Covid, travel chaos and preventing carnage in WA

Covid, travel chaos and preventing carnage in WA

Terry Slevin

Another outbreak, borders closing, family Christmas ruined; like many people, I’m angry and upset.

Like tens of thousands of families with WA connections, the Sydney Covid-19 outbreak has exploded lots of our carefully laid plans at the end of a difficult and complex year.  Our twenty-six years in WA have left us with deep and lasting roots to the place and the people. My darling wife (the Boss) and I left Perth in mid 2018 when I took up my Canberra based job.

My son’s partner (they grew up in Perth and have been living in Melbourne) is in WA visiting her sick mother.  Her plan was to return to Melbourne, where the two of them have suffered the long lockdown with millions of Victorians, and then the two of them would fly to Newcastle for the big family gathering.  From there the two of them were to return to Melbourne and then set off for the drive to WA to start a year-long odyssey around Australia after first spending time with her WA family.

My daughter, working in Broome, was to fly to Perth then, as soon as the lockdown was lifted, had booked flights to join the family Christmas gathering. But due to the delicate balance of health in the Kimberley she took the decision to minimise risk to the people she works and so deferred those plans.

So, the mountain decided to go to Muhammad.  The boss and I booked to fly to Perth on New Year’s Eve to spend a precious week with our first born, who we have not been able to hug since February.

And now all that has turned to custard.

Are we devastated, upset, disappointed, even angry?  You bet.

Is the instinct to lash out and blame the people out in front of this decision? Of course -but only momentarily.

Instead – I thank and applaud them and that is because I get it.

I know they take no joy in announcing these hard measures.  But they are doing it for an obvious and extremely valid reason. A reason that has kept most of Western Australia safer than most people on the planet this year.

Currently about 245,000 cases of, and 3,600 deaths from Covid-19 are diagnosed in the USA PER DAY.  England? 25,000 cases and 600 deaths. Brazil? 70,000 cases and almost 1000 deaths. Germany, 32,000 cases, 900 deaths, and South Africa with 10,000 cases and around 200 deaths.  The list goes on.

These figures are a monumental human tragedy.

So, tough, unpopular and aggressively contested decisions have been and are being taken in our best interests.

And it has worked.

Australia’s covid19 toll has shocked us.  But our total exposure to this disease during this Annus horribilis is being surpassed in some countries in one day.

The Sydney cluster has grown from zero to 25 in less than 24 hours and the count will no doubt continue. This virus is so easily transmitted, mostly before the carrier knows they have it. It would take one or two to bring it to a family gathering and an outbreak could explode in an equally rapid manner in the towns and suburbs of WA.

So, let’s all take a deep breath. Let’s thank those behind-the-scenes public health workers for all the faceless tasks- reading and synthesising the evidence, doing the contact tracing, preparing the responses and information, keeping across the emerging science, briefing the decision makers, and in some cases taking the wrath of sad and frustrated people who just wish it would all go away.

And let’s acknowledge the leaders who make the tough but vital decisions that has been serving our island nation so well.

Let’s plan for a better, freer, safer and healthier 2021 – perhaps even a happier year.  And let’s invest in an even stronger public health system and workforce to continue the outstanding work of a trying year – because -like we have been relying on them – they are counting on us too.


Terry Slevin is the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, and is also Adjunct Professor in the School of Psychology at Curtin University and Adjunct Professor in the College of Health and Medicine at the Australian National University.

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