Steerpike Steerpike

Five lowlights from Australia’s Covid fight

Rohan Thomson/Getty Images)

At the end of last year, Australia was lauded for its success in containing Covid-19. The country’s borders had been quickly closed; interstate travel restricted and resources diverted to tracking down cases. In the deluge of praise that followed, outlets like the Washington Post ran gushing features on the country’s ‘pandemic success story’ ‘putting faith in science’; America’s top doctor Anthony Fauci hailed it as the ‘epitome of success.’

But eight months on and a different picture emerges. Covid has had an unfortunate habit of finding the weaknesses in a country or health system and in Australia the precious time gained last year was largely squandered on a widely-criticised vaccine roll out. Since then there have been a number of eerily familiar debates similar to those seen a year ago in the UK; outlandish statements on mask effectiveness, questions about AstraZeneca’s safety and uneasy authoritarian stances.

Below is Steerpike’s guide to five moments of madness in Australia’s battle with Covid-19.

Vaccine roll out

In a country with relatively high vaccine hesitancy, the actions of public health officials have greatly undermined faith in the AstraZeneca vaccine. Australia’s vaccine strategy was originally based on its large stocks of the AZ jab, but many Australians adopted a ‘waiting for Pfizer’ policy amid mixed government messages regarding blood clot risk and comments from the federal health minister in May promising mRNA vaccines later in the year.

Despite its success in Europe, the government initially recommended the AstraZeneca shot only in people over 60, prompting a wave of cancellations. Then as cases surged it advised all adults ‘who do not have immediate access to the Pfizer vaccine’ to have AstraZeneca instead. Just days after the federal government opened up AstraZeneca for younger Australians, Queensland’s chief medical officer warned of its risks, claiming ‘Wouldn’t it be terrible if our first 18-year-old in Queensland who dies related to this pandemic, died because of the vaccine?’

Not for nothing did Clive James joke: ‘The problem with Australians is not that so many of them are descended from convicts, but that so many of them are descended from prison officers.

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