by Staff Writer Matt Owen
COVID has dominated our lives for two years. The damage from the actual virus and the ripple effect is immeasurable.
When you think of the cost of COVID what do you think? Over 3,000 lost lives in Australia, friends and loved ones falling ill (some with long term issues), lost jobs, homelessness, businesses closing, bankruptcies, vaccination debates, cancelled elective surgeries, the struggling economy and more recently the supply chain issues, loss of freedoms, lockdowns, and vaccine adverse reactions? How about the actual cost, in dollars of vaccinations and testing? But when you dig a little deeper, what do you find, beneath the surface, the hidden costs.
How often have you heard or thought, ‘I’m sick of all this COVID stuff?’. Two years of one topic dominating social media, mainstream media, and everyday conversation. It doesn’t matter what the topic would be, you would be sick of it. Australia’s great love of sport doesn’t even go nearly this far. The pandemic has chewed up more column centimetres, more airtime, more posts, more tweets, more texts, more advertising, more memes, and more discussions than any other topic in history. This leads to mental fatigue. Everyone has mental fatigue. Our brains are not meant to cope with so much focus on one particular topic. It can’t be healthy. It is ironic how you can have COVID fatigue from not even contracting COVID.
Spare a thought for those with mental health issues, disabilities, health issues, stuck interstate, overseas, and in aged care. Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are the three that spring to my mind first with mental health. COVID has made life even more challenging with lockdowns, vaccinations, financial concerns, emotional upheaval, mandates, and other measures. The uncertainty around COVID and the future has simply become too much for some. How do you measure this?
While there have been significant increases in funding in mental health support, the challenge is to translate this funding into improved access, not a three month wait for an appointment. Mental health and the long-term effects of the COVID pandemic is perhaps the largest hidden cost of COVID.
Finance and Shelter
One of the major stresses of life is personal finance. Personal finance is a major influencer of relationships and happiness. How can you be happy if you don’t know where you are sleeping or what you are eating next? This is the first time in my memory that homelessness has been such an issue in regional areas. Surely this should be prioritised and more can be done to help these struggling families. This must be of the highest priority. Establish a task force or do whatever needs to be done. This is un-Australian! Perhaps, it is time to consider allowing access to superannuation once again for those with, say $100,000 or more. It is their money after all.
The Supply Chain and Staff Shortages
2022 has seen a new challenge of COVID illness crippling the supply chain. Transport, warehousing, retail, hospitality, agriculture, and logistics have all been hit with staff shortages due to a high percentage of staff contracting COVID. This has created staffing issues and time delays related to closure and cleaning. And it is on repeat mode. This has been too much for some businesses that have closed their doors or at a minimum have moved to less efficient business models to avoid closures. Some are calling this current period a lockdown without the support of a lockdown.
Mandates have also played a role in this, with other industries, such as health and education, the standouts. The reaction to this is to open-up international borders (to the vaccinated) to assist with the agricultural sector. In many instances the ‘last standing staff’ cop the brunt of the stress, and this flows through to mental health and possibly financial stresses. To assist with this, we now have ‘essential workers’ and ‘critically essential workers’.
A Divided Society
Has a topic ever divided Australia like the vaccination debate? Lost friends and loved ones, and ongoing bickering is another major ripple effect of COVID and the emphasis on vaccination. When the talk of vaccination first hit our shores, I was convinced that it would be seen along the lines of sexuality, gender, pregnancy, religion, and such personal choices. That is, it is your choice and your business. How I was wrong! With all the eggs thrown in the ‘vaccination’ basket this was not the case. For the first time in my life, I was to see discrimination based on a personal choice. One person can do something, but another can’t. This again, is un-Australian. I have heard the counter-argument of not being vaccinated considered selfish. Such a divisive issue! So much back and forward and counter-punching! Punishing those that choose not to be vaccinated was never the answer. Recently I noticed a dog in a café with their owners, a café that doesn’t welcome the unvaccinated due to state government regulations for this establishment (they are just following the rules). A dog is welcome but not a human-being. Are we really ok with this?
Providing alternative solutions is an option that should have been investigated further. Regular testing, alternative vaccinations, improved immunisation and flexible working arrangements should have all been on the table for discussion. Alternative solutions were not explored or offered to those that chose not to be vaccinated in so many cases. Taking away recreational activities such as movies, concerts, eating at restaurants and cafes is one thing but to take away the right to make an income? Too much, too far and starting to be wound back in some parts of the world. What is expected of these people when they run out of money after not having employment for a period of time?
There has always been a concern around transparency and data collection and how it is distributed to the public around COVID. Have people died with COVID or from COVID? Were they vaccinated or unvaccinated? What type of vaccination? What was the vaccination load at the time of death? What has happened to deaths that were previously from influenza? What about suicides and mental health? How are we measuring mental health? There is simply too much ‘grey’.
As of October 2021, the median age for those who died from COVID was 82 years of age (health.gov.au, 16 January 2022). Guess what the average life expectancy is of an Australian?
So, during a pandemic the lives lost by age were not dissimilar to the average life expectancy? Let that one sink in.
Here is another one: In 2020, it was estimated that there were 50,000 deaths from the other ‘c’ word (cancer) and 150,000 new cases. One in two Australian men and women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85 (cancer.org.au). With 898 deaths in 2020 from COVID, it was the 38th leading cause of death (abs.gov.au). 38th! That is not a typo! Why is it that we have, as a society, lived with cancer and heart disease for so long, but COVID has caused such damage to our society and future generations. Should heart disease, cancer, road deaths and other reasons of death receive more attention coupled with financial and emotional support? Did we really need to create so much damage based on a virus that has these characteristics? So many billions of dollars and so much damage to humanity.
Or was it all necessary? That is the million-dollar question.
Politics and pandemics don’t mix. We now know that. From the time the Queensland election was based around ‘keeping Queenslanders safe’ to the beginning of the unofficial federal campaign with Labor going heavily at the government around the management of COVID. The constant bickering between state and federal governments has been embarrassing at times. Why could they not have worked together more efficiently? Why so much confusion and why so many failures? Or am I being too harsh? Should we be judging our politicians against other global leaders and their results? Elections will answer this question.
Pauline Hanson has recently called for a Royal Commission into how federal, state and territory governments have managed the pandemic. Surely this makes sense, so we don’t make the same mistakes next time. How else will we learn? The upcoming federal election will be the barometer for what the Australian public really thinks of the management of the pandemic at a federal level. Will it be a pat on the back and another term for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a victory for Anthony Albanese and Labor and what will it mean for the other parties? What are you thinking? At a state level, we have another two years so there will be four years since the start of COVID by then.
Is there a Positive?
A positive has been that so many people have reassessed their view on life, have travelled, have simplified, and have appreciated life more. There are some winners I’m sure from a commercial sense as demand has sky-rocketed in some areas. Good luck to them. It is a struggle to come up with too many positives when our lives have been turned upside down for two years with no clear end in sight (at the time of writing), apart from Omicron being described as a less damaging variant.
So, with all the hidden costs rippling through with COVID, has our approach over nearly two years of minimising cases and then letting Omicron rip through been the right approach? Have mandates forcing people to get vaccinated, so they can work in certain industries, been the right approach? What about vaccinating children and pushing the school year back to allow greater vaccination rates? The ongoing boosters that will be required to keep the green ticks. Where will this end and how long and deep will the ripples be felt? Are the hidden costs going to be more than the actual costs? What have been the real and hidden costs for you? How will we look back at this time in 20 years? Will we have a sense of pride or shame? What has been your hidden cost of COVID? So many questions remain unanswered. Email me with your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.