“The EPL is back” shouted commentator after commentator this weekend as cameras panned across sold-out, maskless crowds across English stadiums. The English Premier League is just not the EPL without fans.
In Melbourne this same weekend, eight AFL teams played season-defining matches to absolutely nobody.
No visions sum up Australia’s disastrous handling of the pandemic in 2021 better than those.
But the British are vaccinated, you may say. Australia’s vaccination rollout has been so bad that we’re months behind the United Kingdom, and once we get to their vaccination level we’ll be living like we used to.
Except according to National Cabinet, we won’t.
Because under the opening up plan agreed to by Scott Morrison and every single Premier in Australia, most of Britain would be under lockdown right now. There would be no crowds in any stadium. It would be illegal for a Brit to even watch the match at his father’s house in any major city.
Under the National Cabinet agreement, once Australia vaccinates 80% of people over the age of 16 our leaders will stop locking down entire cities over a handful of cases. Then the preferred response to outbreaks is “highly targeted lockdowns only” – whatever that means.
The British government last week celebrated vaccinating 75% of the adult population. In Australia, that is only enough to pass the first hurdle of National Cabinet’s plan to reopen, when locking down millions of people on four hours’ notice becomes “unlikely but possible.”
So the belief that the Brits have returned to normal because of vaccination is wrong. The reason is mindset.>
Britain has not conquered Covid by any means. There were 26,750 cases on August 15. 61 people died that day within 28 days of a positive test. The Delta strain is infecting Britain.
And yet there is no talk of a lockdown. No talk of restrictions being brought back in. No – people are happy to be maskless at the soccer despite the risk.
Because the British have realised there is more to the world than daily case numbers. They know that leaving their house, even vaccinated, means there is a chance they can catch Covid. They know the Delta strain is more infectious than all previous strains. But they also know that 18 months into a pandemic, it’s about time they managed their own risk.
Compare this to Australia – the land where no risk can ever be managed. In Victoria, new daily case numbers still hover in their twenties. No one has died while positive for Covid all year. Despite that, the latest warnings are that Lockdown 6.0 could last for months. Melbourne suffers under a 9 pm curfew and closed playgrounds.
In Western Australia, Premier Mark McGowan has said that he is willing to enforce a lockdown even after Australia hits the 80% vaccination mark. To be fair to him, “highly targeted lockdowns only” could mean all of Perth, if you just say Perth is the target.
Do you really think that after we pass 80% vaccination that crowds will be allowed at the footy once there is an outbreak of 26,750 cases? What about 100 cases? 50?
Australia has believed the Zero Covid myth for too long. Our successes in 2020 in keeping the virus at bay (except for Victoria) has meant that our leaders believe this can go on. It can’t.
Delta is too infectious. And to keep Covid eliminated at this point is to resolve to slam our borders shut to the rest of the world indefinitely – even to Australians hoping to return home for the first time in 18 months.
And it means even after we’ve vaccinated 80% of the population, Australian governments will still lock down healthy people in response to Covid outbreaks.
You may say we can’t have crowds at sport with Covid in the community and 25% of people vaccinated. Fine. But look to the crowds at the EPL – or the NFL next month – and know that had our National Cabinet presided over their countries, those nations would be under strict lockdown. Those stadiums would be completely empty.
Opening up is not about vaccination. It is about mindset.
James Bolt is a Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs.
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