Now New Zealand has also been hit again. For the first time since February, a so-called “community case” could be identified this Tuesday – a Covid-19 case not directly related to travel abroad. A 58-year-old man from a suburb of Auckland had tested positive and had been contagious since August 12. The man has since been to 23 locations in New Zealand, according to authorities. The consequences are sharp: the whole of New Zealand is sent into a hard lockdown for three days, Auckland and the neighboring region of Coromandel for seven days.
“We have seen the consequences of waiting too long in other countries,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said when announcing the measures. The virus has become even more dangerous, especially in the delta variant. But the immediate lockdown strategy is known to work: “We just have to carry on like this,” Ardern said – with a concerned look and knowing that the renewed lockdown will be a challenge for the entire country.
Scott Morrison doesn’t seem happy these days either. Unlike Ardern, the Australian Prime Minister is currently leading a country where the number of cases continues to rise. The strict lockdown has been part of everyday life for several weeks, but some citizens no longer want to stick to it. Morrison and his ministries, meanwhile, are organizing a vaccination campaign that aims to immunize 80 percent of the population against the coronavirus by the end of the year. This is considered ambitious, because in mid-August just under 41 percent of the over 16s received their first vaccination, only one in four received a second one.
And now Mark McGowan comes along and raises the question of whether Australia will even emerge as a united country in the coming months. McGowan is Prime Minister of Western Australia, the country’s largest state by area. He is a staunch supporter of a radical zero-covid strategy.
Western Australia is the “freest, most successful society in the world”, has “the strongest economic performance in the country and probably the world” and, despite all the criticism, has come through the pandemic better than any other region in the world, McGowan told Sky Australia Monday. He was therefore unable to understand the government’s plan to end the shielding strategy once the 80 percent vaccination quota target is reached and start living with the virus in the country.
McGowan says his state has funded lockdowns across the rest of Australia. For example, in New South Wales, the state in which Sydney is located, he is the most criticized, although there are the most cases. You have to isolate yourself from the rest of the country if necessary, he says, and Western Australia would then be “an island within an island”. Morrison just growled in response, “Let’s see what happens.”
Western Australia wants to continue as before
A dispute over the direction has broken out in Australia. Some want to continue the course of the past year and a half – with no prospect of easing and changes in immigration policy, but only with the promise that their own people will no longer have to go into full lockdown. McGowan is the leader of this movement and he can cite his extremely high ratings in the West, where his Labor Party controls 53 of the 59 seats in the local parliament after the regional elections in March, as proof of the success of his strategy.
Instead, Morrison and the prime ministers of the other states are promoting the opening plan he presented a few weeks ago: Australians should be vaccinated and there will be a gradual opening in December. The lockdowns, the lack of travel, the vaccination – “Citizens are doing this for a good reason: to get out of the pandemic,” Morrison said. The fact that cities like Sydney and Melbourne are pushing to be able to host international travelers again in the future than the West, which is characterized by mining, is intensifying the conflict.
While Australia debates, New Zealand is taking a middle ground in long-term strategy. Last week, Ardern presented its strategy for a gradual opening from early 2022: Quarantine-free travel will then be possible again for vaccinated travelers. However, New Zealand will differentiate between countries with low and high infection rates and be “cautious”. “We are simply not in a position to reopen fully,” Ardern said at the time.
The New Zealand government has seen its Australian neighbors in New South Wales see how quickly a single case can grow to a few hundred and will therefore not leave the zero infection trajectory. “If we give up our approach too soon, we can’t go back,” Ardern said. Hence the strategy for the outbreak now, which also shows how important it would be to speed up the vaccination campaign: only 23 percent of the country has been vaccinated, the 58-year-old man from Auckland had not yet received any vaccination – his wife at least did . New Zealand is still a long way from medically effective protection against Covid-19. At the moment, only radical measures will help.