Australia's hysterical response to this pandemic is downright bonkers

Robert Fenwick Elliott
·4-min read
A passenger at Sydney Airport today - getty
A passenger at Sydney Airport today - getty

Australia’s Covid-19 death toll is still less than 250 – on a typical day, more people than that die from other causes by lunchtime

I left England 17 years ago to live here in Australia, so I can’t speak for the mood in Britain at the moment. But in the land Down Under, all sense of perspective appears to have been lost amid this pandemic. 

Internationally, the image of Australia tends to be shaped by famous Australians: typically inventive, funny, and somewhat anarchic. Clive James. Barry Humphries. Paul Hogan. But these are the sort who left the country long ago to settle elsewhere. By evaporation effect, the average Australian left behind tends to be far from precocious, but instead overcautious; bizarrely so.

Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 has reached Australia, but much less so than other places in the world. The death toll to date in the whole country is tiny: still less than 250 people, most of these in Victoria. On a typical day, more people than that are dead by lunchtime from the more usual causes of death: heart disease, cancer and dementia being the predominant ones – way, way ahead of Covid-19; as are flu and suicide. 

Indeed, Covid-19 makes up less than half a per cent of the current deaths occurring in Australia, which does not even put it in the top 20 causes of mortality. It is downright bonkers, on these numbers, to accelerate to panic.

Notwithstanding that the needle has barely flickered on the total death-rate-meter, Australia has imposed ferocious lockdowns. It is nigh impossible to get in or out of the country, and a number of the state borders are shut. Personally, this is annoying, because I cannot travel to see my family. But it is but a small corner of the steel trap. 

In Victoria, where my children are at university, they have declared a “State of Disaster” and introduced a night-time curfew, as if viruses prefer to bite in the dark. Not even Transylvanian Romania has gone that far, even on a full moon. 

During the day, leaving home is limited to a short list of purposes, among them shopping for essentials (one person per household at a shop within 5km from home). Everyone must wear a mask when they leave home. The views of those of us who find them, not merely uncomfortable and irritating, but medically unproven and symbolic of state oppression, are ignored. There are substantial fines being handed out for a breach: up to $20,000 (£11,000) for repeat offenders. 

I suppose the funds have to come from somewhere. The federal government has been dishing out money hand over fist to many whose businesses have suffered, or been entirely destroyed, but this does not reach everybody, and clearly cannot go on forever.  

It is remarkably difficult to entirely trash the Australian economy; the wheels of its massive mining and agriculture industries keep turning. But this nation also relies heavily on tourism and overseas university students, and those industries have – for now at least – been wiped out by the restrictions. 

Nevertheless, Australians are remarkably acquiescent about the lockdown, and most even welcome it. Some just quietly ignore the rules; the government has been using the army (for heaven’s sake) to check up on people who are supposed to be self-isolating at home, but about a quarter of them do not answer the doorbell – they are out at work. 

Few talk about the risk that when the borders inevitably open again, and the tourists and students return, Covid-19 is likely to bite much harder.

Not many are willing to concede, either, that when the borders do reopen, as we’ve seen in Spain, and cases rise again, that the economic mayhem of lockdown will have been pointless. 

Most Australians, ever optimistic, appear to expect that there will be a vaccine. In these strange times in which we live, it is unlikely, but just about possible, that the economy will bounce back quickly from its current deathbed. 

As the saying goes here, when they tend to plough ahead without thinking things through: “She’ll be right.” 

Will she? Only time will tell.