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Australia’s Border Closures Cause More Harm Than Good

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

As the world begins to adapt to post-pandemic life thanks to fast vaccine roll-outs, Australia is lagging behind. After being known around the world for having one of the most successful strategies in combating the spread of the virus, alongside New Zealand, the land down under is still stuck in pandemic life while its world […]

As the world begins to adapt to post-pandemic life thanks to fast vaccine roll-outs, Australia is lagging behind. After being known around the world for having one of the most successful strategies in combating the spread of the virus, alongside New Zealand, the land down under is still stuck in pandemic life while its world partners open up.

Early on, the government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, introduced strict, draconian measures, including lock-downs and border controls, to mitigate the transmission of the virus in the country. While these measures may have generated positive results, Australian leaders are now attempting to normalise the use of such harsh measures. This raises numerous human rights concerns and is something that the Morrison government should pay greater attention to.

Australia saw its first case of COVID-19 in January 2020 when four travellers from China arrived in the country. Shortly after, in March, the first case of community transmission was reported. The government swiftly responded with measures such as compulsory self-isolation for arriving travellers, contact tracing, and widespread testing services. As the threat of the pandemic grew, however, these measures became more strict.

Such restrictions, coupled with capping international travel, helped Australia to minimise the spread of coronavirus. Despite overall improvements in case numbers on the global scale, the Australian government is still trying to maintain the draconian measures it introduced when the virus first made an appearance in the country. For example, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested implementing a program that would require vaccinated Australians to quarantine for two weeks at home.

However, many have raised concerns around why vaccinated individuals are subject to such strict measures.

Similarly, some Australian states prohibit international travel, fearing travellers, returning Australians included, could bring back mutated versions of the coronavirus. Australia’s federal health minister, Greg Hunt, has also previously stated that even if the entire country was vaccinated, the government might not open its international borders, expressing concerns around transmission and the duration of vaccine protection. This has had a negative impact on Australians living abroad, including India, where the virus is running rampant. Because of the government’s strict policy and cautious nature, Australians in India have succumbed to the virus.

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Indeed, while these decisions aim to protect Australians’ health and well-being, they are significantly infringing on the right to movement of Australians and other citizens. The country’s economy and mental health of its citizens have already suffered over the past year due to lock-downs and social distancing restrictions. Recently, the government has expressed a slow opening of borders in mid-2022, but the longer the government leaves Australia’s borders shut, it could further isolate the already segregated nation.

The government’s bungled vaccine roll-out has also impacted Australia’s ability to open up to the rest of the world, hindering a return to normalcy. Other developed nations, including the United States, United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel, have all begun to return to a semblance of normalcy thanks to their mass vaccination campaigns. Australia, however, has lagged, keeping citizens in an endless cycle of snap lock-downs and uncertainty. While the initial goal was to vaccinate all Australians by the end of October 2021, it appears as though that goal is unreachable. Now, it seems that Australia will only complete vaccinating its population by mid-2022, putting it far behind the rest of the world.

As of March, over 6 million Australians were eligible to receive the first dose of the COVID vaccine. However, due to government mismanagement and vaccine shortages, many are left waiting. In particular, medical experts have noted that the government failed to address the logistical challenges involved in distributing the vaccine adequately. In numerous cases, the government failed to tell doctors when they would be receiving vaccines and how many doses they would receive. A shortage of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as widespread hesitancy, have severely impacted the country’s vaccination plan. The government was initially expecting to receive 3.8 million doses of the Oxford-researched vaccine. However, the company was caught in the cross-hairs of a vaccine sovereignty battle between the EU and the UK. As a result, fewer doses were delivered to other countries such as Australia.

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As the government seeks to reshape its vaccination campaign, it should also consider reopening as vaccination levels rise. Both domestic and international tourism are integral components of the country’s economy. In 2019, tourism accounted for 3.1% of the national GDP, or $60.8 billion. In the year before the pandemic, the tourism GDP grew faster than the national economy. Evidently, the government’s decision to suppress free travel and keep international borders shut has significant economic consequences. In order to save Australia’s economy and reopen to the rest of the world, the government must ramp up its vaccination campaign and must accept that the virus will always be around.

By keeping the borders shut, the Morrison government is infringing on the human rights of its people, particularly the freedom of movement, and simultaneously hurting its economy. As countries around the world begin opening up, the Australian government must do more to vaccinate its population to make sure it is not left behind.

While Australia may have been one of the most successful countries in combating the pandemic, its citizens have borne the brunt of the government’s harsh decisions.

Nick Artino is an Adelaide-based independent political analyst specialising in Asia-Australia relations. 

Source: Tasmanian Times

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