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Last year isn't over yet: Queensland's smart response to our most grisly visitor


Uncertainty is the viral ingredient too many of our political leaders want to pretend has been consigned to last year. It hasn’t, writes Dennis Atkins.

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Well, that didn’t take long. Just a week into 2021 and it was 2020 all over again.

We’ve had alarm over the novel coronavirus we thought we could live with but can’t just yet, followed by a lockdown of the local economy and strict measures to control movement and behaviour.

While the 2021 lockdown has been short, sharp and, so far, effective, we have been shaken back to the reality that this virus hasn’t finished with us. It still has plans to bother us, interrupt any return to normal, old or new, and continue to inflict economic damage throughout the community and commercial life.

The predominant constant is uncertainty. It’s the viral ingredient too many of our political leaders want to pretend has been consigned to last year. Sorry, but last year isn’t over yet.

The three-day lockdown and easing out of restrictions is at once encouraging and a shrug of dispirited frustration.

The way people in Brisbane and surrounding local government areas accepted the seriousness of the presence in the community of what’s known as the Kent Variant or, to use its technical moniker, SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, was an impressive demonstration of maturity and clear-headed understanding.

A significant minority engaged in some pointless panic buying of everything from shops that weren’t going to close and weren’t going to run out of the goods stripped from the shelves. So be it. That seems to be a mark of the new normal for the time being.

This aside, people did what was asked of them. They put on masks, stayed indoors, kept their distance and put a life that’s usually going fast to pause. It was the sign of a community educated about the seriousness of this grisly visitor and its unpredictable timing and consequences.

With a genuine gold standard example of testing and tracing – not just one in the mind of a publicity-hungry prime minister eager to get to the polls – Queensland Health and the public made the effort needed.

They waited in the heat to get tested and those tests were processed at a speed not dreamed of last March. At the same time, contact tracers worked through the night with the cleaner infected with that nasty Kent Variant to track down and test every person with whom she came in close touch.

Job done as needed in an appropriately quick time.

As a note to this virus’s presence, everything that’s occurred in the last 12 months since the COVID-19 genome sequencing was first constructed has been at an astonishing, previously unheard of speed.

The development of vaccines, the scientifically sound identification of the virus and procedures for dealing with COVID in the community has set new records.

The mapping of the coronavirus genome took just 40 hours. Thirty-plus years ago, it took scientists two years to map the virus that caused AIDS.

In March predictions by scientists working with Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna were politely indulged when they said they could have a vaccine ready to ship by Christmas, 2020. They did it.

These scientific and health administration advances will make the next pandemic that much easier to handle.

The ill-informed, politically motivated resistance to handling the virus prompts the shrug of despair. Those familiar suspects couldn’t help themselves with an outburst of know-nothing populism kicking in as soon as was politely opportune.

The economy-first crowd gave as much support as they could find through gritted faces but with just two days of restrictions absorbed they let fly, demanding Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk do something to fit their narrow, damn-the-sick view of the world.

They supported a firehose of falsehood about the efficacy of mask-wearing, the existence of the Kent Variant at all and its virulence, despite the Lancet publishing peer-reviewed articles last month backing the 70 percent more infectious thesis.

For Palaszczuk, the coalition of Queenslanders who gave her a stunning electoral victory at the end of October held. These people still have faith in their political leader and her scientific advisers, whatever the know-nothings on a certain media-business planet might want to be so.

The constancy of uncertainty we’ve seen in these early days of 2021 will remain, including with the deployment of vaccines. Palaszczuk’s leadership will be called upon many times in the months to come. Queenslanders have shown they are ready to do what’s required. We can be truly thankful for that.

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