Madonna King: Rice in a public toilet? We’ve forgotten the lessons learned in the pandemic

It seems the anguish delivered by COVID-19 – in the form of deaths and social isolation, borders slammed closed and broken businesses – has already been forgotten.

No other explanation can exist for the substandard hygiene that has now crept back onto our public transport services, into our shopping queues and even public restrooms.

This week, three times, I witnessed young women leave toilet cubicles, and the restrooms, without washing their hands; straight out the door and on with their lives.

Then, a fourth woman, walked out of a cubicle carrying her own container of lunch. It looked like fried rice, but she was tucking into it so fast, its ingredients were unclear.

Besides, it probably doesn’t really matter what it was; it was where she was devouring it. In a public toilet!

Hand hygiene was one of the simple and costless messages out of two years of lockdowns.

It’s hardly rocket science – a bit soap, a bit of water, and a commitment not to pass on germs to someone, who might end up in a hospital bed or a funeral parlour.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care says good hand hygiene is as important as ever, and was the single most effective way to stop the spread of the flu, gastroenteritis and COVID-19.

“The vigilance of some Australians around hand hygiene may have waned since the height of the pandemic,’’ a spokesman told The New Daily.

It’s the same with coughing. On public transport and in supermarket queues, it seems masks or even a hand over the mouth is no longer a crucial accessory.

Lessons easily forgotten

Why are we ignoring the fact that almost 200 Australians died last week from COVID-19?

And why do we think we can dispense with those hard-learnt lessons, delivered only a couple of years ago?

In New South Wales last week, 81 COVID deaths were recorded. Another 48 patients were in intensive care and 1516 COVID-19 patients in hospital. All up, that state recorded almost 12,000 new cases.

And if you want a safe bet, put a wager on the real number being far, far higher – given few people are now reporting their positive cases to authorities.

The same goes for other states. In Victoria, a couple of weeks ago, there were 8669 new cases. Last week, 429 people were in hospital, 13 in intensive care, and 64 new deaths were recorded.

And yet we don’t stop to blink. Forget the soap. Abandon the handkerchief.

Where have all the masks on public transport gone? Photo: Getty

Let’s now add 17,277 cases of flu, recorded nationally during one recent fortnight.

Our immunity to the flu has decreased, after most of us avoided infection over the past few years.

And yet more than 70 per cent of Australians, as of today, haven’t rolled up their sleeve to be vaccinated.

The COVID vaccine story is similar. More than 16.5 million Australians have not received a booster in the past six months.

Perhaps this shows how well we’ve transitioned into living alongside COVID. We believe we’ll be in bed for a couple of days, before bouncing back, fighting fit.

But what about if we were to pass it on to someone, who didn’t bounce back?

COVID is no longer the scary monster that closed school fetes and cancelled holiday plans.

And even if we do feel a bit sick, most of us can work from home. We’ve had the flu before too, and that wasn’t too debilitating. Right? Life’s back to normal.

And that’s the view medicos fear.

How easily we’ve blotted out those harsh, harsh lessons delivered by COVID-19.

Yes, it gifted us time. Time with our families. Time, and an opportunity, to get off the mouse wheel that had many workers spending too many hours away from home. Time, and a place, to do school in our pyjamas. More time on our social media. Time, and even an excuse, not to attend that work party we really wanted to miss.

But what about the flip side of that; the lessons that brought many families and businesses to their knees?

Have we forgotten the fear in our children’s eyes? The tallies that dominated every news broadcast, on ever hour or every day? The stories of families who were unable to attend the funeral of those they loved most? The borders that slammed shut on their own residents, and how that changed lives and families and friendships forever?

COVID continues to steal more than 200 Australian lives each week. It might be less scary than it was, but it’s certainly not scarce.

Topics: COVID-19
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