The government response to the coronavirus is has been unfortunately narrow, leaving the rest of the community in the lurch, and in a panic.
Over several days I’ve heard various State Health Ministers, Premiers and the Prime Minister all make the same statement.
This, as they say, is grinding my gears.
According to the government health data, their statement is true. My question is, how do they know this as an absolute?
Considering what they are testing for, they should expect to find nothing less. As it stands, the protocol strictly tests those who have been overseas in the last 14 days, and/or those who have had contact with someone who has COVID-19.
In the early outbreak of the coronavirus, we were told how quickly the virus would spread through community contact. Why then, are we only testing for people who have traveled overseas? It makes logical sense that if any single person has coronavirus that they have likely transmitted it in the community prior to diagnosis.
As a student of Macquarie University, my daughter, an asthmatic, is living in the epicentre of Sydney’s outbreaks. As she became progressively sick with the full spectrum of coronavirus symptoms, we consulted with our family GP by phone. She was having difficulty breathing and increasingly worse chest pains. He referred us to the hospital for testing. However, after presenting to the hospital, we were told quite sternly that she was not eligible to be tested for COVID-19.
Despite years of warnings a viral pandemic was coming, and with two months notice of the coronavirus outbreak, the Australian government has been caught out, unprepared.
We were asked numerous times, did we know anyone with a confirmed case of the virus and with whom we’d had contact? How could we possibly know if she, or I, had come into contact with someone who was unknowingly carrying the virus?
The hospital took a swab for a virus, but not coronavirus. It is possible to have more than one virus in the human body so we will never know if she has coronavirus in addition and which virus was making her abnormally and increasingly unwell.
Despite her young adult demographic, her asthma makes her high risk for becoming quite sick from coronavirus. The potential for long-lasting lung damage has been widely reported, hence elevating our concerns.
The World Health Organisation says we should be doing more and that every suspected case should be tested. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his briefing on Monday that some nations are not doing enough for the necessary tracing of the virus.
“We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test. Test every suspected case. If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in contact with two days before they developed symptoms and test those people, too,” Tedros said.
After speaking privately with Australian medical practitioners on the front line, they agree with Tedros. They too are frustrated at the lack of strict containment. The lack of early testing is going to put them under significantly higher pressure in the coming months, which they feel is going to put lives at risk.
Through no fault of the already exhausted hospital staff, the health system is under extraordinary pressure. They can not test everyone and that is understandable.
However, when they are refusing to test at-risk populations who are symptomatic, I think we have a problem.
Despite years of warnings a viral pandemic was coming, and with two months notice of the coronavirus outbreak, the Australian government has been caught out, unprepared. If there is no evidence of community transmission, it is simply because they are not taking data to compile that evidence.
The government asks for calm, and I believe people should be calm, but we would trust them more if they were also more forthright and complying with internationally accepted protocols.
In order to protect vulnerable Australians, we need honesty and transparency from the government. The risk of misleading information will generate a dangerous complacency for those not taking social distancing seriously.
The time for panic is over. We need to be considerate, vigilant, and keep our social distance in check. And when this crisis has passed, we need to place pressure on the government for preparedness in the face of the next inevitable pandemic from which it will clearly not be immune.