The crap gift that keeps on giving

As the latest variant of COVID makes its way through the South Australian community, Matthew Abraham wonders why our political and health leaders are so relaxed and comfortable.

Nov 17, 2023, updated Nov 17, 2023
Digital art work by James Taylor/InDaily

Digital art work by James Taylor/InDaily

A naughty secret hides in the broom closets of even our most God-fearing households.

It’s the Shit Gift Box. Pardon the French.

The SGB, as we shall call it from this point on, is the box where a family squirrels away Christmas gifts they have received that are either too big, small, ugly or useless, not wanted, needed or liked or, not to put too fine a point on it, crap.

After sitting dormant for a few Christmases, they can then be retrieved from the box and “repurposed” or “re-gifted” as emergency gifts for the festive season, birthdays, anniversaries or, best of all, as an anonymous KK at the work Christmas party.

It’s important to keep the SGB well hidden to avoid offending those who gave you the gift. And try not to give it back to the person who gave it to you.

When you told them “Really, you shouldn’t have”, they didn’t think you meant “No, really, I wish you hadn’t”.

It’s a phenomenon that this year has come out of the closet, as it were, with department store Myer’s Christmas ad campaign.

The TV ad is built around a wombat-shaped lavender-scented soap – called Wendell – who has been re-gifted year after year.

“Yep, I’m a re-gift, been handed halfway round the country,” Wendell sighs, adding that the one thing he’s learnt on his travels is that “a good gift takes thought”. Obviously, this is where the department store steps up to the plate.

COVID is our Wendell. The virus that stopped the planet for two years just keeps on giving. It’s the re-gift that will make you sick and can land you in hospital – or in a coffin.

And, just like a wombat-shaped soap, our state and federal governments, and their health authorities, are trying to politely pretend it isn’t happening.

They’re saying all the right words – mask up in high-risk settings, vaccinate, get a script for antivirals – but their hearts don’t seem in it, not really, not anymore.

Unfair? When was the last time you saw our Prime Minister Anthony Albanese or a Premier wearing a mask?

They happily don hard hats and fluoro vests for media conferences on worksites that pose no risk to them, even pop on the funny hair nets when touring a food factory.

But masks to protect against a virus that has the potential to kill? They’re for sissies.

Premier Peter Malinauskas is far happier talking about his taxpayer-funded vanity projects, like the dreaded LIV Golf or the Robbie Williams concert masquerading as a car race, than about the virus.

While they stooge around with the paperwork, the latest strain is running riot through the nation’s aged care homes, where more than half of the residents aren’t fully immunised.

For the last couple of weeks now, COVID cases have been skyrocketing. Everyone knows someone who has caught the virus, often for the second or third time.

The federal Health Department is reporting more than 1000 new cases nationally a day. South Australia alone saw an increase to 2493 new cases last week.

These must be wildly conservative figures, given the fact many people either ignore the symptoms, fail to self-test with a RAT kit or fail to report they have the virus.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer John Gerrard told The Australian infections detected among new patients were a “soup” of Omicron variants, including the dominant Eris, Pirola and a new variant dubbed “XCH”.

InDaily published this week an excellent breakdown, reporting that COVID’s “primary viral lineage” this year has been XBB.

Pay attention. Over the past six months its “two most influential mutations” have been the F456L mutation that led to the rise of EG.5.1, also known as Eris, and more recently the “paired ‘Flip’ mutations” F456L+L455F.

They all sound like iPhone updates. It makes you yearn for the days when we knew the names of the latest variant by heart.

The bottom line is “this is a clear sign these mutations help the virus spread better”.

But after the hysteria of the COVID lockdown years, our health officials do seem relatively sanguine about it all.

Queensland Health’s Gerrard says the symptoms are becoming less severe and new restrictions would be “disproportionate” in the Sunshine State.

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With a tripling of cases in SA, masks are once again back in some hospitals for clinical settings including emergency departments and wards, but inexplicably not in public areas like hospital cafes.

Our state’s chief medical officer Professor Nicola Spurrier urged the vulnerable, code for anyone over 65, to make sure their COVID vaccinations are up to date.

Great idea, if the latest vaccine was available. It isn’t.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration approved the new booster last month but the Australian Technical Advisory Group has yet to recommend when it can be unboxed.

While they stooge around with the paperwork, the latest strain is running riot through the nation’s aged care homes, where more than half of the residents aren’t fully immunised.

No rush, by the time they get it out to GPs, the latest burst of the virus will have packed its bags and headed for the European winter.

Nobody advocates a return to the crazy, forced lockdowns and bureaucratic power trips that were a feature of the pandemic at its worst, but the current relaxed political response is sailing dangerously close to a “let it rip” policy.

During the week, the virus arrived not in the shape of a soapy wombat but a cruise ship that berthed at Outer Harbor after passengers had been hit by COVID or gastro. Come to think of it, Wendell might have been welcome on the cruise.

The Grand Princess arrived on Monday, two days into a four-day round trip from Melbourne, where the latest COVID outbreak kicked off.

The operators said the ship had been cleaned in Melbourne but out of “an abundance of caution” would be deep cleaned in Adelaide before it choofed off on Wednesday.

The Grand Princess docked at Outer Harbor this week, as viewed from Matthew Abraham’s tinny.

Professor Spurrier praised the company for having “very good infection protection and control mechanisms in place and protocols to deal with outbreaks”.

“Those outbreaks came down very quickly,” she said.

Premier Malinauskas said the “bulk of the illnesses” happened before the ship arrived in Melbourne, on its way to Adelaide, and just “0.6 per cent of the people onboard suffered gastro”. The ship can carry 4000, including crew.

We’ve come a long way from the Woodville pizza shop shut down and “don’t touch the footy”.

Some of the cruise passengers interviewed by the media had very different thoughts on the “infection protection and control mechanisms in place”.

Perhaps the Professor, and the Premier, could have invited them into the office for shared finger food and an informative chat about “protocols” and the lingering aroma of vomit below decks.

On the way to launching the tinny just down the wharf from the Grand Princess early Monday morning, I had to slow for the waves of passengers disembarking, crossing the road and boarding a crowded train into town.

Princess Cruises revealed that to get on top of the twin COVID and gastro outbreaks, affected passengers had been contained to their cabins, with room service, while other guests had been given $25 vouchers to spend onshore at stopovers during the deep cleans.

COVID, gastro and a $25 voucher. Really, you shouldn’t have.

Matthew Abraham is InDaily’s political columnist. Matthew can be found on Twitter as @kevcorduroy. It’s a long story.

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