Australia: We’re just going to learn to live with the virus

Is Australia finally waking up from its self-induced frenzy of insane COVID policies? As we’ve discussed here previously, after a relative handful of new COVID cases popped up in the land down under, several of the nation’s states immediately slammed down some of the harsher lockdown conditions seen anywhere outside of New Zealand. (The Kiwis were basically living in a concentration camp for a while.) When people started to protest against the restrictions, hundreds were arrested, tossed in jail, and hit with thousands of dollars in fines. Conversely, the government tossed in some “generous” sweeteners for those who were fully vaccinated. You were allowed to go outside of your home for two hours each day instead of just one.

The Aussies still haven’t been able to get back to zero new cases, however, and that appears to be leading elected officials to what was probably an inevitable conclusion. They’re going to begin releasing their people from isolation as vaccination rates continue to rise. And as the Prime Minister himself sadly declared, “Australia can live with this virus.” (Reuters)

Australian authorities on Wednesday extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne for another three weeks, as they shift their focus to rapid vaccination drives and move away from a suppression strategy to bring cases down to zero.

“We have thrown everything at this, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to drive these numbers down, they are instead going to increase,” [Victorian Premier Daniel] Andrews told reporters in Melbourne, the state capital, after a lockdown for nearly a month failed to quell the outbreak. The lockdown was due to end on Thursday.

“We got to buy time to allow vaccinations to be undertaken all the while doing this very hard work, this very painful and difficult work, to keep a lid as much as we can on cases.”

As the linked article explains, it’s still far too soon to declare that “Freedom Day” has arrived again. The city of Melbourne just extended the lockdowns for another three weeks. The state of Victoria will begin the process of easing lockdowns, but not until they reach a 70% vaccination rate. That’s not expected to happen until the last week of this month. Similar plans are in place in other populated regions.

We’re still not talking about all that many cases, however. It’s true that the Delta variant is on the loose and infection rates have risen, but Victoria only recorded 120 new cases yesterday, up from 76 the day before. That’s out of a population of more than 6.6 million. Similarly, the state of New South Wales with a population of 8.8 million and home to Sydney, the country’s most populous city, will keep the current lockdowns in place until at least the middle of October. They recorded slightly more than 1,100 new cases yesterday.

Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier of New South Wales, gave a rather flowery speech, saying that “life will be much, much better, much freer.” But she immediately followed that up with a caveat, saying such conditions would only apply after 70% of the population was fully vaccinated. They are currently at 37%, but 67% have received at least one dose, so they are closing the gap quickly.

What it sounds like more than anything else is that Australia’s elected officials are coming to the realization that if they try to keep their people locked down much longer with no end in sight, they’re going to lose control of the situation. The protests have continued despite the harsh police response, and the approval ratings for most of them have plummeted. The situation doesn’t appear to be sustainable, either logistically or politically. People are simply fed up.

The lesson that the Aussies are learning is the same one that I (probably foolishly) thought our politicians had learned in the United States before the latest rounds of restrictions in blue states. The novel coronavirus is here and it’s not going to go away. It will continue to mutate, just like the seasonal flu mutates every year. Eventually, everyone who wants a vaccine will have it and the rest will wind up with their own immunity after battling the disease. Some people will die, just as we lose some number of people to the flu and other infectious diseases each year. So while it may be sad to admit it, the situation in America is the same as what the Prime Minister of Australia described. “We can live with this virus.” But not everyone will, obviously.

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