ABC host Leigh Sales has shared a brutally honest post calling for an end to Covid-19 ‘fear and panic’ amid the Omicron outbreak.
The ABC’s Leigh Sales has shared an article calling for the end to “fear and panic” as Omicron continues to spread and experts increasing acknowledge the variant can’t be contained.
The 7.30 host, who also questioned Australia’s cancelling of Novak Djokovic’s visa, retweeted a Twitter post from SBS Insight host Kumi Taguchi that linked to an article titled “We can’t contain Omicron” and said “It’s time for fear-based messaging to end”.
Written by popular Canadian journalist and political commentator Jen Gerson, it asks whether “scaring the hell out of everybody” and locking down every six months can go on indefinitely.
“Instead of creating a culture that has become better adapted to manage the shifting risks of this pandemic, we’ve doubled and then tripled down on messages of fear and panic,” Garson writes on her online newsletter The Line.
People have not been encouraged by leaders to “Keep Calm and Carry On”, Garson argues, instead they now live in a “dystopian future of endless waves of variants, forever pandemics and death trap hospitals on the verge of collapse”.
Although Gerson is commenting on the Canadian experience, her words also appear to have touched a nerve in Australia.
“We support punishing the unvaccinated with healthcare premiums, even if those premiums put the cherished tenets of universal health care at risk,” she wrote.
“We smugly grin at the ‘idiot’ kids stranded in Cancun after partying mask-less on a plane. ‘What better way to teach them a lesson,’ after all. Tens of thousands of us signed up to rat out our neighbours for violating Covid restrictions.”
Gerson writes that volunteers could have been enlisted and trained from the outset of the pandemic to do things like sew masks, bake meals or provide child care for essential workers. However, the response to the pandemic has been from a more authoritarian mindset than a liberal one.
“We’ve been told to sit down, listen to our betters, stay home, see no one, watch Netflix, and to remain obedient to our governments,” she wrote.
“Not only has this been isolating, but it’s left many of us feeling unmoored and useless, damaging our fundamental sense of ourselves and our roles in our communities.”
She believes this has contributed to a breakdown in social cohesion, a loss of trust in government, civil institutions and media, and an increase in polarisation.
“However, even if you don’t share my optimism, if you believe, rather, that variant after variant will wash over us indefinitely like the waves of a violent and boundless sea, and that we’re facing a forever pandemic, I have to ask: is this sustainable? Is scaring the hell out of everybody and shutting everything down every six months something that we can do indefinitely? Is how we handled previous waves identical to the way we should handle subsequent ones?
“The answer is no. The answer is obviously no.”
She said Omicron is “wildly more contagious” but also has a much lower mortality rate so practices used to manage other variants don’t make sense, especially in a population with a high vaccination rate and with access to therapeutics.
“We are just starting to come to terms with this emotionally: We cannot contain Omicron. Virtually everyone is going to get exposed to the virus. It will put a strain on our hospital system, and may cause shortages and staffing problems in the next few weeks,” she wrote.
While this could be horrifying to those who are immunocompromised and the elderly, she said it was not an act of empathy to mislead people into believing the virus could be contained.
“That’s delusion — and it doesn’t lead to sane or practical mitigation measures, but rather to politically driven pandemic over-reaction that will make no difference at best, or do significant harm at worst. I’m looking, here, at school closures, and vaccination requirements on cross-border truckers that risk putting food supply in jeopardy.”
Gerson said people also didn’t question the harm that’s caused by creation of a state of chronic fear.
“What kind of trauma and mental-health issues do we risk creating by barraging people with worst-case scenario messaging for years? Psychosomatic illness is a real thing. Social contagion is a documented phenomena. (This is why newspapers traditionally do not report on suicide.)”
She said the reality of Omicron should encourage people to take reasonable, common sense precautions such as getting vaccinated, isolating if sick, wearing the best mask they can find, improving ventilation where possible, and taking other measures that help.
“Otherwise, I’m not sure that there’s much else to be done,” she wrote.
“Empathy is always to be cherished, but I don’t think it moral or empathetic to validate pointless and counter-productive anxiety. I want you to accept the risk, to manage your personal affairs in a common sense way, and then to live your life bravely in the face of crisis.
“What other choice do we have, but to mush on?”
The article prompted division among Sales’ followers with some agreeing with the article while others criticised it.
“Thank you for sharing this. Let’s hope the messaging can change now that the threat is different. I’d love to see those in charge – as well as some folks on Twitter! – ease up on the fear based side of things,” one person wrote.
But another said: “77 Australians died today. I’d love some advice on how to better manage the risks. Until then, it’s not unreasonable for people to feel concerned. Dismissing their emotions is cruel.”
Another also disagreed saying: “It’s not fear, it’s people taking responsibility for their personal and collective safety in the context of what is clearly an incompetent Morrison government. We’ll take whatever measures we think are necessary. Overall we’ve done OK thanks to the Premiers (other than NSW).”