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20 December 2021


SUBJECTS: COVID-19; Omicron variant; Christmas. 

Great to have you company this morning, while we are in unprecedented times, just five days until Christmas and there is a growing concern over the spread of Omicron, a huge rush at testing centres and many families considering cancelling or changing plans to ensure they avoid a festive season in isolation. Let's discuss this with Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten and Melbourne and Nova newsreader Michelle Stephenson in Sydney. Bill, I'm going to go to you first, a new study reveals. Seventy four percent of Aussies are right now reconsidering travel plans. This is a huge indication of how worried people are.

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: It's massive. For the last two weekends, I've had alerts that I might have been an event where someone had COVID, so I've already lost the last two weekends. I've got my fingers absolutely crossed that we can go ahead with Christmas. We've got family coming. We've got kids' birthdays this week. I think Australians just need to not be alarmed but go and get tested if you think there's a chance, and wear masks for goodness sakes. I'd rather wear a mask than have Christmas cancelled.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, we're cancelling stuff at our house now with the kids and stuff going on, and they're confused by it. But like, we've got to get to Christmas. Michelle, there's a big fear because no one wants to be isolated at Christmas time.

MICHELLE STEPHENSON, NOVA: No no one wants to be isolated at Christmas time. I've been overly cautious. So whenever I had an event on the weekend and I made sure everyone who showed up provided a negative rapid antigen test, I think it is up to us to, you know, have some personal responsibility here. So with Christmas just around the corner, just be cautious. I think is the word of the day and mask up if you need to be in big social settings.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, I get that. I think that's sort of mirroring what the Premier Dominic Perrottet said in the Daily Telegraph today. He said a healthy society is built not on the dictates of the government, but on the common pursuit of the common good bill. But my problem is well, the government is also there to protect its citizens at the same time, and we know that Omicron is sort of getting out of hand here. Case numbers like we've never seen now, the hospital system seems to be coping at the moment, but if we judge it by what's happening overseas, we could be in trouble. Yeah, sorry, but I'll go to Bill first. Yes.

SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely. The I just I was speaking to doctors in Western Health who in Melbourne's western suburbs last night, and the health staff are overwhelmed. I mean, they're turning up to work. But let's spare a thought for them this Christmas - better that we take our own precautions and do the testing, as Michelle said, and wear the masks, you know, perhaps have Christmas Day outside in clear ventilation because our health staff are going to have a miserable Christmas, I bet right across the eastern coast of Australia, if not everywhere. Health staff are being told no holidays at Christmas, no holidays in January. They're stressed out and they're there at the edge. And so, if for no other reason, take precautions. Remember all our nurses and doctors and cleaners working at our hospitals who won't have a holiday this Christmas just so they can keep us safe?

CAMPBELL: I mean, Michelle, I mean, there's a real call out there about why we can't just have a simple mask mandate back indoors while we can't have QR codes back. These things were working very, very well. We were keeping it under control. You could do contact tracing. I'm hearing some contact tracers have lost their job in New South Wales. Why are we doing that when this strain looks like it's getting out of control?

STEPHENSON: Look, I'm in two minds on this because I do believe that the government shouldn't be dictating everything that that we do with our lives. But having said that, the mask mandates did work and also the QR check ins, I didn't find it a big issue. I mean, it was kind of a problem when you had to go into every shop, when you were like at a shopping centre. That was kind of a bit of an inconvenience, but you know, going into high risk venues such as hospitality venues, nightclubs, all that kind of stuff, it's not a big deal to kind of do that QR code check in. And what I liked about the app was like it would let you know if you were somewhere and someone had tested positive. But I do think personal responsibility does go a long way, and what we have seen is that the case numbers, the ICU numbers are the ones that we really need to keep our eye on. They haven't risen dramatically. Last week they were at twenty six. Today we're hearing twenty eight. So I think those are the numbers that Dominic Perrottet is keeping an eye on and those are the important ones. We shouldn't be counting cases anymore. It's hospital.

CAMPBELL: Let's go ahead, Bill.

SHORTEN: I get personal responsibility. But what about those who are personally irresponsible? Why should parents have their kids who haven't been, you know, able to be vaccinated, put at risk because someone feels that it's against their personal liberty and code or value set not to do a QR code? I mean, I think masks, and maybe this is a Melbourne perspective, but if a mask and a QR code is what I've got to do to have Christmas lunch this year or for hospital staff to have a day off in January, I'm happy to do it, and sure, I get that we want adults to be adults, but I think some of these minimum requirements, I don't think are too onerous. It's not like living in a dictatorship to have a QR code or wear a mask. I think it's courtesy politeness and common sense. 

CAMPBELL: And it's hard. Is it because you do have people that do the wrong thing and sometimes it's young people? Let's talk about irresponsible behavior, like you said, Bill. I mean, I'm staggered by the actions of a young nightclub owner who went to this venue in Adelaide despite receiving a text confirming he was positive. That mirrors what's happened in Newcastle. The result here in Adelaide is that one hundred and fifty patrons and staff and their families are now facing Christmas in isolation. I mean, this guy, young man is going to be fine. I mean, he's getting, you know, he's released a statement on social media. He obviously feels bad about it. But young people are young. They make dumb decisions.

SHORTEN: They do. And so all you can do and I can understand how frustrating it is. I've got two older teenagers. They're frustrated after two years of lockdowns in Melbourne and being told that, you know, you've got to stay at home to get a test result. Whilst it doesn't sound much in itself for someone who's basically lost a year and a half of their social life, it is hard. But on the other hand, you know, if you want to have grandma at Christmas, if you want to have older relatives who are vulnerable, I just think it's life and you've got to put up with it and everyone's got to pull together rather than just think that they're an individual country all in their own right and not care about anyone else.

CAMPBELL: It's also the the economy of it all. Michelle, I mean, I do feel empathy for this young man, but also that whole nightclub, all their staff and the people who are there are now not going to earn money before the week before Christmas. That means, you know, if we have the same thing happen in New South Wales here as well, shops are going to start to suffer. It can make these small mistakes can mean huge ramifications.

STEPHENSON: Yeah, huge ramifications. I mean, South Australia also has different rulings around close contacts and positive cases. You have to quarantine for a lot longer, whereas in New South Wales you've got 72 hours and you just have to test negative. Even as I said when I had my get together at the weekend and I made sure everyone showed me a negative test before they arrived. One of my friends, while she was at that get together, received notification that she was a close contact and she left immediately to go isolate. Now that is what we need to be doing, and I think it's hard for the young ones because in some respects, Australia hasn't been hit as hard as a lot of other countries because we've we've kind of curbed it. We've kind of kept it under control. So people don't always believe that it's out there or that it could happen to them. So I think that's kind of a bit of the problem as well.

CAMPBELL: Just quickly. It's Christmas, it's Christmas. We've got five more sleeps. Bill's waiting for a test. We're all doing tests to get through it. Just give me what? What is the thing is going to make you happy this Christmas Bill?

SHORTEN: Our Queensland family's coming down, my mother in law and some of my wife's brothers and sisters, we haven't seen them since January. I really want my kids to see their cousins. And I mean, I love Christmas. We put the lights up over the weekend. They then blew down in the storm we had. So putting them up again. I love Christmas decorations, music and I can't wait to see the family on Christmas Day.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, it's all about the get togethers, isn't it, Michelle? What's going to make you happy for Christmas?

STEPHENSON: Well, it's really simple. Some vitamin D, some sunshine. I mean, the last few years, being a beach person, we had the bushfires and the smoke inhalation, which made it impossible to go outside in Sydney. Then we had, you know, the pandemic COVID shutting down beaches and now La Nina. But at the weekend we had some sunshine and I think Christmas Day we're going to have sunshine, and that is as simple as it gets for me.

CAMPBELL: You two have a very safe and merry Christmas, both of you. It's great to see you both. Good to see you.