What is happening in Australia right now?

APAC News people at Circular Quay with Sydney Harbour Bridge in background

Many Chinese-Australians and Chinese working and studying in Australia are troubled in this crisis because it is difficult to understand the actions of our government and health officials, Marcus Reubenstein helps explain what is going on.

24 March 2020 | Marcus Reubenstein

Australia has never seen anything like this before  

Australia is very badly prepared to deal with COVID-19 because we have never seen anything like this before.

My family came through the horrors of the Second World War and then fled Europe to make a new life in Australia. My 90-year-old aunt said to me this morning, nobody knows how painful a burn is until they put their hand on the stove.  

Tragically many Asian families, not just Chinese but from places like Singapore and South Korea, know the enormous danger of pandemics. SARS was a huge wake-up call for the region, which is why outside of the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore took immediate action once the virus spread.

Key Asian governments have had 17 years to prepare for COVID-19, Australia started preparing 10 weeks ago.

The entire developed western world did not see this coming, valuable time has been lost and it can never be taken back.

Cultural differences

The foundation of western culture is that the individual is the most important part of our society. Individual freedom is held in higher regard than any other single social right or responsibility.

While this a noble idea – which I support – it leads people in our society to be selfish. It is also an idea that has led to the family unit not being the most important element of our society.

Now we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis – which most Australians still don’t understand – and it is not in our nature to think beyond our own personal needs.

Australians are not selfish, in a tragedy we show our compassion by helping out our fellow citizens. However, in a mass crisis we are not equipped socially or culturally to think of others.       

Australians never worry (when they should)

Beyond the many western cultural influences over our society Australia has some unique characteristics of our own. One of these attitudes is what we call “She’ll be right mate”.

In part this means don’t panic if things are going wrong, because things will always get better. What it really means to most Australians is: “No need to worry, it won’t happen to me.”

This explains why thousands of people went to Bondi Beach over the weekend and why the government had to enforce regulations to prohibit others going to bars, restaurants and crowded places.

It is not that these people don’t care about the COVID-19, they don’t know how serious this is and they don’t want to think about it.

Why the focus on economy?

This is a difficult question to answer.

Australians cannot understand how a virus which (they think) has a low death rate and only affects old people will cause them hardship. However, they do realise that losing their jobs and being unable to pay their bills is a crisis.

I think this is part of the reason for the government to focus on the economic crisis, because it is something people can far better understand.

Also, very importantly, unlike Chinese people, Australians don’t save money for a crisis that is why the government has to take measures now to help the economy.  

Apart from this, the financial markets are generally a leading indicator of where our economy (and our society) is headed. If the financial markets see no relief, they will crash, and the panic we see now will get far worse.  

Why not fight the virus?

As mentioned above there are many reasons that Australia is not prepared for the virus, and why our people cannot see the risk.

Also, we lack the medical facilities to cope with enormous pressure on our health system that thousands or even hundreds of thousands of infected people might bring.

You may have heard the idea of “flattening the curve” mentioned by many western countries. This simply means that if nations gradually implement policies to fight the virus, the population will get infected over a longer period of time and there will be less people coming through the system.

This is a controversial policy but remember Australia is not equipped to handle this virus because we have never seen this before. Australia cannot take full blame for being underprepared, Europe and America are in even worse situations than we are.     

The media reporting of COVID-19

From the start of the Wuhan outbreak, the overall media coverage has been terrible. Now that it has been revealed all Australians are in danger the coverage has become worse.

Most of the media has been entirely ignorant of the health crisis by debating the level of government support for financial markets and big businesses; and supporting football leagues when everywhere else in the world has stopped all sport.

The coverage of the Sky News channel has been dangerous to the public. They continue to say this is just a “bad flu” that only kills old people.

One of their leading commentators, Alan Jones is telling people not to panic because COVID-19 is a bad flu – not a crisis. He also spreads this message on his nationally broadcast breakfast radio program, which is the most listened to in Australia.

Most of his audience are older Australians and he tells them not to worry about COVID-19. But he broadcasts from self-isolation in his own country estate 140 kilometres southwest of Sydney.

This is appalling media hypocrisy and it is against everything APAC News stands for.

Who should you listen to?

Don’t get your information from social media – Chinese or western!

You need to make your own judgements, relying on people within the Chinese community who understand the severity of this situation is a good start.

Though APAC News is a small independent media outlet, we will endeavour to continue to provide accurate information to our readers in these troubling and confusing times for Chinese-Australians.

I do however recommend the best source of media information about this virus is Dr. Norman Swan from the ABC radio and television.

He is a doctor and an experienced journalist who has warned for weeks the threat of COVID-19 to Australia.

If you only seek the opinion of one Australian journalist about the virus, and what this nation is doing to fight it, that journalist has to be Dr. Norman Swan.

Also, in a national crisis, the ABC (radio, television and online) is the official broadcaster of government warnings and public information. This is the one western media outlet you should trust for accurate government announcements.

Be prepared don’t be panicked

The good news is our children should be safe from the risk of dying from this virus. But we must be very careful to protect them from infection which will spread the virus.

Also, in underprepared countries like Italy and Spain, many people below the age of 50 are dying because they don’t get treatment. So remember this is not an old persons disease.  

Infection rates are rising enormously, and people will sadly die. The government cannot stop the virus, but you can prevent yourself from getting the virus. As Chinese-Australians you know exactly what needs to be done to be safe – so do what you know and be safe!

Food and groceries

Australia will not run out of food or grocery items. Most Chinese-Australians are well prepared so you don’t need to panic.

There will be difficulties and confusion as schools, businesses and communities are closed down. This will pass quickly and suitable methods for allowing people to buy food will be put in place.

Think of the wider Australian community when you do your shopping but also think of all Chinese-Australians and how they have been unfairly attacked in this crisis. Don’t give other people a reason to say Chinese-Australians do not care about all their fellow Australians.    

The future of the economy

With the entire developed world about to shut down this will be the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

However, the economy will continue to operate and government employees will continue to get paid. So there will be money in the economy, there will just be a disruption as the world adjusts to this new reality and how to continue doing business.

There will soon be relief for every single person who cannot pay their bills.

If you have financial pressures and are worried about paying bills, do not pay your bills, keep your money.

Contact your service provider – phone company, gas, electricity, internet service provider, bank or insurance company – and tell them you cannot pay. They will not disconnect your service. The government will guarantee financial support to these companies.     

What will happen to Australia?

I fear in the short-term we will see increased panic among many Australians. Especially as we approach the situation where the nation will effectively be locked down.

As a westerner I am pretty sure this panic will die down as soon as people are confined to their homes. The mindset of people is that they panic when there is great uncertainty but confining people to their homes gives them certainty.

People will realise that an entire society depends on this isolation and many will actually be proud that they are at home because they will understand this is the best thing they can do for their fellow Australians.  

Stay strong and fight the virus!

The Chinese community has already shown itself to be among the greatest Australians in this COVID-19 fight. No community has taken greater care in taking steps against infection and making sure the virus does not spread and all Australians are safe.

This is something you do not hear often enough. But I thank you for your great contribution to Australia.

Marcus Reubenstein, Editor, APAC News
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