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Rob Abadee discusses the vaccination roll-out and the COVID-19 lockdown, postulating that Australia may not be as safe as everyone thinks.
“We’re going to have to generate what we call herd immunity…and the only way of developing that, in the absence of a vaccine, is for the majority of the population to become infected.” – UK Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance, 13th March, 2020
That statement, made by a member of the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies should, in the words of Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ‘live in infamy.’ Coupled with reports that the mantra on Downing Street during this time was that “we’ve all got to get it [COVID-19],” it seemed that the UK Government had gone mad.
Three devastating national lockdowns later, and with one of the worst death tolls from COVID-19 in the world, you might expect that the people of the United Kingdom would be interested in holding Boris Johnson’s shambolic response to account.
You would be wrong.
With ‘Freedom Day’ passing over three weeks ago, when England’s COVID-19 restrictions were scrapped in entirety, it is clear to see why.
Politics is, in the words of Janet Jackson’s hit song, a game of “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” and because of a rapid vaccination programme, Boris Johnson has recently delivered Britons a return to (largely) pre-pandemic normality. The liberties Britons currently enjoy, including no mandatory mask wearing anywhere and no legal limits on indoor gatherings, rival freedoms now enjoyed anywhere around the world.
Indeed, although experts warned that unwinding restrictions would “almost inevitably” ensure that cases would rise to as high as 100,000 a day, cases have strangely dropped dramatically, at least somewhat vindicating the Government’s decision.
By sweeping Labor in the recent local elections, the biggest test of public opinion since the 2019 general election, it is clear that Boris Johnson’s effective vaccine rollout translated into political success. Despite the obvious failures of its earlier response, voters rewarded the Conservatives with an 8% swing, reminding us again that voters have short memories.
The UK Government’s early openness to ‘herd immunity’ through infection will not live in infamy, because Britons won’t let it. Administer an effective vaccine rollout, and voters will reward you.
While the Brits were pondering letting COVID-19 rip through their community, Australia had already closed its border to all non-residents, and one week later had forced all returning residents into hotel quarantine. By mid-May 2020, restrictions had eased and life for most Australians had largely returned to normal (save for the occasional state lockdown and border closure).
Australia went hard early, and its results ensured that it was lauded as a global COVID success story, rewarding the Morrison Government with record approval ratings.
Australia’s voters will not, however, be willing to reward the Morrison Government for its successful early COVID-19 response if it continues to witness what is currently one of the OECD’s slowest vaccination rollouts; while nations around the world open for good. Six weeks into the Greater Sydney Lockdown, Scott Morrison’s approval rating had dropped by 6 points and support for the Federal Government’s response to the Pandemic dropped nine points, from 53% to 44%.
As NSW’s outbreak spreads across the state and new lockdowns are implemented in Queensland and Victoria, the Morrison Government’s failures are starting to enter voter’s minds in a way that might significantly impact their performance in next year’s Federal Election. The Morrison Government must do all it can to support the states, significantly ramp up vaccine distribution across the country and attempt to secure more doses of the Pfizer vaccine from countries such as the US who have excess supply.
Politically, the lesson from the UK’s effective vaccine rollout should be that it is not how you start your COVID-19 response but how you finish. In a year where the Coalition Government has already alienated many, that should scare Scott Morrison.