We have to get more serious about the risks

NOT YET: The world is still waiting to see if there will be a vaccine for the coronavirus.
NOT YET: The world is still waiting to see if there will be a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Right, so that's the first half of the year done and dusted.

Does the blockbuster that is 2020 come with an intermission, do you think, or will we just launch into the second half of the feature and hope the pace slows down so we can catch our breath?

We all know the plot so far: drought, bushfires and a global pandemic, but what we really want to know is how the year's story ends.

Though we're still in the middle of much of it - particularly when it comes to COVID-19, I think we can also now start to ask what we can learn from our experiences so far.

Let's be honest, the world was largely caught unawares by COVID-19, even though there have been some previous opportunities to learn from bird flu, SARS and other outbreaks that go back centuries.

We need to look at how the virus spread, not just from the initial outbreak, but within our own communities here in Australia.

As the Victorian government tries to get on top of what many fear could be a second wave of the coronavirus, there are reports from the US that new infections could top 100,000 a day.

American infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has warned that "we are not in total control" of the virus. Dr Fauci, in addition to being an expert in infectious diseases, might also be a genius in the art of understatement.

Just how far from "under control" is the disease in the US? There have now been more than 2.6 million reported cases and almost 130,000 deaths so far. Worldwide, the death toll is at more than 507,000 and confirmed cases exceed 10 million.

We've heard a lot about the origins of the coronavirus and about how it spread. We've talked about flattening curves and reducing community transmission.

Around Australia, and indeed the world, we went into lockdown and we're slowly trying to rebuild the economy, while state leaders debate when we can reopen borders and - just maybe - consider whether we can spread our wings a little and maybe consider some trans-Tasman travel.

There is plenty of discussion at the moment about the resurgence of coronavirus cases in Melbourne, and the decision to hit people with fines of up to $11,000 and consider jailing them for up to six months if they breach travel restrictions in and out of hot spot suburbs. But what we don't seem to be talking quite so much about is what comes next.

We cannot stay in lockdown forever, we know that, but without a vaccine, we do have to consider just how we're going to live with not just this virus, but the next pandemic to come along.

At some point, we are going to have to make long-term plans. Even if we don't just manage to flatten that curve, but in fact send COVID-19 into oblivion, it's only a matter of time before a new virus emerges somewhere in the world.

Just this week, Dr Fauci in the US sounded a warning on a new strain of swine flu, which was said to have pandemic potential.

Whether it's this new swine flu, the coronavirus or even an as-yet-unknown disease that affects Australian food and livestock production, the possibility is constant and never likely to be eliminated in a world that was, until very recently, becoming increasingly globalised.

Now is the time for Australia to acknowledge that pretty much everything we do, from our quarantine regulations to the way we greet each other in a social setting, is going to need a rethink.

Let's be honest, the world was largely caught unawares by COVID-19, even though there have been some previous opportunities to learn from bird flu, SARS and other outbreaks that go back centuries.

Protecting our health, particularly that of our more vulnerable citizens, is going to have to be much more of a priority than it probably has for generations.

We are lucky enough to have been born in a first world country in the 21st century, with easy access to good food, hygiene and medical care, but we also have to acknowledge that we're not invincible and that we have probably overlooked many of the risks to our health that still exist as a daily reality for many others elsewhere on the planet.

It has becoming pretty clear in recent weeks that, as a society, we don't have a great deal of patience for extended lockdowns, so we're going to get smarter about taking risks.

This story We have to get more serious about the risks first appeared on The Canberra Times.