I flew into Brisbane Airport last night at 9:15pm, having cut a holiday to Canberra five days short and booked an urgent same-day flight back to Brisbane. All visitors from Brisbane were to leave the Australian Capital Territory immediately or quarantine for 14 days: that was the new health directive issued by the ACT government yesterday. I learned this upon returning from a 3-hour hike up and down Gibraltar Point during which I had no phone or internet reception. “For fuck’s sake,” I thought, and raced back to my Airbnb to book a flight back to Brisbane that evening and pack my bags.
The reason for this chaos was that Brisbane had been declared a COVID-19 hotspot that day. A person had been found to have been infected with the UK strain of the virus. One person. He apparently became infected while working as a cleaner in hotel quarantine. The knee-jerk government reactions came thick and fast: the announcement of a 3-day hard lockdown for Brisbane and surrounding regions at around 8:00am, with the possibility (read: probability) of an extension; the declaration of Brisbane as a COVID-19 hotspot; the snap erection of internal borders against Queensland by other Australian states and territories; and the ejection and/or quarantine of visitors from Brisbane by other states and territories.
All over one case. Excuse me, Australia, but, what the fuck? This is hysterical madness and we know it. How should the UK-variant case have been dealt with? The contact-tracing infrastructure should have been allowed to do what it’s there for-test, trace and isolate to prevent any potential spread of the virus. New South Wales has shown that the contact-tracing approach can have success at preventing the spread of the virus without the need to impose panicked lockdowns and border restrictions. Contra the (mostly Victorian and Labor-supporting) lockdown fetishists, there is no world in which NSW’s approach has not been successful, unless you define “success” as turning your city into a blackened wasteland with mass unemployment, business closures and a mental health epidemic.
Yesterday’s developments have brought on a sense of despair in me that I haven’t felt since the beginning of the first lockdown in March/April, when there was talk that lockdown would need to persist for 18 months or more, until a vaccine could be developed and rolled out. This time my despair is born of the realisation that, at least in Queensland, my home state, this is how it’s going to be every time there is an insignificant “outbreak”.
Yes, it’s only (purportedly) a 3-day lockdown. But, if this is how it’s going to be, it will be the first of many. Now that the UK strain is out in the world, and possibly now in the Australian population, the foreseeable future looks to be a life of constant on-again off-again hard lockdowns. Queensland’s Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has made it emphatically clear by her decisions yesterday that, between the alternatives of the “soft” NSW approach of allowing life to continue as normal as far as possible while managing outbreaks with contact-tracing infrastructure, and the “hard” Victorian approach of hard lockdown as a first resort and totalitarian state control, she will always go for the latter. Labor Premiers stick together.
And be in no doubt: Palaszczuk took the decision to impose a hard lockdown yesterday for purely political reasons. It was her way of signalling, in the political spat between Victoria and New South Wales over their alternative approaches to containing the virus’s spread, that she is with Daniel Andrews and his punitive, totalitarian perpetual lockdown approach. She is supporting a fellow Labor Premier against a Liberal Premier whose success with contact-tracing has utterly repudiated Victoria’s totalitarian approach.
So, where does this leave us? The 3-day lockdown may well become a 14- or 30-day lockdown when another couple of cases of the UK strain are detected. Even when every last trace of the virus, of any strain, is stamped out of the population, we will go through all this again when another case is detected in 3 weeks’ time, and then again in another 3 weeks, and then again, and again, and again…
Because the virus can never be eliminated, at least not until herd immunity is reached. No matter how thoroughly the virus is stamped out, it will always return, just as it has. The logical conclusion of the “use lockdown to completely eliminate the virus” approach is perpetual hard lockdown. That’s exactly what Dan Andrews inflicted on Melbourne, and it’s now clear that Annastacia Palaszczuk will not hesitate to do the same to Queensland in the event the virus gets out of control.
The only end in sight that I can see is the rollout of a vaccine, which, now that there are numerous vaccines available, should proceed as soon as possible as fast as possible.
When all the at-risk people (the old and the very sick) are vaccinated, and the virus becomes exponentially less dangerous, surely then we can have normality back? Normality, as in, the “Old Normal”, not Covid Normal, where there was no hanging threat of snap lockdowns, no border closures, no quarantine, no social distancing, no masks, no COVIDSafe app, no restrictions on international travel, no random ejections of interstate travellers, no internally displaced persons, no scanning QR codes at every restaurant and cafe. In other words: freedom. Given that the virus is only dangerous to a small, concentrated demographic of at-risk people, surely there will be no excuse for not giving us our lives back?
I’d really like to be optimistic, but somehow I suspect that won’t be the end of the covid madness in this country. There will always be another reason, another excuse, to continue the restrictions, the controls, the mandates, the herding and corralling of people at the whims of politicians. After the vaccine is rolled out, we cannot go back to normal, they will declare, because of long covid. Or because young people can die from it, too. Or because of a new mutant strain from South Africa, Albania, Bangladesh, Timbuktu. It will never end.
And they will get away with it, because the disinformation about this virus is being propagated relentlessly by goverments and the mainstream media. A mild respiratory illness with a 99.98% survival rate which has not caused a significant number of annual excess deaths has been propagandised by the government-media disinformation machine as being a pandemic approaching Black Death levels of danger, such to justify the unprecedented intrusion of the state upon our lives. It’s inadvisable to make Nineteen-eighty Four comparisons lightly, but, witnessing in reality this kind of state-manufactured disinformation about the virus, it’s difficult not to be reminded of the way the regime in Nineteen-eighty Four manufactured disinformation as an instrument of influence and control.
The truth is that politicians, left-wing politicians in particular, love power too much to relinquish control. They love this situation. It puts them in a position of absolute power over their populations that precious few democratic politicians have ever found themselves in. It puts populations in a position of helpless, cringing dependency upon them. Every eye is upon them, expecting action, waiting to be given direction, waiting to be told where to march. Everyone knows their names. No wonder it goes to their heads.
For left-wing politicians, who worship state power and fantasise about employing the unlimited power of the state to radically reorganise the economy and society, this situation is a dream come true. It’s what they think the normal relationship of the state to the individual should be, pandemic or no pandemic. They have not reluctantly and solemnly engaged in the vast expansion of state control we have experienced, they have done it willingy, enthusiastically, hungrily.
If you were a political leader in the position political leaders are in now, would you want to relinquish power? Would you want to go back to being an ignored, feeble governor at a lower level of government whose name nobody knows or cares about? Who was Dan Andrews before he was the absolute Tsar of Victoria? Who was Annastacia Palaszczuk before she could put 5 million people under house arrest with the stroke of a pen? This is the reason the madness will continue post vaccine rollout, not because there is remotely any actual risk left (there never was).
“If there is hope, it lies in the proles”: I bear hope that people won’t swallow the continued, dubiously-justified postponement of a return to normality. At the point that the entire at-risk population has been vaccinated, people will, it is hoped, begin to seriously question why they are still not allowed to go on overseas holidays, why they still have to sit 1.5 metres apart in certain venues, why they still have to “stay at home and get tested if you feel unwell”, why governments are still imposing mask mandates and reintroducing pointless restrictions every time there is a local outbreak, why their lives are still being arbitrarily disrupted in the name of "stopping the spread" and "COVIDSafe". I hope that the public will, when the time comes, see through the nonsense and vote in governments that realise their path to power now lies in promising to end the exhausting madness once and for all.
It’s hard to be optimistic, though, when the public has swallowed every last jot and tittle of the madness so far, willingly and compliantly; when the public has so easily been whipped up into a frenzy of fear and hysteria by government and the media. I can’t help but be cynical about the very real, nightmarish possibility that the proles will never rise up and the madness will never end. Just the way our politicians like it.