Can Australia escape its Covid lockdown cycle?

10 August 2021

8:35 AM

10 August 2021

8:35 AM

In the early days of the pandemic, Australia was the envy of the world. The country was lauded as a model of how to handle the virus. Australian states recorded few cases; and when there were outbreaks, authorities brought them under control quickly.

All that has changed. Now, well into the second half of 2021, Australia is losing its grip on the virus. While other major cities such as New York, London, and Paris, are opening up, Sydney is under lockdown. Even outside the nation’s major cities, travel restrictions are severely limiting movement for Australians within the country.

Australia’s politicians have sought to blame the Delta variant of coronavirus. But in truth, the new strain is only part of the story. The bulk of Australia’s failure lies not in new forms of the virus, but in inept management and an outright failed policy.

From the very beginning, the federal government in Canberra took a zero-tolerance approach to Covid. Early in 2020, Australia was one of the first major Western countries to institute sweeping lockdowns and other restrictions. In March, the country’s borders were closed, and all returning residents were placed in strict quarantine. In late June, with barely 100 deaths recorded nationally, Australia came to believe it had conquered the virus. Students of all ages returned to school, the economy went on as normal, and the elderly were able to live without fear.

Gradually, however, the virus began to emerge again. The country entered a cycle of ‘circuit breaker lockdowns’ as they came to be known, restrictions that came into effect abruptly and drastically when a cluster of cases popped up. Two months ago, authorities ordered another hard lockdown on Sydney in response to rising cases, and authorities warn it could last until September.

At the centre of Australians’ frustration is the unbearably slow pace of the vaccine rollout, which officially began back in February. First was the serious hesitancies on the part of health officials in administering the vaccines. The AstraZeneca shot, for instance – ironically the only vaccine to be manufactured in Australia – was restricted to ages fifty and up, and then raised to sixty. But more fundamental is the sheer lack of total vaccines available in the country.

Prime minister Scott Morrison is said to have suggested late last year that the acquisition of Covid vaccines was ‘not a race‘. Now, with rising infections and only around one in five of the population fully vaccinated, that statement has come to haunt the premier. Adding fuel to the fire has been the tactless government ad campaign many claim is nothing more than cheap fear peddling. In a desperate attempt to push vaccination numbers up, authorities have been proliferating a graphic video showing a woman hooked up to a ventilator gasping for air.

Simultaneously, the disease is spreading and outrage is mounting toward the government’s high-handed travel restrictions. The latest numbers indicate some 30,000 Australians are stranded abroad and have little recourse in returning home. Residents that have been forced to postpone urgent travel see themselves as prisoners.

With restrictions set to stay in place and policymakers unable to provide answers, Australians are beginning to wonder: how long can Australia go on like this? The accordion-style lockdowns and sluggish implementation of vaccine drives are creating a situation that is simply unsustainable.

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