As a British Expat, I’ve watched in awe the incompetence of the UK leadership; first with Brexit and then, much more seriously, Covid19. It’s obvious they literally don’t give a shit about people dying, as long as not so many die that it clogs up the health system. The economy has always been the priority, even though it’s now obvious that their pathetic strategy is even more detrimental to the economy than if they had taken more decisive action.
Yet they continue to pretend they actually care, despite fooling nobody. They come up with cringeworthy catchphrases and implement half baked lockdowns which are invasive enough to annoy the anti-lockdown crowd while simultaneously being so weak they make little difference to overall spread.
Meanwhile, where I live in Victoria, Australia, the neoliberal policies of privatisation led to an outbreak of 20,345 coronavirus cases and 819 deaths (in a population of 6.4 million) before it was crushed by one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. On the 30th July, Victoria peaked at 721 new cases while the UK had 846. The UK peaked (so far) at 33,470 new cases on the 12th of November, a day when Victoria was celebrating its 14th day of zero cases.
Apples and oranges for sure. Different population sizes, densities, and behaviours. But what is clear is that one of these places had a strategy, and the other did not.
I lived through the Victorian lockdowns (both of them) and they were not fun. 1 hour of exercise a day. 4 reasons to leave the house. Kids parks with the swings taped up. 8pm Curfew.
I thought some of the rules were too harsh. I felt that too many businesses closed unnecessarily, not enough care was given to the socially vulnerable, the mask rules were too strict, etc. However, I’m not an epidemiologist. Or a public health official. Or a scientist. What I think doesn’t really matter. These were the decisions made by people who know better than me, or you.
Some of the decisions may not have been right. Even some experts didn’t agree with everything. The impact meant some people lost jobs, homes, even their lives. Domestic violence skyrocketed. Fuck learning the ukelele and Zoom parties, nothing good came from lockdown.
But it worked.
Victoria is currently the only place in the world which has had this kind of success – to tame a large outbreak down to (currently) 25 days of zero cases. It’s a phenomenal achievement which means Australia is now united in being Covid-free, and can enjoy some degree of normality.
In Victoria, there was a strategy. There was leadership. There were hard, politically unpopular decisions made and they were made based on expert advice for our benefit.
We know they were for our benefit, because no self serving politicians would have made these decisions.
Indeed, in countries run by self serving politicians, such as Trump and Johnson, they’re making very different decisions. They’re doing half measures only when forced into it when the least political capital will be lost.
Victoria’s success did not come from a perfect strategy. The police overstepped their authority, (though this is pretty standard for Australian authorities, if I’m honest) and many liberties will be taken in the coming months. Covid19 is seen as a tool to increase control over us, and given the unprecedented loss of freedom, this is understandable. But they will always take the opportunity to take more control. Covid is not some conspiracy to make us give up our liberties. It’s a crisis they are taking advantage of to increase their control, like they always do.
Victoria is in fact a demonstration that lockdowns are for the greater good, proof that a temporary suspension of liberty can just be temporary, and for our benefit. Proof that leaders who put public wellbeing above their own political interests can exist, and can even thrive from doing so.
The question now, and a question for all countries, is:
Is this how we want to deal with crises? Do we want to let our leaders defer to experts, at the expense of both their political capital and our way of life? Or do we want to defer to people like Trump, Boris Johnson, or Australia’s waste of space Prime minister? Politicians who take a hands off approach but put their own political success first, making token gestures, creating an illusion of care, but costing lives.
Politics is always about making decisions that not everyone agrees with. The question is are we willing to let these decisions be guided by the uncomfortable truth that science often presents, or by politics and personal interest?
This is an important question because there are undoubtedly more crises on the way.