The Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918-1920 bears a strong resemblance to the current pandemic. Although the actual virus causing the disease is different, the result of the infection is similar. It causes pneumonia, and people die in large numbers. It’s a health emergency and we need to act. If we don’t survive this, the economy is irrelevant.
There is no vaccine, so it needs to be managed. We can starve the virus by limiting its hosts, and it will disappear. Or we can allow it to run through our community until it decimates the population.
There are a range of self-help measures we can use. People need to distance themselves physically from others. They need to wash their hands regularly, using soap and water, or alcohol based sanitiser. They need to clean up their coughing, and even their breathing protocols, so that they ensure that they do not pass the virus on.
People coming in from overseas need to be quarantined. Not because they came from overseas, but because the virus, to this moment, has spread mostly from those who have recently returned. They need to be policed in this quarantine, because many have been found to be untrustworthy. And these rogues are not only annoying – they are potentially killing people.
We know these things because we have had time to study what has worked, and what has not worked, overseas. We also have the historical record. The Spanish Flu was another pandemic, and we know what worked then, and we know that the same measures will work for us, now.
We have watched China, South Korea, Singapore, Italy, Spain and the U.S. As the pandemic unrolls we know where the mistakes were made, and what worked. We know that physical distancing works, and yet last week we had the fiasco of the ‘hairdressing edict’, where hairdressing was treated as an essential service, and we even extended the time allowed.
We had the saga of the Ruby Princess, where Border Force had responsibility for allowing 2700 passengers to disembark, and then disperse throughout the country from Sydney, which was already carrying the burden of the largest number of confirmed cases in the nation. That might turn out to be the defining moment of our battle with the virus, when we realised this was serious, and we needed to wake up.
We have had the argument about whether this is a health or an economic emergency. It is a HEALTH EMERGENCY. If we don’t survive this, there won’t be anyone around to enjoy the bounce-back.
Eventually, and very haltingly, the Federal Government has responded with emergency measures, although the division of resources, or the balancing act between health and economy has meant that we have seen more of a financial response from the Feds, and more of a public health response from the States. This repeats the mistakes of the Spanish Flu response.
In late 1918 Victoria withheld its statistics on Spanish Flu cases, leading New South Wales to allow travel from Melbourne, when it was actually unsafe to do so. This proved to be extremely dangerous, and it led New South Wales to close its border with Victoria. Co-operation between the states collapsed. This time around, the Commonwealth seems powerless to act, and instead the states are acting alone, closing borders, closing schools, closing hairdressers even.
Scott Morrison is a man divided. He looks like he wants to lead, but his caution and political cunning holds him back. Every press conference concedes some ground, but it lacks what is needed now. We need the leader of the country to catch up with his premiers, to decide on positive action to stop the virus, to throw away the political handbook, and to worry about Australians’ health, and never mind the cost!
He should immediately sack Peter Dutton and Stuart Robert for gross incompetence, and he should include members of the Opposition in a type of ‘wartime cabinet’. This is not the time for politics, but for national mobilisation, using the best minds we have, so that we do not lose lives meaninglessly.
This virus seems to be most dangerous to the elderly. We cannot afford to lose them, as we could not afford to lose our young men, which we did, during the Spanish Flu. Australians who, by stupidity, or inability to act for the common good, should not be allowed to endanger the rest of us.
We need – to put it bluntly – to pull our finger out.
Mark Buckley is a Melbourne based writer with an interest in politics, history and ethics in public life. His work can be found at www.askbucko.com.