Quick easing of Covid restrictions irresponsibly risks an even bigger outbreak

Contributed by Joe Montero

New South  Wales is to follow Scott Morrison’s call to end Covid restrictions with indecent haste. Victoria is being pressured to follow suit. Media and politicians have taken up the taken up the conspiracy theorists and ultra-right “Freedom Day’ slogan.

This has nothing to do with freedom.

Yes, Australians are being inconvenienced and missing out on income.

This demands a response Adequate government support to alleviate the hardship, uncertainty, and fear. Sufficient income support for those missing out and services to deal with the psychological impacts would make all the difference. But this is not coming from either Canberra or Sydney.

Covid is a real emergency requiring a suitable response

Freedom is about both our individual rights and our obligation not to harm others. With Covid, we all have a responsibility to each other to do what we can to not spread the infection. Talk about freedom days in this context, denies the freedom of others not to get sick and possibly die. There can be no freedom without responsibility.

The sorry lead by federal and New South Wales governments is the result of putting a higher priority on private economic interest than on people’s health.

Only this explains why such a messy and patchy response. The New South Wales government has been the worst.  It started by a refusal to act, and followed with selective, restricted, and discriminatory lockdowns when finally forced by circumstances, to look like  they are doing something.

Giving private business interests the priority explains the failures at federal level, and the drive to lift precautions so quickly.

State premier Gladys Berejiklian, and her treasurer Dominic Perrottet fronted their regular Thursday morning press conference yesterday (9 September 2021), all smiles and happily announcing the relaxation of restrictions. This happened at a time when infection and death rates are still rising.  The justification given was the target of 70 percent vaccination of the adult population will win the day.

Photo from Dylan Coker/Newswire: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

A report form research at the Burnet Institute’s advised vaccinating at least 70 percent of adults, and that restrictions should continue to be followed. The first part was seized on and the second swept under the carpet.

Australia has been misled about the evidence.

Health experts are not happy with the direction taken. For instance, Prof Mark Stove, head of health at the Burnet Institute called for being “extremely cautious.” The state Chief health officer, Kerry Chant, was publicly muted. She also talked about being “cautious.”

Other health experts not so close to the government have been harsher in their criticism.

Researchers at three leading Australian universities predict three times the number of infections than the Burnet Institute does. Modelling exercise led by Dr Zoë Hyde, an epidemiologist from the University of Western Australia, suggests that the quick easing of restrictions strategy is far too dangerous.

Covid is now attacking the younger groups. Dr Mark Duncan Smith who heads the Australian Medical Association has called for restrictions to stay for now and for the vaccination of children up to 12 years old.

Another side of the planned lifting of restrictions is their discriminatory nature. The vaccinated will be exempted from restrictions. They will be able to get a Covid passport and travel. This is divisive and bound to create resentment. The fact that everyone, young and old, is a potential carrier and therefore spreader of the virus. Top this with the rush to low major sport and other events attracting huge crowds, and a disaster is waiting to happen.

Paving the way to cover for another failure, is all the talk about a strategic change from elimination to containment. It may be true that Covid won’t completely disappear. But this doesn’t justify easing off on trying to save people.

Feeding greed often leads to bad consequences, and it will probably do so in this case.

The scariest part of it all, is that the New South Wales approach is being shaped as the model for the whole of Australia

Overall, the primary intention of the new strategy is to restore profitability to the private sector. There is no argument that the small players do need help. But most of the help has so far gone to the major corporations, which are in the best position to weather the storm.

Exposures reveal that a large part last year’s government help in the forms of JobKeeper and direct handouts went to them. This has now become problematic. The emphasis has shifted towards the reintroduction of neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is extreme capitalism, characterised by a high degree of monopolisation of the economy, the shift to using a decline in the wages share as the source of profit, and extending the merger of the corporations with the government and public institutions, as the other major source of profit.

The exit form restrictions strategy is calculated to bring a quick return to neoliberalism.

This is to continue to keep the wages share as low as possible, reduce social welfare to fund the provision of more corporate welfare, provide greater access to state resources, for the benefit of the dominant monopolies.

This is our immediate future unless enough people stand against it.

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