Want life to return to normal? Download the tracing app
Each week, the number of new coronavirus infections shrinks. We are tantalisingly close to controlling this virus.
But this is a long struggle. And as a representative of pathologists, paramedics, aged care workers, hospital security and cleaners I think we need to keep our foot on its throat.
However, I also know it's intolerable to keep a free society in lockdown when coronavirus infections are little more than a handful.
That's why we need mass adoption of the federal government tracing app. It's the only responsible way to get our freedom back.
As we've repeatedly seen, a single infection can quickly envelop a cohort of people. At the Newmarch retirement home at Penrith a single case turned into 30 diagnoses.
The quid pro quo must therefore be this: download the tracing app and resume most of your normal life. If you object to that, stay in lockdown.
Like everyone else, I find it hard to grapple with police overseeing funerals or tackling people to the ground when they are exercising. I respect the difficult decisions police have to make, but we must now transition to a world where they no longer need to make them. Instead police should be empowered to ask if you have downloaded the tracing app. And if you haven't, they should direct you home.
As a temporary measure for the next three months, the data derived from the tracing app would turbocharge health department contact tracing. It will allow them to seize on new outbreaks quickly and isolate anyone at risk of transmission. Paired with an expanded testing regime, it would also allow the rest of us to get on with rebuilding our economy and our society.
While mass gatherings such as NRL matches or theatres could not immediately resume, many other activities could. We could reopen restaurants at half capacity for example, and resume split teams in offices.
I know many are concerned about the invasion of privacy, but let's have some perspective. If we were overly preoccupied with privacy wouldn't fewer of us use Facebook, Twitter, Google or Instagram?
As it stands, 15 million Australians have a Facebook account, nine million have Instagram and seven million actively use WhatsApp.
Given so many of us freely give up our data to Silicon Valley, could we not be persuaded to provide it to a democratically elected government to defeat a lethal pathogen?
As well as a sunset clause of three months we can erect other guardrails around the use of this app. Data from this app must never, under any circumstances, make its way into any politician's hands, for example. And use by health authorities should be subject to an oversight body similar to the ICAC or Police Integrity Commission.
Let's face it, your trip to the local cafe or supermarket is actually not very interesting to anyone apart from a dedicated NSW Health contact tracing expert trying to figure out if you have come into contact with coronavirus.
Encouraging mass adoption of this app is the only way to make it a success and accelerate the end of the COVID threat. In reality, the bargain proposed by our union is not such a crazy leap. We all carry a license and wear a seatbelt to drive a car for example. The social contract demands we co-operate for the smooth functioning of society.
This weekend we mark ANZAC day at a moment where wartime parallels are common. Many of these comparisons are a little tortured. A virus does not carry arms, nor does it seek to force a repugnant ideology upon us.
But it does demand the sacrifice of personal liberty. Many who served on the battlefields of World War 2 had no choice in the matter. And across both world wars almost 90,000 Australians made the greatest sacrifice of all, their lives.
By contrast, allowing the health department to know where you have been for a few months while we try to defeat COVID-19 is a modest sacrifice. Australians are a sensible, pragmatic people. With a little more co-operation we could be the first nation in the world to conquer this virus.
Gerard Hayes is the Health Services Union national president
Originally published as Want life to return to normal? Download the tracing app