The other day, my old blogging friends from the Manhattan Institute have asked me to explain to their American readers what the heck is happening in Australia. This is what I wrote to put in context the seemingly dystopian images of COVID crackdowns so alarming and bewildering our mates in the States:
Riot police firing rubber bullets into lockdown protesters. Rescue dogs being shot to prevent volunteers travelling to collect them. Nighttime curfews and one hour of exercise per day. Five-kilometer travel limits. Soldiers patrolling suburbs to enforce lockdowns. Health bureaucrats advising the citizenry not to stop and talk to their neighbors while walking their dog.
What the hell is happening Down Under? “Totalitarianism,” says Tucker Carlson. “Australia has lost its collective mind,” according to Ben Shapiro. “If we invade Australia we will be greeted as liberators,” argues Jack Posobiec. Has Covid-19 really turned one of the world’s oldest democracies into a dystopian health dictatorship? As my Polish grandmother used to say, things are rarely as good or as bad as they appear.
First, some background to the current crisis. Australia has been the victim of both its success and its failure in tackling Covid. At just under 1,000 deaths, Australia has had the second-lowest mortality among the OECD countries (after New Zealand). It stands at just over 36 people per million of population, versus 1,853 for the United States. It helps, of course, to be an island nation that had closed its international borders at the start of the pandemic. The border remains closed today, with permits required to come to Australia (issued in limited numbers and limited circumstances) and to leave it. The few arrivals are subject to a 14-day quarantine. In addition, state governments have from the outset reacted with hard lockdowns and closures of their own borders. Flattening the curve was so successful that it prompted the transition to the elimination, or “zero Covid,” strategy. Hence, nowadays a mere handful of new cases is enough to send a state capital city with a multimillion population, or even an entire state, into lockdown in an attempt to contain and suppress an outbreak.
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