Opinion Zoe Daniel: Finally there’s reason for pandemic optimism, but don’t let it trump reality

Zoe Daniel: Finally there’s reason for pandemic optimism, but don’t let it trump reality

Zoe Daniel
Our leaders are under increasing pressure to ease the COVID rules, but there's a lot to consider.
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Australians need a good dose of hope and freedom, but not at the expense of the facts and figures.

Amid deep COVID fatigue and frustration has come a loss of patience with restrictions, with our leaders now under increasing pressure to ease the rules.

It’s understandable given the damage to our lives, economy and mental health.

As we enter our second spring amid lockdown and COVID-related strife, much of life has now been paused for almost two years. There’s deep concern about the long-term impact, especially on young people.

And with the so-called ‘road out’ still vaguely mapped, seeing a future is not easy.

Optimism is difficult to find

Yet suddenly, after the state government botched its early handling of Delta by locking down too slowly, and in the process allowed the virus to spread across a large part of Australia and into New Zealand, there’s a glimmer of hope in New South Wales.

Vaccination rates have escalated to the point that picnics are on the agenda and there’s the sniff of imminent further freedoms for those who have been double jabbed.

The Berejiklian government has turned its failure into an advantage, with NSW now weeks or months ahead on vaccine take up and the envy of other states still scrambling for vaccine supply and motivation.

That’s despite a growing death toll and case numbers of well over a thousand per day, figures that have become secondary to the number of vaccines administered.

Other premiers, particularly Victoria’s Daniel Andrews, who is presiding over an increasingly angry locked-down population amid his own escalating Delta problems, are under pressure to provide the same kind of ‘hope’.

“Premier, your state needs hope. No more lectures about compliance,” read the editorial in The Age  in Melbourne on Thursday.

Hope does exist

Unlike last year, we do have a vaccine. Several states are all but, or entirely, COVID-free and other countries are beginning to demonstrate that they can live with the virus after achieving high levels of vaccination. Although hospitalisations are surging internationally as restrictions lift, serious illness among twice-vaccinated people remains rare.

However, measured decision making is central to how the future plays out.

As case numbers rise in Victoria and the chances of eliminating Delta disappear, the Victorian government and those in other states will come under further pressure to adhere to the federal plan for a national re-opening with NSW as the ‘gold standard’.

University of Sydney modelling predicts that re-opening at 70 per cent vaccination coverage could lead to 40,000 cases per day. The medical fraternity is nervous.

The pandemic has been a slog, but after almost two years of lost jobs, broken mental health and general malaise, it’s difficult to rationalise hundreds of thousands of cases per week before everyone who wants a vaccine has even had an opportunity to get one.

‘I just don’t feel like getting up’

“It’s four million reasons to be hopeful,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday, borrowing from The Age, as he announced a vaccine swap deal with Britain to boost Australia’s immediate supply.

Now, to get them into arms before a re-opening that must be carefully staged.

Last week my 14-year-old son and I sat on a virtual panel discussion initiated by Melbourne University’s medical school focused on tips to help families cope during lockdowns.

Among a group of eminent experts, my son spoke of the daily anxiety caused by the COVID numbers each morning, the stress surrounding even limited contact with friends amid the need for masking and distancing, and the highly variable motivation levels that have accompanied the pandemic.

“Some days”, he said, “I just don’t feel like getting up”.

One of the experts on the panel had some advice for parents; to help their children to see a future, he said, parents need to project hope.

It’s good advice, but a dose of reality must go with it, and continued patience.

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