Stop With The Confusing Rules, Prime Minister, And Just Lock Us Down
A lockdown should be straightforward.
Last night’s announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison of even tougher social restrictions to tackle the coronavirus was anything but.
That press conference was the PM’s big chance to finally make clear Australia’s response to the virus sweeping the country. The number of cases here is currently doubling every three and a half days, about the same rate as overseas hotspots like Spain and New York. So when it comes to action, every moment counts.
Instead, much of the televised event consisted of a lengthy, confusing and often seemingly contradictory list of things we should and shouldn’t be doing. Australians should have been left with a clear sense of where we stood (as far away from each other as possible), not making jokes about rushed haircuts involving 1.5-metre-long scissors.
We needed a simple, clear-cut message about the importance of shutting businesses and commercial spaces down to prevent the spread of a dangerous virus. Instead, the Prime Minister kept reeling off exceptions. Social distancing is vital, but we can still get a haircut so long as it takes less than 30 minutes? Schools are still open in NSW but it’s okay if parents keep their kids at home?
On the night there were just too many exceptions to what should have been a blunt message. Was this really the time to tell us that weddings can still take place (but only with a celebrant and witnesses), while funerals are allowed a maximum of 10 mourners? And that social gatherings are banned, unless they’re small groups at home? At least you can still have your mates over to watch the footy… oh wait.
The early announcement that shopping centres would close was a strong statement that firm action was being taken. Then the Prime Minister clarified that only the food courts would be closing. But they could still do take away food for you, you just couldn’t sit down and eat it at the food court. At least we were spared finding out exactly how far away you have to walk before you can eat your dim sims.
Yes, some points needed clarifying after Sunday night’s muddled message to the nation. But being told that the current definition of an essential job that requires you to go into work is that 'if you have a job, it is considered essential' doesn’t make anything clearer.
If you saw the recent images of a crowded Bondi Beach, you know there are a lot of people who aren’t taking the whole 'deadly virus that will overwhelm our health service unless we take major action now' thing seriously. The Prime Minister’s message was aimed directly at them, not those already staying home and staying isolated. Problem is, they’re exactly the people looking for a loophole to allow them to keep on doing what they’re doing. And the Prime Minister gave them plenty to work with.
Telling people that it’s still okay to go out is technically correct. Many will still have to leave home for food and other essential items. But that’s not the part of the message that needs to be stressed at this point. The problem isn’t that people are scared to go out; at this stage, people should be scared. It’s that there are still people who aren’t staying at home.
For them, any qualification on the message not to go out just tells them that they don’t really have to stay at home. When the Prime Minister says “we want Australians to exercise their common sense” about gatherings, he’s relying on something not everyone seems to have.
It’s not a matter of letting those stupid enough to congregate on a crowded beach go ahead and make each other sick. Viruses don’t work that way. Letting people choose whether they go out or stay in means the virus keeps spreading until everyone gets it. There’s no choice between your right to hang out with your mates and someone else’s right to live -- and as the reports from overseas are making extremely clear, this virus is killing people young and old alike.
What we needed the Prime Minister to say was that first and foremost, Australia was going into lockdown. Yes, there would be exceptions. But the lockdown part is what we need to hear. This isn’t business as usual and life is not going on as normal.
You think it’s worth risking your life and the lives of others for a half-hour hair appointment? Cut it out.