The past few days have been very alarming for many of us, but a tide has turned around the world in our fight against Covid-19. Major Western countries have now all come to their senses, discarding dangerously complacent strategies. No one is complacent anymore.

This new attitude will be more important than any specific measure. It’s the attitude that we all need to internalise and keep with us for the next 18 months. 

Australia has implemented an aggressive approach that will slow the virus. But it goes beyond government. Every single Australian has a role to play. Every institution, every business, union, church, council, every sports club. Every person.

The plan to beat the virus is clear. 

1. Slow it: hygiene, distance, and borders.

These are things that slow the virus. Everyone needs to do this. We need to help each other, especially kids. 

2. Find it: contact tracing, monitoring for symptoms, and testing.

Doctors and scientists are working on this all around the world. It’s hard and takes time. That’s why we need to slow the virus. Singapore and Taiwan are lighting the path we need to follow. 

3. Isolate it: strict isolation protocols are required, and people must obey them.

The lesson from Wuhan is that failure on this point can put your own family at risk. It will take discipline and support.

4. Control it: This is the hard part. We have 18 months of vigilance to prevent re-emergence.

No matter how much we slow it, it will still be there. It will come back. When it does, we have to react immediately to prevent one case becoming 1,000 again. But while we do that, we have to keep our lives, mental health, and the economy going. It will take solidarity like we haven’t seen in our lifetime. Our lives are literally in each others’ hands, now. 

5. Beat it: vaccines.

It will take at least 18 months to test, produce, and distribute vaccines. It needs to go out on a wide enough scale that when we reduce our vigilance, we don’t get mass outbreaks again. Scientists all around the world are working on this. We have to buy them the time it takes to do it right. There can be no shortcuts when it comes to vaccines. 

A 3D print of a SARS-CoV-2 – also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19 – virus particle (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Flickr)

 

Critically, we must keep our frontline defenders safe. They need the maximum protection: doctors, nurses, pathologists and other medical staff are the first priority. But also police, supermarket workers, anyone who is doing an essential service that demands high contact with many people needs to be kept safe.

The rest of us will stay safe by living in a safe community. When Covid-19 hits, it overwhelms, so we have to stop it entirely. The real threat is not to individuals, but to societies. We get through this together or not at all. 

The goal is to slow the virus so we can control it enough to go about our lives, not to shut everything down.

There’s one other part to this plan. For it to work, it has to be global. Australia’s risk is still there; other countries will have their own challenges that could be even greater, particularly among our neighbours. They’re going to need our help, and we’re going to need to help them in whatever way we can. If we don’t, we’ll be surrounded by contagion. Or just as likely, when it’s our turn to need help, none will be forthcoming.

We cannot divide ourselves over biosecurity like we did over terrorism. This is a battle we have to fight together. The People’s Republic of China and United States in particular both need to step up. Our two biggest assets are currently sidelined because they’re bickering over trivia. They need to stop it. We need them in the game.

Anyone who’s been in a team endurance event knows that every member of the team needs help at one point or other. Crisis moments come in waves, and they affect each of us at different times. We’re going to have to rely on each other a lot over coming months.

Remember, the goal is to slow the virus so we can control it enough to go about our lives, not to shut everything down. The level of personal sacrifice required will vary throughout this process and it won’t be equally distributed at every point in time, but we can get through it if as a world we pull together.