Viruses don’t adhere to political ideologies: this is the lesson newly-incumbent NSW premier Dominic Perrottet has been learning over the Christmas-New Year period.
As he took the reins of the state following the demise of predecessor Gladys Berejikilian, Perrottet notoriously said, “We know that this is not just a health crisis, it’s an economic crisis too.”
This statement signalled a shift in how the state Liberal Nationals government was going to approach the pandemic: no longer would health advice rule, rather tweaks would be made to the approach to COVID-19 to facilitate a speedy economic recovery.
At this point in time, in early October, NSW had high vaccination rates, and it followed that the threat of the Delta strain would be reduced.
So, rather than follow the months-in-the-making Berejiklian government plan to open up, Dom decided he’d be fast tracking the process.
Then Omicron struck, and as we were all now “living with the virus”, no real attempts were made to curb it.
Instead, as cases of the new variant surged and the fabled carefree Christmas drew nearer, the unelected premier removed all remaining restrictions and “let it rip”.
Three and a half weeks later, when the bulk of NSW was returning to work on 10 January, supermarket shelves were empty, events were being cancelled, cafes were starved of customers, staff shortages were rampant, and, in Sydney, trains were running on a reduced timetable.
Let it collapse
Rather than an economic uptrend, ANZ Research outlined last week that “spending is now at its worst since Delta lockdowns”, while, in Sydney, during the week to 5 January, it “was at its weakest since COVID began”. And these figures were put down to transmission concerns and staff shortages.
Back when health officials had more sway over the pandemic response, this nation was a world leader in terms of low case numbers, yet since we’ve been at the behest of the premier’s politicking, this state has now skyrocketed to having one of the globe’s highest infection rates per capita.
Australians across the nation are currently dumbfounded as to why this is the case, as they’ve just spent the last two years following government imposed health restrictions, yet, suddenly, all precautions have been thrown to the wind.
And whilst it may have been time to lift lockdowns, the question must be asked, did the premier need to prod everyone to get back out there in the name of spending and catch the new highly contagious variant, especially when the official word on its implications weren’t fully understood?
The truth of the matter is, Perrottet is running the state to a strict set of ideological principles that involves small government – which equates to heavily reduced public participation in the political process – and an enhanced reliance on the private sector, even for public health needs.
Of course, PM Morrison was only too happy to follow Dominic’s inroads into the pandemic response, which is all too evident in his refusal to fund rapid antigen tests so individuals can gauge their wellbeing, leaving it up to private interests to hike the price to get the highest profit during a crisis.
Indeed, NSW health minister Brad Hazzard’s 26th December mantra “We’re all going to get Omicron” is a falsehood, but it was a good excuse to get out there and join the Boxing Day sales.
Not everyone got the Alpha variant or Delta. Not everyone gets each new strain of the flu.
And while we all may be destined to get COVID in the long run, it doesn’t mean we all have to get out there and catch it immediately, as the Perrottet government has advised, because if the resulting mass infections aren’t a concern, well, it’s also brining the economy to a grinding halt.