Let's try to make this the last lockdown

24 July 2021

As we close the door on a fourth week of lockdown, we have heard stories from businesses making the heartbreaking decision to close, and many more making tough financial decisions each day. Despite the financial support we have marshalled from government, it won’t do much more than pay some of the mounting bills that come through the door, while customers are forced to stay away.

Meanwhile the mental health impacts of lockdown upon individuals is massive and incalculable. Government support for people who currently can’t work isn’t sufficient to cover more than basic costs, and every week in lockdown means deeper hardship for them. 

I’m going to call it - if you are over 40 and not booked in for your first COVID vaccine, you’re not trying hard enough. And if you’re over 16, now is time to start checking your eligibility and for availability at local health providers.

The vaccine rollout has been sluggish, but as individuals we need to focus on the things we can change, and getting a COVID vaccine - as soon as possible - is the only way we can take personal action to protect our community against further lockdowns.

It is terrific to see that our local pharmacies and GPs will now be playing a greater role in delivering the vaccines and making them easier to access.  When I checked the government’s Vaccine Clinic Finder yesterday, vaccination bookings were available for under-40s at clinics in Wollongong, Shellharbour and Nowra. 

And by mid-August the Wollongong Vaccination Hub will be operating out of the old David Jones building on the Crown Street Mall and delivering up to 15,000 vaccines per week. The booking system is due to be up and running by the end of this month. 

As an island nation with 89 per cent of its population still unvaccinated and a strong aversion to COVID-related death, we have kept the pandemic (relatively) under control by shutting down businesses, schools and community activity. This has caused irreparable damage to the economy and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Australians.

Ramping up to the tune of a $1 billion per week, the economic cost of the current Greater Sydney lockdown is now at $4 billion and counting. The Federal Government’s recent Intergenerational Report foreshadowed far-reaching damage to the nation’s bottom line caused by the pandemic, which will see our deficit peak at $1.2 trillion in the early 2030s and lasting debt into the mid-2050s. Ultimately this level of debt will be something we will all end up paying for.

Prior to the current lockdown, many have been complacent about the economic and personal costs of our vaccination rollout, and this extends to individuals who are um-ing and ah-ing about whether to get the jab. 

Maybe we need to provide incentives. There have been some colourful examples overseas of free beer, doughnuts and movie tickets being handed out to those who front up for the jab. This is now possible locally, as the Therapeutic Goods Administration has granted a temporary exemption to allow rewards for those who get vaccinated; the catch being that it can’t be alcohol or tobacco. 

And where the carrot fails, there is always the stick. French president Emmanuel Macron has barred the unvaccinated from attending music festivals. In the United States, a growing number of bars and restaurants are refusing unvaccinated patrons. And dating app Bumble is reportedly set to roll out a new feature adding a “vaccination badge” to profiles.

But businesses do not want to have to police a “no jab, no play” system, and in most cases are not equipped to do so. 

Vaccine-dodgers aren’t just exposing themselves to risk and inconvenience. To the millions of Australians with family or friends overseas, every day of delay means a longer wait to see loved ones or to visit them on a next trip overseas. There is also the impact on businesses and our economy caused by the ongoing suspension of foreign migration which is causing a dire shortage of key workers and has made life impossible for the tourism industry.

My fear is that the temporary decrease in unemployment (and wage increases) that have resulted from our national border closures is a false dawn. If it continues indefinitely, our economy will slowly sink as we become a less competitive nation with which to do business: unaffordable and completely isolated.

Let’s make this the last lockdown. Please get the jab.