Conflict Alerts # 427, 25 August 2021
In the news
On 21 August, more than 4000 Australians gathered in Melbourne city to protest against the coronavirus lockdown, which has been deemed necessary by the state. Multiple protests were held across different states like New South Wales and Victoria and in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra. However, the most violent protest took place in Melbourne, where protestors carelessly burst firecrackers, blasted loud music and wreaked havoc in the city. The authorities have arrested more than 250 people for breaching lockdown guidelines and issued fines to more than 200 citizens. On the same day, the police used rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray to diffuse the angry crowds from causing further cluster cases.
On 20 August, the government in New Zealand also extended the lockdown in the country after observing a steady increase in the number of cases. While announcing the extension in lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "We have seen what happens elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance."
Issues at large
First, the lockdown. Australia has been dealing with the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus since June 2021. With the gradual increase in the number of cases in multiple cities, the government has placed strict restrictions on the movement of the people. The delta variant threatens to spread at a much faster pace and is spreading quickly amongst the indigenous communities who were otherwise unaffected in the previous waves of the pandemic. On 24 August, New South Wales registered more than 753 cases, whereas Victoria acquired another 50 cases due to local transmission of the virus.
Second, the protests. The protesters in Australia believe that the lockdown must be lifted despite the rise in cases. The restrictions were imposed with the intention of lifting them within two weeks. However, neither the upsurge in cases nor the restrictions have been eased. Most of the attendees of the protests seemed agitated by the idea of another lockdown which may portray the frustration of the public as a whole.
Third, poor vaccination drive. Australia has managed to completely vaccinate only 15 per cent of its population while 50 per cent have only taken one dose. The numbers are much lesser for the indigenous communities, where only eight per cent have been completely vaccinated, and 26 per cent have been vaccinated once. Although the country managed to protect its population in the initial waves sufficiently, the inoculation drive has been extremely delayed due to supply shortages and institutional mismanagement. Other than the government's inefficiencies, certain sections of the society also refused to vaccinate due to mistrust and incorrect information.
Fourth, premature celebration. Australia and New Zealand were lauded for their handling of the pandemic, after which most cities and towns proceeded to lift Covid related restrictions and enabled the public to move in public without masks and proper and regular sanitization. These actions may have been hasty for a pandemic that is still in the process of being discovered as countries inspect its origin and continuous mutation.
Fifth, anti-lockdown protests across the world. Contrary to the belief that most developed countries would have an informed population that would value the vaccines and prevent the overburdening of the healthcare systems, there has been an apparent pattern that suggests the opposite. Anti-lockdown protests have been observed in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, the UK, Finland, Romania, Switzerland and many more.
Regardless of the frustrations faced by the public, it is imperative for the people to understand the reality of the ongoing pandemic. With the constant mutations of the virus and the current status of vaccine efficiency, it is hard to think of a day when one can assume victory over the virus, at least in the near future. As long as the origin of the virus is not certain, countries cannot prevent future outbreaks. Nonetheless, most anti-lockdown protests have been witnessed in the developed first world countries, raising questions on the conduct and sensibility of these countries.