While there is little doubt the Chief Minister will receive more brick-bats than bouquets over his frank statement there is not much more his government can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the ACT, he is probably right to say mask mandates and other measures rolled out during 2020 and 2021 have passed their use by date.
We are at a point in the pandemic when the people genuinely concerned about their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others, are already doing the right thing. They are wearing masks in crowded public spaces, they are getting their third and fourth jabs, they are practising social distancing, and they are restricting unnecessary travel.
Attempts to force those who, in their own words, are "over COVID" to do the same by reintroducing mandates is doomed to founder on the law of diminishing returns. There is little point in passing laws or introducing regulations that are so difficult to enforce the costs outweigh the benefits.
It is, in a way, not dissimilar to the enlightened attitude the ACT government has adopted to the decriminalisation of marijuana. It has long been known that charging people for the possession of small quantities of the drug simply brands otherwise decent human beings as criminals and wastes police and court resources.
What we are appear to be seeing, in the wake of the ACT's very successful vaccination uptake for the first two jabs, is a management approach driven by a sense of realism rather than by the fear of the many unknowns that prevailed at the start of the pandemic.
While there are more cases of COVID in the ACT now than at any previous point, this should be seen in the context of just how many people are getting badly sick, being hospitalised, being placed into intensive care, being intubated and ventilated, and - in the worst cases - dying.
Although almost 1300 new cases were reported in Canberra on Thursday, only 135 people were in hospital. That is a very low figure given the number of active cases stands at 7734. Of those in hospital six were in intensive care and two were on ventilators.
The hospitalisation rate for COVID sufferers in the ACT right now stands at 1.75 per cent. The intensive care rate stands at 0.08 per cent. Compare this to 2020 when 12.5 per cent - or one in eight - of all COVID sufferers ended up in hospital.
If people were being hospitalised with COVID at that rate today ACT Health staff would be caring for almost 1000 people. Our hospitals would be overflowing and even the surge facilities would be at breaking point.
The point Mr Barr is making, and it is not a new one, is we should stop being so fixated on case numbers. COVID is not there yet but it is on its way to being endemic in the population. But, also like the flu, its lethality has been markedly reduced by vaccination. And, while earlier predictions it would become a disease of the unvaccinated have not been realised, the COVID vaccines are more efficacious than the influenza vaccine.
This means that in many instances, especially in younger age groups, serious COVID is much more common in the unvaccinated and the under-vaccinated than for people who have had three and four jabs.
So while, as some people have already said, the government could be pursuing a more active strategy to promote take-up of the third, and now fourth, jabs, and encouraging voluntary mask wearing, the reality is individuals make their own choices.
This city is supposed to have one of the smartest and best educated populations on the planet. If Canberrans are so smart then why have only 77.4 per cent had that third jab that turbocharges the level of protection?
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