Prime Minister Scott Morrison iflanjed by two aides, takes part in an unusual G20 Leaders Summit via teleconference to discuss the international coronavirus crisis. Source: Adam Taylor/PMO
Prime Minister Scott Morrison iflanjed by two aides, takes part in an unusual G20 Leaders Summit via teleconference to discuss the international coronavirus crisis. Source: Adam Taylor/PMO

Why compassion must drive our coronavirus response

BY the time a Sunshine Coast emergency doctor, ringing on behalf of a group colleagues, called me last Saturday the dangers of the COVID-19 threat were already clearly understood by my family.

Our household size has grown from two to six in a day with the return of our daughter, son-in-law and grandson from New York and our son from Byron Bay last week.

Across the street, a neighbour's son who had been surfing through South American for well over a year ended speculation about if he was ever coming home by turning up unannounced and quietly going into self-isolation.

Likewise, with our next-door neighbours whose son cut short a stint in London to return to family.

That shift to home is being replicated across Australia. Those realignments of priorities, decisions made by thinking people based on available information, demonstrate how flexible we can be when needed.

Stress and worry alleviated, families can get on with the much narrower focus of making the best of a situation which will get worse before it improves.

The shutting down of Sunshine Coast Airport, the closure of the council's holiday parks ahead of Easter, the hard discussions being had in every business across the economy and the virtual end of trade in many sectors all are clear signals of the pain to come.

Personal scenario planning devoid of panic is difficult given the ever-shifting nature of this crisis but, is now essential.

Virgin Australia's decision to suspend all flights until at least June 14 indicates that at minimum, we can expect this to last three or so months.

The reality is we could all be still trying to cope with this in six months in an environment where the daily death toll becomes the single most important piece of information in the country given its eventual decline will mark the beginning of the end of the crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the true fragility of our national economy, the lie of employment data that has hidden chronic underemployment and the nonsense of projected surpluses being hailed as a sign of a well-managed economy.

A colleague - thanks Erle - overnight on Thursday sent me an announcement from the Shopping Centre Council of Australia asking its members "to ensure there are no lease terminations for non-payment of rent for small to medium sized (SME) businesses as we work through this period".

"It is vital that our industry, as a key part of the economy and our local communities, work(s) collaboratively with government and our SME retailers to support their cashflow and jobs across the economy," the association said.

That approach is both a sign of how serious the economic situation now is and a lesson that others, including banks, will almost certainly have to follow.

Decisive immediate action that is considerate of how quickly so many lives have already been changed is what is desperately needed right now for Australia to get through this with the minimum of suffering.

Attitudes that have informed policy that has kept welfare and unemployment payments below the poverty line must be discarded.

People must come first with health and sustenance the only two relevant priorities.

The world is long overdue for a reset and despite the suffering to come, this may well prove the catalyst.

Events have played out against a backdrop of a local government election campaign which the last week here has seen shaped by some as time for steady hands and no change of course.

I'd argue the opposite.

Now is a time to be absolutely certain that the level of government closest to the people is populated by those with the capacity to genuinely consult with the community, to be absolutely transparent in their decision making and to be supportive rather than punitive in their culture.

It's time to be focusing on the here and now, not the needs of some now fanciful 2040 vision.

By today, thankfully more than two thirds of the Sunshine Coast will have already caste a postal or pre-poll vote. The risk of doing so today is less than a trip to the shops. Get in, get it done and go home.

The emergency doctor who called me last week said at that point many considered the situation surreal when in reality, we were standing on the brink of a tsunami.

The job losses of the past week and the many more to come coupled with rising infection rates have shocked that complacency out of the system.

It's time now to stay home, stay safe and be well.