With the test-and-trace system collapsing as Delta and Omicron were given free rein in NSW, you wouldn’t think it would be difficult to come up with a message. But if you were trying for a message of comfort or hope, that’s a whole lot more difficult – especially when you have a maximum of 130 characters!

What comfort can we offer people for whom isolation or stay-at-home rules have just ruined their longed-for Christmas? What hope can we give to people who know for sure that their desperately-needed beach break will not go ahead? 

It seemed impossible to come up with something that didn’t reinforce the Prime Minister’s spin. Messages about helping each other out, or drawing upon inner resources such resilience or faith, are all quite appropriate in times of trouble – except where these are the very ones being used by a government that emphasises personal responsibility as a deliberate ploy to avoid its public health duties. 

We couldn’t risk reinforcing this terrible message that dumps blame directly on vulnerable people (all of us, in this instance) for illness, loss of work, time spent in testing queues, being turned back at borders, Christmas with families torn apart, not being eligible for a booster shot yet, and more. 

But the church has to have something spiritual to say, right? In the midst of anything, of everything, we pray. I thought of everyone worried and fearful about Covid, and started to write “We pray for peace for those…” but stopped. It’s so easy for that message to also be one of personal responsibility: if you are in a bad way, just seek some peace and then things will be better, and then if you don’t feel better, then it’s your fault for not trying hard enough.

Is it peace that people are seeking right now? I think they don’t care so much about that but simply HELP, this sort of help:

  • financial support for people whose businesses are stuffed, and for people whose employers have gone to the wall. It turns out that a ‘healthy economy’ needs healthy people to function. 
  • shorter queues at testing stations, and quicker turnarounds for test results so they can get time off, or sick pay, or across state borders, or whatever reason they need the result.
  • fair treatment, pay and conditions for health care workers stretched to breaking point
  • free or very low cost rapid antigen test kits (RATs), and an adequate supply for everyone who needs them

Charity by individuals and organisations is a fine thing, but it is no substitute for the entitlements that come with living in a very wealthy society such as Australia. These entitlements include adequate public health care and best-practice evidence-based national management of a pandemic. Hence the other message board pictured above: if the public are to be made responsible for their own testing and reporting, then they must be adequately equipped.

What does praying for help look like, then? Like all our actions as Christians, it is a spiritual practice that combines thought, word and deed. We pray, we speak out, and we act to bring about a more just and fair society.