During the pandemic

Today I read an excellent article in The Age by Kirstin Ferguson about leadership. She talked about the importance of the heart in leadership, which really resonated with me. Unfortunately, she also made an error which is all too easy to make, and alarmingly common. Indeed, she made it three times: She referred to the Coronavirus Pandemic in the past tense. “During the pandemic I remember…”

To be fair, Kirstin did not say it was over, but the implication was strong. By referring to the pandemic in the past tense (and I’ve caught myself doing it more than once), we encourage the kind of health carelessness that we cannot afford. At a recent gathering I heard smart people say “It’s just the flu, really” or “the flu is worse”. Unfortunately, this is a myth. Long covid affects around 10% of covid sufferers. Professor Brendan Crabb of the Burnett Institute last week repeated the alarming message that your risk of getting long covid is the same each time you catch covid – so the fact that you had covid once and did not get long covid does not mean you won’t get long covid next time. Or the time after. Or the time after that. Even if it feels like just a cold, it could be doing catastrophic damage to your body.

We also have very little idea, yet, of the long term damage covid can do in addition to long covid. We know that it can take a terrible toll on the heart, lungs, and brain, and we know that the risk of various diseases increases after catching covid, but it will be years before we understand the full implications. In Richard Denniss’s article in the latest edition of the Monthly, he quoted this terrifying statistic from the ABS: last year there were TWENTY THOUSAND more deaths than we would usually expect in Australia. As Richard says, “largely due to the fact that people who have had COVID tend to die more quickly of the other diseases they have.”

Speaking as a person with other diseases, this is terrifying. But even you perfectly healthy folks out there will become people with other diseases in time, and post covid, that time could well be a lot shorter than it should have been.

Covid is not over. We know there’s still a lot of covid going around, but we don’t know how much, because we’re not really collecting data anymore. There’s no requirement to test. No requirement to report a test. No requirement to isolate. No requirement to mask except for in very limited settings. No requirement to provide clean air. No requirement to manage large events in a covid safe fashion. No requirement to care, apparently.

(Edit: A user on Mastodon pointed out to me that, actually, employers (and others) have a legal requirement to safeguard our health and wellbeing, and we should not let them off the hook. This is an excellent point, and may well be the subject of many future lawsuits! I imagine ‘but everyone was doing it!’ is not a great defence, legally speaking.)

We must reinforce the message that the pandemic is not over, that we need to take precautions such as masking, upgrading ventilation to ensure clean air, staying up to date with vaccines, and isolating when sick. We’re not talking lockdowns. We’re talking basic precautions which, by the way, will also protect us from the flu, and other airborne diseases.

And yes, that type of action and messaging is a government responsibility, and the government is dodging that responsibility in every possible way. In the absence of any meaningful government action, though, it’s up to us to take it seriously. But every time we talk about the pandemic in the past tense, we make ourselves feel a little safer. A little more complacent. A little less likely to take care.

“During the pandemic”is now. We are all at risk now. We need to take action now.

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