Welcome to Australia: a playground for the rich, the elderly and calcified thinkers. Didn’t appreciate that? Then you might want to consider what our international reputation will look like if we don’t get our act together on vaccinations.
As the Australian Financial Review reports, tourism industry leaders said on Monday that fully vaccinated Australian citizens should be able to move freely between Australian states and territories – even during lockdowns.
If this plan came to fruition, it would be a microcosm of what, to a degree, is already happening on a global scale.
Europe has already started a vaccine-passport scheme, which sparked debate in the U.K. at the start of this year, when some young people complained it was ‘wildly unfair’ and that it would see their grandparents head to Portofino – and the pub – before them.
Though Australians are currently banned from travelling overseas (vaccinated or not), airline CEO’s like Alan Joyce have predicted governments are going to insist on vaccines for international travellers. And unless the whole world somehow gets down to the remarkably low rates of COVID seen in Australia and New Zealand, it seems unlikely we will be able to create vaccine-free travel bubbles with every country Australians want to be able to visit (read: all of them), going forward.
So the vaccine passport question is still a big one.
On that note: the slow rollout of Australia’s vaccine program is worthy of hanging from the ceiling from a chain, and having a jab at.
As was claimed on the ABC’s Q&A program in May, Australia had at the time vaccinated roughly 1.7% of its population against COVID-19. That paled in comparison, it was stated, to the United States’ 40% and even lesser developed nations like Kazakstan’s 5% vaccination rates.
Though we are now, at the time of writing, up to 2.6%, the point still stands.
So: has our government been stumped by bad luck? Or is it down to a low sense of urgency from constituents? Or is it incompetence? Everyone has their own theory. One thing is true though: it’s far too easy to be laissez-faire about getting your jab (or indulge in conspiracy theories) when people aren’t falling around dead around you. Selfish but true. And acknowledging it is the first step to overcoming it.
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Also, while we can’t travel anywhere overseas anyway, and while it remains relatively safe here Down Under without having been jabbed, there is little incentive to get vaccinated beyond human solidarity and foresight (two things we all, all too often, lack).
Maybe we’re being harsh. Maybe it’s not down to a lack of enthusiasm, but a bungled rollout. Maybe people really are lapping up the jabs as soon as they become available. Judging by the proud Facebook posts of some of those that have had it, there are certainly some people who are being conscientious (even if in a ~cringe~ but well-meaning fashion).
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Given how few vaccines have been available, it’s hard to tell for sure.
In any case, moving forward, we reckon it’s fine to appreciate Australia’s success (and fortune) in preventing the virus from ravaging our country as much as it has others. But it’s also important not to get complacent and shut ourselves off. Unless we want to become known as a hermit kingdom.
We must abandon fortress Australia at some point, says Sutton https://t.co/UBf8Z8eGKU
— The Sydney Morning Herald (@smh) May 15, 2021
As the Sydney Morning Herald reported in May, Australia’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has said we must abandon our fortress Australia attitude at some point.
News.com.au also reported in May, “Better vaccination uptake and improvements to our hotel quarantine system could be needed to get ‘fortress Australia’s’ international walls down, experts have said.”
So the question is: does the government need to catch up to public sentiment, or is public sentiment what’s lagging behind?
Though increasing (and improving) our quarantine facilities would help in the short term, it’s not a great long term solution (though it certainly could play an important role in getting us to where we want to be).
In our view, a more viable long term fix is to get enough of the population vaccinated that travellers can simply quarantine at home (or, eventually, if and when the medical professionals advise the government it is safe to do so, not to quarantine at all).
Travel enthusiasts should be careful not to sound glib, either, preaching from their Worldly Towers about what ~the public~ should want. But when you weigh up the arguments… it’s hard to argue against opening up as soon as safely possible.
In the end, though, the debate is raging over exactly that: what constitutes, “safely”? It’s almost become a cop-out answer. Is “safely” only when 100% of Australians have been vaccinated (or had the opportunity to get vaccinated)? Or is it as soon as all vulnerable citizens have been vaccinated and authorities believe our hospital system could cope with a wide-scale outbreak among those of us left?
There’s only so much the science can tell you – this is a political decision some reckon we should be voting on. Instead, we are forced to let our policy makers decide for us (with the guidance of the best medical experts), and sit back and commentate from our armchairs.
There are avenues to pressure them to make the decisions we want. But then: who are we? A group of 25 million people with 25 million different opinions? Without delving into the roots of our whole political system, there seems no easy solution.
Also: given we have a centre right-wing government in office, it’s surprising they aren’t pushing for opening up sooner rather than later, given the economic benefits this could ultimately bring.
As The Economist recently reported, the whole world, not just Australia, is incurring a massive cost for being slow with the vaccine rollout: “To get roughly 70% of the planet’s population inoculated by April, the IMF calculates, would cost just $50bn.”
“The cumulative economic benefit by 2025, in terms of increased global output, would be $9trn.”
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The fact Australia’s government hasn’t pushed for taking on more small risks (or even really talked much at all about the potential for doing so down the line) may suggest the hesitance really is coming from the people, not vice versa, and the coalition thinks its best chance of being re-elected is to appear to be as cautious as possible (without being accused of being laggards) and as cautious as they can get away with, in an appeal to our fearful nature. But maybe they are underestimating us?
For the whole world to get back on track the whole world needs to be brave. Without being stupid. This again brings us back to the whole: ‘how soon is too soon, what vaccination rate is enough to open up to what extent,’ debate.
What seems overwhelmingly clear is that – wherever you sit on the risk tolerance fence – getting vaccine rates up is crucial to being able to creak the door open to a more meaningful degree.
Aside from economics, as this Traveller article points out, Australia is a multicultural country and wanting to travel, for many citizens, is not out of selfish dreams of sipping cocktails in Mykonos. People want to see loved ones and places.
The following video by travel blogger @_thewanderlusttimes sums up the debate provocatively and poignantly.
“Please open the borders,” say Aussie travellers or people with family overseas, the skit begins.
“Nah, keep the borders closed forever,” say bogans who have never left their hometown, the skit continues, in a caricature of Australia’s current national debate (set to the tune of Olivia Rodrigo’s good 4 u).
“Like a damn sociopath,” the text overlay continues, in sync with Olivia Rodrigo’s good 4 u hit.
We never thought we’d defer to a pop song to make our point for us. But damn.
The debate continued in the comments.
“This is so simplistic,” one TikTok user wrote. “The reason we are doing so well and can eat out and have family members alive is bc we have a border policy.”
“Idk this seems a bit tone deaf?? Like making fun of people for not having travelled when it’s a privilege?”
@_thewanderlusttimes responded to this, writing: “it is a privilege but a privilege all aussie would have. even those who don’t work, when I was on Centrelink for uni I saved enough to travel a little.”
She later added: “Sorry it didn’t sit right with you was just supposed to be a light-hearted joke.”
User @brentperth chimed in with, “It’s about what’s best for the majority, not for the few.”
Another said: “Who’s gonna tell you 80% of people want the border to stay closed. It’s for the safety of all of us,” to which @_thewanderlusttimes wrote: “That’s not true. I don’t know one person that’s happy with borders staying closed forever. Where did you get that stat from?”
Another user came to to @_thewanderlusttimes‘s defense writing: “It’s a literal human right to let aussies back home but they don’t want to talk about that.”
A final exchange: “Not at all,” one user wrote. “It’s those who care about all Australians and those who care about themselves.”
@_thewanderlusttimes responded: “SO even once the rest of the world is vaccinated and living their normal lives, we should all still live in fear down here?”
“I think you have misinterpreted. Once the rest of the world is back to normal and doing better our government will reassess and create travel bubble.”
@_thewanderlusttimes: “I hope they do. They just have given us no indication that they will and keep extending the time frame, they’ve now said another year.”
“That’s a year behind everyone else.”
“Probably because they don’t know as its all new and seeing how the vaccines go,” the other user hit back. “It’s all subject to change and a year is a guide. They said nightclubs wouldn’t open again until mid this year and they opened earlier. It’s all watch and see.”
“Oh did they? I didn’t know that, that’s some positive news. I guess we do just have to wait and see yeah.”
Until we get some clarity on the government’s plan for border opening, expect the debate to continue. And even if and when such a plan is announced: expect it to stoke another argument of its own.