fear must not dictate Australian plans to contain virus

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has defended his decision to send the first evacuees to Christmas Island, despite concerns it did not have the capacity to hold in isolation all the Australians stuck in Hubei province – concerns that have since played out. The Australian Medical Association also disapproved of the plan, saying Christmas Island did not have the medical facilities to treat evacuees should they become seriously ill.

Richmond is closer than Christmas Island to large public hospitals. It also would have been a much cheaper alternative than flying evacuees 2000 kilometres off the mainland.

But one must remember the government is not only trying to manage an illness here. It’s trying to manage the fear of one too. And what better way to do that than keep any potential cases of coronavirus as far away from the main population as possible.  And Christmas Island has proved itself a great card to have in your deck when you are playing the politics of fear – albeit a costly one.

Last year, unhappy that Parliament had voted to allow unwell asylum seekers to be evacuated to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru, Scott Morrison spent $185 million reopening the island’s detention facilities. Sending Wuhan evacuees there has had the added benefit of making the decision to reopen the facility seem more financially prudent. Until last week, the detention centre was home to only four people – a couple and their two little girls, who with a whole community behind them, were fighting their deportation to Sri Lanka.

If fear is at play in the government’s management of the coronavirus epidemic, it is costing us money that could be better spent elsewhere. But fear is something we can all do something about. Let’s keep our heads in the face of this epidemic – no need to unleash the fiery arrows just yet.


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