If you are a sailor and are blessed by the holy spirit of Southern Cross, you can reach an island located down under which is continental in size. I am of course talking about Australia, and calling it an island for the purpose of this article is quite deliberate. Think of living on an island away from the usual hustle and bustle of land borders that can sometimes create a lot of headache for the inhabitants and the State governing the territory. There are no imminent threats once you’ve secured your sea trade routes by having a modern navy. If the need arises, there’s a security umbrella of the world’s largest military power to protect your interests (but you’ll have to return the favour by sending your troops to a faraway land that doesn’t hold much geopolitical or geo-strategic significance for you whatsoever, like in Afghanistan).
The population is a little more than that of Mumbai, and the total land area is more than double the land area of India. Life is going well, there are ample natural resources that can be exported, which in turn brings in wealth. A large number of your cities have some of the best living standards in the world, and life’s good.
But as we have learned from Bollywood, every happy and full of life story is jinxed by the entry of a villain, an invisible enemy entering the scene. When you’ve lived your entire life in utmost safety, a threat of this sort would make you react in ways that would make others think you’re overreacting.
Covid has been responsible for a lot of deaths and misery all around the globe, but the Australian example is a little different and the events of this week has attracted everyone’s attention towards it. Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria has made a unique record of being the city that has been under a strict lockdown for the most number of days. The reaction to strategies on how to tackle Covid have always been guided by both science and politics. Each state is in a frenzy to prove that they can do more, that they’re concerned about the lives of their citizens “more” than the Federal government or that of any neighbouring state. This creates political incentives for different parties involved to get involved in optics instead of doing what is necessary or what is required.
The Djokovic saga and vaccine debate
The events of the recent week related to the Australian Open have opened up a new chapter on the country’s handling of the pandemic. Australia has had one of the strictest border control rules in the last two years. Quarantine facilities, hotels turned into asylums, and people trying to escape from them has the potential to provide a whole new season of Prison Break. When all this was already going on, unvaccinated Novak Djokovic lands at Melbourne airport and adds to the conundrum of the Australian government at various levels. It opens up new dimensions and questions related to the debate between personal liberty and public health and safety.
Before the advent of Omicron, it was an established fact that vaccines provide significant protection against breakthrough infection. But Omicron has certainly complicated the debate around vaccination. There’s no doubt that vaccines provide immunity against Omicron and the infection in vaccinated people is mild, and the chances of death and hospitalisation reduce significantly. But vaccinated people can still carry the virus, which can lead to other people getting infected. So the argument that it is selfish to not get vaccinated doesn’t hold much water after Omicron has become the dominant strain. Suppose an individual doesn’t want to get vaccinated for whatever reason, then can we force that individual to take the vaccine to “reduce their risk of hospitalisation and death”, because even a vaccinated individual can very well infect others if he has been infected. This is something that should be discussed and pondered upon, and this whole Djokovic saga has opened up this debate and there are no easy answers.
The vaccine debate has spiralled into us-versus-them, vaccinated-versus-unvaccinated debate. In a world that is already polarised on so many different lines, we should be cautious about opening up a new front. A healthy debate is necessary and people who are hesitant to take vaccines should not be declared villains. All their concerns should be addressed in a civic manner, no matter how ‘anti-science’ they seem to be. The more people are villainised for trying to stop something from being injected into their own bodies, the more sceptical they tend to become instead of coming on board, and the number of conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists increase. If you consider yourself to be scientific, then follow the scientific method in order to put forward your opinion, instead of calling people names.
No matter what turn the debate started around the events that have unfolded in Australia takes, it will be interesting to see how policymakers and governments around the world try to learn from it.
The author is a student at Jodhpur. Views are personal.