31 Aug 2020

Paul Zimmet on defeating COVID-19 - The first lesson is "Be humble"

Professor Paul Zimmet AO walks his talk:
Respect the disease; follow medical advice
Professor Paul Zimmet AO
2018 Senior Victorian Australian of The Year
Adapted from the Maccabi Life community announcement

Recently, we have witnessed the hostility of an unruly minority, demonstrating and defying the Prime Minister and Government’s State of Emergency restrictions. They have ignored personal distancing, wearing of masks, defied the rules on limited outdoor gatherings and activities - including sport and entertainment - and refused to follow other health and safety procedures put in place to protect us all.

These acts of defiance and selfish behaviour are of great concern. But it’s not all bad news, and I acknowledge, congratulate and thank the majority of Australians who have chosen to act sensibly and responsibly – they have played an important role in helping guide our nation through this deadly pandemic. But, it is now more important than ever to remain vigilant and compliant and keep our nation on course, as we slowly ease out of these restrictions.

As Australians and through good choices, most of us have upheld the values of good health, family, mateship and community - fundamental principles of our everyday way of life. We understand why following the Government’s restrictions is so important to the health and safety of the entire nation and we have chosen to act responsibly!

Dangerously, there are some who have chosen to act selfishly and often aggressively ignoring the restrictions.

Such behaviour of any one of those individuals poses a monumental threat to us all. Remember, the pandemic which has killed 863,000 people at the time of writing started from a single case.

This hostile sector is signalling the message that they just do not understand or care that they are putting the lives of other Australians, including their own families, at higher risk from infection from a deadly enemy called COVID-19. Lethal it certainly and demonstrably is, we know this all too well. What we do not know well enough is the biology of this virus, its mode and strategy of attack and its long-term effects and complications. This lack of knowledge and understanding is a “black hole” with serious implications for individuals, public health and the economy. Not knowing something is in no way a reason to become complacent and ignore the extent of the damage COVID-19 can have on our bodies and our way of life. In fact, it is the exact opposite – we must respect its undeniably deadly powers as we would any threat and act to limit its destruction. We do this by being very humble!

The United States Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld famously said: “We know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.”

Faced with the threat of COVID-19, the first strategy or lesson in tackling it is to be humble and admit that we don't know what we don't know! Yes, accept that we are dealing with a clever, cunning, and deadly enemy. Make no mistake - this virus is formidably clever. It regularly changes its genetic profile by mutations, and thereby makes it even harder for us to develop a vaccine! The second lesson is to adhere strictly to the sensible, albeit strict, evidence-based Government measures and guidelines.

Politics aside (including some of the difficulties such as border closures that have arisen from our Federation), the leadership displayed by our Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister For Health Greg Hunt and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, as well as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (along with our medical advisers) has been very important. Yes, we are all in this together as has been repeatedly stated. The faster that every Australian realises that this is a real war, with a ferocious enemy, the more likely it is we can win and our community can and will emerge stronger and victorious.

By having the humility to learn from our mistakes, Australia will be much better equipped to deal with inevitable future challenges.

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