Dear politicians in Canberra and Sydney: caring for us means you need to tell us the truth

Jan 14, 2022
(Image: AAP/James Ross)

We don’t want spin and false promises. Even if the “system” is in good shape, many of the people in that system are not feeling the same.

So here we are in NSW, to quote Jim Stanford, with a state and federal government that have managed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”. I think it is fair to say that most of us feel overwhelmed and deflated by the spiralling (and even then only partial) numbers, deaths, hospitalisations and supply failures. I certainly feel abandoned by both my state (NSW) and federal government, hung out to dry on a cocktail of ideology based on personal responsibility and economic rationalism.

As concerned citizens we are taking our personal responsibility seriously. We are self-isolating to avoid infection and (if infected) self-isolating to avoid cross infection. We are avoiding social contacts and public gatherings. So, in fact, we have a Clayton’s lockdown. But we are experiencing this virtual lockdown without any semblance of governmental support or care.

So, what might governmental care in the Age of Omicron look like? Well first and foremost, they could give some extra thought to our healthcare workers and other front-line staff who have given their all for two years and were thinking blithely of holidays and breaks. Now they don’t even get a break if they’re an asymptomatic close contact! I believe that some financial remuneration (the unions can best determine what that might be) would be at the very least an indication of appreciation.

Free rapid antigen tests (RATs) are on the cards, but not currently in abundance and maybe even some vouchers for future use – these could be for education, for recreation, for exercise, for massages. Understood they can’t be used now, but they would be a concrete indication of gratitude. Similarly, an acceptance and acknowledgement that, if our healthcare staff say they feel overwhelmed, they DO feel overwhelmed, not some blanket statement that the system is “in good shape”. Even if the “system” (whatever that is without its staff) is in good shape, many of the people in that system are not feeling the same. Just do them the courtesy of honouring their sentiments, politicians. You might just be wrong.

Now let’s move to businesses. Also made up of people who are either sick or isolating – AND —  if they’re service businesses, serving people who are voting with their feet and spending less than ever. Staff need to be paid, but if businesses are struggling, they can’t pay their sick and furloughed staff. They can’t even pay their staff who are turning up to work with no customers. But while the governments state that we are “pushing through” (I loathe that expression), they can deny there is any form of lockdown and thus deprive businesses of any support to pay their workers. Care would be a reintroduction of support funding in a similar form to JobKeeper and an acknowledgement of our Clayton’s lockdown.

Moving along now to the public. Us. If you care about us, don’t lie to us. Admit you made a mistake. Don’t talk to us in binaries. “It’s either push through or lock down.” No it isn’t. I’m offering all sorts of great ideas of things you could do to help us, as have numerous economic and health experts within the past week (leave alone the past two years). The vast majority of us want to be safe. We want to have jabs and boosters, to take tests (PCRs or RATs), to keep away from people if we are sick and to avoid super spreader events.

Caring for us means you need to tell us the truth. Tell us if you haven’t got the workforce to deliver all the vaccines, tell us if you’re rationing PCRs (which you are), tell us how you’re going to keep our kids safe when they go back to school (if you can until they’re vaccinated). It might seem like a long bow, but research on kids whose parents are in prison shows that they don’t want unrealistic promises of presents and gifts, they want honesty.

We your public are not children, but we also want to know the truth. We don’t want spin and we don’t want false promises. Like the advice to dads in prison, we’d prefer it if you’d tell us if you’ve let us down and make it clear to us what we can expect. That would be responsible caring.

Another form of responsible caring would be working out how to help people to do their RAT, rather than threatening to fine them if they don’t report a positive test. I have performed two RATs on myself so far, one on request prior to attending a small gathering on NYE and one before minor eye surgery. The latter wasn’t requested, but I felt it was a judicious use of my second precious test. Now, I am well educated and capable of reading instructions normally, but I did have a slight vision problem for both tests (now happily resolved).

With the aid of both my spectacles and a magnifying glass I was able to read the instructions that involved the following: a nasal swab, a small plastic test tube, some lotion to go into the test tube in a small plastic vial, a flat test recorder and a torch with a blue light to read the test after 15 minutes (and a battery supplied to go into the torch).

It did make me wonder how difficult it would be for someone with worse vision than mine was at that time, for someone who wasn’t a nurse and therefore unused to taking swabs and mixing things in test tubes, for someone whose first language wasn’t English, or even for someone who couldn’t read very well or indeed at all.

Rather than threatening people for not reporting their positive tests, care from our government would be about providing clear multilingual and/or visual instructions on TV or through advertisements on how to perform the different tests. Maybe the federal government could spend the money on those advertisements and save money on telling us about its positive energy. Care could be about an information package about how to take a RAT on healthdirect. Care could be about signs on bus stops and advertisements around the state directing people to some of this extra multilingual and visual information.

There is a lot more that could be done to care, politicians. Your personal responsibility extends, by virtue of your positions, to your public, to your electorate, to your state, to your country. You need to demonstrate your responsibility through better care.

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