It’s “freedom day” in Melbourne today – after something like four months in lockdown, we no longer are. From what I’ve seen, a lot of people actually held or attended midnight parties (of no more than 10 people indoors or 15 outdoors, as per the new rules, I hope 😜) to celebrate the milestone, but Viv and I are clearly old and we were asleep at the time 🤣

I have mixed feelings about reopening, to be fair. On the one hand, obviously I’m excited that my family and I can go see each other again, that Vivian and I might be able to go out to a restaurant, café or cinema again, and even that we’ll soon be allowed to go back into hardware stores so we can buy supplies to work on odd jobs around our place that are really overdue by now. (We’re not allowed yet, retail is part of the next stage of reopening.) You’ve also got to be honest that adherence to the rules was already pretty low before this day came, and honestly if the gap is too wide between what the rules say and what’s actually happening, there’s little point even having those restrictive rules. Even the cops themselves are not obeying them – every time I see a cop car patrolling around here, one or both of the cops inside are not wearing masks (or maybe wearing them on the chin, or something else just as useless).

On the other hand though, I am concerned about the impact this reopening is going to have on our healthcare system(external link), and it seems like the AMA and pretty much every other healthcare worker representative body shares this concern. As has been pointed out, our public healthcare system was operating at or above 100% capacity at all times even before the pandemic. And capacity is not a thing you can quickly and easily increase. Even if you can fund more beds, you need to recruit and train more staff to provide care to the patients in those beds, and that takes time. Meanwhile, existing healthcare workers are burning out and we might be at risk of them quitting because they’re just so stressed and overworked right now.

The Federal Government has picked this time of all times to resume their standard penny-pinching behaviour, too. Usually healthcare funding is shared, 45% by the Federal Government and 55% by the states. At the start of the pandemic, the Federal Government increased their commitment to 50%. Now they want to go back to 45%, and reintroduce that cap whereby their investment in our healthcare system can never go up by more than 6.5% per financial year. The states’ concern is that just as we’re about to be completely overwhelmed with Covid cases in our hospitals, and funding requirements potentially go up by way more than 6.5% this year, the Federal Government is basically going to be like, “Haha too bad, sucks to be you, seeya later losers!”

In Victoria we do have 70% of those 16+ double-vaccinated now (although only 58% of the whole population), which is well beyond the level at which New South Wales saw daily case numbers start to fall, even though we hav­en’t seen this yet. (Our numbers have maybe plateaued, maybe.) Personally I am not convinced that this is high enough to suppress Covid effectively even while opening up.

I’m particularly concerned about primary schools reopening when under-12s are not even allowed to be vaccinated yet. I understand we’re kind of bet­ween a rock and a hard place, with the last two years being so disrupted and so many kids missing out on learning as well as that normal social development. But at the same time, maybe those studies into vaccine safety and efficacy in children should really have been expedited so we could let them have it before throwing them into what is already a festering hotbed of vir­us­es and contagious parasites?? I mean sure, children have a much lower chance than, say, the elderly of getting seriously ill from a Covid infection. However, they can still transmit it freely between each other, pass it on to grandparents or other immunocompromised people in their lives (considering vaccine protection seems to wane after a few months in the elderly, and some immunocompromised people aren’t able to generate enough antibodies after vaccination to really be protected at all), and this whole thing about “99.9% of children have no lasting ill effects!” is that that still leaves the 0.1% of children who do. (Note, the real split may not be 99.9/0.1; that’s just for the sake of example.) The state government announced measures like air filtration for classrooms, but they haven’t had enough time to make any real headway with that scheme. Mask-wearing will help, but it’s not fool-proof, either (especially when soooo many fools don’t wear them properly, but the “normal” masks without the airtight seal aren’t 100% anyway). I dunno. My pre-Covid job (and very occasionally, my mid-Covid job) was substitute teaching in primary schools, but I find all this really concerning. It’s not so much about me (I and my loved ones are double-vaxxed, after all) but I just see so much opportunity for it all to go pear-shaped.

I’ve seen at least one article(external link) arguing that a safer vaccination rate to open up at would be 90% of everybody (not just the over-16s) and 95% of vulnerable groups (like the elderly, indigenous, disabled, housing-insecure, etc.). I would definitely feel more comfortable at that, but it would raise the question of just how much longer we’d have to spend in lockdown to reach those kinds of figures. It might well not be practical, not that I think the government has really tried prioritising any vulnerable group except the elderly. (They made a lot of noise about prioritising the disabled too, but then actually didn’t(external link).) But we can definitely see from Singapore’s example(external link) that not even “80% of everybody” is enough for a full reopening to be sustainable, a lesson that I think has been ignored here.

Another question revolves around borders reopening. The new NSW premier tried to announce a full reopening of his state to international travel, something Scott Morrison had to publicly shut down with his usual lack of cool. NSW and Victoria both seem to be reopening our border with each other right about now, which I think is good. But we know that some of the smal­ler states, particularly Western Australia, are very reluctant to reallow travel from those states that have decided to move on to “living with Covid”, and to be honest I can’t blame them. When their public healthcare system is permanently in crisis even with zero Covid in the community, what do you expect them to do? Yes, I think it is inevitable that they’ll eventually reopen their borders; they can’t stay a “hermit kingdom” forever. (Well, presumably not.) But I think it’s fair that they take their time trying to get vaccination levels up and taking their time to prepare as best they can. Also, to be honest, I have an aversion to smarmy Sydneysiders going, “It’s ridiculous I could be allowed to visit Paris or Phuket before Perth.” Just go to Paris then and stop complaining, geez.

I know Vivian has really pinned his hopes on being able to travel next year – hopefully to Japan or back to Mexico (on our return we would really love to visit Jalisco state) – but my suspicion is that it’s not going to be that easy for a while. This article(external link) goes over a number of the potential pitfalls, but basically: lots of Covid tests will be required (at your own cost, because they won’t be medically indicated), if you do contract Covid this’ll probably throw out your whole itinerary (and you can contract it even if you are vaccinated), and if you have a different kind of medical emergency you might struggle to obtain care with healthcare systems around the world totally overstretched by Covid. I think these are the kinds of hassles that people will be willing to endure to visit family overseas (or to move for work or study, etc.), but are probably offputting for leisure travel.

I guess this post has been pretty pessimistic overall, but I am excited that home visits are allowed again. I think it’s good that stay-at-home orders have been lifted when, like, it didn’t seem like many people were following them anyway, so they became a tool the cops could selectively wield against marginalised people. I’m just concerned about what the consequences are going to be for our healthcare system, and for the many people who couldn’t get vaccinated (like children) or for whom vaccination may not have been effective (like the immunocompromised). It’s like, we’re free, but at what cost?