Two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, NSW has reached new lows as we hit a record 39,000 newly reported cases of COVID-19 in a 24-hour period, while shortages of RATs and price gouging run rampant, businesses are closed and supermarket supply chains are disrupted due to workers getting sick, and the streets of Australia’s most populous city are nearly deserted.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were told that re-opening and relaxing COVID-19 restrictions fully just before Christmas was a safe thing to do. It seemed obvious even then that the result would be a massive surge in cases, but we were reassured that a combination of vaccines and ‘personal responsibility’ would keep the pandemic in check. ‘Living with COVID’, they called it.
Most people I know, including me, tentatively went along with this idea. After nearly two years of the ‘new normal’ we were ready for a bit of the old freedom — no more QR code check-ins, wearing masks indoors, intermittent lockdowns, or staying 1.5 metres apart from everyone at all times forever. Premier Dominic Perrottet invited us all to believe that this could work. Even despite my reservations about the reasons and timing of restrictions being lifted, I wanted to believe that things wouldn’t be that bad.
But ah… they’re pretty bad.
This is likely to go down in history as one of those times when the hubris of a powerful person led to some dramatically bad outcomes for thousands of people. Of course, there’s more to it than that. After 18 months of solid, evidence-based pandemic management, Australia looked like the gold standard internationally. But when Delta arrived in NSW in June 2021, then Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s reluctance to wear the political and economic costs of locking down early and hard, allowed the new, more virulent strain to take hold in Sydney.
As it turned out, compared to the original COVID-19, the Delta variant was extremely difficult to eradicate completely. Instead, after months of punishing lockdowns, the idea of ‘living with COVID’ began to seem more appealing, especially as vaccination rates began to climb. Certainly, lifting of the most stringent lockdown conditions such as stay at home orders and 5km radiuses was very welcome. But when the government suddenly removed QR code check-ins, indoor density limits and vaccine and mask mandates, things didn’t quite feel right. Not only was not everyone vaccinated, but the vaccinated were still…