Dear Bellingen Shire
7th September 2020
Welcome to spring, lots of joyful birds, lots of blossoms on the fruit trees, lots of people getting their Covid19 tests, and still no transmission of virus in the Mid North Coast. (134 days) NSW is doing well with only 7 people in ICU and 4 souls being supported on respirators.
On the last new moon I had the joy of my night walks along quiet roads with the grand shape of the Dark Emu hanging in a spectacular starscape. We are so lucky to be in our bubble. Please make the most of this rare privilege by exploring the outdoors and being active. Open space is the safest place to be in Covid times. The Dark Emu is highlighted by historian Bruce Pascoe in his book – “Dark Emu”. A very interesting, recommended read which gives a very different perspective on our history. – More on this later.
Of course all the news is buzzing about what is happening in Victoria. The dropping numbers are a relief. The road is still hard for them and it is a pity to see some shrill political voices attacking their government and demanding to bypass the expert advice in order to open up quickly. This would let the virus rip. Remember today’s numbers reflect what happened in the last 2-4 weeks.
Unfortunately the basic information that guided our national and state responses at the start of this pandemic has not really changed. It is still a novel virus. It is still doing what novel viruses have done to humans (and animals) as long as we have been around – ie be overwhelming and fatal to, not all , but significant numbers of the population. The fatality number is still around 1% in best-case scenario and up to 10% if there is no support, or the services are overwhelmed. This is still 10-100 times worse than Influenza. And there are still increasing people getting long-term health consequences.
The reality of unfettered spread of the virus would still be a much more devastating blow to the economy, the nation, the society, made worse by the social and psychological effects of an uncontrolled plague. This is still happening in other countries. Our media have stopped reporting the real life stories of people suffering and losing their families around the world, even though the reported cases and fatalities in USA , Europe and now India, just keep growing. Even if today’s number of cases in USA – around 6.3 million, with nearly 200 000 deaths – is an underestimate because many people cannot get tested and many do not have health care, that still leaves over 300million to go.
Shutdown is still uncomfortable. “Herd immunity” strategy is still catastrophic.
So what has changed??
Fatigue. Patience. Economic fear.
We had another meeting of your local GPs, with representatives of all the practices in the Valley. Once again we are convinced and committed to maintaining our local Covid19 Clinic, to being very quickly on top of any arrival of the virus in our shire. We have tried to make it absent of barriers. We still are very keen to encourage anyone to attend with any small respiratory or fever symptom. Having the clinic separate from our hospital, pharmacies and medical practices has allowed us to continue with all the services we need to provide to the population.
My wife Vicki and I have just had a quick trip down to Canberra to see our Daughter and Son in law. It is currently allowed under the monitoring of Covid19 restrictions. We stopped in few spots, used hand sanitizers after filling petrol and any other interaction. We love Canberra – it is an interesting, and often unfairly maligned city in the middle of a playground of outdoor activities. We met and lived in the ACT for 6 years in the 80s.
Canberra is cosmopolitan and multicultural. Its industry is the business of government. This may be why so many people have observed the rules and managed the transition to work from home, while still engaging in outdoor lifestyles. It miraculously seems still free of Covid19 cases. People there are working hard on maintaining distancing, but are able to maintain their active lives, but are very sensitive about visitors from Sydney or elsewhere bringing the virus. Sound familiar?
One curious thing I noticed for the first time in 38 years of visiting Canberra – homeless people sleeping rough in doorways etc. What does this mean? Hard to say, but the world continues to change. Why is this relevant? Because, in the Bellingen Shire we are in a beautiful bubble. But outside all bubbles there are prickly things capable of bursting the membrane. I believe it is vital to know what is changing in the rest of the world.
We met up with old friends – wonderfully dedicated teachers for 40 years. They warned that the cohort about whom they most worry, if we need another shut down, are the year ll students. Have you thought about how to better help any 16 year olds in your household?
While in Canberra we visited the national Museum with a new display commemorating 250 years since Captain Cook arrived. There was some amazing “ new” information. Researchers presented the event from both sides of the beach, but also went back to Captain Cook’s actual diaries – just like Bruce Pascoe did with early explorer diaries in Dark Emu. When I was in school, and when working with school groups in North Queensland in the 80s, there was a very disparaging quote attributed to Cook referring to the appearance of indigenous people in northern Australia. What the histories then left out was that he went on to admire their joy, peace, adaptation to the environment and lack of want. He was also painted as a unique navigator, but they left out the fact that Polynesian navigators guided him across the pacific and ran diplomatic meetings.
So often when there is a political point being made, it is the data that is deliberately left out that carries the weight. When you go back to the primary facts, the picture is very different.
There will probably be a new Meme this week quoting lines to the Victorian Govt – asking to stop the lock down. The facts missing and ignored by most critics of harsh response to Covid19 often allow drop lines like “the cure is worse than the disease”, or “we have more people die from influenza each year and don’t lock down”…
Actually we have had many years recently (precovid) with terrible toll from influenza, but not this year. Hospital Emergency departments are always dealing with terrible waves of trauma. But not this year. The number of lives saved coincidentally by lock downs may not be counted. With an open early policy, or “herd immunity”, the death toll could still be predicted to be at least 150 000 – more than Australia’s usual annual deaths of all causes. But I am hoping that with vigilance, talking up our stamina, keeping an “all of community” focus, we can still say “not this year, not here.”
Dr Trevor Cheney
Stay safe. Please remember this is just one perspective and check all details with your GP. The Bellingen Covid19 clinic in Watson St is still opening from 1300-1400, Monday to Friday, but with flexibility depending on demand. We have had up to 50 a day after the Education Dept changed policy but currently seeing only 15-20 most days. It’s easy and not that uncomfortable, and vital to keep alert. Kids are tolerating the swab. We are still just getting lots of Rhinovirus – a common mild winter flu that is initially indistinguishable from Covid19.