Words by Gab Fitzpatrick
One way or another, Gabrielle will fall over something.
We live in a world that no one could have predicted. Lockdowns, masks, and excessive amounts of hand sanitiser have become a part of our life. COVID-19 has become the topic of every dinner conversation, the fear of every workplace, and the threat to everyone’s lives. Yet, we have become more and more comfortable in the world we live in, and more and more relaxed about how we implement the restrictions used to slow the disease. The pandemic is far from over, with unpredictability still around the corner. So, it is time to understand what our complacency will mean in the long run.
When we stand closer than the safe social distance, we neglect the needs of those in our community who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Although the symptoms may be no more than a cold or flu for most of us, for others the effects could be deadly if they contract this disease. After years of battling for their lives, cancer patients are experiencing one more hurdle as their bodies go into overdrive trying to fight off the infection. Diabetes and other chronic illness sufferers must find a life-saving balance. Each waking up and asking themselves whether they should stay at home to stay alive, or continue working and studying to maintain their livelihood. This is the harsh reality of the minority that the media classifies as “underlying medical conditions.” The health of our grandparents, sisters, and children has been diminished to three words to decrease the severity of this global pandemic. Isn’t this ironic, as we, Australians, pride ourselves on looking after each other? However, we ignore social distance requirements, the easiest and most effective way for us to achieve this.
When we go out into the community while sick, we ignore the pleas of the essential workers who put their lives on the line to provide us with what we need for minimal financial reward. Supermarket shelf stackers, aged care workers, and our emergency health services who day-in, and day-out work in environments that don’t just put them at risk to the disease. They risk verbal and even physical abuse due to the logistical nightmare this pandemic creates. The stress of working on minimum wage and unpleasant customers decreases their immunity, further increasing their risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. We need to remember that those in these roles are people. They are human. They are not invisible because they choose to work in a service position. So, if they are doing so much to help keep our lives stay consistent in these uncertain times, why would we further increase their risk by going out when we have a sore throat?
When we complain about restrictions on our ability to travel in the short term, we forget about the realities of those living in countries that aren’t as lucky as us. Travel is what drives the spread of infectious diseases. Planes become large incubators of COVID-19: introducing new strains into unprepared environments, increasing deaths, as no herd immunity is established. Strains such as Delta entering our state last year could have ended more drastically, like the hundreds of thousands of people who died in India due to its emergence. One of our closest allies, the US, has kept its borders open since the pandemic’s inception but has a case total of more than double Australia’s population. Even with our neighbours in Victoria and New South Wales who had such a spread of disease, there were not enough people outside isolation to work essential jobs. Hard borders are not prisons, nor are they fortresses to those outside our bubble. They are shields to protect us from becoming akin to the hardship of those around us, to keep us protected so that we can learn from these external experiences. Hard borders give us precious time to save lives.
When we refuse to wear our masks correctly, we blatantly ignore that our hospital system pre-pandemic is on the brink of collapse. I know people who have waited up to eight hours to receive essential tests and surgeries. I know people who have given up waiting in the ramped ambulances at night, forfeiting the emergency department, and risking trying to get into a GP when the sun rises. I know people who are currently on the waiting list, looking at months before they can see life-changing specialists. Over the last year, despite being one of the best states regarding COVID-19 numbers in the world, Western Australia has declared “code amber” or overflow protocols a record 177 times. This is the same in the private and public systems, with the pressure health professionals face from individuals with chronic illnesses already amounting beyond levels that can be controlled, imagine the stresses that the pandemic would create. The proportion of nurses who experience the trauma of putting seemingly healthy people on ventilators as part of their daily routine. The number of people who suffer from pain daily cannot receive the care they need as all the resources we have are being used to tackle COVID-19. Doctors have to choose who gets vital resources. Doctors are deciding who gets to live and who can die.
Yes, the restrictions have inconvenienced us all, but what is the alternative to this pandemic? What is the effect on not only us but those around us? The pandemic is full of unknowns that we can never fully prepare for. The best we can do is mask up, get vaccinated, and hope our loved ones do not end up being a causality of WA’s COVID-19 peak.