We are starting Stage 2 of the Covid-19 roadmap on Monday, 18 May, which essentially means fewer restrictions on our movements and on the number of people who can gather for non-work activities in public. While hundreds of thousands of Australians are still out of jobs due to the lockdowns, people are still recovering from the virus or succumb to the disease, we fared considerably much better than a lot of other countries, thanks to a combination of luck and measures implemented early enough to prevent the uncontrollable spread of the coronavirus in Australia.
As an immigrant, it breaks my heart each time I read of how the current government has been mismanaging just about everything back in the Philippines, and it worries me the most when my family tells me of the many hurdles they have to go through just to stock up on basic supplies. Before the easing of restrictions started at least in the capital, Luzon island was in near complete lockdown and only select members of households are allowed to step out to purchase essential items on certain days of the week. In a developing country of 108 million people, doing anything quickly and efficiently is still a pipe dream, so one could only imagine the hours people spend waiting in long lines to purchase limited food items. That is, if people can afford to in the first place.
I count my family still lucky, but the millions who depend on daily wages to survive are the ones who have it unimaginably difficult: if they don’t work, they don’t eat; most live in cramped quarters in depressed communities where sanitation is rare if not unheard of. Unfortunately, the national government is more keen to jail “violators” of the lockdowns instead of focusing on softening the impact of the pandemic on the population. Worse still, local leaders who had the initiative to give provisions to their constituents and charitable work espoused by the vice-president to give much needed support to health workers were threatened with criminal probes or cases because they were “competing” with the national government.
Living in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet puts into focus just how privileged and absolutely lucky I have found myself, yet I also can’t help but shake my head in horror at the news of tens of thousands of infections and deaths happening in other parts of the world. As of this writing, there have only been 98 deaths in Australia, yet while it is 98 deaths too many, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the figures reported in Italy, Spain and the UK, or the 100 thousand deaths projected in the United States.
We cannot chalk up the early flattening of the curve and the much fewer deaths from Covid-19 to Australia’s wealth alone; geography has always been this country’s first line of defence whenever global threats occur. And while not everything is smooth sailing, social safety nets proved invaluable in the time of coronavirus. Thus, this country has one of the highest rates of Covid-19 testing in the world at no cost to the individual. Moreover, getting hospitalised for Covid-19 will not result in bankruptcy, thanks to publicly funded healthcare. I don’t think if the same can be said for the United States which is currently far and away copping the worst of the pandemic, for obvious reasons.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus in this country is due to leadership: Australian leaders banded across party lines to face the most pressing issues of the day and responded based on reliable information and expert advice. And the experts? They have been involved since the earliest stages of the pandemic to provide guidance to decision-makers; thus, social distancing measures, border closures, staggered rolling out of lockdowns, and daily national and state press briefings were implemented early. When the jobs losses began, the government extended much needed lifeline to qualified recipients and protections were put in place to shield renters from evictions. Being a permanent resident is one of the first qualifications I have to these safety nets and it’s hard to imagine now how difficult it would have been for me if the infections happened 3 or 4 years ago when I was on a temporary visa.
As people engaged in panic buying of tissue paper, food items, electronics, home office equipment, and other essentials, plans were made to ensure supplies reached the shops. And although law enforcers were given more authority to implement rules and fine individuals for non-compliance on the spot, the public also knew their rights and responsibilities. The messaging provided by the WA’s Premiere (equal to a governor in other countries) and his team are some of the best, definitive, and sometimes entertaining that I’ve ever seen. Leadership is not only a matter of doing what is right, it is also communicating it effectively.
This sits in stark contrast to the deranged ramblings coming from the old man in Malacanang, of accounts of hunger and hardships that emerged out of poorly planned public quarantines, and of human rights violations borne by a culture of corruption back home: you cannot expect people to stay home unless by fear of violence or death if they have nothing to eat. Petty tyranny flies in the face of hunger and a crumbling public health system that produces some of the lowest and slowest Covid-19 testing rates in the world, so slow test results for so many people arrive days after they have already died from the virus.
Tell me again how politics is not a matter of life and death. Whoever said “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” must have seen these days coming.Continue reading