Yes, everything you heard about Australia and the coronavirus is true.
Yes, the entire metropolis of Sydney was there Complete closure since late JuneAt that time, there were 82 cases in the entire state of New South Wales. Not 82 deaths, not 82 hospitalizations – 82 cases. By the time the latest lockdown was announced here in Melbourne, the total number of active cases was six. And no, lockdowns aren’t working — cases are steadily rising in both states.
Yes, Victoria’s prime minister used a press conference to blame people for watching the sun set on the beach and set rules that meant you could take off your mask for your coffee, not your beer.
Yes, South Australia’s chief health officer has advised those attending a football match to stay away if the ball is kicked in the stands, just in case they get injured in some way. Yes, her NSW counterpart told residents there to avoid being “too friendly” on the streets to control transmission.
Yes, police in Melbourne forced a hunger relief charity to close its doors three hours earlier because they believed traffic to the warehouse was creating a “public safety hazard”. Yes, a rural city council decided this week that a planned relocation of dogs from its animal shelter to another city was not worth the potential health risks and shot the dogs instead.
Yes, we Australians know you don’t get it. We don’t do that either, if we’re being honest with ourselves. But collectively, we cannot make ourselves say out loud what a growing number of us are thinking – that our de facto national goal of zero covid Not only is it impossible, but it also destroys us.
The plan, as I understand it (which isn’t easy given the number of times our politicians have changed their targets), is that restrictions will be relaxed once vaccination rates reach 70 to 80 percent. However, the current rate is just over 30 percent. And even when we reach that goal, it’s still not clear what will happen – as has been the experience in other countries – hospitalizations and deaths drop dramatically as infection rates rise. Already, two prime ministers are hedging their bets, saying an 80 per cent vaccination rate may not be enough after all, effectively indicating that they will accept nothing but a lack of cases.
For what it’s worth, Prime Minister Scott Morrison fired this week, insisting we must stick to the plan, as it is. But he seems to change his mind almost daily, and in any case is reluctant to foment the narrow resentment by taking a fight with any of the country’s chief ministers. The prime minister is about to be re-elected soon, and “learning to live with Covid” is still largely a political taboo.
This is the pandemic time reversal into which Australia is mired – a country still single-mindedly focused on ending a pandemic that the rest of the world accepts as a pandemic. We are fighting the last war, aware that the Delta strain is more contagious than we faced last year, but not convinced that it is so contagious that no closure can hope to contain it.
When Australia – thank God – reached 2020 with the lowest per capita death rate of almost any country in the developed world, our opportunistic political class took all the credit, and made a kind of Australian Covid exceptional. Despite all the pain, inconvenience and misery of the lockdowns, we have managed to keep the coronavirus out of the country. This is how our leaders can keep their senses insisting on the political fantasy that Australia is “the envy of the world” at a time when we are increasingly viewed by those abroad as a cautionary tale.
This is how our state’s chief ministers can preside over closed businesses, waiting lists and growing mental health issues among our youth, still smiling in front of the cameras while thanking residents for all the “hard work” they do to “keep our community safe.” Australians don’t buy them anymore – if for no other reason than that Delta proves lockdowns don’t actually work.And as with Delta, our political class will find itself unable to quell the heated discontent that is spreading rapidly among the population.
Gideon Rosner is director of policy at the Institute of Public Affairs