NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has a new plan to reopen her state’s economy, likely infecting tens of thousands with the deadly Delta strain of COVID-19. Press reports indicate that Berejiklian has overruled her own health officer to institute this new “roadmap to freedom”, which identifies October 18 as the planned date for shops, pubs, swimming pools, hairdressers, gyms and aged care centres to reopen. They will then be followed by schools on October 25. The trigger for these plans is the dubious target of 70% of people 16 and over having two doses of the vaccine.
The public health rationale for this policy is nonexistent. The government’s own modelling predicts that hospitalisations and deaths will be at their peak just as the reopening begins. On top of that, it’s now well understood that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus, and that the elderly and those with underlying conditions are vulnerable to serious illness and even death even when fully vaccinated. So the double-jabbed amongst us will still pose a risk to our loved ones.
More fundamentally, the experience of the pandemic globally tells us that these vaccination targets are woefully inadequate to prevent widespread illness and death.
Israel recently recorded the highest per-capita caseload on the planet according to figures provided by Johns Hopkins University, despite having vaccinated 80% of people above the age of 12. The US has fully vaccinated 62% of its population over the age of 12, but more people die every two days than lost their lives in the terror attacks on 9/11.
The NSW cabinet was fully aware of these shocking statistics when making their decision to open up. Sky News has now revealed that NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant referenced the situation in the US and Israel when she advised the government that reopening should wait until vaccines reach 85% of the adult population. As a loyal servant of the business elite, Berejiklian shut her down. (Chant is also culpable for refusing to resign in protest, as well as her sycophantic defence of Berejiklian’s mishandling of the pandemic so far.)
Having previously congratulated herself for teaching Australia to live with COVID-19, Berejiklian seems set on preparing us to die with it as well. Without a flicker of guilt or shame, she announced her plan while also telling us that another five people had been killed by the virus in the past 24 hours. This brought the NSW total in this outbreak to 107, with roughly half occurring in the past two weeks.
The issue of school reopenings has been hotly debated, with many epidemiologists, teachers and parents insisting that extreme caution prevail until staff and students are vaccinated. In Scotland and the US, school reopenings have resulted in dramatic surges in cases. According to data provided by NSW Health, children and teenagers already make up around a third of weekly COVID cases. How many more will be endangered if students and staff are crammed together in unsafe classrooms?
The Liberal premier could not care less. According to her, reopening schools on October 25 is crucial because the community “needs a fixed date to provide certainty”. When pressed a little on this point, NSW’s sycophantic chief health officer explained how pleased she was that children between 12 and 15 would possibly, maybe, begin to have access to vaccines over the next few weeks. Sending tens of thousands of children to be packed like sardines in underfunded and unsafe classrooms should be a crime. These unsuspecting kids will be spreading a deadly virus to each other, their teachers and their loved ones, just so the premier can restart her precious economy rather than paying people to safely stay home until the outbreak is controlled.
Frustratingly, few of the journalists present were interested in exploring these life or death issues.
Nor did they ask any questions about the state of the NSW hospital system, which was reported to be coping with a record 200 people in intensive care with COVID today. Just a few days earlier the Daily Telegraph reported that NSW hospitals were preparing to move into “Code Black” emergency procedures, with the possibility of 900 cases in ICU in October.
Such stories barely register for a corporate media more attuned to the needs of business owners than of workers and the vulnerable. As the saying goes, first they came for the beauty parlour...
A few journalists did pluck up the courage to ask questions that might cast some doubt on the wisdom of the reopening. One wondered how the government could ensure that only vaccinated people would take advantage of the eased restrictions. Berejiklian’s response, which emphasised the deployment of QR codes, was laughable to anyone that has gone anywhere in the past year: how rigorously have you found QR codes to be enforced? Will NSW business owners really turn away customers on this basis during a reopening? The reality is that opening up for the vaccinated means opening up for everyone.
Another journalist asked what might trigger restrictions being reintroduced in the 70% scenario. The answer was shocking. According to Berejiklian, areas where the virus is circulating would remain open as normal, with the proviso that people from within those areas would not be allowed to leave. The impossibility of ring-fencing suburbs and urban centres in this way is obvious.
Finally, a few pressed the Chief Health Officer about a possible rift with the Premier, following reports in The Australian that she preferred a target of 85%. “Are you comfortable with pubs and gyms opening at 70%?”, one asked. The reply was brutally honest: “This is all about giving businesses certainty”. It sure is. Certain profits for them in exchange for certain disease and certain death for us. Just how capitalism likes it.