We enter a new year in New South Wales under a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, restrictions and border closures – with the very notion of a ‘happy new year’ under threat.
But almost just as dangerous as this virus is the mainstream media’s apparent cheering on of a Sydney-wide lockdown, backed by Twitter’s army of raindrops and so-called experts whose credentials should certainly be checked at the door.
Breakfast TV programs are running with ‘lockdown pressure’ banners, journalists are suggesting the current outbreak is akin to the world crumbling around us and context has been largely thrown out of the window.
Major newspapers and TV networks who should know better are calling simple casual venue alerts ‘hotspot lists’ and news outlets are choosing to favour fear over balance in regards to the positive results that have emerged from NSW’s handling of the outbreak.
Sure, the current Avalon and Croydon clusters in New South Wales are a concern. That’s certainly been acknowledged by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant, who have shelved planned breaks over the festive period to front the media each day with clear, up-to-date information.
The State has also sensibly introduced a range of restrictions, including limiting the number of people who can attend household and outdoor gatherings.
But demanding a lockdown is dangerous, over-the-top and just plain wrong.
The Government must balance the health challenges with that of people’s livelihoods and mental health, particularly given the health system as it stands can easily handle the cases being presented each day, while contact tracers are doing their part to ensure the majority of cases are limited to close and household contacts.
It is a similar approach to what NSW took in July, August and September when similar daily case numbers were being experienced in the wake of the Crossroads and Thai Rock clusters. We didn’t even lock down the street then, so there’s certainly no need to lock down the entire state now.
There is not widespread unlinked cases, nor is there a ravage of cases through the suburbs. Most are linked, most are household or close contacts, and the vast majority of those long venue alert lists you see ultimately result in no new cases or clusters.
Those calling for lockdowns appear to be those with the least to lose.
A lockdown now, with Job Keeper and Job Seeker rolling back, would put tens of thousands of people in the hospitality and retail sector suddenly out of work just after Christmas – and the mental toll of that would be extraordinary.
More businesses would go to the wall, the media advertising market would enter freefall (perhaps some of the lockdown-cheering journos should take note of that one), and the regional NSW tourism sector would be on the brink of collapse, especially with the bed wetting Premiers of other states continuing to play God with their borders.
All along, Ms Berejiklian has warned there would be outbreaks. She has almost run out of breath telling us that during a pandemic, it’s to be expected – we’re never out of the woods. We have to live with the virus, she’s said, and that advice is 100 per cent right.
The current restrictions are doing their job – they’re limiting dangerous gatherings and reducing movement around the city and State, without enforcing any sort of official lockdown that would send individuals and businesses to the brink.
We all need to do our part.
We need to continue to be mindful of social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing in situations where social distancing is not possible. We need to keep up-to-date with the venue alert lists, and most importantly, get tested when even the most minor of symptoms present.
The mainstream media must also play their part.
Stop over-playing this – and if you think you’re not, you’re largely wrong.
Searching high and low for an expert to suit the narrative of pushing for a lockdown or demanding crowds stay away from sporting events is not necessarily good journalism. Calling simple venue lists “hotspots”, or indirectly cheering for lockdowns certainly isn’t either. Why, I wonder, isn’t the reporting focused around what NSW can do to avoid a lockdown – rather than how close we are or aren’t to having one?
Most importantly, reporting of context is critical. There is so much misinformation out there at the moment, and given the media is the biggest conduit of news to the masses, they’re clearly doing something wrong.
During a pandemic, click-bait articles, sensationalist headlines and narratives and frightening graphics should be thrown out the window.
Hang tight Sydney – we’ve got this, you just need to have a little faith.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.