State of Emergency or State of Entitlement?

"Antiseptic, gloves and medical mask on a white background - personal protective equipment" by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A former paramedic lets rip on why his fellow Victorians – specifically, Melbournites – only have themselves to blame. They created the need for the 12 month state of emergency. But it’s not that simple…

I’m sorry to say that the reason we are in this situation in Victoria is that most people didn’t take the original Stage 3 seriously. As a former Paramedic, I alternated between frustrated and appalled at just how crappy most people in public spaces were with following the damn rules.

Compliance with public health orders was pathetic, and the community behaviours created a powder keg of poor habits, self-indulgence, and avoidable cross-infection vectors through their daily activities – just waiting for a spark to set off a massive second wave – in this case some hotel and security staff in contact with overseas quarantine guests – and whoomph  – exponential explosion of the damn virus through the community!

People relaxed too soon

At no point since the first Stage 3 was instigated (and certainly not in the period where those restrictions began to be “loosened”) was social distancing removed from the “must always do” requirements list, yet people very rapidly stopped bothering – swarming to shopping centres, home gatherings, scenic hotspots in frankly idiotic numbers, carrying on as if the virus was defeated somehow..

It blew the mind to observe!

It’s very unfortunate that it was NECESSARY to place the current level of restrictions upon us, but they were and are necessary – each and every one of them can be logically linked to a failure of common sense or a failure of community compliance to LESS draconian and explicit orders. The current restrictions make sense when you recognise that we as a community, sadly failed to take lesser restrictions seriously.

Firmer measures were necessary

Our current broad range of mandated behaviours aren’t just a result of our CHO having fun torturing Melbournites.  

Why did curfews, door knocking with ADF reinforcements, mandatory masks, increased infringement penalties and policing, and 5km local travel lockdowns have to be instigated? 

Explicitly because the public showed no “common sense” (there’s no such thing IMHO – the term self-contradicts), were not particularly compliant and did not conscientiously follow all of the rules that came before.

Societal issues played a role

Are societal issues, such as insecure over-casualised workforce’s, wealth inequality, a terribly managed Federally privatised aged care sector and other systemic shortcomings getting very bright lights shone upon them as a part of the problem? Yep! Absolutely! And they play SOME part in why SOME people – mainly casuals and zero hour contractors – made unfortunate choices from a public health perspective.

They struggled to see any other alternative when their families, life essentials, the very roofs over their heads were at risk.

But those thus caught between a rock and a hard place aren’t the only ones who made bad decisions to ignore public health directives and warnings.

Others were just selfish

Others just did it for selfish or arrogant reasons, and some did it from a lack of comprehension as to how nasty of serious this little virus is (the one that’s caused a global catastrophic pandemic).

Since the majority of broken societal issues are for the Federal Government to manage or to fix longer term, are we likely to see any miraculous improvements with a neoliberal government in power? I’d say “nope!”  I’m amazed they’ve embraced what are fundamentally anathema to them – socialist style policies – in a dire emergency.

I’m sure they’ll revert back to form ASAP so they can continue to demonise “CentreLink bludgers” etc.

We knew this would happen

There’s never been an emergency that has lasted longer than 6 months continuously before! But all public health experts have been saying for ages that we’ll be lucky if there’s a vaccine proven, approved, manufactured and deployed en masse to the population in under a year from now. We must stay the course.

Talk of a ‘police state’ is inflammatory nonsense

It’s not a damn police state – how are people not understanding that the current state of lockdown and curfews are directly related to how fucking complacent and self-indulgent people were previously? To use bushfires as comparison, the “won’t impact me” brazen selfish and ignorant behaviour patterns during our original Stage 3 and the very short period where restrictions were lifted (and masses of people acted like freaking IDIOTS in response) – we provided the ground fuel, all we needed was a spark – and unfortunately we got one.

The alternative is mass deaths

If suddenly the Victorian response cannot be driven by health experts and the orders and advice of our Chief Health Officer, then COVID-19 will run absolutely rampant. Our hospitals will choke, and many many more will die.

And not just from COVID-19 – hospitals still have to save people’s lives for other reasons as well, which they can’t if they’ve been drowned in COVID patients. Want to know what that would look like? Google news reports from Italy (or New York).

Feel free to throw fascism accusations at them, but the Government will likely need Emergency Powers for the next year, and people will have to bloody well comply with what they’re asked to do!  To “rebel” against this is not going to help. It’s not going to get us through this any faster or in any better shape – it’s just going to screw us further. 

Wanna get pissed? Get pissed at the virus…  

A public transport worker responds

Thank you… can I just add to your “Wanna get pissed? Get pissed at the virus…” statement…and also get pissed at the selfish pricks who think they are above the rules and couldn’t care less about being the carriers and spreaders. 

I work in public transport and I’m seeing them every day, hundreds of them. In the city and out in the suburbs. Not wearing masks, breaking curfew, carrying an empty coffee cup so they’ve got an “excuse” not to wear a mask. 

For every person who is spotted and fined, my guess is there are literally thousands who aren’t being detected. Even if there was a cop on every corner, there’d still be thousands. The apathy and selfishness is staggering, and that is why the numbers aren’t coming down as quickly as they should. 
Most people are making an effort, but that leaves many, many who are not.

What chance did Dan Andrews have ? 

The biggest mistake he made was, in good faith, believing that everyone would recognise what was at stake and do their part. A great many Melbourne people are very selfish and very entitled.

And another point of view

The thing is that ‘reasonable,’ proportionate response, logic and what makes sense is deeply defined by the circumstances of people, not necessarily a common understanding. The lived experiences of people in Melbourne at the moment is distressful: tenancy vulnerability, mortgages, debt, precarious wage structures, loss of income, precarious and vulnerable industries, family violence, disconnection from family, loneliness etc are all significant and need careful consideration when applying a state of emergency.

Everybody has really felt these 6 weeks much harder than the first lockdown. 6 months is a long time and needs to be backed up with appropriate supports and services and the people of Victoria need to feel heard.

You make good points, you are correct, in my world, no one is questioning the need to contain movement and population actions, or that there were fools who did not understand the seriousness of our circumstances. But the vast majority of people did do the right thing. All our data indicates this, otherwise we would be in far worse circumstances.

Casualised work, vulnerable people

Transmission mostly occurred in vulnerable employment sites, (hotels, aged care, refrigeration and infrastructure based industries, (all are based on casualisation) and family homes. And if we do not address the circumstances that vulnerable communities experience such as no income if they have no employment because of the type of visa or refugee status they have, or the casualisation of work, or the consequences of isolation then people will behave in ways we don’t want them to because banks, landlords and debt collectors are coming after them and/or their mental health is at risk.

This is all supported by Andrews data and messaging. These things need to be addressed to keep the population who are experiencing fatigue and need to be heard and supported onside. 

Contributions have been anonymised to shield the contributors.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)