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Ali Clarke: My confusing COVID Christmas


Our new regular columnist Ali Clarke received the worst Christmas present when she, her husband and three children all tested positive for COVID. What happened next has her deeply concerned about the state’s management of pandemic communication.

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Considering how many years I spent longing to see a pink stripe on a test while trying to have children, it seemed pretty perverse that the first positive one I ever got was on a Rapid Antigen Test for COVID.

But there it was – and in that same instant, went my stomach and mind.

I felt like I wanted to throw up whilst trying to trick myself into thinking that it had to be a mistake.  Surely they can be inaccurate, surely it’s not foolproof?

I felt well. I had done all the things I’d been told to do. I wore a mask and believed in QR coding so much that when I forgot to do it at a service station one inebriated morning while chasing a burger, I made my husband drive back the next day to fill in the form.

Bugger, bugger, bugger, was the resounding response, and then, the questions: What now? Who else could I have given it to?  Where could I have got it? And, shit, are our unvaccinated kids who we fought so hard to have, going to be OK?

In the end, there was nothing else for it except to get tested and to turn it into a family outing considering we had all been living in each other’s pockets (and thankfully no one else’s) in the lead up to Christmas.

Of course, everyone was trying to do the same thing, so while monitoring a Facebook page that relied on people rather than the system, we thought Vic Park sounded the best bet, but when the traffic marshall told us that there was at least a five-hour wait, we hit the road.

There’s something wrong when it’s is quicker to drive an hour to Tailem Bend, take 20 minutes to get tested and drive the hour back, and still be tucked up at home before our peers had even hit the corner of the grandstand, but this government will have to answer to their seeming non-readiness in the coming months.

So, too, will they again have to explain their decision to push ahead with open borders after November 23 – despite Omicron (or the ‘game-changer’ as the talking heads now call it) being a known issue.

As for mental health support, well that came three hours before we were let out of isolation.

As outsiders whose Christmas was ruined, it was pretty easy to draw the line between a departure from health advice, inked firm by pressure from hospitality and business groups, with The Ashes as the final flourish to stand fast, even though the COVID ground had shifted.

As for us? All five of us got it.

And man have we been lucky.

None of us had any real symptoms save for a croaky voice and a few sniffles.

In fact, if I wasn’t so vigilant, there would have been a big chance we never would have known and blithely gone around giving it to everyone over the Christmas season.

Worst. Present. Ever.

Let me be clear. Every SA Health person we spoke to were absolutely wonderful and you could hear their surprise and relief when I would start a call with: “we’re fine,  but how are YOU really going?”

Unfortunately, however, much of their incredible work in this trying time is undone when the communication is poor, wrong or, in some instances, non-existent.

We had no contact tracer get in touch so muddled through on our own and even though we had five cases in the one house, they weren’t computer-linked, so in the initial stages it took three separate phone calls for us to provide SA Health with our information so they could do the required wellness checks.

What a waste of time the system didn’t have to give.

Our SA Health pack was delivered by courier to the back door of neighbours and it was only dumb luck it found us. And as for mental health support, well that came three hours before we were let out of isolation.

Ali Clarke with husband Matt, a Crows AFL and AFLW coach, and their children, in a shoot for SALIFE magazine in 2020. Photo: Haley Renee

Then there was the quality of the information provided by SA Health. When I finally got through on the hotline they give us ‘Positives’ (it rang out twice), the information we were given about the length of isolation required was wrong. Then there were no updates as the landscape changed.

Generous people can, of course, understand the pressure that’s being put on the system and those within it, but when your emotional well-being and that of your children is inextricably linked to the people delivering the messages, you become pretty bloody ruthless.

Lowlights included confusion over what a close contact is in this state, to the Prime Minister raising our hopes by saying isolation would be seven days; to the Premier saying, ‘It’s simple, get an appointment and get tested’ although none were available for days, to a tone-deaf Facebook post in his name asking people their favourite place to holiday, when such a large number of us were locked away positive or locked in lines trying to prove we weren’t.

I have believed in the science and I will continue to believe in the science because that’s what helped our family through this. Again, I am devastatingly aware of the sorrow and stress others are facing after losing a loved one, or watching on as they struggle to breathe.

In the end, what we went through is very small bikkies.

But that’s what makes the clear communication of what we all need to do so much more important because, having just been through the entire process, I am more confused than ever.

Ali Clarke is an Adelaide radio broadcaster. She will be a regular columnist for InDaily this year.

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