Live with it
The NSW premier continues her push for us to live with her mistakes, while pretending she is leading the way
Australia has recorded a grim milestone, with NSW’s 681 new COVID-19 cases (a new record) Victoria’s 57 (the highest since September 2020) and the ACT’s 16 combining to create the highest daily case number the nation has ever seen – and it won’t stop there. Even with increasing vaccination rates, which the PM celebrated in a press conference this afternoon, the NSW figure is expected to balloon into the thousands without further action. In the Nine papers, 4000 mystery infections are fuelling fears of 2200 cases a day; NSW could reach four figures within a month, according to RN Breakfast; while Guardian Australia says the NSW government is at risk of losing control entirely. Despite this, Premier Gladys Berejiklian, whose increasingly confusing messages suggest she’s making it up as she goes along, came today with a more positive outlook – perhaps inspired by the PM’s recent attempts at uplifting platitudes. After yesterday warning that NSW hadn’t seen the worst of it, with September and October to be the most difficult months yet, Berejiklian said that there was “light at the end of the tunnel”, the most optimistic language since her “green shoots” in mid July. The premier continued to promise that additional freedoms would be granted at 6 million vaccination doses (at this rate, it’s hard to know if there is any daily case number that would stop her from fulfilling that pledge), but she remained mum on what they might be, promising only a plan next week. (Those freedoms are currently believed to be haircuts and beauty services for the vaccinated, but Twitter is proposing its own fun treats.) But with case numbers dizzyingly high, Berejiklian was most keen to press the idea that NSW was “learning to live with COVID”, and other states should too. The premier is trying to buy into the narrative that she is “leading the way” out of this, rather than reacting desperately to the circumstances she now finds herself in, having all but lost control of the outbreak.
Many figures – including those found in the pages of the AFR, but some notable ABC personalities too – are pushing the narrative that NSW is boldly leading the way out of this situation, and that any other premier who is still trying to eliminate the virus while the population remains insufficiently vaccinated is some kind of COVID laggard. Berejiklian was keen to push that message today, telling reporters that everyone will eventually have to learn to live with Delta – and that NSW, which has been receiving a greater share of vaccine doses lately, was already doing it. “What I am absolutely convinced about is that NSW can lead the way,” she said. “If we keep people out of hospital, we keep people out of intensive care, we stop people dying, that means we are starting to live with COVID.”
In praising NSW’s approach, Berejiklian’s supporters have been keen to imply that state leaders who are not yet willing to abandon the elimination approach are going to cling fearfully to COVID-zero, even once the Doherty Institute milestones are reached, thus doing the entire nation a disservice. The NSW premier echoed that message, too, with a dig at her fellow premiers. “Australia will need to come to terms with the fact that when you get to a certain level of vaccination and open up, Delta will creep in,” she said. “We can’t pretend that we will have zero cases around Australia with Delta.” Of course, no one credible is pushing for that, much as Berejiklian might like to portray herself as the one fearlessly leading the way. Even the protectionist WA premier, Mark McGowan – who has become a regular target of such attacks after claiming that his state reserves the right to lock down even at 80 per cent vaccinated – does not pretend that COVID-zero is permanent, merely that lockdowns will be used where “absolutely necessary” – and such circumstances are looking all the more likely thanks to the NSW approach.
The NSW government may well have prematurely decided it’s time for Sydney to live with COVID, in light of the circumstances, but unfortunately for the rest of the country, that means we all have to – especially those in regional NSW, who today had their lockdown extended until August 28 “at least”. Melbourne – which has hit its own grim milestone of 200 days of lockdown – is very much living with it now too, with NSW’s surge raising fears that Victoria will be in and out of a series of “yo-yo lockdowns” until the population is vaccinated, thanks to “inevitable” cross-border seedings. Queensland, on its second “donut day”, is on edge, ready to lock down again, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warning it would only take one infected person entering the state from NSW. But it is children and young people across the country who are the ones being truly forced to “live with COVID”, with many still struggling to get vaccinated (or ineligible). There is still no vaccine approved for under-16s (it’s coming, ATAGI promises), and no timeline for when they will be vaccinated, with experts increasingly concerned about the spread among Australian children.
Though it wasn’t meant to be now, Australians will eventually have to live with the virus, when adverse effects can be maintained at some kind of manageable level. But in claiming that other premiers are “pretending” that COVID-zero was a forever goal, the NSW premier and her cheerleaders are creating a straw man, encouraging a ridiculous proposition they can tear down, in order to portray the NSW government as the heroes in all this. Australians were always going to have to learn to live with it. What Berejiklian is asking them to do is to learn to live with her mistakes.
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Australia has recorded a grim milestone, with NSW’s 681 new COVID-19 cases (a new record) Victoria’s 57 (the highest since September 2020) and the ACT’s 16 combining to create the highest daily case number the nation has ever seen – and it won’t stop there. Even with increasing vaccination rates, which the PM celebrated in a press conference this afternoon, the NSW figure is expected to balloon into the thousands without further action. In the Nine papers, 4000 mystery infections are fuelling fears of...
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