News Politics Australian Politics Michael Pascoe: Why NSW should be wary of Gladys Berejiklian’s COVID promises

Michael Pascoe: Why NSW should be wary of Gladys Berejiklian’s COVID promises

Pascoe and Berejiklian
NSW citizens should be wary about promises of a better life, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: AAP/TND
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We don’t know what yet – Gladys Berejiklian doesn’t know herself – but the New South Wales Premier is promising a little something nice for the state on Friday.

It’s a bit like Aunty Glad bribing the kiddies with sixpence to spend at the shop if they behave, hoping they can be distracted from noticing she’s serving tripe again for dinner.

The week had barely begun before euphemisms and distractions were thick upon the COVID ground, none stranger than the Aunty Glad routine on Channel 9’s A Current Affair:

“We know that the harsh lockdowns in NSW are affecting every single citizen, so for us to be able to give them something they can do which they couldn’t previously do is an important opportunity.”

The Premier had already told her daily media conference that she didn’t know what that something would be – the government’s best brains were working on it – leaving one’s imagination to run riot.

Paddle Pops for all? Lamingtons? A trip to the zoo on a ferry? Be still my beating heart.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants the focus shifted from the current mess to ‘‘living with COVID’’. Photo: A Current Affair

“There are things in NSW that you can’t do that you can do in other states,” Ms Berejiklian explained to Tracy Grimshaw, who somehow contained her amazement at the revelation.

“For example, basic personal care issues or certain rules about who can work and who cannot. Those are much stricter in New South Wales than elsewhere.

“When you have been in lockdown for a prolonged time, life is more stressful, especially for parents at home, home schooling, but especially people feeling isolated or out of control.

“And we know from the chief psychiatrist that people want to feel more in control, they want to feel better about themselves and so we are looking at those options with the public health team that are safe, low-risk and which offer people a bit of relief in what has been a very difficult time.”

I’m tipping vouchers for a free coffee and doughnut – the only doughnut NSW has any hope of seeing.

And after the promise of a little treat, there was the bigger promise of happy days when the magic 70 and 80 per cent vaccination Lotto numbers drop. (Which actually means 56 and 64 per cent of the population vaccinated.)

“Once we get to 70 and 80 per cent, life will be better.”

Between the lines of Ms Berejiklian’s interview and Scott Morrison’s media conference was acknowledgement that it actually won’t be, a reality further acknowledged by Doherty Institute director Sharon Lewin on The Drum.

There’s no more hinting about “living with COVID” once the magic numbers pop up – it’s federal and NSW policy.

As Professor Lewin explained, “we will reach many, many cases of COVID, hundreds of thousands of cases, and some deaths, similar to what we would see with the flu … meaning hundreds of deaths over a six-month period”.

“What we are trying to avoid are thousands of deaths or tens of thousands of deaths.”

Well that’s nice.

“Living with COVID” at those vaccination levels means we’ll have a pandemic of the unvaccinated with plenty of transmission mechanisms to ensure the unvaccinated get the virus with the inevitable consequences.

It doesn’t mean an end to lockdowns though while the millions of unvaccinated people are getting infected. It means the lockdowns and restrictions will be brought on by ICU caseloads.

That will be a relief to the Morrison government as the focus will no longer be on its vaccination shambles. Hospitals are the states’ problem.

It will be a relief to the Berejiklian government as the focus will be guided away from the infection numbers that have come from (1) Failing to mandate vaccinations and PPE for aircrew transport drivers and (2) Failing to lock down hard and early following (1).

The pitch from Mr Morrison and Ms Berejiklian now is that Delta running wild is now inevitable, so too bad, how we reached this point doesn’t matter.

“Delta will creep into the community. We can’t pretend it is not,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Let’s plan for it. Let’s plan ahead and make sure our population is vaccinated and protected, that our hospitals are ready, that we accept even though case numbers go up, the number of people getting sick will go down because we have high rates of vaccination.”

Um, maybe the Premier meant the proportion of people getting sick will go down, because the number getting sick will most certainly go up until  the virus has had its way with the proposed 20 or 30 per cent of adults remaining unvaccinated.

The Prime Minister concluded his media conference with: “This groundhog day has to end, and it will end when we start getting to 70 per cent and 80 per cent.”

Scott Morrison says ‘‘this groundhog day has to end’’.

Well, it will be different.

Modelling from experts other than the Doherty Institute suggest the vaccination level needs to be higher than the Prime Minister’s brandished 56 and 64 per cent.

The doubt now arises that the government has been expert shopping, seizing on a preferred outcome.

It looks like we’ll start finding out who is right at the end of November.

That was another little reality dropped by Ms Berejiklian between the lines – the current lockdown will certainly last beyond September.

Be careful about making plans for October.

So spend your sixpence wisely – you used to be able to buy a lot of aniseed balls for that and they lasted.

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