Whoever thought it was a good idea to encourage Novax Djokovic to fly to Australia has now learned a lesson about what Australians will tolerate. Which is, as of January 2022, not very much. I'm more of a Macron woman, myself. Let's make the lives of the willingly unvaccinated as difficult as possible.
It is bad enough that we have a man - a Prime Minister - who can't buy rapid antigen tests, hold a hose in a bushfire or order enough vaccines in a timely fashion. And as for the Leader of the Opposition. Anyone see him on the ABC's 7.30 on Tuesday night? That bloke on the telly, Anthony Albanese, was given the opportunity to distinguish himself from Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister for the comfortable. But when given that opportunity to rapidly, enthusiastically, fervently, say "Yes, if I was Prime Minister I would ensure all Australians had access to free rapid antigen tests," Albanese said not very much, not very clearly and not until pushed. He needs to be "in the zone", with responses which are both instant and felt, not trying to work it out in public.
But if Albanese wants people to think he could be PM, he needs to make it clear he is different. As alternative prime ministers go, let's consider Team Tanya, who on Wednesday morning was up bright and early on social media calling for free RATs. By that time Labor had realised its missed opportunity and there was a concerted effort among ALP politicians to make it look like the leader had always thought it was a good idea. Seriously. This was the opportunity to take the free kick, or whatever other sporting analogy might work. Instead, it squandered the opportunity. There were a few good jokes though from Albanese - including that the Prime Minister was more set and forget than shake and bake. Although I swear to God, I still have no idea what shake and bake means - unless it's about crystal meth or Talladega Nights, neither of which has any relevance at all to my life.
At this stage, any alternative would be better than the incumbent, Scott Morrison, the conservationist of wealth and privilege, the man who claimed to have popped to the shops to buy a rapid antigen test. Hope he has kept his receipts, because the rest of us will.
In the meantime, Australia has decided to abandon any pretence at keeping an honest record of who has COVID and who doesn't. Those who have positive RATs will no longer have to have a PCR. Workplaces will no longer have to test staff to ease the burden on employers (yet I don't see any plan to ease the burden on workers who are too sick to work).
No wonder we are all trying to control the chaos around us. Me in particular. I was one of the terrible people who hoarded toilet paper. Well, not in excessive quantities, but a little bit. I'd describe it as a week in reserve, a week ahead of my normal shopping schedule. I also had a kilo of rice, some beans, pasta and tinned tomatoes. Also a ridiculous amount of parmesan cheese, because for some reason that was going to save my family. Deranged, but not seriously. Insane enough for my children to roll their eyes and remind me that there was, in those days, absolutely no problem with the supply chain, and I should pull myself together.
And here we are, two years near enough, and the whole catastrophe is happening all over again. We have an actual supply chain problem, and this time it's not just loo paper and milk - it is the one essential item we all need. The RAT. I started hoarding in mid-December, happy to travel kilometres to ensure we had enough to get together for Christmas - 16 single tests, which would cover my family with two tests each. Heaven forgive me if I give COVID to my two grandchildren. I bought another five, but gave them as a Christmas present to a friend desperate to see her parents.
Now the Prime Minister has been dragged into line - slightly - by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (my goodness I would love to have been a mozzie on the wall) and the national cabinet has agreed to provide free RATs at least for those with concession cards - access to 10 tests over three months.
We managed to strollout the vaccine and booster without charging anyone for anything. We managed to indulge our pathologists by subsidising them to charge a small fortune for analysing COVID test results. But the one tool we could use to stop the spread was being denied to us all, until even Morrison could no longer stand the humiliation of being exposed for cruelty and callousness. Mind you, it was only Monday morning when he told Sunrise's Edwina Bartholomew: "We're at another stage of this pandemic now where we just can't go round and make everything free." Now it is only most of us who will continue to pay exorbitant amounts for RATs. Imagine what he would do to Medicare if we weren't watching.
My hoarding of RATs was only possible for a two-income family, and the cost of these bloody things escalated over the week of my purchasing. The early ones, from my local chemist, were five for $29.99. By Christmas Eve, I was paying $15 for one. There have been much worse examples. Choice Australia pulled together examples of hellish greed and cruelty: $30 each at a BP in Sydney's Edgecliff, online retailer Kogan selling single tests for $45 (now with a fresh excuse for how that happened). And I can't even begin to deal with the idea, gossip though it may be, that some major retailers were tipped off to the forthcoming need for RATs. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said on Tuesday it will investigate the high prices of rapid antigen tests, but there is one quick solution to price gouging: make the tests free for everyone. That will separate the rats from the RATs.
Rapid antigen tests are essential public health tools (especially now since it's nigh impossible to get a PCR test in Australia without queueing for hours and then waiting for days for a result). As the ACTU pointed out on Monday, Morrison has once again rejected the calls of doctors, public health experts, unions, and small businesses to make rapid antigen tests free for all. ACTU acting secretary Liam O'Brien said in a statement: "Morrison's failure to secure enough RATs and provide them freely is a slap in the face to small businesses and workers who have already sacrificed and lost so much and are trying to recover from the pandemic."
Another disappointment, in a queue of disappointments, for a nation exhausted by queuing.
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