Lockdown. The word triggers anxiety among millions of Victorians, and with good reason.
We endured 112 days of it last winter, when we stared down our second wave. In that time, thousands were infected by Covid, and hundreds died. While we became the only place in the world to successfully turn such a major outbreak into community elimination, the scars remain.
After months of relative freedom, where news of the pandemic was largely restricted to international news feeds, the last few days have hit Melbourne hard. Community cases – the first here in almost three months – originated from a breach in South Australian hotel quarantine, and we are now paying the price: hundreds of exposure sites, thousands of close contacts, and back into lockdown.
We have been here before. Victorians know the drill, but that does not make it any easier.
Some things make coping harder, like the bitter knowledge that so much of this was preventable.
For many months, my medical colleagues and I have warned of the risks that could jeopardise our safety in Australia. We said that hotel quarantine was not going to prevent outbreaks, and that broad acre solutions like Howard Springs were essential. But the response from Canberra has been tepid and slow.
Even more alarming have been Australia’s disastrous delays in getting vaccinated. We have suffered from haphazard supply, a distorted view of vaccine risk, high rates of vaccine hesitancy, an unjustified sense of complacency, and a woeful public education effort.
As result, our community remains highly vulnerable to a third wave.
The most distressing revelation of all has been evidence of Covid cases among staff and residents in private nursing homes once again. Too many of our frail elderly remain unvaccinated, and staff have been required to fend for themselves in getting vaccinations – a reprehensible state of affairs, after all we saw all they suffered in 2020. It seems that we have not learned the lessons we should have.
Anxiety is growing across Melbourne and Victoria, as we all isolate and absorb what could happen in the weeks ahead. Already, it looks like the seven day lockdown will have to be extended.
As healthcare workers, we are steeling ourselves for a battle we fervently hope does not return to our hospitals and clinics. Elective surgery has been curtailed, PPE drills are back, visitors are denied the opportunity to visit their loved ones, and supplies are being stockpiled.
Right now, we are not the frontline.
The frontlines are our public health teams, who are undertaking the herculean task of testing, tracing and isolating many thousands of Victorians. If they are overwhelmed, then cases will grow exponentially, and we will again see severely ill Covid patients presenting to our emergency departments, struggling to breathe and needing intensive care.
It’s a dangerous and worrying time in Victoria.
As I said in 2020, we count on our training, and even children know about hand washing and social distancing these days.
We count on our colleagues, because healthcare is always a team sport, and we have already set many of the benchmarks for the care of Covid patients.
We count on the Victorian and Australian community, to continue to get tested in their tens of thousands every day, to get vaccinated at the first opportunity.
And we must count on each other to look after each other until that distant day when Covid-19 is no longer a threat.