COVID-19: Everyone's tired, but we must press on.

I remember first hearing about COVID-19 while I was in Queensland last year studying to become a Commercial Pilot. I’d spent a couple of months on the coastal suburb of Redcliffe working through textbooks and sitting in classes every day, trying to soak up the mountains of the information required to pass my exams. I had decided to study away from home so I could be completely focussed, without the distractions of everyday life.

I discussed all sorts of things with my classmates during that time (mainly how unsure we all were about sitting our next exams, or how disappointed we were for others who hadn’t made it through), but I distinctly remember the conversations I’d had about this new “flu” petering out in a similar way to many other viruses in the past such as the H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak in 2009. Many of us, too young to have lived through other notable pandemics, had naively assumed modern medicine was above all of that, and that we’d be ok. 

I’d left for Queensland in the first week of January 2020, when our country had been enduring a relentless and heartbreaking drought and what is one of the worst bushfire seasons our country has ever seen: the Black Summer. It felt like we’d never see the end of the fires; a depressing reality that really worried me as I drove further and further away from my family back home in New South Wales. The trip across hundreds of kilometres of what was just desolate, burnt out land didn’t do much to reassure me. Nor did the reports that the Bureau of Meteorology expected no change in the sweltering conditions that were feeding the fires, at least not for months. It felt apocalyptic, and it was heartbreaking. There was this underlying fear that the whole place could be wiped out by the time I got back. It felt like nothing could possibly have gotten worse. Everyone was tired and they’d had enough. This nightmare had been going on for six months or more. 

Over the next month, almost as if by some sort of miracle, weather started to ease, albeit only slightly, and by mid-February firefighters were starting to get the upper hand on the fires that had ravaged the country. By the time I was most of the way through my training, the country was beginning to celebrate the impending end to what had felt like a completely futile battle. We’d gotten there together, and it was nice to see some light at the end of the tunnel, eleven long months after it had all begun.

By the time I finished my last exam and jumped in the car to make the ten hour journey back home in late February, the entire state had taken on a new look. It no longer looked like a scene from a doom-laden movie, where every surface looked like it was teetering in the edge of self-combustion. Fields of green grass extended for miles in all directions. Flowers were blooming, creeks were running, and livestock, previously being kept alive by nothing more than a few bags of feed, strewn out across the bare, dry earth, were roaming around, waist high in overgrown fields. It felt like I’d woken up from a terrible, terrible dream. It was wonderful. 

The feeling of relief was short lived, however. Just as we’d all taken a deep breath, and a moment to enjoy the end of a terribly devastating bushfire season which saw people die and thousands of homes reduced to ashes, we hit the third week in March, and our country started closing down non-essential businesses in response to a growing pandemic emergency. COVID-19 was in our country, and the government had moved to get things under control. Billions of dollars of financial assistance was announced to support businesses and livelihoods, and while the situation seemed dire, there was some hope that we were going to be fine. It seems there was little understanding of what challenges still laid ahead. 

The months that followed saw some significant changes in our lives. Terms such as “social distancing” and “self-isolating” were added to our vernacular, and masks would be introduced to our lives; something we traditionally criticised Asian countries for. Fast forward to today, and our people are understandably exhausted. Unlike the Black Summer, which spanned over ten long months, we’ve now been enduring the COVID-19 pandemic for almost a year and a half, and there’s no definitive end in sight.

Promises have gone undelivered, people have died, families have suffered and businesses have succumbed to the damage left behind by what has now morphed into what’s known as the delta variant; a variant of the virus that spreads as easily as chickenpox, and at current rates, kills about one in every 36 Australians that contract it.

The barrage of information we’ve had to endure during this crisis is exhausting in itself. There has been talk of mutations of the virus, the threat of more appearing, news articles about the likes of Gerry Harvey pocketing $22M in Job Keeper payments despite his profits doubling, lockdowns with a ridiculous list of exceptions that ultimately allow people to keep on moving around while others do the right thing, and a failed sales pitch on vaccines such as AstraZeneca which was at one point only suitable for certain age groups, and in the blink of an eye was offered to every Australian as case numbers began to spike through the roof. No wonder people are sceptical. 

One thing is absolutely certain here: our government could have done things a lot better. This has been, at times, a disastrous display of leadership, clear communication, and infection control, but if we can learn anything from the bushfire season of 2019-2020, there’s only one sure way out of this crisis: taking it on together. If you put aside the obvious failings in state and federal levels of politics, you simply cannot argue with the fact that COVID-19 is deadly, and it will kill our friends and loved ones. We must get tested to protect others, and we must strongly consider vaccination to not only reduce our risk of contracting the virus, but in a bid to protect the vulnerable in our community, especially those who can’t get the jab. Don’t do it for the government, do it for Australia, and your friends and loved ones. 

Lockdowns are painful, and we’re all sick of them, but there really is only one way out of that situation, whether we like it or not. We must increase vaccination rates, we must adhere to the public health orders, and we must do it as quickly as we possibly can. We can ill afford to wait as case numbers continue to spike outside of the capability of our health system. Once we overrun our health system, mortality rates will go through the roof. This isn’t negotiable; it’s a well established fact.

This situation is ultimately another bushfire, and while the vaccination may feel like a futile attempt to douse a small shrub with water in a fire that’s ravaging hundreds of kilometres of our country, we know, deep down, that it’s a necessary move for us to get it out. We have to press on, even if we’re exhausted, and we have to push harder than ever so we reduce the collateral damage along the way. We can look back on it and applaud ourselves in a few years time, just like we did in March 2020, but we have to get there first, and we have to do it together. I might even get to finish my licence off then, too.

Paul Cavalier is Managing Director of Print Storm, and an elected Councillor in the Mid-Western Regional Council Local Government Area. He served for 5 years as Deputy Mayor between 2013 and 2018, and is currently serving his second term on Local Government since first being elected in September 2012.