The Lucky Country
In 1964, Donald Horne published a book called The Lucky Country. The book was a commentary of Australia's political and sociological norms of the time, of which it was heavily critical. The book's general thesis was that the prosperity of 1960's Australia was not due to good governance but in spite of mediocre governance. Through history's eyes, a post-war, pre-medicare, pre-racial discrimination, pre-equal pay Australia was indeed a product of ideas and work that was not Australia's making. The term 'lucky country' is a common nickname for Australia now, but it has become decoupled from its original context. As the years have passed, it is more associated with the vast mineral resources and generally good weather of the continent. This week has had me thinking about just how lucky we are.
South Australia went into another lockdown last week. After three cases were found in the community with 24 hours of each other, the government slammed down restrictions, and we entered what will hopefully only be a week-long lockdown. While a week of lockdown can be mentally jarring, the alternative at the moment is playing out in our neighbouring states. Victoria entered lockdown on the 15th of July with 11 cases that day, and they look to have gotten a handle on things. They might not be out this week, but they are only getting new cases from people they have identified through contact tracing and already have isolated, so their lockdown is in its final stages.
New South Wales was much more hesitant to go into lockdown, entering lockdown on the 26th of June with 30 cases that day, and they are still getting over a hundred new cases a day, with around a third of them infectious in the community. With vaccinations probably 30-35 weeks away from getting to herd immunity levels, I hope that all our leaders will look at the current strategies playing out across the three states and be more aggressive in the future. But if the past is anything to go by, it's unclear whether the country's leaders can learn any lessons from each other.
Hopefully, Australia will get back to zero community cases soon, but we can do little until then but continue this cycle of lockdowns. Unfortunately, being that crappy night job is unaffected by lockdowns – we are an 'essential' business so long as it comes to working through a lockdown, but not essential enough to be in line for a vaccine – I have witnessed the worst part of our nation this week.
The restrictions we are currently under are to stay at home except for five reasons. To get a Covid test, get vaccinated, buy essential goods, go to work if you are essential, and exercise. For exercise, you are allowed to go out without a mask once per day for an hour. For no other reason should you be in the community without a mask. Buying essential goods is restricted to one person per day per household. For a share house like mine with four adults who don't cook for each other, this has added an additional level of complexity because anyone going to the shops now has to buy for everyone for that day.
At crappy night job, there has been a string of people wandering in without a mask. Many people don't check-in (either with our QR system or manually in a register), and many people come in in groups. While you are allowed to exercise in a group of people you live with, there is no reason why there should ever be a group of people in a car. About 1 in 20 people aren't wearing masks, and maybe 1 in 2 don't sign in.
The worst thing is that people apologise to me for not wearing a mask. "Oh, I'm so sorry," they say flippantly. Let's review what is going on here. Masks, at least the common cloth and disposable masks that are the most prevalent, do not prevent a person from getting the virus. Instead, masks reduce the chance of a person with the virus from spreading it. Cloth masks allow the virus straight through them. What a cloth mask is doing is slowing down the breath so that those aerosols don't carry as far. Instead of breathing them out to float around carefree, the slower velocity of the breath leaving the mask will allow the aerosols to drop to the ground. Some minimal amount of droplets will be caught in the mask itself, but for the most part, it is this slowing down of the exhaled droplets that reduce the transmission of the virus. A person breathing in through a mask will still get the slight benefit of some droplets catching on the mask, but they will breathe in any droplets that pass through. Masks only work to slow transmission if everyone is wearing one.
So apologising to me that you may be breathing a potentially deadly virus at me seems somewhat farcical.
The level of education in the community about germ theory has got to be at its highest in history, but people do not seem to take the threat very seriously. We had protests this week for the lockdown. People are apparently sick and tired of being told to stay at home. The purpose of government is to protect the citizens. If the government is directing you to take safety precautions based on the best medical advice available, follow what they tell you. The only reason not to follow such advice is if the government is using its power unjustly. Because you don't like it, is not a good enough reason.
I worked a ten-hour shift on Friday. I wore the mask while driving to and from work as well, so 11 hours in the mask. It sucked. I get that it feels weirdly restrictive. Guess what? Stiff.
In his press conference yesterday, the Premier of South Australia said that he was so thankful to South Australians for doing the right thing. By far, the number of people doing the right thing has been in the majority. But the fraction of idiots in the community has been very concerning. We are a year and a half into this pandemic, and people still don't take it seriously.
Australia is indeed a lucky country. We are lucky that we have not paid a higher price for quarantine breaches. We are lucky that our state governments have stepped up where our federal government has failed. We are lucky that the idiots who do not take a worldwide pandemic seriously have not crippled us. Lucky indeed.