So Mummy was right all along after all: you really do need to wash your hands properly, using soap and water. Who would have thought it?
It turns out that wasn't all she was right about, either.
We still don't know how, where, or when this will all end. It's also becoming apparent that individual social settings really do matter - otherwise there's no way to explain the many different outcomes as the virus has wreaked its havoc across the world. Deaths are the real kicker, because there's no way of telling if the 1500 confirmed cases in Indonesia represent anything like the real number of infections.
Treat the casualties like a reverse football match where everyone's trying to get a low score, however, and we're not doing too badly. Nineteen deaths at the time I filed my copy, compared to 11,591 in Italy and 7716 in Spain. But this isn't a game, even if some people seem to want to treat it as one.
Radio Free Asia, a US-funded broadcaster publishing to "countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press", trumpeted "Wuhan death toll far higher than official figure", claiming crematoria "have been working round the clock". Instead of 3186, RFA preferred speculation there'd been some 42,000 deaths, bolstering its story using social media claims that the seven funeral homes in the city have been handing out 3500 urns each day.
These are real lives, and the devastation the virus has brought shouldn't be used as a means to beat nationalistic drums. Yes, every country is different and southern Europeans do hug and kiss one another more than Scandinavians and maybe that has an effect on the spread of disease. Maybe though, rather than desperately using statistics to bolster existing prejudices, it might actually be better to see if we can draw some positive lessons from our current experiences.
The first is don't be stupid or, as Boris Johnson has showed, even the best Oxford education is no guarantee you won't be a prat.
The UK Prime Minister apparently thought he could both walk and talk at the same time, or (if you prefer) believed he was somehow immune to catching coronavirus despite rushing round and enthusiastically pumping people's hands, even in hospitals. It's difficult to feel empathy with idiocy.
The second lesson is also from Johnson, and it's don't be greedy. Remember him holding a graph and talking about "flattening the curve" and "herd immunity"? He was simply confused. He wanted to have his cake and eat it; "slow the spread" of disease while "keeping the economy firing" (I'll leave you to imagine the wild hand gestures and brumm brumm noises accompanying this exciting declaration of intent, announced with the exuberance of an enthusiastic four-year-old child). Unsurprisingly, it was rubbish. You can't have it all. Stopping the spread isn't something you can play about with - you either do it or you don't.
This is something we were confused about to begin with, too, and that's something we couldn't afford. Lesson three: information is the key to containing the virus.
The ABC's Dr Norman Swan is not just a terrific broadcaster - he's also been personally involved with my treatment after a very severe injury. Quite frankly, I'd trust him over a government bureaucrat any day. He's always been out first with remarkably accurate, well sourced information. Yes, some of it may have been a bit conservative and erred on the safe side, but isn't that exactly what you want in a situation like this? That's why the ABC's information has been so widely accessed. The government's finally beginning to make up some ground now, but it's difficult not to feel that it should have been in this position weeks ago.
Perhaps there's something about the very nature of bureaucracy that prevents it reacting as speedily as it should.
Because that's lesson four: organisations can't be trusted.
How could NSW Health and Border Protection stand aside and allow the Ruby Princess' passengers to propagate the virus across the country? Was it a deliberate conspiracy or simple incompetence? Determining exactly how this occurred doesn't have to be a witch-hunt for the guilty party - nevertheless, nobody seems worried about how the exact cascade of blunders and failures was allowed to happen. You'd think the state government might at least have some interest in this, if simply to prevent another, similar, disaster, and yet there's been no news of any investigation.
This is critical, because it's the last and key lesson: trust is vital.
We need confidence to build society's resilience and prevent it fracturing.
In the American dream, when the country's under threat, rifle-armed minutemen will leap forward, ready to defend the nation's constitution. Quite obviously, however, this is not the sort of threat that can be stared down by individuals, no matter how committed to the cause they may be. It is, if you like, a threat more suited to the so-called Asian way, although it's better stated as an approach where we rely on one another as part of a shared community.
That's why some countries, like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, have managed to contain the spread of the virus.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not extolling any of these countries' political systems or suggesting they've got "the answer" to defeating the virus. Maybe, however, it's worth looking at some of the things they've done to minimise deaths and seeing if there are any practices that might have been worth trying over here.
It begins with action; intervening fast, before a crisis develops. At the same time that Morrison was suggesting he'd be heading to the footy on the weekend all of these countries had imposed lockdowns and restrictions.
The next step is testing; lots of it. Yes, many tests were unnecessary and were "wasted", but the real waste is a dead body or the rapid spread of the virus. Saving money on testing is a false economy.
As soon as a positive is found, people needed to be traced and isolated - and the best way to do this is via electronic surveillance. The key is for the state to monitor this simply - and exclusively - for public health reasons. There are ways to ensure this happens.
Finally, we need to work together as a society, and the only way to get this to happen is if we trust one another. And to do this, of course, we need good journalism. So thanks for reading this. It makes it all worthwhile...
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.
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