Dark Winter: An insider’s guide to pandemics and biosecurity
NewSouth, $32.99 pb, 262 pp
In the months leading up to the 2022 federal election, as the two major parties duked it out over the cost of living, integrity, and the climate crisis, one issue barely rated a mention amid the barrage of leaders’ debates, press conferences, and doorstops: the Covid-19 pandemic. Having raged in Australia for more than two years, resulting in once-in-a-generation disruption to daily life, including the world’s longest lockdown, the virus had become all but untouchable on both sides of the political divide. Labor and the Coalition obviously reasoned that the best position on Covid electorally was not to have a position at all. Neither party articulated a strategy to manage the virus, or its ever-expanding roll-call of variants, into the future. For the most part, journalists – more interested it seemed in the then Opposition leader’s ‘gaffes’ – could not bring themselves to mention the C-word either.
In Dark Winter, epidemiologist and biosecurity expert Raina MacIntyre forcefully reminds us of the reality the 2022 campaign trail assiduously ignored – most pointedly, that, while we have been repeatedly told the pandemic is over, the number of those dying from Covid is equivalent to a 737 crashing once a week. As MacIntyre points out, if plane crashes were producing as many fatalities, it would be frontpage news.
MacIntyre became a familiar face to Australians during the height of the pandemic, comparable perhaps only to Norman Swan in terms of her visibility as an expert commentator on the pandemic. Her preference for straight talking – The Sydney Morning Herald once memorably dubbed her the ‘cautious coronavirus communicator’ – carries over into this book, her first. A palpable anger permeates its pages, which give expansive shape to MacIntyre’s long-held view that the science of the pandemic has been politicised by ideologues and corrupted by commentators unwilling to address the ‘cascading failures’ of Australia’s response to the virus.