Written 31st January
So much news this week: The Lowry Institute published a study showing Australia ranks 8th best in the world in dealing with the pandemic that’s now killed 2,180,540 people across the world, 909 of them in Australia. With that low number, we thought we were among the best performing countries, but New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cyrus, iceland and little Rwanda did better, with elimination rather than suppression strategies, faster border closures, early and effective lockdowns. Small countries have been more agile. Our federal government was slow to take action- I remember when our little family left Sydney 21 March 2020 because PM Scott Morrison refused to cancel the Grand Prix in Melbourne, and insisted on having a football weekend – back in my first post in this blog, “Running Away”. Too much insistence that the economy mustn’t be affected, too little recognition that life must come first.
What we did well was each state saying “bugger this” and breaking away and taking action and going it alone, like separate small countries. It earned premiers great popularity, as it should, though business heads howled. it also prevented our hospital system from being overwhelmed, as it is in the UK and the US. But there were fatal mistakes: in NSW, the cruise ship “Ruby Princess”, where before our incredulous eyes, we read that 2000 odd people were let off the infected ship without screening, resulting in 28 deaths – and Newmarch House, where after a nurse worked a shift with a “scratchy throat” , infections raged and 16 elderly residents died without a chance to say goodbye. Then some 36,000 Australians trapped in virus-ridden countries overseas wanted to come and many were sick, bringing the virus with them. They’re put in hotel quarantine. In Victoria, a security guard looking after infected new arrivals was rumoured to have slept with a returnee because he couldn’t explain how he got infected – but that was before the data came in that the virus is air-borne. We’re learning as we go. Deaths in Victoria began spiralling out of control until Premier Daniel Andrews, despite fury and resentment from the federal government (he somehow even got blamed for the security guard’s rumoured misconduct) insisted on a three month lockdown, and we watched the numbers waver, then finally come down, and the deaths eventually stopped at 820. A report by the Federal Public Accounts and Estimates Commission which investigated the Victorian lockdown said today, 3rd February that without this strict lockdown, there would’ve been 20,000 Covid-19 cases each day. OMG – we would’ve been another US!
Now there’s vaccine nationalism: deaths in the UK are the worst in Europe but now after that abysmal start, it’s suddenly able to vaccinate its citizens, whereas most of the 38 million citizens of the EU are going without a vaccine, and rioting.
In January 30 last year, Oxford University sat down to consider what to do about the pandemic they’d known would happen one day. At the table was Professor Sarah Gilbert, a vaccine researcher, who said that she had developed a likely vaccine, repurposing a vaccine she’d developed for ebola, but she needed investment to take it further. The Nuffield Department of Medicine said to go ahead and gave her one million pounds. But by March, they needed a pharmaceutical giant. Merck, a US company offered to be it, but the UK feared the behaviour of Donald Trump, that he’d pressure the company to give the vaccine first to the US, and the US company would only give a verbal agreement that this wouldn’t happen, and everyone knows that verbal agreements are not worth the paper they are signed on.
So an Anglo-Swiss company offered, Astra Zeneca, and Pascal Soriot, its French head, was known to be ethical. He offered during the pandemic to sell the vaccine at no profit, which was what Oxford University wanted. So the vital agreement was reached. In contrast, the EU wasn’t so agile, and took their time about a vaccine, with some countries reluctant to put money upfront into an unknown vaccine. it took 3 months to come to an agreement,
Now, the result- rumours that celebrities and politicians are getting the vaccine, and ordinary people are missing out, and dying. And now, the EU is blocking vaccine supplies into the UK.
And in Australia, we’re way behind. The federal government was slow to put money into vaccines, and now everyday they’re quashing rumours that we may not get enough vaccine. However, as Norman Swann says, our infection numbers are very low, and people are no longer dying, so we can afford to watch and see what problems that might result from a too- rapidly developed vaccine.
And in my little world, we’re in the city but not hurrying back. GG needs and is getting physio on his back and shoulder and he’s healing by swimming in the warm hyro pool, I’m teaching at NIDA in person on Tuesday, and it’s been raining everyday, so we’d be struggling with the solar power, despite our bank of batteries. I’m re-writing my novel, after precipitously sending it out before Christmas- but then my friend Louise found there’s a lot wrong with it. My agent Rick assures me that the publishers haven’t read it yet, (they unnecessarily apologised for this) and are happy to wait for a new version, which I want to get off by mid-week.
At night in the city, I soothe myself to sleep by playing nature sounds from one of my favourite radio programmes, Radio National’s “Off Track”.