A few days ago I read something on Facebook extolling the virtues of how New Zealand had dealt with the covid-19 pandemic – harsh lock downs all over the country, no travel, and strict quarantine, resulting in no new cases in over one hundred days. It all sounded great but it occurred to me as I read, that this country of two islands almost as far away from anywhere as it’s possible to get, with a population of just under five million, had trapped itself in a bubble. What would happen when that bubble finally had to be burst? New Zealand generates a LOT of its income from tourism. That means people coming in from other countries.
As it happens, the virus didn’t even have to wait for that. Four members of one Auckland family were confirmed positive to covid-19 and Auckland, the largest city and the source of the virus scare, went into lock down again. There is speculation that the virus entered New Zealand on frozen food but as yet, it’s just speculation. There is so much we still don’t know about this disease. Infectious diseases physician, Professor Gollingnon, said “We will have to wait for the genomics. I think it’s much more likely it was bubbling under the surface rather than frozen food.” Read more here.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we cannot eliminate covid-19 and still be part of the world. That’s what New Zealand tried to do and if they didn’t succeed, how can we?
Here in Australia, the lock downs were all about buying time to prepare for the pandemic. While hospitals collected supplies for ICU facilities, and factories here went into production of ventilators, personal protection equipment and hand sanitisers, the population was being educated in the need for hand hygiene and social distancing. The rationale was that when the situation worsened, we’d be ready. Our hospitals would not be overrun as were those in Spain, Italy, and the United States.
Our efforts here were better than most in the world and I suspect a lot of people reckoned we had covid beat – which was more than the goal of the exercise. The debacle in Victoria has proved that no, we haven’t got it beat. There has been much finger-pointing and there will be enquiries but none of that will change the bald fact that we cannot kill this thing.
As the economy continues to sink into depression, ordinary people are being put under enormous pressure. Workers are subsidised but the country can’t afford to make those payments forever. Businesses pushed into yet another long period with their doors closed can’t last. Suicide rates are apparently soaring along with unemployment numbers. I can’t imagine being a thirty-something young mum trying to work from home and home-school a couple of kids. I’d hate to be a gym owner or a restauranteur with a mortgage to pay and debts accumulating as my business earns no income.
There are no easy answers to any of this. But more and more I’m starting to think that many of the restrictions should be lifted.
It’s a sad fact that most of the covid-19 related deaths have occurred in aged care facilities. The elderly are the most vulnerable to the ravages of the disease and they have to be protected. The elderly in the wider community (people like Pete and me) must take care of ourselves as best we can. Looking at some of the comments on articles about the pandemic in The Australian newspaper, many older Australians agree with me. We’re saddling future generations with an enormous and ever-growing debt. If we think we can continue to hold out until a vaccine gallops in from stage left, I think we’ve watched too many John Wayne Westerns.
One interesting aspect of the on-going pandemic is how all the Australian states have suddenly become extremely parochial. They talk about ‘Queenslanders’ and ‘Victorians’, not ‘Australians’. I don’t think there’s much more the Federal Government can do about it, other than hosting the ‘national cabinet’ to discuss issues such as these. Via our pre-1900 constitution, the states have most of the powers required to limit the virus threat. States provide education, policing, health services etc even if the Commonwealth provides much of the finance. And of course, they control their own borders. That said, if Victoria’s economy grinds to a halt, the whole nation will suffer. Already, interstate movements of supplies are compromised by the restrictions on border crossings.
Which segues neatly to another situation. In the wake of Brexit and the belligerence of China there has been talk about a coalition between the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – Canzuk. The idea has been around for a long time but now it’s starting to come back to the fore. It makes perfect sense to me. We all speak more or less the same language and we have basically the same political and judicial system. We all play cricket, too. (Although the Canadians are minnows.) Canzuk has its own website. You can read another view on the Foreign Policy website.
It’s a sad fact of life that countries are forced to make alliances against regimes inimical to their interests. But the reason why humans were so successful at playing the great game of life is because we’re tribal. In Australia we do it at state and national level. Canzuk offers a tribe at an international level.