Guest Post by Professor Jason S. Black
Australia’s leaders are making a disastrous, idiotic, and irrevocable mistake. It is a mistake in which leaders sacrifice both the soul of their democracy and the well-being of their citizens on the altar of a false god: the god of Covid-Zero. They have claimed that this sacrifice is necessary to keep citizens safe, that it will keep them safe, and that there is simply no other choice. But each of these claims is a lie. As with all such idolatry, their sacrifice will bring them no favor. It has brought, and will continue to bring them, only ruin.
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For much of the past year, Australian state governments have instituted and enforced what are perhaps the world’s strictest Covid lockdowns. Calling such lockdowns draconian doesn’t do justice to the way they have curtailed the liberties of every single resident–including those posing no health risk to others. For 200 days since the pandemic began, Melbourne has been subject to an order in which, on pain of fines or even imprisonment, its citizens are only allowed out of their homes for five reasons: to buy food or supplies, for two hours of daily outdoor exercise, to provide necessary care, to do authorized work that cannot be done from home, and to get vaccinated.
Sydney is currently in the ninth week of a lockdown in which individuals can be fined $5000 for leaving their homes for even fewer reasons. The capital of Australia, Canberra, is also in lockdown, with nearly every business closed, the whole city required to wear masks outside of their homes—whether indoors or outdoors— and granted a mere 1 hour of outdoor exercise per day.
The lockdown regulations are arbitrary; many of them make no sense at all. People cannot sit outside in public places—even by themselves, far from anyone else—without being harassed by police or fined. Playgrounds and public parks are closed. Nature reserves are closed. Beaches are closed. In both Sydney and Melbourne, a curfew is in effect: citizens cannot be out of their homes after 9pm or before 5am, for any reason, even though police say that this makes lockdown enforcement more difficult rather than less. Worse, the lockdowns are indefinite, and indefinitely extended: one week turns into a month, which turns into six months—there is no realistic end in sight.
Interstate travel is impossible—nearly every state border is closed and tightly controlled—and international travel is nearly unthinkable. There is a federal ban on outgoing travel—the only one of it’s kind among purported democracies—according to which Australian citizens can only leave the country for an impossibly short list of reasons, and only after applying for an exemption from the federal government, most of which are denied. Worse, since the federal government has strict caps on the number of people who can arrive each week, many Australians cannot even return home from overseas. Their citizenship is now effectively worthless.
Protests are explicitly prohibited. When the government catches wind that such a protest will take place, all transportation to and from the sight of the protest, public and private, is stopped, and the full force of the police and military are summoned to disperse and arrest protestors. These protests are largely peaceful, and yet the police spray pepper spray and rubber bullets into crowds of people who simply object to the very law that the police are there to enforce. The “emergency stay-at-home orders” brook no disagreement, despite the fact that such orders are internationally laughed at, and adopted by the government only on the advice of a very small number of “public health” bureaucrats.
Given such great sacrifices, one would think that the people of Australia would reap great rewards. So much pain, hardship, and sacrifice could surely only be imposed on country if the payoffs were unmatched: a victory over tyranny, perhaps. A triumph over an evil enemy. The prospect of a permanent state of freedom and prosperity. But there is no such reward. The reward, so the premieres tell us, is to keep Australians safe and healthy by totally eliminating Covid: getting to Covid-Zero. But achieving this goal is both impossible and pointless, and in pursuing it, the state premieres are destroying the health of all Australians, completely abrogating their civil liberties, and transforming Australia into an irrelevant isolationist island police state.
First, impossibility. The Delta variant is simply too contagious to be completely contained by lockdown, and it is impossible to avoid new outbreaks through border closures for any significant amount of time. Sydney has now been in complete lockdown for nine weeks, and yet case numbers continue to rise. At present, there are more than 800 new cases per day, there are cases all throughout the state, in regional areas and small towns. The cat is out of the bag. To contain the outbreak, months upon months of even stricter lockdowns would be necessary. Independently of whether such lockdowns would be moral or legal (they wouldn’t be either), abiding by them isn’t possible on any understanding of human psychology. The government cannot realistically expect full compliance with an indefinite, inhumane lockdown whose prospects of success are infinitesimal.
Second, the lockdowns are pointless. Australia’s leaders have failed to recognise that the rest of the world has moved on without them. Every developed country in the world sees that the way out of this crisis is not by way of draconian lockdowns, but rather by way of mitigation, vaccination, and taking care of the most at-risk. Even the most leftist news outlets—Vox, CNN, and the NYT—admit that Covid is something we must learn how to manage and live with, rather than aim to eliminate. So aiming for Covid-Zero is pointless: if Australia ever wants to rejoin the rest of the economic world, Covid will come for them anyway.
One would think that lockdowns recommended by so-called public health officials would promote public health, but instead, lockdowns are destroying the health and well-being of Australians. In Victoria, where the lockdowns have been most extreme and extended, the teen suicide rate rose by 184% in the first 6 months of 2021, obviously a symptom of the enforced loneliness and atomization caused by Covid and the governmental response. The government also acknowledged that Covid lockdowns have led to higher rates of loneliness, depression, anxiety, suicide, and use of mental health services across the population, as well as higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and drug consumption. Cancer screenings of a variety of kinds dropped, and elective surgeries were largely suspended. And this is all without any long-term data on the effects of lockdowns, and without factoring in any negative health effects that operate via economic mechanisms.
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Finally, one might think that these lockdowns are only a stop-gap measure until the country can be more fully vaccinated. There have been some claims that restrictions will begin to be lifted once the population is 70% vaccinated, and perhaps even more lifted at 80%. But these numbers are impossible to reach, largely due to the incompetence of Australia’s leadership itself. According to the New York Times, only one country in the world has an 80% full vaccination rate: Malta. Reaching 80% vaccination in Australia would be nearly impossible, and take years, even with competent leaders and full compliance. But Australian leaders are not competent, and full compliance is unlikely. Australia has missed every past vaccination target by huge margins, and at present Australian leaders have not even procured enough vaccines for the country to reach an 80% vaccination rate. And yet, they make the fundamental liberties of citizens contingent on vaccine quotas that, through their own fault, cannot be met.
The Australian state premieres are the high priests of the religion of Covid-Zero, and their supporters are religious zealots. With the full coercive power of the state, they have turned a once-democratic country into the grimmest and most sterile of theocracies, in which the public’s well-being is sacrificed on the altar to a false god, a god whose only commandments are loneliness, atomization, and asceticism. And all through their rituals, they chant a Newspeak prayer, which is plastered on every Melbourne tram and street-corner: “Staying Apart Keeps us Together.” Let this horrific slogan ring out in infamy, and let the theocratic tyrants and their idols be cast down.
Jason S. Black is a professor in Australia.