Australia stuck in the slow lane

Australia stuck in the Covid slow lane

Australia’s Covid caution continues with the Prime Minister’s four-stage “new deal” announced today.

While Scott Morrison has sketched a way out, it is a slow one and sadly, many if not most Australians seem fine with that.

There is a perverse willingness to see the state as our protector from a virus that is only dangerous to the very vulnerable.

We should be focussed on protecting them and getting on with life.

But for now the risk of lockdowns and border closures continues to hang over our heads for at least for another six months.

The PM announced we were currently in phase one which remains about suppression of community transmission.

This “zero community cases” goal is what is creating the uncertainty and costing us dearly in money, mental and physical health thanks to panic-stricken and power-smitten premiers.

While from today lockdowns are supposed to be a “last resort”, the premiers would argue they have always taken that approach, an argument that defies credibility.

It seems their fingers will be on the lockdown trigger until at least Christmas. Nothing really has changed.

It was disappointing that the PM could not today announce “no more lockdowns”. I’ll come back to that.

Phase two should finally end lockdowns and border closures in all but “extreme circumstances”. It is when we start to tolerate the virus circulating in the community, but it only kicks in after a yet-to-be determined threshold number of people have been vaccinated.

Instead of worrying about case numbers, the focus here shifts to minimising hospitalisations and fatalities.

The PM said today that by Christmas every Australian who wants a vaccine will have had the opportunity by Christmas.

He has always said the vaccine is voluntary.

The question that is unanswered is what happens if not enough Australians choose to get vaccinated and the threshold is not met?

Phase three is when we start to treat Covid like the flu. The PM also said vaccinated Australians would be exempted from travel restrictions.

This is getting into the territory of vaccine passports and creating two classes of Australians, something the Christian Democratic Party opposes.

Peoples’ exercise of conscience to choose or not to choose an experimental vaccine must be respected.

No one should be coerced and no one should be disadvantaged in living their normal life if they have not taken the vaccine and are happy to take their chances with a virus that will be harmless for most.

Phase four is when things get back to normal with international travel and doesn’t look like happening any time soon.

Today should have been the day when the PM announced “no more lockdowns”.

Even with a few hundred cases in Sydney, the hospital system contains virtually no Covid cases and no one is in intensive care.

The health system is hardly being overrun yet six million people are ordered to stay at home for two weeks.

Townsville had been in lockdown because one case passed through.

There is no need for lockdowns – we should be willing to tolerate community cases.

The focus should be on protecting the vulnerable and then letting the rest of the population get back to as normal as possible.

Once everyone who wants a vaccine has had the opportunity to have one, we should lift the remaining restrictions.

People should be free to take their chance with an experimental vaccine or with getting Covid.

That would mean moving to phase four by Christmas.

But our fear of Covid and the leverage of the crisis for political purposes means we will be fortunate if we’ve made it out of phase one by then.

Some credit is due the PM for at least having a go today. But our path out remains too slow.

Lyle Shelton is Director of Campaigns and Communications for the Christian Democratic Party. The Reverend Honourable Fred Nile MLC has nominated Lyle to succeed him in the NSW Parliament when he retires in November. To keep in touch with Lyle and the CDP, sign up here.