The current Covid-19 restrictions on normal life in Sydney and surrounds have been portrayed as both ‘lockdown lite’ and ‘draconian’ — and that’s in the same newspaper on the same day. They can’t both be right. Anyone subject to the restrictions knows that ‘draconian’ is closer to the truth.
For all the talk of dissent within its ranks, the Berejiklian government is being guided by the zero-tolerance mentality that grips all other states and territories. Gold-standard Gladys was given much credit for shunning the ‘shut-em-in and lock-em-down’ approach, but I always suspected the difference from the other states was more in tone than in substance.
We should never forget that in March 2020, Berejiklian was on a unity ticket with Chairman Dan in the national cabinet in pushing for the most draconian shut-down. Subsequently, she proved willing to hold back and give time for the testing-tracing-isolation approach to work during the so-called Crossroads and Avalon outbreaks. But when push came to shove, Berejiklian was always with Chairman Dan and all the other state/territory leaders in worshipping the false god of elimination — and so she has in the current outbreak.
Sydney is now more restricted than we have been at any time since this catastrophe started in March 2020. That threshold was crossed on the weekend, when we were told not to go further than 10kms to exercise, that browsing (in stores that is, not on the internet) is illegal, and that only one person per household can go shopping once a day (how those rules can be policed, I don’t know).
Adding insult to injury, even at the height of the March-April 2020 hysteria, there was no mask mandate as there is now. With the daily tightening of the screws, Sydney is now almost where Melbourne was at the height of its savage shut-down a year ago. About the only thing missing is the curfew. (No, Gladys… don’t even think about it.)
Where does this madness end? Not from pressure of public opinion because the pressure on the authorities seems to be to explain why they are not going even harder. Weld those doors shut!
New South Wales authorities now face the predicament that even if they do what some ministers (reportedly) want, remove the shut-down and decide to live with a certain level of transmission, then Sydney and perhaps all of NSW would be indefinitely shut off from the rest of the country (and New Zealand), with extremely limited opportunity to escape to the rest of the world.
This would be the Great Siege of Sydneygrad, with the other states and territories playing the part of the German forces trying to bring us to heel through their draconian (and what should be deemed unconstitutional) border restrictions. Does NSW then bow to the pressure or become for a time a nation within a nation, or as Emperor McGowan of Western Australia has described it, a “rogue state”?
The difference from 1941 — aside from the obvious ones — is that we will still have supplies coming in, the country’s main international air connections (such as they are), internet connections, and Zoom. So we can’t be completely shut off.
But even with those saving graces, the costs to liberty and economic activity are massive. It is likely that NSW would eventually respond to a siege by falling into line with the other states.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that zero-tolerance will continue to guide Covid policy throughout the country and that Australia faces at least four or five very precarious months ahead until vaccination reaches a critical mass, however that is defined.
Even then, it is going to be exceedingly difficult to get state and territory leaders to accept that the virus will still be present in the community.
In the meantime, all states and territories will need extraordinarily good luck to avoid rolling shutdowns and the economic disruption and mental anguish that goes with them.
Robert Carling is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and a former World Bank, IMF and federal and state Treasury economist.
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