Are we at a point where Australians tolerate people dying from COVID-19?

Home Australia News Are we at a point where Australians tolerate people dying from COVID-19?
Are we at a point where Australians tolerate people dying from COVID-19?

We seem to be at the point in this pandemic where people die every day from COVID-19 … and we’re OK with that.

Just last week, on average, 39 Australians died each day after catching the virus.

Compare that to the start of the pandemic when we were aghast at the thought of a single case, let alone a death.

The change is troubling to veteran epidemiologist Professor Mike Toole.

It is not surprising that a medical professional who has dedicated a 50-year career to saving lives believes one death is one too many, but it doesn’t appear to be the way everyone thinks.

Headshot of Professor Mike Toole
The change in attitude is troubling to veteran epidemiologist Professor Mike Toole.(ABC News: Ron Ekkel)

For example, just last week numerous videos circulated in the United States showing airline passengers cheering as the announcement was made that a federal judge had voided the mask mandate.

This is despite mask-wearing being one of the most effective ways of containing super-spreader events, according to epidemiologists like Saskia Popescu, who looked at the dropping of the mandate in despair.

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The US President’s chief medical adviser, Antony Fauci, said it was a decision a judge did not have the medical experience to make.

There have been similar scenes here in Australia as COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed.

Witness the jubilation at the lifting of the dancing ban in December, 2020 or the joyous airport reunions as the Queensland border opened to domestic hotspots in time for Christmas, 2021.

By that point Queensland had still only recorded seven COVID-related deaths.

We all knew what was coming and yet we did it anyway.

The eighth death was reported on January 7 and by yesterday the total number of deaths of people with COVID-19 in the state had reached 869.

The impact has been disproportionately felt by older people.

The federal health department has broken down the number of deaths in Australia by age group and it shows almost 83 per cent were aged 70 years or older.

So how can we hold such a cavalier approach to a virus that, despite the vaccination rates, still has the potential to be lethal? Is our eye still on the ball?

Remember last year when we so intently watched as the double-dose vaccination rate inched higher toward a particular target or milestone?

While over 95 per cent of people age over 16 have had two doses, only 70 per cent of the eligible population have had a booster shot.

You don’t see social media lit up with people showing off getting their boosters like they did when first and second doses were made available.

‘Learn to live with the virus’

Perhaps government messaging has been a factor.

As the phrase “learn to live with the virus” became more and more common people may have thought the worst was past.

The requirement to use the QR check-in app to enter restaurants and retailers was dropped.

Even if people did check in, they weren’t being contacted if it later emerged that a positive case was present at the same time.

On Thursday, the rules for close contacts changed meaning those who are asymptomatic no longer had to isolate for seven days.

A day later, the Queensland government announced it had disbanded its central contact-tracing team after 15 months of work that involved tracking more than 15,000 contacts and 10,000 cases.

This is while Queensland goes through an Omicron outbreak.

“Queensland has been reporting, on average, 7,000 to 8,000 cases a day,” Professor Toole said.

“If Queensland was a country, it would rank number 15 in the world.

“Australia as a country ranks number five in the world for new cases.

Woman gets booster shot
You don’t see as many people announcing on social media when they get their booster shot.(AAP: Con Chronis)

What has changed is our attitudes.

The federal government read the room when they shut international borders.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was judged by political observers as choosing the right strategy in keeping the Queensland border closed ahead of a win at the 2020 state election.

It is hard to imagine going back to these or other restrictions without significant pushback or disobedience.

Getting life ‘back to normal’

What seems more plausible is that with the passage of time and the gaining of knowledge about COVID-19, people have shifted the virus in their mind to be a given risk of life.

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