Bozen – If you have been following international news since the Coronavirus pandemic began you would have seen a common theme, the Americans have struggled, the English are a little lost, New Zealand has it completely under control and the less said about Africa and the situation there, the better. Any news of Australia‘s dealings with the virus often gets lost in world news, mainly due to its reasonably small population and lack of high infection numbers compared to here in Europe or the U.S. But despite the low level of infections in comparison to the U.S or other bigger countries, Australia still has a problem.
From the beginning, the country has had a lack of real communication between the federal government and its people. The states have closed their borders to each other and the lack of vaccines and poor communication concerning the vaccine has led to a lot of public discontent, and the federal government‘s lack of ongoing financial support has left a lot of people in a very dire situation.
The beginning of the coronavirus crisis in 2020
Prime Minister Scott Morison‘s 2020 started terribly. As many may remember Fires raged throughout Australia and devastated thousands of square kilometres of land and wildlife, making many Australians homeless. While the Fires were being fought however Scott Morison jumped on a plane to Hawaii and took a secret vacation with his family. After a picture with someone also on holiday made its way online, Morison ran back to Australia to try and deal with the fallout. His popularity was at an all-time low when Covid hit Australia two months later and he had an opportunity to improve his public image by showing real leadership in the face of this crisis but decided instead to put responsibility mostly on each of the leaders of the state and in doing so effectively split up the entire country with each state left to fend for themselves.
This has led to mass confusion and a lot of unnecessary separation. Fathers Day is always celebrated on the first Sunday in September in Australia, and the images of families who met on the Queensland and New South Wales border on the most recent Fathers day was nothing short of tragic, they swapped gifts and tried to hug over a makeshift plastic fence but were unable to get together properly due to the border restrictions put in place.
Australians who live overseas but have dying relatives have also been flying in, quarantining and saying goodbye only to find out that once they have buried their loved ones, they‘re unable to leave Australia due to federal controls. Australia has always had an issue of an overreaction but the current restrictions are stronger than most European countries at the height of pandemic and considering the isolated nature of the country is too much.
The state of the economy
The Australian economy is spluttering. Although it grew slightly at the start of the year, the recent lockdowns have hurt it again. The lack of international tourism since February last year has hurt regional areas in particular which rely on tourists to function. Although the bigger cities have avoided being hurt the smaller towns that rely on the tourists to support their town have suffered. Thankfully, with Covid safe measures some of the towns in Queensland and South Australia have been able to host more and more festivals to make up for some of what was lost but for locked down states such as NSW with no end in sight, it‘s a different story.
Not only are the small towns economically hurting, internationally the losses are being felt as well. Historically Australia and China have had a good relationship, Chinese university students account for around 30 percent of international students, they have figured predominantly in tourism and Australia has always exported more to China than any other country. To say that Covid has damaged that relationship would be an understatement.
Following the beginning of the crisis that sent the world into various lockdowns and closed Australia off to everyone, The Australian Government led by Morrison joined a chorus of voices that demanded answers to the origins of Covid through an investigation led by the United Nations. China took offense and fought back, putting tariffs on a lot of Australia‘s biggest exports, including coal. This has led to a huge economic loss that Australia has only managed to partially recover, the damaged relationship has cost around 4.5 billion dollars per year initially with that number expected to rise again at the end of 2021. The rock lobster industry which annually is worth about 500 million dollars is the latest sector to suffer after China slapped tariffs on them as well.
The other industry that has suffered and continues to suffer is the hospitality industry. Although significantly smaller than Tourism which would nearly contribute between 2 to 3 percent of Australia‘s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), hospitality still plays an important role in Australia‘s economy, providing thousands of jobs and is linked with the tourism market. Tourism can‘t grow without a thriving hospitality scene and as long as the Eastern states remain closed, hospitality will hurt.
35 percent of the population is fully vaccinated
The ongoing vaccine discussion has spread to Australia especially given the lack of availability of different vaccines. The Government was able to begin making Astra Zeneca locally in hopes of fast tracking the vaccine roll out but have since hit a roadblock due to the lack of interest in it. The constant fear of blood clots has pushed a lot of people away, and the Australian Prime Minister is struggling to secure a decent alternative. Luckily, just recently the Prime Minister managed to secure an additional 500 000 doses of Pfizer by doing a vaccine swap with the U.K. Australia has promised the U.K the same amount of doses later in the year. Although this a huge boost for the Government that is working hard to get the population to a vaccinated percentage of 80 percent as soon as possible, many have seen it as too little too late, with the current percentage of fully vaccinated people sitting in the miserly mid-30s, which is one of the lowest-ranked of countries with easy access to the vaccine. In comparison Italy has just over 70 percent of its population fully vaccinated with 80 percent of the population receiving its first dose. The anti-vaccine campaign which has raged around the world also has a strong voice in Australia and it is helped by the ever-growing misinformation that is spread on social media and certain news shows. Should the current administration be able to continue to import Pfizer or set up local manufacturing there is a strong chance more and more of the population will jump to get vaccinated, but relying on Astra Zeneca as your main vaccination with only sporadic availability of Pfizer will continue to cause problems.
A key factor to Australia opening again is vaccines. If they can get to 80 percent vaccinated, they will be able to start opening up, with travel between states on the East coast a possibility by the end of the year, and international travel may be possible by the middle of next year. But the fact remains that Australia could have gotten ahead of the virus early if the states had been able to work together under the guidance of the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Scott Morrison went missing when he was needed most and will most likely pay for it at the next election next year.
THE AUTHOR is an Australian who has lived in Kaltern for several years, he is a teacher by profession. Lindsay writes for the “Südtiroler Wirtschaftszeitung” at irregular intervals on topics from a wide range of areas.