NSW has recorded just one case of COVID-19. Yet look around and people are making an “idiotic” mistake that could see cases surge, writes Benedict Brook.
NSW has recorded just one case of COVID-19. Yet look around and people are making an “idiotic” mistake that could see cases surge, writes Benedict Brook.

'The big virus mistake we’re making'

OPINION


One case. One singular new case of coronavirus. That is all that was recorded in New South Wales overnight following a huge 32,000 tests.

NSW's success thus far in preventing an uncontrolled fresh outbreak of COVID-19 is remarkable; extraordinary even.

Just a few weeks ago cases were popping up all over the state, from a pub in Casula, to a restaurant in Potts Point, an RSL in Batemans Bay and even the number 26 bus from Adamstown to Hamilton. And somehow, we're now down to one case in 24 hours.

Yet Sydneysiders could be about to flub our response to the pandemic; to carelessly make a mistake and let those numbers grow by idiotic casual indifference.

To give the virus the merest chink it needs to slide back in and rear its ugly head again.

And I'm as guilty as anyone.

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Fewer masks but lots of hugs – Sydneysiders have become sloppy. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi.
Fewer masks but lots of hugs – Sydneysiders have become sloppy. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi.

It happened a few weeks back. After having dinner at a friend's house and about to part ways I went in for, and received, a big ol' bear hug.

Before I had time to even think of the words "social distancing" there I was, not even 1.5 centimetres apart let alone 1.5 metres.

It's others too though. The other day I was at a busy pedestrian crossing in the CBD. Despite all we've been told about how are cities are emptying of people, Sydney's city centre still bustles here and there.

Into the centre of this throng of people near Central station barrelled a couple who recognised a friend. Much hugging and close in-your-face chortling ensued as commuters tried to back away slowly from the merry melee.

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What happened to elbow bumps? Picture: iStock.
What happened to elbow bumps? Picture: iStock.

SYDNEY IS GETTING SLOPPY

As the numbers have decreased in NSW so has our guard.

Just weeks ago, you couldn't move for masks on Sydney's trains and buses. Residents, horrified at what was happening in Melbourne and desperate to avoid a lockdown, seemed hellbent on proving that NSW could vanquish the virus and still go to the pub.

The moment we stepped into Woolies and Coles, Sydneysiders donned masks and daubed themselves in liberal slatherings of hand sanitiser.

Together with NSW Health's tracing system, the sensible precautions of the people of the state seemed to have done the trick.

But this week, as cases dipped below 10 new cases a day, the number of people wearing masks also seemed to dip.

At supermarkets, masks were less numerous with many staff not wearing them, let alone customers.

Outside the supermarket it was even worse. A food court cafe I visited this week was thronged with people squeezed together on sofas. Not a single one had a mask on.

My morning train has gone from 80 per cent of passengers in masks to just 50 per cent.

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Sydney bus drivers almost went on strike because passengers had become so slack at wearing masks. Picture: AAP Image/Steven Saphore.
Sydney bus drivers almost went on strike because passengers had become so slack at wearing masks. Picture: AAP Image/Steven Saphore.

Sydney bus drivers were so perturbed by their passengers' new found devil may care attitude to coronavirus, they threatened to go on strike if masks weren't mandated.

"Bus drivers have given notice that we cannot in good conscience continue to work in an environment that endangers themselves and the travelling public," said RTBU Tram and Bus Division Secretary, David Babineau earlier this week.

Handshakes seem to be all the rage again, replacing that awkward elbow bump; hugs are back in vogue. A kiss on the hand can be quite continental, sung Marilyn Monroe, but it's not what the good people of the Harbour City shouldn't be doing right now.

We all know how fast COVID-19 can spread. From one hotel employee to another and then to their family and friends and before you know it, a city of five million can't venture any further than five kilometres from home.

One Thai restaurant in Sydney's west was the epicentre for 116 cases alone.

Don’t be like Marilyn. No kissy right now. Picture: Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images.
Don’t be like Marilyn. No kissy right now. Picture: Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images.

The fact is there are likely people in and around Sydney right now with coronavirus who don't know they even have it. It's thought at least 15 per cent of people with COVID-19 will never have any symptoms, not even the merest tingle of a scratchy throat.

The more handshakes and hugs they do, the more people they will pass it onto. Then, finally, after a chain of people who had little or no symptoms, someone will give it to their gran and, wham, its back in the aged care system.

"The trouble is it only takes one infected person and if they infect two, who infect four, then eight and next thing you know, it's gone like greased lightning," public health expert professor Gerard Fitzgerald from Queensland University of Technology told the ABC.

 

 

MOST DANGEROUS MOMENT
That NSW has reached one recorded case is commendable; it's a gold star for everyone in NSW and for Sydneysiders in particular which is where the virus has been focused.

However, we're now at the most dangerous moment of each wave - where infectious people are still out and about yet we're letting out guard down as the good times roll.

A few more weeks of masks, and social distancing, could give us just a little more wiggle room. Just like bus drivers already do, retail workers and cabbies should be encouraged to wear a mask - if they wish - because it shows is the right thing to do.

That doesn't mean COVID won't come roaring back, it's likely to be lurking for some time to come.

But let's not bugger it up now NSW; let's not grab defeat from the jaws of victory at the last hurdle for the sake of a handshake.

 

benedict.brook@news.com.au

Originally published as Big virus mistake we're making


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