The cover article in The Spectator this week refers to Australia as Prison Island, and quotes the late, great Clive James: “The problem with Australians is not that so many of them are descended from convicts, but that so many of them are descended from prison officers.”
Two thirds of resident Australian subjects are currently in lockdown — roughly 18m people, the equivalent of the entire Guatemalan population.
This week new infections reached a peak around 1000 per day, in other words around half the level Guatemala was reporting at Easter when things were just ticking over here. So, not too serious, but Delta has arrived and seems unlikely to be controlled now by the state-level prison officers.
A friend in Melbourne bemoaned to me this week how even stricter measures appeared to be in the offing, yet her family are already under a 9pm curfew, unable to move more than 5km, limited to two hours of exercise, prohibited from participating in gatherings, and both kindergartens and schools are closed, while only the most essential shops remain open.
Some of these measures may flatten the curve, as we used to say, but there is a political as well as medical logic behind them, as national and regional elected officials preen and joust.
The strategy of retreating into a plastic bubble for shortish period, then to emerge once the rest of the world has finished getting sick and dying seemed like a good one in 2020, but has now been rather cruelly exposed.
The global pandemic has lasted longer than they bargained for and the consequences of having to respond in the way western countries did many months ago could be severe. My friend is deeply worried whether her son (Year 8) will ever recover from the lost schooling.
38,000 Aussies remain stranded abroad as the government is enforcing a quota on arrivals and a fortnight of mandatory quarantine costing around $3000 per person.
For anyone not a member of the Afghan women's football team, just finding a plane headed for Aus right now is going to be tricky and it would seem that one has to be content to remain indefinitely at whichever large city one arrives at, given that special permission is needed for any lateral movement.
And leaving is currently harder than returning.
The Guardian Football Weekly's Max Rushden has just moved over there with his Australian wife and is doing the required time. Yesterday he hosted the pod from his quarantine hotel and reported that each morning his wife suggests 'let's go for a walk' and they both laugh.
In the above-mentioned piece Alexander Downer writes about the situation with vaccines...
"As things stand, only about 32 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 have had two vaccinations, vs 77 per cent in the UK and 58 per cent in America. It’s not as though Australia has missed out on receiving vaccines: AstraZeneca had a deal to make its Covid jab in Melbourne. But the rollout was derailed by concerns over blood clots. In fact, only seven Australians out of the seven million who have been jabbed with AstraZeneca have died from blood clotting: one in a million. But a little-known body called the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation said the AZ jab should only be used by the over-fifties, then raised that to over-sixties. Now all over-18s have been told to get the shot, but the damage has been done. The fuss played straight into the hands of anti-vaxxers. There is a stockpile of some six million AZ jabs in Melbourne."
However, few of the commentators on the Aussie debacle have mentioned that it is currently winter down under. Seasonality may cut them a break later this year around the time that the northern hemisphere discovers if boosters are really necessary.
I have a pet theory that the UK's comparatively admirable position this summer is down to its near unique pandemic history of having got 2020 badly wrong and 2021 relatively right. The screw-ups last year permitted a spread of natural immunity amongst the younger age-groups which has handily complemented the vaccination programme, leaving all but a tiny majority with no antibodies at all.
And there are indications from Israel that natural immunity is important (even if it means surrendering a few IQ points!).
A study carried out by Maccabi Healthcare Services, examined three groups. The first consisted of individuals that had had both doses of Pfizer without ever having tested positive. The second of the unvaccinated infected and the third of the single-jabbed who had previously been infected.
And, slightly alarmingly, they found that overall, the previously-infected had a better chance of avoiding hospital. One has to assume however that this group consisted of people who had survived the disease the first time around, so in that sense the result is a tad skewed.
But they also found that twice-jabbed, previously-uninfected people were 13 times more likely to get covid than people with some kind of natural antibody protection.