The Covid Crisis needs Community Leadership

By Julie Macken

Let me say from the start that I have no idea whether we should go for a policy of elimination, or suppression or simply let the virus rip. I’m not a public health expert, nurse, doctor or social worker. This is not about what we do, so much as how we do it in relation to Covid, and our communities.

A few days ago, Guardian journalist, Anne Davis wrote a disturbing opinion piece about what the NSW Premier has planned for our Covid ravaged state. She began by stating:

If the announcement of the so-called “picnic rules” seemed to jar with you on a day when we saw New South Wales’s daily cases canter beyond the 1,000 mark, you’re not alone.

The state has reached a crossroads and the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has taken her first tentative step toward opening up regardless of the case numbers.

We are heading into a future that is defined by vaccination rates and hospitalisations, and it’s going to be brutal.

I think she is right – the future looks deadly for many. And I say that, not just because we are already seeing people, young and old,  die from this virus,. And not only because the modelling the Morrison government is using to enforce his plan for re-opening predicts that easing restrictions when we have 70% vaccination rate will produce 385,000 new cases of infection and 1,457 deaths in the following six months – and that is predicated on much lower-case numbers at the time of the relaxation not the over 1000 cases we have in NSW at the moment

The stakes could not be higher – we are talking about potentially thousands of people we know and love dying, and hundreds of thousands of people getting infected and no doubt many of them suffering through long Covid. 

Because the stakes are so high, because you and I and our loved ones, kids, mums and dads, friends and aunties will be living through this experiment and paying, potentially, the highest price for it. We need to demand a voice in these deliberations. 

Right now there is very little transparency on how these life and death decision are being made. Both the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier constantly answer every criticism and query about this model by saying they are driven wholly and solely by the medical advice they receive. 

We know this isn’t true and we know that because there are numerous senior health professionals who disagree vociferously with the direction of both these political leaders. We also know that the Doherty model is a far more complex and nuanced model than either political leader give it credit for. In their hands this theoretical model has become a political document. 

Right now the Doherty modelling is becoming a very sharp tool in the fight between the federal government and states such as West Australia, Queensland and Victoria. 

Meanwhile in NSW we have watched on as  the Premier has imposed really onerous and policed restrictions on western Sydney and south west Sydney while the north and east gets those little treats – for the record I resent the infantilising language the Premier is using to describe our collective sacrifice to protect our families and communities – freedom of movement is not Liquorice Allsorts, they are not the plastic toys at the bottom of the corn flakes packet – they the very things we sacrifice out of love and care.

This is the problem when you spend years indulging in sports rorts, Robo-debts, dodgy land purchases, non-existent car parks and then turn around and ask the community to trust you. 

That’s why we must have the community inside the tent of government and decision making – not just big business, the banks and the gas industry –  both with this phase of the pandemic and with the road out. We need people like Shane Fitzsimmons, and a host of community leaders because these are the people we need driving the roll-out and the walk-out of this disaster. 

The most vital element of any public health plan is trust….and we trust our community leaders.