An Aussie Roadmap to Freedom?

Dear Jacinda,


Hi, I’m Jess from Sydney. I’m a New Zealander married to an Australian and we have children born here. Sydney has been home for 14 years, but New Zealand will always be my home country.


I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, and you’re stressed about the Delta pickle the country is in. I am not trying to tell you how to do your job, but perhaps read on and take on board my experience. I’m up to week 16 of a blurry period which started with self-isolating at home in June, morphed into lockdown and now is restricted by ongoing stay at home orders, peppered with the odd outdoor picnic. I would call it a ‘long lockdown’ (Sydney style).


It has been a marathon, for someone who has only ever walked one half-marathon. It has been surreal at times and a roller coaster of emotions. Grief at yet another cancelled trip to New Zealand to see family, stress of home-schooling, pain at watching a family funeral via webcast, inability to see an elderly Grandparent over the bridge, anxiety of not knowing when it will end and frustration at the entire situation because of, well, the world. And a bat. Or a lab. Whatever you think. And of course, being unable to legally leave Australia and not enter New Zealand.

But there have been benefits – my eldest now bikes locally with his ‘bubble’ of mates, friendships have solidified, we sleep in more, I got into my writing, and we drive less. In the scheme of things, our family is doing well. Take heart Aucklanders and everyone locked down in the regions, you eventually surrender to the concept of a ‘long lockdown’ and while it is bumpy at times, the anger comes and goes. You have no option but to roll with the punches, take one day at a time and look for the positives – some days, that might be hard.


And now, thanks to a highly detailed roadmap based on achievable targets, we are very close to smelling freedom in NSW. Well, I am – because I’m double vaccinated. This is not an article trying to convince people to get vaccinated. I don’t have the emotional capacity to go there now. I’m side-stepping that, and instead explaining what happens when a certain number of people do get vaccinated.


‘Freedom’ in NSW is when the eligible population reaches 70% double vaccinated. ‘Freedom Day’ is the Monday after we reach that target. On that day, I can sit inside a cafe with my vaxxed friends. I can get my hair cut or go to the gym. All of these activities will be in limited capacity and only for fully vaccinated people, but that is how people are kept safe. And it is the carrot. I accept many people do and will disagree with this policy. Forcing needles into people to sit in a cafe? What is the world coming to?


But for me personally, I see it as a sensible Government approach with input from both Health and industry, which offers a pragmatic balance of the social, economic and health needs of NSW.


Running a marathon is impossible unless you know when it ends, how many kilometres you have to run and what you have to do to get there. Well, that’s what people tell me. I have a few friends who were slow to get vaccinated – ‘vaccine hesitant’ is what some call it. But when our now ex-Premier Gladys unveiled the NSW ‘Roadmap to Freedom’ on 9 September, it gave everyone a literal spring in their step. It motivated people sitting on the fence to get the jab. Yes, that was over 7 weeks into our lockdown, which started on 26 June. On 7 September, two days before the roadmap was unveiled, 75.6 per cent of the eligible population (aged 16 and over) in NSW had one dose administered, and 42.7 per cent were fully vaccinated.

NSW Government Roadmap as updated on 7 October. Credit: Sunrise.


The vaccination campaign was like a military operation. Those in the severely locked down areas of Western and South-Western Sydney eventually came out in droves. Under curfew, with limited exercise breaks for most of the period and highly restricted movement, it was an extremely harsh lockdown with army and police presence to boot. It was a different world in the more affluent northern and eastern suburbs. Here in Sydney, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted lower-income areas in the west and south-west. In these communities, there is greater diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages, coupled with more workers in jobs where they cannot work from home and obstacles to accessing and understanding healthcare. This outbreak has only highlighted the inequalities across Sydney. It seems not dissimilar to what is happening in South Auckland


So vaccinating people in these areas was critical but presented unique challenges. Community leaders resorted to using social media and YouTube in native languages to get messages across, particularly to the youth. Local religious leaders were engaged. High quality translations of public health messaging were produced. In Blacktown, Western Sydney, local clinics relied on local elders pushing to get the message through to Indigenous community members. By 11 September, the Mt Druitt suburb of Blacktown had administered one dose of the vaccine to 61 per cent of its Indigenous population.


All too late you may say? Not strict enough lockdown perhaps? Maybe. In my view, the lock down was too late across Sydney. Yes, vaccine procurement could have been more effective. And most importantly, there is still much work to do in vaccinating regional parts of NSW, particularly more vulnerable communities.


But for New Zealand, please, perhaps stop comparing Sydney and Melbourne only in the negative context of the tragic deaths and horrific case numbers we’ve seen, and maybe look at our future roadmap for a more helpful comparison. Struggling businesses need certainty, working parents and schools need certainty. Humans need certainty. I have given up on predicting when I might return to New Zealand, but I would love nothing more than to know when I can travel back, quarantine free.


Jacinda, I know you are Labour and Gladys was Liberal. But Coronavirus is apolitical. So please forget the politics, please stop being so ‘kind’ and get the show on the road.


Yours sincerely,


Jessica


An edited version of this article has also been published on Stuff - click here

West Coast - New Zealand