Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

by Msnbctv news staff

Countries across the Asia-Pacific region — including Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Bangladesh — are scrambling to slow the spread of the Delta variant. Many governments are reimposing restrictions. For societies that had just begun to reopen, it’s a jarring reminder that the pandemic is far from over.

For insight into the situation in Australia and New Zealand, we turned to Natasha Frost, who writes the Europe Edition of the Morning Briefing.

Natasha: When I returned from New York to my home country of New Zealand in October, it was like slipping through a portal into another world — one where people casually brushed past strangers while waiting in line, routinely went without a mask and even shared plates of fries.

A few months later, Auckland went into lockdown because of what would eventually total 15 Covid cases. In most of the world, so few cases would have been cause for celebration. In New Zealand, it was a sign that something had gone drastically wrong.

It’s a similar story in Australia, where a recent outbreak of over 200 cases has led to about half the country being placed under heavy restrictions. (In the U.S., new cases routinely exceed 10,000 a day.)

Having decided almost from the outset to pursue an elimination strategy, Australia and New Zealand have undergone a radically different experience of the pandemic from the rest of the world. As well as having shorter lockdowns and fewer restrictions, we’ve been insulated from much grief and suffering.

Still, it hasn’t always been easy. Closing borders has cut many people off from their families, decimated our tourist industries and prevented some citizens from returning home from overseas. But few would choose the alternative. Our total deaths from the coronavirus are in the dozens.

The latest chapter of the pandemic, where many people in European and North American countries are vaccinated and societies are steadily opening up, is different for us yet again. Our inoculation campaigns have been sluggish. Our borders remain firmly shut even to our citizens. And though we have far fewer cases than in most of the rest of the world, lockdowns remain an active tool.

Our approach post-pandemic is also likely to be different. Some countries like Singapore are already planning to handle Covid-19 as a new endemic disease, to be managed rather than eradicated. But having invested so much in a zero-Covid strategy, Australia and New Zealand seem likely to continue their hard line, even after most people have been vaccinated.

“Now that we have really effective vaccines and public health measures,” said Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago, “we will aim for no transmission in our community.”

Outside of hospitals, especially in places with high vaccine rates, people have started to change the way they talk about the pandemic.

“Once this is all over” has become “now that this is all over.” Friends talk about a “post-pandemic” world, exhaling in a shared agreement that “things are back to normal.”

But not frontline workers.

Doctors and nurses are reeling from rising Covid-19 cases in parts of the U.S. But even where cases are in sharp decline, they’re also coping with burnout and prolonged stress from a pandemic that, for them, seems never-ending.

It’s not just frustration, exhaustion or post-traumatic stress. The pandemic worsened chronic staffing shortages, as thousands left the field or died on the frontlines.

In the South and Mountain West, where the transmissible Delta variant is gaining traction among the unvaccinated, staff members share a familiar sense of dread and frustration. Last time, they watched their neighbors refuse to wear masks or socially distance. This time, people refuse to get vaccines.

“People think they are exercising their rights by refusing to get vaccinated, but in reality, they’re exposing themselves and others to risk,” said Dr. Clay Smith, an emergency room doctor who travels between two distant hospitals in South Dakota and Wyoming.

In Missouri, caseloads increased more than 40 percent from two weeks earlier. In Springfield, the CoxHealth Medical Center had to reopen the 80-bed Covid unit it had shuttered in May. There, the Delta variant comprised 93 percent of all cases last week, said Dr. Terrence Coulter, a critical care specialist.

“The country has started the end zone dance before we cross the goal line,” Dr. Coulter said. “The truth is we’re fumbling the ball before we even get there.”

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

In March 2020, we moved my 89-year-old mother from a senior residential community to our home. Our two grown sons also moved home, thinking our little farm was a safe place to ride out the pandemic. Then we all got Covid, brought home inadvertently by the N.Y.C. son. We got through it, but preparing meals for five people, while ill, was grueling. . The kitchen looked like a bomb went off for weeks. Fifteen months later, and I am tired of the trivial family disagreements and grown kids assuming they know more about everything — because their parents are now supposedly “over the hill”! I am also tired of my mother being sassy. I am dreaming of simple dinners for two with my husband, less toilet paper, loving our adult children from a distance, and a mother who is safe and cared for by someone else most of the time. I know I will miss this close family time someday, and I am extremely grateful to have become re-acquainted with my adult children, and that my mother was not locked up in an institution for a year. But right now I just want to get back to living a simple life. It is time.

— A tired mother, wife and daughter, Bucks County, Pa.

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