from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Delta Variant Escapes and a Cat is Trapped.

26 July, 2021.

Australia continues to lag behind in the vaccination stakes. Only 14 percent of us are fully vaccinated or 11% if you count the kids.

This level of vaccination is low if you are facing the spread of the Delta variant, as we are. Delta is establishing itself in the western and south-western communities of Sydney, faster than the contact tracers can follow.

It’s hard to gather the exact story of how, once again, Covid-19 managed to slip through all protective systems in place. This time it involved a case of three furniture removalists from Western Sydney who delivered to Melbourne – did not wear masks – and then travelled on to South Australia to deliver more furniture. Continuing mask-less.

I am not sure at what stage they realised they were infectious, but they were, and infected a few others in Melbourne who went on to infect many others. Some people are saying that Delta should be treated as a new virus, it is so very infectious. Last night’s news was that a 30-year-old has died in Sydney. Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is looking more and more frustrated at each news conference as she announces that the numbers are not going down and the numbers of new cases who travelled around, infectious in the community, remains high.

There are cases in Victoria – a much smaller number, under 20, – and we, in South Australia, have locked down due to the threat of cases. We are tracking at 1-3 a day – but not active in the community. Close-contact Adelaide families have been put in medi-hotels in anticipation of the whole family being infected.

Of course, the borders have closed to and from NSW, South Australia and Victoria. Only Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory are open to one another. New Zealand has shut down the travel bubble with Australia.

With the rise of fear over this Delta variant, and the economic impact on business, the relationship between the states has broken down with unseemly bickering. Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of NSW, made an impassioned plea in their ‘national emergency’ for help from other states. She asked for Pfizer vaccines to be rushed to NSW’s hotspots. The Premier wanted younger essential workers in SW Sydney to get vaccinated. She argued that this was in the interest of all of Australia.

Other states would have none of it. Some were more polite than others. Premier Andrews of Victoria was not one of the polite ones. ‘It’s not my problem to get the pubs open in NSW’. Worrying about pubs seems to be a very Australian response. Instead, Andrews argued for a ‘ring of steel’ to be placed around Sydney. If it was a ‘national emergency’ as Gladys had argued, then it was a ‘national responsibility that Sydneysiders are locked into Sydney’. Not much compassion there.

A moderate solution was found. 90,000 extra doses per week will head to Sydney, courtesy of the Federal government’s stockpile. They are also saying that the interval between 1st and 2nd Pfizer doses should be increased.

Meanwhile, our PM Morrison is trying to get the Astra Zeneca vaccine to be more widely recommended (‘reconsider the balance of risk’) in Australia. This must be done through our ATAGI advisory body. Morrison argued that circumstances had changed with the arrival of the Delta variant. But ATAGI would have none of this, nor would the Labor opposition, who are taking every opportunity to say that THEY would have made NO mistakes. Somehow, Labor would have found a reliable crystal ball and wisely foreseen the challenges of these last 18 months.    

One thing we have realised with this plague: there are experts and more experts and the range of expert opinions are manifold and nuanced.

‘The AstraZeneca vaccine is the most widely accepted, with 119 governments recognising it—it is the most-used vaccine and it is also approved by the World Health Organisation (along with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and two Chinese vaccines). By contrast, China’s CanSinoBio is recognised by just a handful of governments.’

Meanwhile, on a personal level, our holiday plans were laid waste once more. We were due to leave for a 10-day holiday in Far North Queensland. Not to be. Queensland started to designate various parts of South Australia as ‘orange’ zones, which would mean that we would have to isolate for 14 days if we had been in those zones during the previous 14 days. They backdated the requirement and the orange area grew to cover all of South Australia.

Luckily, we were able to change flights and accommodation to November, without penalty.

Friends of ours had taken off in their campervan for a 4-week bush trip to Queensland, but they would have to go through regional NSW. They turned back.

We remain under the spell of zero tolerance of Covid-19 infections. If we had higher vaccination rates, we might relax more. Last weekend – in tune with the European and UK protests, we had mask-less ‘freedom’ protests here. The police ruled them illegal but that did not deter 7,000 turning up in Melbourne and thousands in Sydney. Many were arrested. Action will be taken against others using photographs of the event. One wonders if any of the protesters will come down with Covid-19. Many carried anti-vaxx posters.

Yet another meme

Stupidity can be infectious.

On our home front, we made a mistake by leaving our feral cat trap open during the first night of the lockdown. We have been trapping feral cats on and off for years. They threaten – read destroy –  our wildlife: small marsupials, birds, lizards, snakes etc. Most of the feral cats are infected with feline Aids. Our local council encourages us by lending out traps. When we are successful, they will collect the cat and have it assessed. If the cat has ID in the form of a tattoo or a microchip, it is returned to the owner; if it is tame and could be rehomed, the cat is taken to the Animal Welfare League (AWL); if it is fiercely feral or infected, it is euthanised.

Anyway, unexpectedly, we caught a cat and I realised it was a young domestic cat. A pretty cat, not fierce: it looked like a long-haired Russian blue. For the first day, (and this was a lockdown day, so I was not meant to be wandering around), I dropped flyers in all our neighbourhood and phoned people I knew. No one had lost a cat. I alerted all online sites to this lost cat. For example, Facebook has a page called ‘Lost Pets of Adelaide’.

I borrowed a cat box and took the cat to our vet, where they ascertained it was not microchipped and had no tattoo. They agreed that it was a domestic cat. Perhaps it had been dumped or run away. But my vet could not hold it till the end of lockdown when the council would wake up and take action. AWL would not come to the house due to lockdown rules.

So, the choice was either to let it go (and we deemed it could not fend for itself) or ask the vet to euthanise it.

While I considered this and against my husband’s advice, I brought the cat home and put her/him in our spare bathroom with food, milk and water. By now, the cat was highly stressed. It leapt onto the window sill, glared at me with wild yellow eyes and hissed if I came close. Maybe it was feral!

Looking fierce

There was peace until 4 am when our pet dog, Roy, an old, blind Cairn Terrier, who dislikes cats intensely, woke up in our bedroom and realised that there was a cat in the house. There was no more peace for me. Roy spent the rest of the night with his nose against the door of the spare bedroom while I tried to stop him barking.

Daylight brought relief. Animal Welfare League, bless their kind hearts, agreed to collect the cat from my vet – with the appropriate social distancing.

After cleaning the bathroom, I posted online to thank those other kind hearts who had been trying to save this cat by finding its owner. I am now aware how many cat lovers are out there. That’s good – but keep the cats inside.  

‘In a 2012 report, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy estimates that each feral cat kills between five and 30 animals a day. It says taking the lower figure in that range and multiplying it by a “conservative population estimate” of 15 million feral cats gives a minimum estimate of 75 million native animals killed daily by feral cats.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Vaccination

Not quite York Minster

17th January

Soothing as a gentle organ accompaniment would undoubtedly be, one does not need the sanctified Gothic surroundings of Salisbury or Lichfield Cathedrals to benefit from the efficiency of the NHS’s roll-out of its mass Covid vaccination programme.   The Park and Ride car-park alongside Tesco at Askham Bar on the outskirts of York is more than good enough for me.   I wasn’t about to allow mere aesthetics to deter me when I received a text message on Friday inviting me to book an appointment for a vaccination.

Face-mask, passport for photo-identity, and booking reference (neither of which last two was actually needed) carefully assembled, we drove out to the vaccination-centre in good time for my appointment at 3.45, and by 4.05 were on our way home again.  And the twenty-five or so minutes we spent there included a compulsory 15-minute wait on one of the serried ranks of socially distanced chairs at the exit end of the marquee to make sure there weren’t any dramatic adverse reactions:  one wasn’t allowed to leave until the release time stipulated on the vaccination card had expired.   The efficiency of the process was made possible by literally dozens of volunteers: I counted six men in bright orange overalls directing the traffic; several others had the job of meeting the cars and escorting people to the marquee; then there were the receptionists signing us in, the stewards guiding us to one of the ten vaccination booths, and two people responsible for the vaccination itself in each booth; and, finally, a group of volunteers keeping watch on those waiting to be released and checking the vaccination cards as we left.  Everyone we engaged with epitomized the ‘care’ in healthcare.

I had been wondering idly whether it would be the Pfizer or the Astra-Zeneca version of the vaccine that was being rolled out in York, not that I minded either way, but I didn’t need to ask the question.  Having been directed to one of the five booths on the right hand side of the marquee, I was asked a few routine health questions, one of which was whether I had any allergies.   When I mentioned that some 25 years ago I had experienced an episode of anaphylactic shock as a result of an allergy to an antibiotic, the vaccinator’s assistant immediately scurried off to find a supervisor who came over and ushered me into a booth on the other side of the marquee.  The answer to the question I hadn’t had the chance to ask was ‘both’.  The booth I had originally been shown to was using the Pfizer vaccine, the one on the other side was using the Astra-Zeneca one.  I was left to conclude that the Astra-Zeneca version is the less allergenic of the two.

Welcome as soothing organ music might have been as an add-on, it was the efficiency of the whole process and my gratitude to the scientists and volunteers responsible for my passport to what might with luck turn out to be a relatively normal future, that achieved the necessary soothing.  And some soothing was necessary.  When I heard about the mass vaccination centres being set up, my immediate response was to wonder whether it might conceivably be possible that our third-team government had learnt any lessons from the crashing and burning of its much vaunted world-beating Test and Trace system, now sunk (at least from the media) without trace.  So when I saw that the text message inviting me to book my appointment via an electronic booking form carried the logo of our GP practice I was reassured that there wouldn’t be the same communication problem as there still is between then centralized and community testing processes.  Wrong again.  The booking form was the Hannibal Lecter of user-unfriendly booking forms.   I’m nobody’s idea of an IT expert but I can manage any half-intelligently put-together electronic booking form. After struggling with this one for literally 90 minutes, I eventually got through to the climactic point when it told me that my GP practice, the one whose logo headed the form, isn’t taking part in the mass vaccination process.

I phoned our GP practice at 4.30 and eventually spoke to a harried receptionist at 5.30, well after she was supposed to have gone home for the weekend.  She told me that a phone queue with 11 people waiting to speak to the practice had leapt up to 77 people during the afternoon as people received the offending text message.  She offered to book me an appointment the next day but warned that it would take her ten minutes to do so, as it duly did.  She had no idea when she would get home that evening and isn’t paid for any overtime.   I couldn’t bear to ask her how many people were still in the queue waiting to speak to her. When we eventually emerge from the current crisis, as we surely will, it will be on the backs of the innumerable receptionists, volunteers, doctors, nurses, scientists and other key workers who have managed to carry those of us who are left through to the other side, in spite of the venal incompetence of those who are supposed to be in charge.