By Wendy Min
Having parents in the healthcare industry and working on the frontline in Sydney during this current pandemic is cause for anxiety, especially when I am feeling down. However, in many aspects Australia is lucky. More than 35,000 Australians have received free COVID-19 tests, including my mother who fell sick a few days ago. The result came back negative but the process was not easy on my mental health. It was simply calling the local doctor, obtaining a certificate [which took some convincing], calling the COVID-19 hotline, booking an appointment, completing the test and then waiting two days for the results.
Australia’s current success in fighting the virus is attributed to several factors. With a low population density, great medical and research capabilities, a large landmass and surrounding oceans, lockdowns and restrictions are easier to implement. I know there have been concerns with the rising population in Australia and fears of a much quicker virus spread. But in the end, compared with many other nations, Australia is well off.
Australia has come a long way since adopting proper measures to stem the spread of the virus. There were some cases and incidents that frustrated me at the beginning of the first wave of COVID-19 in Australia. The ongoing debate over masks was painful to listen to. Those wearing masks are few and masks along with other relevant products were out of stock. People were fighting over toilet paper and shelves holding meat, dairy products, rice, pasta, oil and other essential nonperishable products were empty. Some broke isolation and social distancing rules. Flights from the US and Europe continued until a grave error was made and 2,700 people were allowed to disembark from the Ruby Princess cruise ship last month without strict quarantine measures. Four passengers were found to have COVID-19, with cases rising to 26, then 48 and then 183. For something that hits closer to home, what baffles me is that it has only been in recent days that hospitals have started to perform compulsory temperature checks.
Prior to that, the procedure for both my parents when they went to work was answering general questions about their health and travel histories. Masks were not handed out and medical staff were not allowed to wear masks while working in their wards. For those in the ICU, masks could be worn but only when in the actual ward and by a patient’s bedside. Logically speaking, it made no sense – one cannot put healthcare workers at risk.
What is good to know is that recently, my parents have been able to shop during special times reserved for medical workers.
All in all, the only way for Australia or any other country to speed up the rate of infection within its own borders is for government to deny the severity of the situation and pretend that nothing is wrong while blaming everyone else to divert attention from its own incompetence.
US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to cease WHO funding and even cut funds to the US’ own CDC and medical research centers is similar to a lack of attention on solidifying healthcare. While a universal right, healthcare has become a line between the rich and the poor, and while every country should give higher wages to healthcare workers. That has not been the case.
A single system needs to be in place to categorize countries into tiers to better respond to disasters. Multiple dimensions should be looked at from the perspectives of population and land mass, religiosity, level of industrialization and education, and others. Irrespective of how developed or under developed nations are, those that are similar should be placed into the same category for their respective response plans. The invisible virus does not care about borders or political ideologies, thus political games should be minimized.
The notion that not all lives are equal in the face of this virus, and the fact that millions of people have no access to free or affordable healthcare upsets me. What is even more depressing and tiresome is that the global political mess and lack of solidarity is only seen when humankind is faced with a universal crisis. Once this is over and a vaccine is developed, we will likely forget about the inconvenience and pain and return to normal. When the next pandemic strikes, will we be better prepared?
The author is a freelance writer. She was born in China, raised in Australia, educated in China, Australia and France. [email protected]