As the wintery Northern Hemisphere suffers through a surge in coronavirus cases, Australians feel the relief of low numbers and easing restrictions.
But focussing on COVID cases and deaths only tells part of the story. Australia’s response to COVID suffered from significant failures that we should not overlook.
As the latest CIS research shows, after failing to close the international borders fast enough, governments introduced a series of harsh restrictions which virtually stopped everyday life.
Public health orders prevented businesses from opening, family visits, and dips in the ocean. Police issued fines to those who broke these new and increasing rules.
Restrictions continued to be ramped up despite the health bureaucrats’ admission they did not know which measures were impacting the spread of the virus.
And of equal concern, no one in power knew how or when to unwind these measures. It was not until April that talk about an exit strategy started to occur. And even then, there was continual obfuscation on exactly how governments would reverse restrictions.
We were told by the experts we had to ‘flatten the curve’, then there was the COVID-safe app, and then reopening was risky because we did not have ‘herd immunity’.
It seems misguided to introduce coercive measures such as lockdowns, seemingly without any idea of how you will get back out.
This approach not only suffered from a lack of a clear exit strategy but did not carefully consider the downsides.
Unemployment has dramatically increased this year and, as history shows, economic downturns can lead to increases in mental distress and even higher suicide rates.
Many argue the government’s response was justified to prevent a catastrophe. But this does not mean governments can do whatever they please.
The decision to shut down parliament and concentrate decision-making to small groups ensured policy measures were not properly debated — which is unacceptable in a liberal democracy.
And the justification decisions were being made by experts, that they were ‘following the science’, should be viewed sceptically.
Decisions need to be made, ultimately, by elected parliamentarians who consider the evidence, weigh trade-offs, and decide on the best course of action.
Even though Scott Morrison has declared we ‘passed the COVID test’ we cannot let relief at our current situation blind us to the severe missteps made by governments.
Monica Wilkie is a Policy Analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies. Her paper Victims of failure: how the COVID-19 policy response let down Australians is out now.
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