The phrase ‘everything is relative’ has perhaps never meant more than in the Time of Corona. But watching from Europe, one wonders how Australia — an island continent with an excellent health and hospital system — got itself into such paroxysm over coronavirus.
You’d think our unique circumstances would make us both more aware of those circumstances, and due to them, better able to deal with the versions of the problems the rest of the world faces when finally they arrive Down Under. Alas, no.
It’s not been all bad. Australia’s controversial no-Covid strategy may look ill-adapted now but for a long time it appeared, from Germany at least, coherent and consequential. The virus could be extinguished in the Australian context, it seemed, so why not seek to extinguish it?
A paper by a group of German specialists via the IFO think-tank in Munich, applauded Melbourne’s short, sharp lockdowns for their “mobilising objective” of date-based time-frames. As much of Europe staggered through a seemingly endless swirl of floating lockdowns with no dates attached, the Australian strategy was envied for what it achieved, and for the fact that it could be tried. It could not be tried in Germany, sharing borders with nine other countries, or say, France or little Austria, sharing borders with eight.
But border control is one area where Australian policy has come to look highly culpable. Why do we make such a meal of it (when it comes to boat people, too), despite sharing borders with no other country? (Or perversely, is that the reason?) With Covid, as with illegal immigration, the ‘tyranny of distance’ ought to make controlling borders easier because harder to get to and cross. Alas, no.
Instead of reasoning and innovating, given those natural advantages, our tendency is to shut the place down, treating people like, well, sheep, even when fully vaccinated or recovered. The authorities believe, not entirely erroneously, they’ll be blamed whatever happens, so better to take the easy option of boarding up the economy and putting the stoppers on the tens of thousands of Australians trying to come home — many no doubt double-jabbed. It’s the policy equal of clamping your eyes shut and blocking your ears.
Based in Munich but traveling regularly to France, my Franco-German wife and Paris-born children, 14 and 12, are fully vaccinated, the kids getting a second shot on August 22. My wife and I have the “European Union Digital Vaccination Certificate” in our phones. Depending on our activities, we may also require an antigen test within 48 hours of departing Germany, conducted in an orderly fashion at a Munich pharmacy. If we’re asked for proof of vaccination by a train conductor or at hotel reception in France, we simply show the digital pass on our phones.
The approach, and the logic behind the approach, doesn’t feel like Big Brother — or ‘invasive’ or ‘penal’ or ‘military’. ‘Administrative’ might be a better word. Social distancing and mask-wearing also remain de rigeur,
FFP2 surgical masks only in Munich.
But perhaps France is the best European example when it comes to the vaccination or “health pass”. When President Emmanuel Macron announced the latter in mid-July, French citizens made 1.7 million vaccination appointments in less than a day. Almost 800,000 people showed up for a jab in the same 24 hours. The fourth wave of the virus was thus broken, the economic recovery, à priori, saved.
In Australia, the rhetorical not to say physical violence at the margins over lockdown, is hard to fathom. Lockdowns stop us from living normal lives, but for the reasons we know.
If I’m right and I’ll be charitable, the discontent in Australia is over curbs on freedom when there is so little Covid circulating in the Australian air. Yet to churn the air is to spread the virus that’s there, running it with ever-greater efficiency into the lungs of one’s cohorts on the front-line. Protests about curbs on freedoms ultimately serve to put further curbs on those freedoms, the more limited restrictions on which, one was protesting in the first place.
The professional protesters and “plandemic” conspirators notwithstanding, the admittedly fragile European experience seems to suggest that it’s better to deal with anti-vaxxers by arguing health care and security, the prevention of risk to colleagues, friends and family, than stigmatise people who are fearful or otherwise reticent about getting the jab.
In France and Germany, the predominant concern has moved to the possibility of new variants emerging in areas where vaccination rates are low or preventive measures like masking and social distancing are not, or no longer, applied.
The cast of pronouncements by leaders and specialists has become the necessity of adapting and anticipating. Which presupposes taking hands off eyes and ears, to see, listen and learn, wherever possible, from what has happened elsewhere.