Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Last tango in Melbourne

Steven Schwartz

26 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

As Covid-19 trudges through endless revisions of rules and regulations, Australia’s response to the virus is beginning to resemble the blackest of farces.

State premiers, untethered from parliamentary democracy, are free to issue decrees based on their impenetrable divinations. In Queensland, guests at a wedding may dance “subject to 1 person per 2 square metres.” In Victoria, the regulation requires “1 person per 4 square metres.” I am not sure exactly which dances are performed at such a decorous distance, but it is probably safe to say we have seen the last tango in Melbourne.

Midway through his most recent lockdown, the West Australian premier decreed diners must wear masks in Perth restaurants. When asked how this could work, he replied: “Use your common sense.” Good advice. Too bad there is so little common sense around.

Indeed, common sense has never been very common. In its early decades, Australia faced the bubonic plague. As now, governments prohibited free movement. As it transpired, the rats and fleas spreading bubonic plague were indifferent to the edicts of politicians. The Covid-19 virus may well hold a similar disdain for dancing at a distance.

Common sense begins with proportionality. Is there room for similar proportionality in the way we deal with Covid-19? At present, premiers take actions designed to reduce illness almost to zero, but lockdowns, border closures, and other regulations come with economic and social costs.

Ridding Australia of Covid-19 depends on the country achieving herd immunity. But herd immunity is not a treatment; it is a statistical concept. Once a certain proportion of the population is immune, infection rates decline because the disease is unable to find susceptible hosts.

Even if we successfully eliminate Covid-19 through herd immunity, we cannot assume that no Australian will ever again catch the disease. According to the WHO, Australia ‘eliminated’ measles in 2014, yet cases have been reported in Australia every year since.

The reason for measles persistence is its continued existence in other countries. Visitors and unvaccinated Australian travellers contract the illness while abroad.

No state government quarantines Australians returning home from countries with measles outbreaks. This insouciance about a highly contagious and dangerous disease is difficult to reconcile with the draconian approach taken to Covid-19.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in The Australian as No dancing past the fact we’ll have to live with Covid.

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