Amid talks of tyranny and vaccination opposition, a health crisis sweeps through Australia’s major cities.
In late June, almost half of Australia’s total population went into a full lockdown after a deadly outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. Over 100 days later, claims of autocracy and enslavement spread across the globe, propelled by trending hashtags like #SaveAustralia and a widespread anti-vaccine movement.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis denounced Australia’s lockdown during remarks to the International Boatbuilders Exhibition in Tampa, claiming that “It’s not a free country at all” while comparing Australia’s health and safety protocols to “communist China.” Conversations among rural Americans mirroring DeSantis’s claims spread concern about government overreach not only in Australia, but also in the United States. More than any other COVID lockdown across the globe, Australia’s nationwide mandates have garnered international attention that fuels an ever-increasing opposition movement over a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Have you heard what’s happening in Australia?” a small town U.S. citizen mutters from 10,000 miles away. “They’ve become a police state,” another responds. Only a matter of time, they agree, until COVID militarization makes its way to their own front doors, but why? How has a lockdown on the opposite side of the world so vehemently unearthed deep-seeded opposition to COVID mandates after the consequences of a deadly pandemic have been laid bare for months on end? What purpose would a democratic government have for targeting its own citizens?
In major Australian cities like Sydney, similar sentiments have sparked violent protests over the past months, leading to hundreds of arrests and dozens of injuries as opposition protesters clashed with police. Many other Australian citizens, however, see no signs of military control or alleged tyranny. Despite having over 28% fewer COVID-related deaths per capita than the United States, Australia initiated a lockdown including curfews, some business closures, and necessary proof of vaccination for travel overseas as precautionary measures.
Though lockdowns are strictly enforced with potential fines for those who defy stay-at-home orders, travel permits are available for Aussies who must leave home for authorized work, property inspections, or urgent work repairs on a second home, and citizens with health and safety emergencies are exempt from lockdown fines. Much like stay-at-home orders in other countries like Italy and New Zealand, Australia’s COVID mandates are certainly stringent, but not legally oppressive.
The question of mandate legality has become a trending topic in lieu of nationwide lockdowns and travel limitations throughout the pandemic, particularly among people without vaccine verification who may not be granted access to the same public privileges as individuals with a vaccine. Similar vaccine mandates, however, are nothing new. All U.S. states require a range of vaccinations before children start school with very few exemptions to opt out, and some vaccinations are also required for international travel or immigration.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, states and cities can enforce vaccine mandates when public health and safety are in jeopardy, but the flipside is also possible. States can ban local authorities from mandating vaccines or requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry into public spaces. States like Alabama, Florida, and Georgia have ruled out strict mandates in favor of personal liberty.
Much like the United States, Australia’s commonwealth is not legally requiring vaccines, nor have they announced plans to do so, but businesses and employers are backed by a common health and safety law permitting them to issue “lawful and reasonable directions” to create a safe work space. With this power, employers may legally require vaccination verifications for their workers, particularly in healthcare fields or workplaces where unvaccinated staff could pose health risks to others.
After months in quarantine, Australian cities like Melbourne are easing their lockdown restrictions this week after 70% of citizens reported double vaccination statuses. Once 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, another lockdown is highly unlikely, meaning that medical experts Down Under will be able to control and monitor lingering cases while inching the country back to normalcy.
Though hostilities remain among a growing global opposition to mandatory vaccinations, stay-at-home orders like those imposed by Australia’s commonwealth are proving effective by significantly driving down infection rates in COVID hotspots. Legal health and safety mandates prioritize public well-being, but not necessarily at the cost of personal freedom. The decision to get vaccinated and to follow health and safety measures is a personal one, but when disinformation runs rampant across the globe, the freedom to choose is quickly muddled by a semblance of control and coercion. Australia may be reopening, but until its people and others watching from overseas can reach common ground, an era of distrust and division will linger and will slow the global economy and international recovery.