The second part of a two part update from Australia by our correspondent, Phil Shannon.
Pt 1 of A Zero Covid Utopia Downunder left off with the observation that “it looks like Australia just got lucky with the timing of the virus below the equator compared to global upstairs which was in more virus-friendly winter gloom. Australia was thus able to let pre-existing cross-immunity and naturally-acquired infection quietly build up herd immunity whilst minimising virus casualties largely because of sheer spring/summer luck”.
Pt 2 of A Zero Covid Utopia Downunder? follows the decision of Australian policy-makers, seduced by their good seasonality luck, international peer acclaim and domestic public applause, to nevertheless turn their fortuitously low Covid stats into permanent Zero Covid as a scientifically realistic (and, probably uppermost in their minds, politically advantageous) policy goal. Pt 2 concludes with an analysis of the unattractive consequences of this deluded Zero Covid policy choice.
The longest two weeks in history: from ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’ to ‘Zero Covid’
The international ‘expert’ community admires Australia and New Zealand for their example of how closing borders in conjunction with lockdown and contact-tracing can allegedly be made to work in achieving the goal of ‘Zero Covid’, whilst, in Australia, because of relatively low Covid stats thanks to the virus’ onset during the sunnier months, the virus-tamers were easily seduced into mission-creep from ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’ to ‘elimination’ of community-transmission, effectively the ‘elimination’ of the virus.
The Covid-crazy politicians in Australia and New Zealand now have so much political capital, and their health bureaucrats have so much reputational standing, invested in Zero Covid that they can never let go of the narrative that Covid must be ‘eliminated’ because they fear that even just one ‘case’ which goes rogue in the community, causing an ‘outbreak’, will see them mauled by the press whilst their approval ratings amongst the population they have traumatised about the virus will tank.
Government leaders are also so addicted to the political thrill and public adoration they get from being ‘successfully’ at the helm of a crisis that they cannot politically back down from Zero Covid. Their in-house public heath officials and technocrats are also sucking up the popular adulation and do not fancy a retreat to bureaucratic obscurity any time soon (South Australia’s Covid Czar was awarded a gong in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, and her Queensland counterpart has just been elevated to the prestigious role of Governor of Queensland with the glamorous title of ‘Her Excellency’, whilst the nation’s Chief Medical Officer was bumped up to head the Commonwealth Department of Health). All the emergency, high-powered meetings, the adrenaline-soaked, late-night war room planning sessions and mobilisation of contact-tracers and testers – it must be so intoxicating to them that they now have a deeply-vested psychological interest in Zero Covid.
‘Elimination’ of SARS-CoV-2 is a pipe-dream
Zero Covid advocates may fantasise about the elimination of SARS-CoV-2 but this is just a pipe dream. The track record of virus elimination by human intervention is humbling. The only viral disease to have been successfully eradicated in human history is smallpox (which was finally achieved in Australia in 1977) through vaccination whilst polio is close to man-made vaccine extinction (Australia was officially declared free of polio in 2000, but it took some forty years after its vaccination program began).
Virus elimination is extremely rare, and painfully long in the making, yet the would-be Zero Covid exterminators are aiming at elimination in the space of a year or two with a ‘vaccine’ that, whilst it may suppress symptoms, prevents neither infection nor transmission, and which carries with it a potentially greater health cost than the virus itself, a virus whose virulence does not warrant a vaccine compared to, say, smallpox which was a death sentence for over 70% of children who contracted it.
Further, SARS-CoV-2, even if it were technically feasible to eradicate it, does not meet any of the requirements for the resources needed for its eradication viz. easy and accurate diagnosis of infection; easy community containment; lifelong immunity after just one vaccination course and no animal reservoirs of the virus. Zero Covid through zero virus is a million to one shot.
Zero Covid – an unstable, high-wire act
Nevertheless, science and logic will not be permitted to get in the way of Zero Covid as a bipartisan political vision in Australia. Nor will the societal consequences of the attempt at its realisation give pause for thought even though we now have evidence galore of what Zero Covid means in practice in Australia and New Zealand, for it is a high-wire act with society teetering precariously on the edge of stability, perpetually prey to lockdown wobbles if the contact-tracing bloodhounds lose the scent of any escapee virus from quarantine. Any quasi-Old-Normal life is strictly provisional and can be snatched away at any minute. Even one rogue community-transmission ‘case’ can lock down a city of millions for weeks at a time.
The means (lockdown, border closures and, now, vaccines) to Zero Covid are inherently flawed and fragile. The ‘vaccines’ do not work as true vaccines, and lockdowns also do not work, as the failed global experiment in lockdown has repeatedly shown by the indistinguishable bell-curve progression of the virus regardless of length or severity of lockdown between and withing different countries. Closed borders are highly error-prone. The medi-hotel quarantine of international arrivals in Australia, for example, has seen 21 breaches since the country’s borders were closed over a year ago. This represents one virus ‘escape’ from containment for every two hundred positive-testing overseas arrivals, or 1.5 breaches every month, 1.5 potential lockdowns somewhere in Australia every thirty days on average in the ensuing mass freak-out.
This lockdown overreaction is necessitated by the political optics of Zero Covid whenever an ‘imported’ virus escapes from quarantine into the community. On August 9 last year, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, the Zero-Covid Goddess, declared that New Zealand had reached 100 days of being Covid-free. Two days later a quarantine failure triggered the inner authoritarian in the ‘liberal’ Ardern (‘She who must be obeyed’ – a kind of woke Hilda Rumpole) to order Auckland into strict lockdown. The city was plunged into a seven-day lockdown again in February 2021 in response to one quarantine-related community ‘case’, with the rest of the country placed on a restricted social and economic diet.
With similar ill-fated hubris, Australia boasted in December 2020 that the government had beaten Covid (actually, summer did that, guys). Two weeks later, 60,000 residents of the northern beaches suburbs of Sydney were in ‘targeted’ lockdown for three weeks. The New South Wales state Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, reprised her one-trick-pony repertoire in May 2021 when just five people in Sydney tested positive for Covid and suddenly it was lockdown again, with masks on public transport and in indoor settings, and with singing in church again banned. A new ‘cluster’ of just sixteen community transmissions (three of the cases of ‘mystery’ origin) in Sydney’s eastern suburbs currently has that part of the capital city on tenterhooks with the magic mask mandated again whilst a thousand people (close contacts or who were in the ‘hotspot’ zones of doom) are in compulsory self-isolation as they, and the rest of the affected suburbs, await their lockdown fate. For this ‘more measured’, this ‘alert but not alarmed’, response of ‘smarter lockdown’, the Premier is praised by some otherwise sound opponents of freedom-sapping and economy-harming lockdown (including conservative ginger groups like the Speccie crowd, who have crowned Berejiklian ‘Glorious Gladys’).
Such is the so-called lockdown ‘moderate’, hitting the pause button on, or ruining the lives of, mere scores of thousands at a time instead of millions as public debate is corralled to such lockdown management issues of blanket versus targeted lockdowns, converted hotels versus purpose-built quarantine facilities, whether the contact-tracing workforce is sufficiently staffed, etc. These operational questions all assume Zero Covid as a given framework as they consume the public sector health technocrats and the political mainstream, diverting attention from the fundamental issue of the scientific feasibility, and human and economic cost, of lockdown and closed borders in the pursuit of Zero Covid.
For a virus which has seen just one Covid-‘related’ death in Australia since last Christmas, there have now been a total of fifteen subsequent state-based lockdowns since the Big One of 2020 – four in Western Australia, three each in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, and one each in South Australia and the Northern Territory. This is a fifty per cent lockdown strike rate for every closed-borders quarantine breach. Welcome to the economically damaging, scientifically pointless but politically beneficial repeat lockdowns of ‘Zero Covid’, not forgetting lockdown’s ugly cousins like the mask, venue capacity restraints, the scrapping of sporting and cultural events, queues at Covid testing stations over a kilometre long and the popping of ‘travel bubbles’. This is the future for any country tempted to emulate Zero Covid Australia or New Zealand.
Zero Covid – the state goes hog-wild
Zero Covid is a gift to bureaucratic and police power. Closed borders, for example, means that nobody can even leave the country (because they would surely want to come back, potentially bringing viral contagion with them) for any reason as frivolous as a holiday or for business or employment, whilst compassionate grounds for travel overseas get caught up in the bureaucratic gears of the Covid-obsessive state.
Those arrivals who are allowed to trickle in to Australia, for example, are compulsorily interned in crummy medi-hotel quarantine (at their expense – currently $3,000 for two weeks) and subjected to repeated, invasive, nasal-swab testing. Some are forbidden even this ‘luxury’ – in response to the ‘Delta’ variant, all intending travellers from India (including many Australian citizens of Indian origin) were banned in early May 2021 from setting foot in Australia and faced punitive penalties of five years’ jail and a $66,000 fine if they dared to try.
Meanwhile, over 100,000 Australian citizens remain stranded overseas, political exiles, not because of their own politics, but because of the political needs of the Zero Covid Australian government. The Australian state is also lording it over non-citizen travellers. Since the border closures last year, over 112,0000 foreign students who had been enrolled in Australian educational institutions have been prevented from coming into the country.
Inside our Zero Covid borders, the Australian state continues to go hog-wild at the first sign of an infection in the community. When medi-hotel quarantine is breached, a contact-tracing system of state surveillance and compulsory testing and self-isolation kicks in, lockdowns lurk, mask mandates multiply and QR sign-in theatre ramps up. Covid cops (sometimes undercover!) are on-hand to ‘encourage’ any sinners to repent their Covid blasphemy by means of steep fines ($1,060 for failing to do the QR Sign-In ritual in South Australia and $200 for not wearing a mask on public transport in Victoria) whilst citizen auxiliaries dob in to police any professional footballers who they spot failing to wear a mask in the approved manner.
When two teenage girls from the ‘plague-state’ of Victoria illegally hitch-hiked across that state’s border with South Australia, the Adelaide media was frantically obsessed for an entire 24 hours with the police manhunt to catch these dangerous felons. Great was the people’s rejoicing when the miscreants were arrested, tested, shamed and deported, the state demonstratively flexing its muscle to remind everyone of the vigilance needed in the noble crusade for the Holy Grail of Zero Covid.
For a final touch of state authoritarianism, Zero Covid could also mean mass compulsory vaccination if mandatory jabs are deemed to prevent any ‘outbreak’ of community transmission (based on the Zero Covidists’ heroic assumption that the experimental, spike-protein, gene-therapy drugs actually prevent infection and transmission) – ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’ is the current annoying, and sinister, Covid slogan accompanying the push for mass vaccination. Zero Covid, liberal democracy and medical ethics are not a good fit.
Zero Covid – the cost
Not the least of the concerns with Zero Covid as a public health goal is its stunning economic cost. In Australia, for example, for every day the country’s international borders remain closed, the economy bleeds $36.5 million of lost expenditure from Australia’s top two service industry exports alone – international tourists and international students. Overseas visitors to Australia spend around $65 billion a year on goods and services in Australia whilst the international student market is also worth big bikkies to the Australian economy – $40 billion a year ($17 billion in tuition fees and $23 billion for living expenses). This lost expenditure alone is the equivalent of 720,000 jobs gone begging in Australia because of Zero Covid’s closed borders policy.
The lockdown plank of Zero Covid swamps even the outrageously high costs of closed borders. Various industry groups, banks and think-tanks estimate that the cost of the Victorian government’s latest two-week lockdown will be somewhere between $900 million and $1.3 billion a week in lost consumer spending. Total loss of economic activity will be many millions more if the cost of lost wages (now, absent any furlough) are also included.
Other costs of Zero Covid include the cost of policing the closed borders arrangements. In South Australia, for example, some 400 police are engaged every day in guarding five medi-hotels for overseas arrivals. The lost opportunity cost of police actually keeping working people and their property safe through normal front-line policing is an additional, uncounted cost.
The size of all these economic costs, however, does not perturb our public economic managers whose fiscal incontinence during the government Covid spend-a-thon has neutered any concern they may once have had about ‘budget responsibility’ and running the country on the taxpayers’ already maxed-out credit card.
Zero Covid and the Left
So, the fanciful science, the horrendous economic cost and the regressive political consequences of ‘Zero Covid’, with its ineffective, ruinous, on-again/off-again lockdowns and border closures, should be tailor-made for an oppositional political movement that values working class living standards, civil rights and democratic freedoms against unaccountable state power. That won’t be the modern left, however. Covid-hysterical from the start of the virus panic, stuck in the ‘if it saves just one life’ lockdown groove, it is no surprise that the left has taken to Zero Covid like a whale to ocean-going.
The left has been at pains to be seen as the most militant of the Covid-fighters, advocating that we need to lockdown good, hard and often, whilst, somewhat awkwardly for an ‘Open Borders’ Left, applauding swift border closures to repel diseased foreigners (woke hysteria finally meeting its match in Covid hysteria?). Unnecessary, ineffective, unsafe, still-experimental gene-therapy ‘vaccines’ also get an uncritical pass by the Left. ‘Zero Covid’, therefore, is unsurprisingly the logical unscientific and politically debilitating policy endgame for the modern left, as documented in the following sample:
- The World Socialist Web Site are all in for ‘Zero Covid’, training their polemical guns on “Labourites and pseudo-left groups” who pursue the crackpot science of ‘herd immunity’ (the contemptuous quotation marks are WSWS’s) rather than embracing ‘reducing infections to zero’ through hard lockdown (the closure of all ‘non-essential factories, offices, companies, construction sites, schools and universities’).
- The Morning Star is similarly gung-ho to ‘eradicate the virus’ and proudly boasts that they were ‘the first British national newspaper to support zero Covid’, beating even the Guardian to the extremist punch, whilst they praise Australia and New Zealand as examples of ‘successfully pursuing an elimination strategy’ (embarrassingly for the Star, both countries have subsequently engaged in multiple variations on the lockdown theme).
- Tribune, likewise, is hot for a ‘maximum suppression strategy’ – first, ‘lockdown properly’ for ‘as long as it takes’ to get ‘cases’ low and then putting out any spot fires through ‘test, trace, isolate’ whilst keeping borders closed.
- The ‘Anti-Capitalist Resistance also wants ‘proper’ lockdowns, not ‘mockdowns’.
- The British Communist Party just loves ‘a Zero Covid strategy now!’ headline.
- Labour’s Corbyn-supporting Socialist Campaign Group says ‘A Zero Covid Strategy is Needed To Save Lives’.
- The Revolutionary Communist Group takes Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ to task for failing to include Zero Covid as both a viable and essential destination.
These, and many like them, form a shameful roll-call of political decline. Perhaps, if the left hadn’t become so unmoored from it working class base over the last decade or two as it chased relevance through divisive woke politics, it would have shown some old-fashioned, proletarian common sense rather than outsourcing its thinking on the virus to state-sanctioned health bureaucrats, the establishment media and political elites. Such a Left might have been able to play a part in preventing the mass psychosis of the Covid era.
A left that had remained true to its history of calling out ruling class misinformation and propaganda (trade unions ‘holding the country to ransom’, ‘Moscow gold’, Saddam’s ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’, that sort of thing), would have called bollox on the whole Covid frenzy by accepting that there was just another bug going around whilst getting on with normal life so that herd immunity could be naturally developed amongst those with the best immune systems so protecting the vulnerable who, in the meantime, should have been advised to take their usual precautions against a new seasonal respiratory virus. A traditional Left would have also backed the approval of existing, effective, life-saving treatments rather than stumping for Big Pharma profits through an ineffective, unsafe, still-experimental ‘vaccine’. All of that would have left plenty of time and energy for the Left to get on with class struggle in the interests of the material and cultural needs of lockdown’s most numerous victims, the working class. Instead, the modern Left is rapidly circling the Covid drain of class politics irrelevance.
Zero Covid means living life in the permanent shadow of Covid: the worry that every ‘Breaking News’ announcement could be about an ‘escaped’ virus heralding a new lockdown, the on-again/off-again footy schedule, the open/shut/open internal state borders, ‘consciousness-raising’ (and revenue-raising) blitzes by the Covid Cops, etc. There can never be any surcease from Covid obsession under Zero Covid – just one ‘case’ in the community and it’s panic stations all round.
Zero Covid means a full-court press – by politicians, reporters, professors – of Covid alarmism. We are daily hectored by Chief Medical Officers – even, or especially, when official Covid community ‘case’ counts are in single digits – to beware ‘complacency’ about the virus. South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer justified the police crackdown on QR Sign-in as motivation against ‘complacency’ about the virus whilst Victoria’s Chief Health Officer used heated rhetoric about the ‘Indian’ variant being an ‘absolute beast’ infecting people through ‘fleeting contact’ in ways entirely unknown to virologists as his rationale for lockdown before later ’fessing up that his ‘beast’ talk was all about ‘warning against complacency’ and ‘motivating’ people to ‘follow the rules’ of lockdown.
For our public health overlords indeed know that if the populace gets realistic (‘complacent’) about the underwhelming virulence of the virus, and its shrinking ‘case’ count, then the whole edifice of social distancing/lockdown/masks/closed-borders/’vaccination’ would come crumbling down and bury the political, scientific and bureaucratic reputations of the loons who promulgated or fell for the damaging nonsense adopted in panicked response to the virus in the first place.
Hitch your political fortunes to Zero Covid, as the Australian and New Zealand governments have done, and you are setting yourself up for massive, regular overreaction (lockdown, contact-tracing, manic testing, self-isolation, masks, border-shutting, ‘vaccination’ surges, etc.) anytime there is anything more than zero ‘cases’ on the testing radar.
Zero Covid? Fat Chance! But you can do an awful lot of astronomically non-zero economic, social, scientific, political, psychological and human damage trying for it. Let Australia and New Zealand’s Zero Covid ‘success’ be a warning to he rest of the world.