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We're all kidding ourselves if we think there's nothing left to learn from this pandemic

Opinion

Living in splendid isolation is no guarantee of safety from an ever-evolving COVID-19 virus. It’s time we learned the most important lesson of the pandemic, writes Madonna King

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COVID has been a master teacher, in many ways.

It’s taught us about the importance of our front-line workers. The privilege of living in Australia. The value of hope.

It’s taught us that we can educate our children with more flexibility, be just as productive at home, and how work has provided a convenient hurdle, sometimes, to having dinner with the family.

It’s been a lesson in just how bad – and good – government can be, the worth of our public service, and the significance of science.

The role of our teachers has finally, artfully, been laid bare, as has the heartbreak at being unable to see a loved one die, the ruthless inability to hug a bereaved friend at a funeral, or dance with the love of your life at a wedding.

COVID’s been a pandemic of lessons. But perhaps the biggest is the one we are wilfully ignoring: the value of a vaccine.

And perhaps it’s the privilege of being Australian that is behind that.

Just consider this.

In Brazil more than 18 million people have contracted the virus. That’s 18,000,000. More than 500,000 people have died. Mothers and fathers, grandparents and grandchildren.

In India, almost double that number have, so far, contracted that virus. 30 million people; more Indian people have suffered the Coronavirus than there are people in our entire nation.

In France the deaths have topped 110,000, in Italy 130,000 and Mexico 230,000. In Japan there have been 786,000 cases, with just under 15,000 deaths. It almost seems small, by comparison, but those Japanese deaths equate to more than the population of Dalby, on the Darling Downs, and my childhood home.

Switzerland has been host to 702,000 cases. And in both the US and UK, the number of cases and deaths is almost unbelievable.

Australia’s experience, by comparison, is different; just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths.

In years gone by, those lucky enough to travel internationally have sometimes seen our distance from the rest of the world as a mild inconvenience; the impetus for 35-hour flights and expensive tickets.

It’s held us back. But not with COVID.

With COVID, that isolation has been a protector – and that, more than good governance – has been the reason for the boastfully low COVID cases, and deaths.

But that privilege, where we are not seeing our parents buried in holes in the ground, or passing a note under a hospital door as a last goodbye, is now stopping us moving forward.

Many of us don’t see the need for a vaccine. “Why would I get it? There’s less cases of COVID than the flu, and we don’t carry on like this about the flu vaccine – it’s voluntary.’’

That comment, mirrored by many this week, is perhaps more dangerous than the message being delivered by the anti-vaxxers. And that’s because it is true.

More people are getting the flu than COVID. COVID has not touched thousands of communities across Australia. It’s something that’s happening in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne, and even then, no-one dies…

How do we combat that? Because that’s the view that our policy-makers have to target to win over Australians to the value of max-vaccinations, where more than 75 percent of the population have the jab.

At one vaccination hub earlier this week, nurses were on standby waiting for both those who had appointments and those with time to chance a walk-in.

I joined them on Sinnathamby Boulevard at Springfield Lakes; a big wide road named after the co-founder of the master-planned Springfield community, Maha Sinnathamby, AM.

Sinnathamby, who chanced his future on Australia, comes from Malaysia, where more than 750,000 people have, so far, contracted the virus. Now you can get the jab in the Springfield Tower where Sinnathamby has his office.

The value of the vaccine is not in doubt. In one Brazilian town, there was a 95 percent drop in COVID19 deaths after almost all adults were vaccinated.

It’s the lesson we need to learn if we are to keep the privileged place we all call home.

 

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