Australia’s Covid response showed ‘Complete collapse of leadership’

Last year at this time, there was reason to be optimistic: we had made it through 2020, vaccinations were on the way, and with them, the promise of no more border closures and a restoration to open borders. We’d be safe in Covid’s company.

Three causes have contributed to the current state of affairs:

The first was a non-internal factor. The virus mutated as planned, and we learnt the Greek alphabet. Then there was Delta, which was even worse than the original strain, and then there was Omicron, which was exacerbated by the two previous variables.

The second component was top-notch blundering. Every part of the immunisation campaign was severely mismanaged by the Commonwealth administration. It made a mistake with its limited buying approach. Its prioritisation approach, which called for the most vulnerable people to be vaccinated first, was completely ignored from the outset. Its implementation was such a disaster that “strollout” was named Australian word of the year. Its vaccine advice and eligibility information was muddled and inconsistent. The commonwealth took no notice of the litany of problems and proceeded to screw up the testing process as well.

The third issue, which we created ourselves, was the complete breakdown of national leadership. The federal government has gone missing. Each state went its own way, installing border restrictions on short notice and inventing its own distinctive definitions of red and green zones. Regrettably, each state choose whether or not to take genuine attempts to control the spread. There were distinct disparities between states as well as throughout time. New South Wales had a more laissez-faire approach than Victoria, and its leader, Dominic Perrottet, is less interventionist than his predecessor.

So, where do we go from here? It is now endemic, and governments must take action to combat it. Denialist rhetoric like “personal responsibility” and “we’re all going to get it” isn’t a good foundation for a public health plan. Even if we are all exposed after we have all been fully vaccinated (third dosage), we may not all become ill. If we give up now, the health system will be overwhelmed, and community support for vital public health measures will be undermined.

The two crises we created ourselves must be solved, and this will necessitate national leadership.

The commonwealth needs to stop lecturing from the sidelines and start thinking about what would make a politically appealing headline and what would appeal to its people. States must begin to recognise that they are part of a single nation – that, for example, Queensland’s border regulations affect NSW, and that unchecked spread in one state affects us all.

The national cabinet must become a place where ideology, political games, and cost shifting take a back seat and the national interest takes precedence. Current policy settings on testing, immunisation, and public health initiatives would be revisited under a new age of national leadership.

Testing has been inundated. States must agree to employ fast antigen tests more frequently. Antigen tests should be completely funded and distributed for free, as the UK has done for the past eight months.

Third dosages and children’s doses must be rolled out more quickly by the federal government.

And we must avoid acting as though the only option to “live with Covid” is to embrace a “let it rip” attitude, which could have disastrous repercussions for those most vulnerable. It is critical to have national leadership on the necessity of public health measures such as mask regulations and self-testing before mixing with others.

The initial wave of Covid was largely well-managed thanks to state action in 2020, however there were a few hiccups, most notably hotel quarantine in Victoria. As a result, Australia has one of the lowest death rates in the world, and its economy has also recovered successfully.

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