The way the community is expected to think about COVID-19 has changed significantly since the end of the lockdown. And the messaging in the ACT has changed accordingly.
Daily press conferences to announce 20 or so new infections with a very serious tone now seem a little quaint when hundreds of new infections of coronavirus are recorded daily with little to no fanfare.
But in the period where more Canberrans than ever before have experienced novel coronavirus in their own homes - when case numbers rose and the Omicron wave beat down on the shores of family gatherings, holidays and the carefree, vaccinated summertime - the public has had the least access to the government's public health experts to hear what's going on.
Chief health officer Dr Kerryn Coleman has not addressed a press conference for more than 40 days. Her state counterparts in Queensland, Victoria and NSW have all appeared more frequently to advise, reassure and explain.
When Chief Minister Andrew Barr said more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 intensive care admissions in January had had a booster, he fluffed the statistic. It was true for one week, but over the entire month unvaccinated people only made up fewer than one-third of all patients.
But it took several days for journalists to get to the bottom of it. There are no regularly published reports with that level of detail. There is nothing else for it on the day than to rely on what the politician has said, and to attribute it squarely to them.
In the absence of anything else, "health advice" is simply what politicians say it is. Health officials need to speak publicly, too.
Dr Coleman's appearances in front of the cameras are good. Before the pandemic, chief health officers were not press conference regulars but Dr Coleman knows how to handle the local press. Her advice is clear, her explanations level-headed. She considers the situations put to her and translates the health advice - always a slippery and evolving beast - into practical tips.
Indeed, the government is nudging the community away from its intense focus on playing pandemic-by-numbers. Thursday marked the first day in a long time ACT Health did not send an email to journalists with the latest COVID-19 statistics. They are still released on social media.
But as the Omicron wave subsides and the numbers settle, the government would be wise to make available the public health officials whose advice is what counts.
They can table as many reports in the Legislative Assembly as they like, ministers can relay the advice to journalists and social media tiles can be slipped into feeds daily, but that still doesn't have the impact of a direct address from the chief health officer.
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Jasper Lindell joined the Times in 2018. He is a Legislative Assembly reporter, covering ACT politics and government. He also writes about development, heritage, local history, literature and the arts, as well as contributing to the Times' Panorama magazine on Saturdays. He was previously a Sunday Canberra Times reporter.
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