronwyn Carter is the Vice President of PHAA’s Victoria Branch and is a public health academic working in teaching and research associate roles and a consultant academic editor. Bronwyn completed a Master of Public Health with La Trobe University in 2010. She has a background in public health research and project management with particular interests in policy, chronic disease prevention, youth wellbeing and mental health prevention.