News Madonna King: Pandemic planning on the run leaves so many questions, too few answers
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Madonna King: Pandemic planning on the run leaves so many questions, too few answers

The lack of forward planning is leaving Australians exposed to more uncertainty in 2022, Madonna King writes.
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At a city supermarket, rapid antigen tests are being sold for $14.95. The problem is they have none left, and are not taking orders.

They will take an order at the local pharmacy, but the tests will be $19.95 each. And take a minimum of 10 days to arrive.

And up in north Queensland, not far from Thursday Island where 11 people are now COVID positive, a single test is being flogged for $37.50.

That one example shows everything wrong with how our leaders – state and federal – are dealing with this next stage of the pandemic.

Yes, we saw the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announce a response on Thursday to the threat Omicron is creating, but it’s simply a response.

As he was announcing changes to definitions and details of government-issued rapid antigen tests, people continued to join long queues in the hope of nabbing their own.
Australia’s response to Omicron is not a strategy or a way forward in how we live and work with this pandemic long term.

It’s a policy for today and tomorrow; a game of catch-up where different states are racing down different roads buying up antigen tests and one-upping each other.

Meanwhile, this pandemic is well and truly in front.

The pandemic rules appear to be changing, leaving the coronavirus in front. Photo: Getty

If Omicron is going to fan out through the population, as health officials are warning, how are we going to operate and bring a new normal to our lives?

That’s the simple question that needs a detailed, strategic and flexible plan, based on data and geography and the emotional and physical wellbeing of the people it needs to target.

Just look at where we are.

Go and get vaccinated, our leaders say. But how do you do that when no booster is available in many areas in Australia – including capital cities – for several weeks?

Or when those aged under 18 are not even eligible?

And what are our politicians doing about about our most vulnerable cohorts?

For example, vaccination rates in the Indigenous population are low – about 50 per cent.

What is the plan there? Moving a shipping container to one of the areas – as a makeshift morgue – as we saw this week?

What about aged-care homes?

Some were told on Thursday they had gone into lockdown, as a staff member tested positive.

What happens when the next person and the next person tests positive? Will our elderly see their families for weeks, or even months?

Is there a plan being worked on there?
The list goes on – as our politicians babble on.

The risk is that off-the-cuff announcements and policies have worked against a long-term workable and united strategy because people have lost faith in our leaders to deliver.

Many people have waited for hours in queues to be tested. Photo: Getty

Go and get tested, they told us – and we’ve dutifully waited up to four hours or longer in the hot sun for that to happen.

Don’t we all know people who say they will not do that again? Surely that’s not part of the plan.

And waiting up to seven days – yes, one week – for results to come back surely is a disincentive to be tested?

Long-term policies – even if they need to be massaged as we go – allows us to plan, to talk to our children, and to look towards the future.

To that end, is school starting back at the end of January?

Will there be a choice between remote or in-person learning?

How are we going to replace those teachers (and police officers and health officials) who refused to be vaccinated, and been stood down?

Should students be vaccinated to attend class in high school? Is that under consideration?

If a leader has a policy here, could they share it with schools who say they are simply waiting on public health advice?

School students and teachers are yet to find out if there is a choice between remote or in-person learning.

At least one university has now declared that all students must be fully vaccinated to walk on campus, so what about the university residential colleges on the same ground?

And if one or a few universities are mandating vaccines, shouldn’t that be the case everywhere?

Health officials recommended people consider working from home, but said they would not mandate it.

So what happens if an employer orders a worker into the office? Can they do that?

What happens when a customer refuses to check in at a coffee shop?

In Queensland, small business owners have been told to call the police. Is that their job? Is that a policy?

And why check in, I was asked today, when fewer and fewer people are doing it – and when it appears contacts are now not being traced, or the time lag means those in close contact have been out and about in the community for days after?

How are we going to manage keeping hospitals open when half the workforce is quarantining? What’s the policy there?

How is data being used in policy making here? If it is, can we see it?

Forward-thinking policy is not easy. But it’s the stuff of good leadership.

We need leaders to think beyond the next news cycle and the next week.

We need leaders who are chasing a better future, not votes.

And we need to do it as a matter of urgency.

What might the legacy be of this pandemic period, and how do policy settings counter that?

The mental health challenge being faced – by children in particular – will follow us for a generation.

So what might we put in place there?

So many questions and too few answers.

Let’s hope 2022 brings guts, good will and leaders who are determined to govern for the people they serve.