When people are treated with respect and given information they can trust they respond positively. Tens of thousands of citizens are lining up for tests and vaccinations.
However coercive lockdowns are failing. In NSW seven weeks of lockdown has seen the number of daily cases rise from fewer than 20 to over 400. In Victoria the fifth lockdown was quickly superseded by the sixth - a 7-day lockdown which has been extended to four weeks with a curfew added! Reportedly, many people are not obeying the rules. Restrictions are tightened, police presence increased, and significant financial penalties ($5,000 fines!) imposed. Yet the daily case numbers continue to rise.
Why are the rules not being obeyed? Could it be that the public has lost faith in its politicians and their chief health officers? CHOs are not expert in matters of business, sociology or education. Even their knowledge of medicine may be limited; they may have spent most of their working life in administration rather than practicing their profession. They have no way of balancing their decisions by considering the impact on the livelihoods of the owners and workers in the businesses they shut down, the impact on the education and social development of the children unable to go to school, or the impact on the mental health of people denied the opportunity to socialise with friends and family. Many of the adverse consequences are long-term and may not be noticed for years. Perhaps intuitively the public has recognised this lack of expertise in the health officers. Perhaps intuitively they have recognised that their politicians are sometimes self-serving and are often pursuing other agendas.
Could it be that the reasoning behind the regulations has not been explained? Why is a mask necessary when walking in the park? Why can we meet friends for a meal in a restaurant but not have them home for dinner? Why can a man visit a brothel but not his granny? Why can 7000 people watch an AFL game on a Saturday afternoon but cannot watch their kids play? Why does a single COVID case in a Melbourne suburb result in parents not being allowed to bury their son in Warrnambool? Why are contrary views being silenced, and protests banned? Perhaps people are fed-up with the unfairness of it all.
Your average citizen perfectly understands the need for hygiene, to stay at home if unwell, when wearing a mask is the sensible thing to do, why it is a good idea to get vaccinated, and so on. Businesses are used to creating safe working environments. Schools care for their students, artists for their audiences. So here is a thought. Maybe the result could be improved, and the need for lockdowns eliminated, if governments were prepared to provide frequent, detailed, accurate and current information at the local level and then leave it to citizens to make their own sensible decisions. In other words if the government shared its information and made recommendations not regulations. By making it voluntary they may be more likely to get compliance.
It is not simply that Lockdowns don't work. We must face the fact that the State is an ineffective institution for the control of a pandemic. Only adult behaviour by informed citizens can solve this problem. We must delegate responsibility to the men and women on the spot before they get alienated and angry.
[A 200-word precis of this blog was published as a Letter to The Australian on 17 August 2021]