For many, the hallmarks of the pandemic – masks, social distancing and mandatory isolation – are quickly becoming distant memories.
- WA’s state of emergency powers were removed on Friday
- The move was welcomed by most West Australians
- But some still live in fear of catching the virus
Thoughts of all that has become unusual and normal over the past two and a half years, such as instant lockdowns, vaccination mandates and border restrictions, fly in the rearview mirror of life for most.
But for others, the effects of the virus still hang heavy over their heads, although WA hit a major milestone in its exit from the pandemic on Friday with the state’s highest level of COVID alert officially over.
It marked the first day of exit from the coronavirus-induced state of emergency in more than two and a half years.
During this period, 4.6 million PCR swabs were collected and 68,000 stays in quarantine hotels were made.
Like clockwork, a succession of emergency services ministers had, every fortnight, signed a declaration that ‘extraordinary measures’ were needed to prevent loss of life or damage to the health of Australians in the ‘West.
Friday marked the first day these measures were unnecessary, taking away the government’s ability to close borders, order closures and force people to check in at their favorite cafe.
This means that only the lightest restrictions remain – in hospitals, for example, to protect the most vulnerable.
Not everyone is comfortable with easing restrictions
And while many West Australians would welcome the return to normalcy so long dreamed of, others like Sarah and Hannah Davis are more worried.
Both mother and daughter are immunocompromised and fear what will happen to them if they contract COVID.
“A lot of people can live with COVID, so they’re going to get COVID and get through it and be fine,” Sarah said.
“But for people with conditions like us, there’s a much higher possibility that we wouldn’t survive this, so it’s not over for us.”
Earlier this year, those worries prompted Hannah to drop out of school halfway through Grade 11, where she had been studying towards college.
“I was pretty isolated from my friends, it wasn’t a fun time,” she said.
Instead, she now goes to TAFE where she feels better able to manage the risk of contracting COVID.
Both now make daily decisions about where to go based on their risk of contracting the virus, choosing to meet friends outdoors whenever possible and scheduling medical appointments based on the risk that they will be close to HIV-positive people.
“We don’t want to be stuck in a bubble,” Hannah said.
“We want to go out, we want to experience the freedom that everyone has.”
They are also frustrated with what they feel is a lack of empathy for their situation.
“If I made a comment on Facebook about, for example, rolling back one of the safety precautions, there were responses like ‘it’s nature’s way, survival of the fittest. ‘” Sarah said.
“So basically we’re trading your lives for our freedom, and that’s pretty awful.”
Like many, Sarah and Hannah have been carefully monitoring WA’s COVID case numbers.
Cases are climbing across Australia
With the number of reported infections rising steadily, including by 18% in the past week alone, they are now wondering if they should be more careful.
The steady rise, however, did not raise alarm bells for the state’s health director when he advised the government to end the state of emergency.
“WA’s recent experience of a high workload setting provides assurance that any anticipated increases due to currently circulating subvariants will be within the ability of WA’s health system to manage,” wrote Dr. Andy Robertson at the end of last month.
Jaya Dantas of Curtin University’s School of Population Health agreed there was no cause for alarm, especially with good protection against vaccination.
“Over the last six months or so…almost 75-80% of our population has also had COVID, so we also have immunity that comes from having COVID,” she said.
The remaining “reasonable and prudent” measures are an appropriate way to deal with the pandemic, Professor Dantas said.
The construction crisis still hurts
Basil Schuitema is one of many West Australians caught in a property boom that the state lacked the capacity to handle.
He signed a contract to build his home in Cockburn Central in March 2021, but it took over a year for the brickwork to be completed.
Now, a year and a half after signing on the dotted line, he is feeling the pinch of rising rents and mortgage repayments, while the timber to build his roof sits on the ground next to his future home.
“They can’t tell you when it’s going to end because they blame the shortages of labor, materials [shortages],” he said.
“I’m not asking them to rush the job, just an answer on when it will be done.
“The sooner I can get into my house, the sooner I can stop paying rent.”
But Mr. Schuitema will likely be paying rent for some time, with the end of the state building crisis still a long way off.
The overheating was partly fueled by state and federal subsidies, which were injected into the construction sector at the start of the pandemic to help keep it afloat.
Despite the problems he has since created, Premier Mark McGowan has stuck with those decisions made at the start of COVID.
Prime Minister highlights thriving economy
Asked if these stimulus measures should be included in an imminent review of the state government’s handling of the pandemic on Monday, Mr McGowan only pointed to WA’s many successes over the past few years. last two and a half years.
“We’ve had the best economic performance in the world, the best economic performance in Australia by far,” he said.
There was also the government’s ability to pay off a record amount of debt, record unemployment rates and a $6 billion surplus, he recalled.
“Why would I object to them looking at the economic results, because the economic results were very strong,” he said.
“But I think [the review is] learn more about lessons learned on how to manage a pandemic from a health perspective.
Shadow treasurer Steve Thomas said while wisdom was always easier to find in hindsight, he expected warning bells to ring when grants were designed.
“What people didn’t expect, which I suspect the Treasury and government should have planned better, is with the lockdowns, people couldn’t go overseas, they couldn’t travel, they couldn’t spend a lot of money that way,” he said.
“People had money to spend and so they spent it, they also improved houses, they did renovations.
“It’s easy for me to say in hindsight that it should have been seen, but the impact has certainly been that all that extra money has overheated the construction market considerably.”
Dr Thomas said he remained concerned about the government’s infrastructure pipeline which is putting further pressure on the sector and prolonging the current pain.
The government has repeatedly denied the idea, insisting its work comes at the right time to keep industries busy as work on new homes begins to dry up.
Finding that right balance will be one of many challenges as WA enters the “recovery” phase of the pandemic.
Dealing with the long COVID – whatever form it takes – will be another.
And there are still around 45 million rapid antigen tests left in government stockpiles, with the first due to expire next month.
Concerns over the Commissioner’s power
Concerns also persist over the new COVID management framework, which leaves the decision to bring many extraordinary government powers back solely in the hands of the police commissioner.
Liberal Leader David Honey continued to raise concerns about the legislation, saying it “completely undermines our normal democratic checks and balances.”
Those concerns have been frequently dismissed by the government, which has described the laws as a “rescue measure” that are watered down and won’t be needed unless something unforeseen happens.
Despite the challenges, there is no doubt that Western Australians will find some comfort in the state’s transition into its recovery phase.
But even if the emergency has passed, the scars of the pandemic are still far from healing.
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