One of the great ironies of the Covid-19 pandemic is how consistent Western governments have been at providing inconsistent health advice.
On 24 April 2020, the Commonwealth Government advised the public to not wear face masks. Today, the New South Wales Government may fine you $500 for failing to wear a face mask in public. The New South Wales Government’s announcement that vaccinated adults will soon be rewarded with ‘new freedoms’ is also at odds with their position that Covid-19 vaccination is voluntary.
But confused health policy is not a symptom of Covid-19 that only affects governments in Australia.
On 6 April 2021, the White House announced that it would not support “vaccine passport” systems. But on 29 July 2021, President Joe Biden would announce protocols whereby federal government employees must attest to their vaccination status, lest they be subject to special Covid-19 rules at work and be made to undertake regular Covid-19 testing.
The situation surrounding Covid-19 is dynamic. The extent of the current outbreak in Australia demonstrates this. We can therefore expect government health advice to change as matters unfold. But arguments like this cannot support many of the Western governments’ recent decisions, which often constitute a complete U-turn in health policy.
At the end of June 2021, the New South Wales Government stated that it would not administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged under 40 years, following regulatory health advice. Now, New South Wales Health clinics are offering AstraZeneca vaccines to everyone aged over 18 years, and the Government is advising everyone 16 years and over in greater Sydney to ‘strongly consider getting vaccinated now, with any available Covid-19 vaccine’. But by the end of June 2021 the current outbreak in Sydney had already been going for about two weeks (not to mention, it was foreseeable before June that Australia would experience another outbreak, given how quickly the Delta strain of the virus had spread elsewhere).
So, putting to one side the merits of all these changes, is it just updated medical advice that makes the public tolerate such reversals in policy and law, or could a general discomfort with challenging the status quo also be to blame?
To be politically correct is to conform with the prevailing political or social circumstances. In practice, this means altering how we speak and behave, especially in public, to advance — or at least to avoid damaging — our social standing.
The problem is that Covid-19, like many of today’s issues, has been politicised in the West.
In a brilliant interview, Lord Sumption, a former judge of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, observed that in March 2020 people looked to how governments in China, Italy, Spain, and France, were responding to Covid-19 to determine how the United Kingdom should manage the pandemic. In turn, United Kingdom health advisers abandoned their original pandemic plans. COVID-19 management had been politicised, with opposition to lockdowns being associated with the right and support of lockdowns associated with the left.
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. Aspects of the movement are ideologically left-leaning — Cullors even stated in 2015 that she and Garza ‘are trained Marxists’. Many in Australia on both sides of politics expressed empathy for Black Lives Matter protestors in June 2020, including New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian who said ‘of course I empathise with how strongly people feel’, and Federal Labor Member of Parliament Stephen Jones who told protestors ‘your cause has my one hundred per cent support’. But no equivalent empathy was voiced for the anti-lockdown protesters of 24 July 2021, about whom Premier Berejiklian said had ‘utterly disgusted’ her, and who Stephen Jones described as ‘selfish, reckless idiots’, in a tweet.
This contrast in reaction cannot be explained by health matters alone. For a start, there was no Covid-19 vaccine in June 2020 like there was in July 2021 when the anti-lockdown protests happened. The explanation for the difference in reaction is political, not medical. Left-leaning sentiments now dominate contemporary Western culture, where political correctness has become rife. And because support of lockdowns is associated with the left, those who disagree with lockdowns are either too embarrassed or too afraid to speak out. And this fear runs deep.
In the interview I referred to earlier, Lord Sumption mentioned that he has received numerous messages from people thanking him for speaking out about lockdowns. People who were too afraid to speak out themselves for fear of damaging their careers or influence. Some of those people, Lord Sumption said, include Members of Parliament, senior consultants in hospitals, and prominent academics. This should worry us.
A glance at history reveals that bad political decisions often result not just from the spread of bad ideas but from the suppression of ideas, in general. The suppression may be deliberate or an accident. But so long as people are afraid to call out illogical changes in the law, the choices we are forced to make will continue to be irrational.
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