This is our 10-Point Plan for exiting the covid stalemate.
1. Australian governments should stop trying to eradicate community transmission of the virus. It cannot be eradicated. It will continue to be with us for years to come.
2. Lockdowns have never been advised by the World Health Organisation or recommended by leading global medical authorities. The social, economic and psychological costs of lockdowns are greater than the health risks of the virus. Australian governments should abandon lockdown strategies.
3. All epidemiological data, modelling and forecasts used by Australian governments should be made public, without redaction. All health, social and economic data held by Australian governments concerning the impact of covid-19 should be publicly available online in formats that are accessible to the general public.
4. Australians who are not at high risk of medical complications from the virus due to age (over 70 years) or co-morbidities (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer) should resume normal living while continuing to practice social distancing and careful hygience maintenance (regular washing of hands). This means, in all states and territories:
- Schools and universities should operate as normal.
- Sport and leisure activities should take place as normal.
- Cafes and restaurants should open as usual.
- Economic and business activity should operate as normal.
- Weddings, funerals and religious activities should be undertaken without restrictions.
- Elective surgery should resume in our hospitals.
5. Domestic travel should be permitted. Closure of state borders should not be permitted by any Australian governments.
6. Travel to and from Australia should be re-opened with a continuation of 14-day quarantine requirements for incoming arrivals. Hotel quarantine has been a flawed and counter-productive form of quarantine from the outset, since co-residential settings facilitate the spread of the virus. It should be replaced by home detention under strict supervision. Australian governments should not waste taxpayers money on purpose-built co-residential quarantine facilities.
7. Mask-wearing should be optional. Global scientific opinion on its effectiveness is mixed.
8. Reliance on medical practitioners to conduct vaccinations was an ill-conceived, slow and costly process, driven by political pressure from organisations of medical practitioners. Pharmacies, nurse practitioners and mass vaccination centres should have been permitted to distribute vaccines from the outset. Vaccination should remain voluntary.
9. All people over the age of 70 years with high-risk medical conditions (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer) should be supported with a designated Circle of Support around them of 6-8 family, friends and neighbours, under medical supervision.
Circles of Support are an established social mechanism widely employed in the disability and mental health fields to build an intentional network of civil society support around vulnerable people. In this pandemic, their role is to secure the basic needs of people over the age of 70. This would include:
- arranging for home deliveries of groceries, pharmacy items, hygiene supplies
- regular contact and social support, via telephone or socially distanced personal contact
- assistance in paying bills and co-ordination of daily living arrangements
- arranging specialist health and well-being support
We need civil defence infrastructure at micro-local levels to support people over 70 with co-morbidities and those at risk of violence, suicide and mental illness. Australian governments have failed to build support infrastructure of this kind in the last 18 months knowing full well the surge in violence, suicide and mental illness generated by lockdown strategies. This civil defence infrastructure should assume responsibility for co-ordination of Circles of Support.
We favour precinct-level networks (200-400 households), connected online and in-person, as infrastructure through which to enable mutual supports and information flows that involve the whole of the population in mitigating risks and ‘looking after each other’.
10. Responsibility for health should be transferred from the States to the Commonwealth, and ‘National Cabinet’ discontinued as a failed experiment in public governance. Instead, we need a genuine Government of National Unity to fix the mess created by fear-driven strategies.
In a health and social crisis, the country cannot afford governments based on the old adversarial party politics. It has driven the exploitation of fear for party political ends, producing the flawed eradication and lockdown strategies. If any group of ordinary Australians were selecting people to manage the covid response, we would seek out people with a track record in solving problems and fixing things. Instead, we have premiers, federal ministers, and their inexperienced advisers trying to lead when virtually none of them have a track record in fixing anything. They tend to hide behind ‘official medical opinion’ instead of subjecting all advice to critical scrutiny, and weighing it up against a wide range of other considerations.
The health, social and economic devastation imposed by Australian governments in 2020 and 2021 will have to be fixed in coming years. To do that we will need a high level of social consensus, a rejection of adversarial politics, and a genuine Government of National Unity.
This post first appeared in the newsletter of the Australian Sensible Centre.