The rollback on periods of COVID isolation seems politically motivated for a Labor victory in the Victorian election, writes Imogen Timms.
OUR LIVES are governed by essential rules to ensure our safety. Seatbelt. Helmets. Speed limits. They are based on an imperative premise: to protect the individual and save the community.
The national cabinetThe decision to cancel mandatory periods of isolation is the antithesis of progressive social reform, prioritizing the quality of life of the privileged over the health of vulnerable Australians.
The decision is shocking, but not unexpected. The Liberals marked the change they demanded, but the PLA undermined the fabric of their pandemic policy. Given the anti-“Dictator Dan“Rhetoric that will inevitably swell ahead of the looming Victorian election, is Labor trying to ditch a few cheap votes before the polling booth?
By helping a “return to normal life”, the Victorian Labor Party can reposition itself as the party that defended the state in the grip of COVID-19, then lifted us out of the turmoil and into the sun.
But for many Australians, the plane is still rattling. The National Cabinet’s decision is overwhelming for vulnerable people and their communities, including family, friends and healthcare workers.
As of October 4, more than 5,100 cases of COVID-19 were reported daily nationwide. And those are just the ones we know about. Seven Victorians lost their lives to COVID-19 on October 4, with eight others in intensive care and 143 in hospital. We also know that COVID-19 is blind; it is not only the vulnerable who suffer the terrible consequences. And even if that were the case, it would be morally corrupt to implement a policy that does not respect their right to a safe and healthy existence.
This fiction that the pandemic is “over” is false at best and deadly at worst. The push for “normal life” is an untenable mistake amid an ongoing health crisis that is fueling ableist attitudes.
”Normal’ has never served my community. “Normal” endangers, stigmatizes, demonizes and kills in the name of accepted and entrenched prejudices”, says a disability advocate and law student, Bridie Cochrane Holley. “Community safety should never be a luxury; it should be a requirement and a priority.
“I will leave the political punditry to others, but what I would say is that it is really disappointing to see the response to COVID being increasingly shaped by electoral politics and considerations other than public health. “, added Craig Wallacepolicy officer at Advocacy for inclusion.
“The whole premise of seminal labor reforms like Medicare and NDIS was that health care or the care of the disabled was a shared responsibility and should not fall on those who were least able to bear the burden. Applied to the pandemic, this would mean that the community would do all they could – within reason – to ensure that the most vulnerable people did not have to bear the full burden of isolation and risk of COVID.
This is not a call for us to rush back to our homes and restore life in confinement, but rather to reassess the catastrophic risk that the cancellation of isolation periods presents. Danger is inherent in any society, yes, but mitigating risk is paramount to civilization.
“Victoria supports the unanimous decision taken by the National Cabinet”, a Victorian government spokesman said:
“We have kept key measures in place to protect vulnerable Victorians, such as vaccination mandates in health care and aged care settings, and we encourage all Victorians to stay up to date with their vaccines, to stay home when sick and to wear a mask when they cannot socially distance to help the most vulnerable in our community.
If we all followed these suggestions, we might not have to worry so much about the lack of mandatory isolation periods. Yet we know Australians’ interest in vaccine boosters is begins to decline. Staying home when sick is an option now reserved for the privileged few without pandemic leave benefits. Masks are frequently abandoned.
While the chief physician, professor Paul Kellywas right to say that we must take into account the “the context” of this decision with regard to vaccination rates and immunity to previous infections, this “the context” must incorporate the fact that people continue to be infected and die every day from COVID-19.
“Dejected, angry and scared to see the news that the National Cabinet has scrapped mandatory isolation periods and COVID isolation payments,” said Carly Findlaywriter, disability and appearance activist. ‘This is shit. It’s frightening. I have the impression that we have been let down by our leaders.
The health of Australians is being sacrificed in the name of a ‘normal’ life, or perhaps to score perverse political points.
Humanity, it seems, has abandoned the National Cabinet agenda.
Imogen Timms is a freelance writer, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, news.com.au and Fashion Journal. You can find her on Twitter @newyorktimms.
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