Common sense and grassroots results needed in virus crisis


As of Sunday, that balancing act of mitigating the spread of the disease and doing everything to stave off a recession is over.

A 14-day quarantine period for everyone arriving on flights from overseas is a complete travel ban by any other name. It will have devastating impacts on tourism, on airlines and on the economy.

But health officials believe it is what is needed to stem the flow of new COVID-19 cases, many of which have arrived on flights from the United States and Europe in the past week.

Australia, and the world, is now suffering the biggest social disruption since World War II. And the most drastic measures are still ahead of us.

Behind closed doors in the past few days, a number of scenarios have been played out between state governments and health authorities.

Some have wanted what might have been judged a “disproportionate” response, others have been more conservative, guided by the advice of health officials.

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Morrison was the last to fold on banning crowds at sporting events and did not want to get ahead of what the level of medical advice was. This was despite some state leaders pushing it hard as a pre-emptive strike.

Only the two world wars have disrupted sporting events and daily life in the way we are about to experience in the coming weeks and months. A disruption on such a large scale to what are weekend rituals for so many will lead to a major dent in public confidence.

Morrison gets this and has consistently shown he has a strong understanding of the Australian suburban psyche.

Until Sunday’s decisive press conference, it had been a messy few days for the government and for the Prime Minister in particular. His on-again, off-again attendance at the footy – all in just a couple of hours- had sent confused messages.

The decision, in the end, was to “avoid any unnecessary confusion”. It was all as clear as mud.

Confusion reigned too with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s positive COVID-19 result and whether or not Morrison and his cabinet should self-isolate.

It took a couple of media appearances from the Chief Medical Officer to clear it all up.

Some of Mr Morrison’s colleagues fear he is taking on too much and that some around him need to share the load.

“He looks tired and stressed,” one said. “It’s not a criticism but an observation. This is too big for one person or even one government to carry alone. He cannot be the everyman on this one.”

It is more than likely it will be a community response, street by street, block by block, suburb by suburb, will be required if the virus takes hold and the nation is put in virtual lock down.

Community champions will be needed to check on the elderly, those living alone and the most vulnerable. It will be a job for much more than those in elected office.

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The government – with the states on board – has decided, at this stage, not go down the path of mass school closures.

There are two reasons for this. One, the impact on the workforce it could have, with critical workers such as nurses, doctors and others potentially having to remain home and look after their children.

And two, taking children out of school to engage with others, such as grandparents, increases the risks of the virus spreading.

But handshakes are now a no-no and social isolating is now in force. You’ll likely be spending more time with your cat if you can work from home in the coming weeks.

Morrison, his office and senior ministers have been increasingly annoyed at misinformation and misrepresentations in the past few days.

Truth is they have made the mistake of thinking everyone is listening and acting rationally.

A national information campaign is now in train but it was probably at least a week too late. The toilet paper panic should have been a giveaway.

If the government appeared to be lagging in the past few days, it is no longer.

History will judge whether the government acted in a timely manner on its response but Sunday’s announcement draws a line in the sand.

The measures put in place will push the peak period of infection back months, ensuring the crisis goes on until September, but it will also mean hospitals and medical clinics are not completely overwhelmed. In the end it will save lives.

Perhaps the most important statement from the Prime Minister on Sunday was that Australians should be exercising their common sense.

“Now Australians can deal with this,” Morrison said. “We can deal with some change to our daily lives. We can deal with the surprises that may come as we get further information.”

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