The COVID-19 pandemic has already created its own mythology. In Britain, they speak of the “myth of the Blitz” – the idea of a society that pulled together, bravely and with humour, to withstand the bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe in World War II.
In Australia, our COVID-19 myth is about a united and caring society that patiently endured lockdowns, border closures and other ordeals. Like many myths, we have some foundation in reality. That might be a bad thing to consider with Britain’s wartime sacrifices in wartime, and you have to ignore the empty toilet paper shelves at the local supermarket, but it still has its strengths. This may have been particularly powerful in Melbourne, where the sanctions were most severe and prolonged.
The COVID-19 myth is now posing its puzzle to true believers. If you imagine that we are all drawn together for the common good, and because we have a good sense of how to take care of our health, you might find it strange that we are now enduring dozens of deaths a day. are ready for. The total COVID death toll is now above 11,000.
More than tolerated: Pretended to be nothing extraordinary.
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This is all a far cry from the days when we hung out at daily premier media conferences and felt horror as the number of new infections a day rose to a few dozen, a few hundred, and then a thousand or more. . Have our senses become dull, our conscience subdued?
Public discourse is never neutral. It is always the product of power. Some people are good at making their voices heard and making sure their interests are taken care of. Others are in a vulnerable position to set the terms of the debate or ask the media or the government to take their concerns seriously.
The elderly – particularly the elderly in aged-care facilities – have taken on a greater burden of sacrifice than most of us during 2020 and 2021. He often faced isolation, loneliness and anxiety. They were most vulnerable to losing their lives – due to the nature of the virus, but also to regulatory failure and, in some places, gross mismanagement.
Casual and gig economy workers also struggle to make their voices heard. On his short visit to the question of paid pandemic leave, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese previously said the pay was unnecessary because employers were allowing their employees to work from home. Yet low-wage and unsafe working conditions have repeatedly been identified as a problem for them as well as for the wider community, as they are unable to isolate easily.
Up to his point, though, our democracy has spoken: We want our pizzas delivered and we want to be able to go to pubs and restaurants. And we are ready to accept many casualties in the way of life which is similar to the pre-COVID era.
The “we” in this statement is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. There is a heated debate about whether governments – and by extension, the rest of us – are doing enough to combat the spread of the virus. Political leadership matters a lot in these matters.
In the years following World War II, Australia’s roads became the site of carnage, as car ownership increased and road safety provisions came across as inadequate. It peaked around 1970 with about 3,800 deaths – more than 30 for every 100,000 people. Road accidents affected the lives of many Australians. If my father’s first wife had not died in an automobile accident on New Year’s Day in 1954, I would not be writing this article today.
In the 1960s and 1970s, mandatory seatbelt wearing and the advent of random breath testing helped reduce the number. Manufacturers made their cars safer. Public campaigns urged drivers to slow down and remain calm. These were decisions that aimed to avoid avoidable deaths, yet included reductions in liberty.
These decisions were also in the Australian utilitarian tradition of government, “whose duty is to provide the greatest pleasure to the greatest number” – as historian WK Hancock famously explained in 1930. The citizen did not claim “natural rights”, but received rights. “From the State and Through the State”. Governments decide how their authority can be deployed to preserve the common good and protect individuals – from themselves as well as from others.
Governments have been willing to take as a practical position so far during the current boom that the number of infections and fatalities is acceptable to the “largest number”, as long as the “largest number” can continue to be something their normal life.
But this utilitarian political culture also has its dark side. It has appeared consistently throughout the history of this country – and long before anyone heard of COVID-19 – the poorly equipped to care for the most vulnerable. The casualties of current policy are those who have consistently silenced their voices and set aside their interests during this pandemic – and often before.
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These are difficult matters for governments that would prefer to do something other than boring the old pandemic management. The issue is embroiled in electoral politics – we have a federal bout right now in which major party leaders have carefully ignored the issue, and elections are due in the next few months in the country’s two most populous states. Governments also feel that sanctions and mandates will satisfy civil disobedience.
But COVID cannot be overcome. At the very least, governments need to show they are serious enough to spend serious money on campaigning for public information and on issues like wearing masks and staying home when sick. They usually manage to find a sufficient stock of public money before each election, when they want to tell us what a beautiful job they are doing. They can now consider whether something similar could help save lives.