With cases of COVID-19 accumulating quickly, and health systems under strain or soon facing insurmountable pressure, NSW and the ACT changed course on Friday by reintroducing restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.
For the Premier of NSW, Dominic Perrottet, it was an admission that jumping too early towards freedom in the face of a fast-moving pandemic was a failure. The state's healthcare system is struggling to cope and spending in the state's economy has plummeted.
The ACT also reintroduced some restrictions from noon on Saturday. Dancing is now banned in the ACT and service in pubs and cafes must be to seated patrons. The territory should be commended for reintroducing its mask mandate sooner in response to the Omicron variant, but health authorities have warned limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings could also return.
Health advice, which had driven the response to COVID-19, is now considered more obviously alongside the political situation. Ideology once seemed to take a back seat in the face of a serious global crisis, but there is now a greater willingness to play politics with people's lives.
NSW's decision not to reintroduce restrictions before Christmas smacked of political considerations. It can be seen now the disastrous effect the choice had. Experts were then already warning of an impending crisis.
In a federal election year, politicians need to be told what they do not want to hear by the public health experts, and they ought to show leadership by acting on that advice. This applies not only to the federal government - which has poorly handled the vaccination rollout and the provision of rapid tests - but state and territory governments, too.
This crisis - which now extends across the health system, the economy and the supply chain - cannot be solved or even contained by personal responsibility alone.
The death of James Kondilios, a healthy, vaccinated 23-year-old Canberran, after catching COVID-19 should give pause to anyone advocating the let-it-rip strategy of pandemic management, whereby the shackles are thrown off and the virus is permitted to run rampant.
The Omicron variant, now dominant in Australia, is milder than its predecessors and will confine fewer to hospital. But while the risks are even further reduced due to vaccinations, there is a small cohort who will fall seriously ill. With very large case numbers, this cohort will be bigger than it needs to be.
The pandemic's terrain changed with the emergence of the Omicron variant. The pathway through the pandemic needed to change as well, whatever the political cost.
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