|image: © AFP / William WEST
A total of 147 people have lost their lives to coronavirus in Victoria, making it undoubtedly the worst hit area of Australia, which has only experienced 232 deaths in total. However, internationally these are vanishingly small numbers, even adjusting for population.
Recently the Victoria government ramped up testing and, predictably, it has seen an uptick in cases. They discovered 671 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday and, sadly, eleven more people were found to have died with the illness. That's up from 295 new cases last Wednesday, but down from 723 on Friday.
This uptick prompted Andrews to impose the kind of restrictions on the lives of five million people in Melbourne that would have looked harsh in 1950s East Berlin. Desperate Dan’s authoritarian greatest hits include:
- A six-week curfew from 8pm to 5am across the entire Melbourne metro area, with the only exceptions being work, medical care and caregiving
- Outside those curfew hours the only reasons to leave your home are: shopping for food and essential items, care and caregiving, daily exercise and work.
- Daily exercise can only take place within a 5km radius of your home, cannot last longer than an hour and can’t be with more than one other person.
- You cannot buy more than two units of certain essential items, including dairy, meat, vegetables, fish and toilet paper.
- Masks are compulsory when outdoors, across the entire state.
All these measures are extraordinary, but the piece de resistance has to be that now police officers can enter homes with neither a warrant nor permission. This is an astonishing violation of civil liberties. Police officers should not be allowed to demand entry to a property without cause or due process. They especially shouldn’t be allowed on “public health” grounds when the median age of Australians who have died from or with Covid-19 is exactly the same as the nation’s average life expectancy - 82 years old.
The reason the police now have these draconian powers is that the situation in Melbourne has been upgraded from a “state of emergency” to a “state of disaster.” The last time a state of disaster was declared in Victoria was in January of this year, when a huge swathe of it was literally on fire. How can a 1.2 million-hectare bushfire that destroyed at least 200 homes warrant the same alert level as the admittedly upsetting deaths of eleven care home residents, all of whom were over 70 and one over 100? Deaths of this kind are undoubtedly tragic for the friends and families of the deceased, but are not normally cause for government action, let alone the effective house arrest of an entire city.
Australia has a reputation of being a carefree kind of place, “where beer does flow and men chunder” in the immortal words of music heroes Men at Work. While, in my experience, this is certainly true of the people, the governments, both state and federal, can be extraordinarily strict. Anyone who has ever flown there will be familiar with how monumentally concerned the landing card is about whether or not you have been within 50 feet of an animal in the last month and if, for some baffling reason, you are trying to bring soil into the country. But even by their standards this lockdown is extreme.Take this statement from state commandant, sorry I mean premier, Andrews. As he was bringing these new restrictions he told Victorians: "There is literally no reason for you to leave your home and if you were to leave your home and not be found there, you will have a very difficult time convincing Victoria police that you have a lawful reason.”
How can a politician in a free country even conceive of uttering a statement like that? In a free country you don’t need a reason to leave your home, you can just go out, that is what freedom means. As if it were not bad enough that you can’t leave your house without being muzzled and without a “lawful reason” under this new regime you can’t even remain in your house unmolested by the cops, they can just pop ‘round anytime to make sure you haven’t had Bruce and Sheila from next door round for a couple of drinks. All over a disease that is simply not that fatal.
Putting the numbers into perspective, a total of 221 people in Australia have died from Covid-19 so far this year. In 2019, 1,146 people died on the roads, that evens out to around three deaths a day and makes driving statistically five times more fatal than coronavirus. Surely by the Victorian tinpot dictator’s logic this means cars should be banned immediately? After all, people are dying.
What makes this decision even more insane is when one looks at flu statistics for 2019. Last year more than 310,000 Australians were hospitalised with flu and over 900 died. By all metrics that makes flu a worse threat than Covid-19 but police weren’t granted Stasi-like powers during the flu season. Millions of people weren’t confined to their homes and threatened with AUS$5,000 fines for not having a good reason for being out of their homes.
By some (social) distance, this reaction by Daniel Andrews and the state of Victoria has to be one of the most extreme in the world and seems to be born more out of panic than concerns for public safety. Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, has the highest rates of Covid-19 in Australia, this is true, but they are still vanishingly small with an even lower fatality rate. Government is not supposed to panic, and public officials should have worried far more about abolishing freedoms, regardless of the reasons behind the measures.
Especially when those reasons backed up with facts like four million tests having been carried out across Australia, with less than one per cent coming back positive.
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