Dear valued subscriber,
The happiness, good spirits and exuberant 'happy new year' greetings from this time last week are all but a distant memory.
The first week of 2022 was a nightmare. Enthusiasm and optimism was replaced with more anxiety, frustration and exasperation none of us needed as COVID-19 spread across the south-west.
We had more cases this week across the region than we'd had in the past 21 months since the pandemic began.
But it's not about the case numbers any more because of our high double-vaccinated rate.
It's about hospitalisations, which are trending upwards, underlined by South West Healthcare's decision to re-commence admitting COVID-positive patients "in response to the growing demand for inpatient services across Victoria".
Testing and tracing, which had been key factors in our fight to suppress the virus' spread, have collapsed.
Testing, highlighted by this week's events, has been a debacle and exposed a lack of leadership from our elected leaders.
Under rules announced on January 1, anyone testing positive via a rapid antigen test then had to confirm it with a PCR test.
The problem was RATs were as scarce as hens' teeth. Throw in closed or significantly reduced testing centres over the festive season and we had people like South West Coast MP Roma Britnell driving around Melbourne looking for a testing site when she should have been home isolating.
Then, when a pop-up testing site opened at Warrnambool's Deakin University, staff were run off their feet as people waited in their cars for up to five hours for a test. Their results could take an average of four days.
The system could not cope despite the incredible efforts of those frontline heroes we have relied on for the past 21 months.
The rules and critical elements which underpinned them did not stack up.
A close contact with no symptoms was required to take a rapid antigen test (RAT) "as soon as possible" and, if positive, stay at home for seven days before taking another rapid antigen test on day six to leave isolation.
That's all well and good if you could get a RAT, which most couldn't.
You could only have a PCR test (or a free rapid antigen test) at a testing clinic if you became symptomatic.
Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister who said not everything could be given away for free, said under no circumstances would the government distribute RATs at no charge.
This was to protect retailers who might not be able to sell their stocks if kits could be obtained for free.
Some of those retailers now stand accused of breaking kits of five tests, usually retailing for $50, down into single tests and then selling them for up to $50 each.
Then on Wednesday the decision was made to abandon a RAT positive requiring confirmation via a PCR test. But that still doesn't address the supply issue.
Nor does it do anything to encourage members of the broader community - presumed to have the capacity to pay whatever the market will bear - to take the necessary tests.
The only way to ensure potentially infectious, but asymptomatic, close contacts - of whom there are now probably thousands - keep out of circulation is to fix the supply chain and distribute rapid antigen tests for free.
The crisis is far from over. People expect a lot more from their leaders than to just be told to "soldier on".
COVID-19 dominated the headlines this week with businesses closing due to staff shortages but that's not deterring holidaymakers flocking to the region.
Hearts broke this week for a young sportsman named 'Stevo' who lost a brave fight. His family courageously spoke with us in the hope of raising awareness and boosting efforts to find better treatment options.
This story about a thief refusing to cooperate with police so family heirlooms he stole could be returned to his victim predictably was met with outrage. As police said, what a low act.
Then there was this story about a Warrnambool couple reaching a rare 70th wedding anniversary milestone.
Until next week,
Greg Best, Editor, The Standard
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