Tales from the frontline: What our pollies could learn from these everyday heroes

If our unheralded front-line workers can stay on message, surely those who are leading our response to the pandemic should be capable of doing the same, writes Madonna King

May 27, 2021, updated May 27, 2021
 (AAP Image/Luis Ascui)

(AAP Image/Luis Ascui)

I didn’t ask her name, deliberately, because she’s one of hundreds; all doing their part to keep COVID at bay, and the rest of us safe.

On some days, this hospital orderly is doing her job despite politicians mangling the message. On other days, she turns up knowing she might be putting herself and her family in COVID’s way.

This worker, based at the PA Hospital Community Screening Clinic in Annerley, doesn’t know if her clients are just out of hotel quarantine, visiting Melburnians or sick Queenslanders.

But the smile she wears is constant. “Dealing with people sicker than I am makes me feel good,’’ is her response when told she has a tough job, on any day.

Yesterday, from 9am, her role was to usher each person in for their booked COVID test and show them to one of seven seats in a make-shift waiting room.

When it was their time to be tested, she would dutifully take to the empty seat with equal measures of disinfectant and gusto. Two minutes later, she attacked the seat again with a paper towel – so no-one would damage their clothes.

And so this went on. Over and over and over. As the fit-looking cycling guy sweated out his last ride in waiting room number two. As the frightened young woman, who’d never been tested, was shown her seat. As those in good clobber and weekend wear took their turn and seat, each 1.5 metres away from the next.

This is the coalface of COVID testing; where the sniffles and coughs and winter germs are way more common than any positive result. And that’s the way we want to keep it.

But as our friends in Melbourne look to the next few days with a new level of alertness and anxiety, our politicians could learn a lesson from those delivering the tests.

The teamwork. The ability to be tested with or without an appointment, booked online or by phone, and with or without a GP’s referral. The clearly marked entrances and exits. The professional staff, from hospital orderlies to those doing the testings, to those staying up late, to analyse the results. It’s seamless.

So why is the leadership, around COVID, so messy and inexact? I don’t know if Scott Morrison’s domestic passport is a good or bad idea, but I do know it was never going to have his opponents’ support. Politics beats COVID on any day.

Morrison’s lack of transparency around vaccine roll-outs is beyond comprehension. There’s a big vat of vaccines (some now going to waste) and a big vat of Australians wanting them. Just match them up!

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And then address the message around the need for everyone to receive the vaccine. Here, Annastacia Palaszczuk – like the prime minister – should take a good hard look at herself, and the duplicity in the message she is delivering.

Why should John Smith or Jane Evans or any of us get the vaccine, when the State’s leader – who owes her position to her management around COVID – doesn’t see it as crucial?

For weeks now, in some clinics, vaccines have been going to waste. In one clinic, a receptionist told me the waiting room, despite appointments, was bare. In another, a worker revealed they’d have to ‘chuck’ the unused vaccines.

So, the idea that the premier was “waiting her turn” just doesn’t ring true. She’s treating voters like geese, and what’s good for the geese should be good enough for the gander.

Or is it that she doesn’t really want the Astrazeneca vaccine? That might be incorrect, but that’s the message delivered by the extraordinary revelation that she hasn’t seen COVID as a big enough threat to lead by example.

The message around testing and vaccines needs to be turned on its head. And take-up rates will continue to dawdle along while our politicians fight over state borders and roll-out policies and different rules in different states.

We are one nation. And should have one plan. And our politicians owe that not only to voters, but to those workers who are turning up each day at the coalface to make sure we all remain safe.


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