Pressure is building on the Labor governments of Western Australia and Queensland to allow the Delta strain of COVID-19 into their states.
The federal Liberal government is acting as the promoter of a twenty-first century plague. Karen Andrews, the home affairs minister, said on 1 September, “The Queensland premier is quite clearly doubling down on her ‘let’s keep Queensland closed’ and the federal government is of the view that Queensland should be open”. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been the most rabid mass death advocate, threatening states that the federal government would (again) withdraw economic support for those imposing lockdowns after reaching vaccination targets of just 70 and 80 percent of over 16-year-olds, the equivalent of just 56 and 65 percent of the total population respectively.
Both federal and state Liberals have either outright opposed or been only very reluctant supporters of the life-saving health measures imposed by the Labor state governments that have until recently managed to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly restrictions on business. Morrison throughout last year was calling on Australians to live with the virus even as states across the country proved elimination was possible. If state governments had listened to Morrison last year, we might well have had scenes of carnage akin to that being suffered by most of the rest of the world.
In NSW, the Liberal government dragged its feet for weeks on the necessary lockdown measures as case numbers mounted. Premier Gladys Berejiklian criminal inaction and the federal government’s refusal to build purpose-built quarantine facilities are the reason the country is facing an uncontained outbreak across multiple states.
In following this course, the Liberal Party is listening to its capitalist masters, who resent any restriction on their right to make profit, regardless of the cost to the rest of us. They cast lustful eyes on the situation in the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s strategy for managing the virus involved letting “the bodies pile high” while the economy carried on unmolested. But because of various Australian governments’ early success in containing the virus, the inconvenient expectation was created that they would continue taking the measures to protect people that prevented significant illness and death.
The realities of places where Delta has been allowed to circulate widely highlight why it is so important for state premiers outside of NSW and Victoria to hold the line and keep COVID-19 out of their states. The Doherty Institute modelling, which was commissioned by the federal government with the express purpose of providing a “plausible” road out of border restrictions and lockdowns, is being used to pressure the premiers into accepting the supposedly inevitable spread of Delta by those who never accepted the necessity for restrictions in the first place.
As Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pointed out in state parliament on 2 September, the Doherty Institute has absolutely nothing to say about border closures or lockdowns. Yet the “experts” at Doherty are being used, apparently willingly, as a potent weapon in the cause of mass death.
It is important to remember that the Doherty proposals are not a protection against the sort of carnage Delta has wreaked elsewhere. Rather, the Doherty modelling predicts Australia will reach 80 deaths a day after six months, which is the extent of the time modelled. The death rate is expected to continue to climb beyond this point.
The modelling is also predicated on a test, trace, isolate and quarantine (TTIQ) system capable of detecting 88 percent of cases, even when case numbers are predicted to reach thousands each day. In NSW, which has the “gold standard” for TTIQ, contact tracing has failed after around 200 daily cases and there are presently delays of three days to get test results. Even with those unrealistic assumptions, up to 1,984 people are predicted to die in the first six months alone, before international borders are even reopened. A report written by three academics using Doherty’s own numbers predicted that the total death toll would reach 25,000 by the end of 2022, with hundreds of thousands of people suffering debilitating “long COVID”.
The issue that Palaszczuk has touched on and which has to be at the heart of rejecting the push for mass death is that children aged under 16 years are not currently included in the vaccination targets. Fifteen percent of the cases in the NSW Delta outbreak are among people 19 years and younger. In the US, where Delta is tearing through unvaccinated populations, 52,000 children were admitted to hospital in August. Four thousand four hundred children have developed a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a figure that doubled between February and June this year. Children with this condition can experience cardiac illness, encephalopathy, abdominal pain and rashes.
Palaszczuk is right to say, “We need more research on what happens to the zero to 12-year-old cohort, as they remain unvaccinated. Unless there is an answer on how these young people are going to vaccinated, you are putting the most vulnerable population at risk”.
Frydenberg shrugged off the prospect of thousands of hospitalised children and the risk of transmitting the virus to their families, which is a particular concern among Indigenous and disabled people, by saying concern for children was a “desperate denial of reality and is not based on the medical advice”, which indicated that COVID-19 was “much less severe” in children. Frydenberg instead implored Palaszczuk to pay heed to the “80 of Australia’s largest companies” that on 1 September in a full-page ad in a number of daily newspapers said, “how important it was for the economy” that the reopening plan proceed. This moment—when big business and the Liberal Party openly put corporate interests ahead of children’s health and lives—must never be forgotten.
Stopping the Delta variant has been shown to require stronger measures to contain it than were successful against the earlier strain of the virus. A better strategy is to prevent it entering a population in the first place. For this, hard border closures are needed until proper quarantine facilities are built, plus rapid lockdowns at the first sign of cases; winding back measures based on arbitrary adult vaccination levels must be resisted. This will require a fight, but is necessary to protect the populations of the states lucky enough to be still free of the Delta strain. The ghouls in the Liberal Party, and their corporate masters, must not be allowed to win.