Since the isolation of her Melbourne home, Carol Davy has been battling daily with ovarian cancer and systemic lupus.
- Australia’s COVID hospitalization rates hit highs in February
- Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has rejected any reintroduction of mask mandates
- Health experts say Australia’s complacency on COVID is leading to higher transmission rates
With COVID-19 still casting a specter over every town and city in Australia, Carol has found herself cut off from the rest of the world.
“It was a very stressful time, isolated to the point of almost going crazy,” she said.
Carol spends most of her life behind N95 masks and plastic face shields to protect herself from life-threatening infection.
Although Carol’s illness entitles her to a home care package, her fear of COVID-19 infection means she rarely takes advantage of it.
“I just canceled one after another, which was difficult for me, but there was a period where they wouldn’t even say if their staff had been vaccinated or reinforced,” Carol said.
Routine medical trips to the Royal Melbourne Hospital have become “absolutely terrifying” ordeals as the rest of the country emerges from the pandemic.
“There are people everywhere without masks,” Carol said.
“I was walking into Coles one day, all masked and masked, and three young guys came up to me and said ‘Oooh, look at you with all your stuff’!
“People never cease to amaze me.”
For Carol, the complacency shown by the rest of the country has left her feeling invisible.
“What annoys me more than anything, especially in the last month or two, is the media and others talking about COVID in the past tense,” she said.
“And yet more than 20 people die every night, and they are people like me.
Australia marked its 10,000th death from COVID earlier this month, with health authorities no longer announcing individual details of the deceased.
For Carol to succumb to the virus after such a long battle with cancer would be unfair.
“I fought cancer for years and I fought a damn good fight,” she said.
“I don’t want to die from the damn virus.”
Australia cases and hospital admissions rise as rules ease
Jurisdictions across the country have rolled back COVID-19 restrictions despite the onset of winter.
Mask requirements at airports have been scrapped in line with advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), while states have rolled back vaccination mandates across many industries.
Masks must now only be worn in high-risk settings such as healthcare and aged care, while QANTAS has started to roll back mask requirements on outbound international flights.
Despite claims from state health chiefs that “pressure is growing” to reintroduce mask mandates, Health Minister Mark Butler has dismissed the idea.
“I don’t see a return to very broad mask mandates, that’s the advice I’m getting, but clearly the message is to take responsibility, make your own choice,” Butler told ABC News Breakfast.
The government’s fierce opposition to mask mandates contrasts with rising hospitalization figures in Australia, with the country recording its highest number of hospitalized COVID patients since February.
Additionally, Mr Butler said there could still be “several weeks or months” before the rise in cases and hospitalizations began to reverse.
North vs South comparisons leading to frustration
Kirsty Short is a virologist at the University of Queensland who says the spike in COVID-19 cases was almost inevitable.
“If you lift the restrictions, which was always supposed to happen, you’re going to have more cases,” Dr Short said.
“Certainly if you are someone who is not vaccinated or not fully up to date… I would strongly recommend that you wear a mask at this time.”
Dr Short said many Australians may be hesitant to voluntarily wear masks after seeing countries abroad live largely unrestricted.
“To play in there is to look at the northern hemisphere and see that they are way beyond it,” Dr Short said.
“We have to remember that in the southern hemisphere we are in a bit of a different situation.
Dr Short said while Australians might be weary after more than two years of restrictions, it was of the utmost importance to keep immunocompromised and elderly people in mind.
“We have to remember that there are vulnerable members in the community,” Dr Short said.
“We forget these people at our peril.”
Health experts point to the costs of complacency in the face of COVID-19
Brendan Crabb of the Burnet Institute is one of many health experts calling for an urgent and radical overhaul of Australia’s attitude towards COVID-19 infection.
“There is no doubt that we are in massive complacency over COVID,” Professor Crabb said.
“We had the better part of the 8 million people who officially got COVID, probably something like double in reality,
“[There’s] no sign that we’re building this magic wall of immunity.”
Professor Crabb said governments and health authorities must take responsibility for sending mixed messages to the Australian public.
“We’re complacent, but I don’t blame the public for that,” Professor Crabb said.
Professor Crabb said COVID complacency was a global problem, with the World Health Organization urging countries with high transmission rates like Australia to change course.
“Many transmissions have not set us free, they have restricted our freedoms. There is no doubt about that,” he said.
Professor Crabb said promoting the benefits of measures such as wearing face masks and vaccinations was essential, rather than simply imposing them and punishing those who do not follow the rules.
“There will be occasions where something needs to be introduced in a more mandated way, and hopefully when that happens the community will want it because they’ve been on this journey,” he said.
“We’re not getting that narrative even close to the right at the moment.”
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