As Australians we’re known to be carefree and relaxed. Our “we’ll be right” attitude has endeared us to people all around the world and our sense of camaraderie has always been praise-worthy. But the sense of togetherness that was so ripe and heavy only a short time ago when, as a country, we faced raging bushfires, is noticeably missing now. Amid supermarket viciousness and fear prompted panic buying leaving our stores with depleted stocks of basic items, never has the word “only” felt so heart-wrenchingly callous. Hearing people say that corona virus is only a problem for the elderly, that it only has a mortality rate of between 3 per cent – 6 per cent, and that only the vulnerable are at risk, makes my blood boil and heart ache. If only they understood the impact of their words.
When scientists reported on the presence of a novel corona virus, they weren’t being creative with their naming of it, it was named novel coronavirus because it was a previously unknown type of coronavirus. The virus is new and therefore we don’t know a great deal about it. It’s new, so our communities haven’t developed herd immunity to it. It’s new, so we have no vaccine against it. It’s new, so we don’t really know how to treat it effectively. This virus is novel and like anything new, there is much we need to learn about it and there are many unknowns.
There are however many things we do know about the virus. Things like which subsets of the population are most vulnerable to its effects. We know that the elderly are at a particularly high risk of becoming very sick if they contract it. But it’s not just the elderly that are vulnerable here. People with underlying chronic health conditions are also more susceptible, as are those who are immunocompromised. We’re talking about people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. We’re talking about people that have just finished a round of chemotherapy or are in the midst of their cancer treatment. We’re talking about people who are recovering from major surgery. We’re talking about your grandma, your best friend, your neighbour, your parent, you. As always, the danger of seeing people as a percentage is that you don’t really see the person at all. And every person matters.
Sure, the measures that are currently in place are inconvenient and less than ideal. But this issue is bigger than each of us as individuals. Sometimes sacrifices need to be made to protect our most vulnerable. It’s a small ask really. And so before you tell me that Australia’s reaction to Covid-19 is extreme and unnecessary, just think about our hospitals. Consider that they are the busiest of workplaces and will struggle to cope with an influx of Covid-19 cases. Reflect on the level of health care that we expect in this country and what it will mean if that is compromised because our health system is over stretched and brought to its knees. The implications are far wider reaching than only that particularly vulnerable cross-section of the population. The implications of a health system inundated and stressed impact all of us. We can prevent what’s happening in Europe right now if we, each of us, take a few simple steps.
The message from the WHO and from our Government is clear, our best defence against this virus is good personal hygiene. Frequent hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds and the use of hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available are advised. But of course, all the hand washing in the world won’t save us if people that are unwell spread the virus within the community. Social distancing is key. Don’t go out if you’re unwell. Cover your mouth and your nose when you cough or sneeze. We need to unite in our shared desire to prevent this virus taking hold of our country. And we need to do it for each other. The Australian spirit is being called upon because we all matter.
This article was first published on Neos Kosmos