When the Australian state of Victoria issued a 48-hour warning on New Year’s Eve that its border with the neighboring state of New South Wales would be indefinitely closed, it likely secured the award for the most egregious measure by a western government to curb COVID-19.
The state government instructed residents to return home by 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 1. Those who did not arrive at the border by the midnight curfew were turned away by police. Thousands were separated from work, family, and even children, and told they wouldn’t be returning home anytime soon.
After almost two weeks of this madness, the Victorian State Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Monday that border restrictions would be “softened,” allowing Victorians stuck in low-risk areas of NSW to apply for a permit to return home. Everyone else is still waiting.
The dramatic border closure, and the devastating consequences for affected residents, betrays a steady, unnerving trend of human rights violations corrupting western nations. Freedom of movement and free speech, freedom to earn a living and provide for one’s family, all hallmarks of a thriving democracy, are now dismissed as superfluous. Efforts to safeguard them are decried as divisive, destructive, and dangerous. “Health and safety” have taken precedence over liberty, a horrifying trend that that has caught too many off guard and is spiraling out of control.
The context for Victoria’s border closure is breathtaking. As recently as Dec. 26, Victoria had recorded zero new community transmission cases for 57 consecutive days, and zero deaths. Less than a week later, a small cluster of new positive cases, along with a similarly small outbreak of ten cases in NSW, prompted Victoria’s acting Premier Jacinta Allan, at the peak of Australia’s busy summer vacation period, to give residents holidaying outside of the state a measly 48 hours to return before the border closure went into force.
On Jan. 1, hours-long queues of vehicles formed at the border as more than 60,000 panicked Victorians rushed to reach the established checkpoints before midnight. Those who couldn’t get back in time were simply shut out.
On Saturday, it was reported that Victoria recorded a whopping zero new locally acquired cases for three consecutive days, and 40 active cases in the entire state. In NSW, only one of the 109 current cases is serious enough to even require hospitalization. Nevertheless, the Victorian government is defending its grossly disproportionate response and refusing to fully reopen the border anytime soon.
Contrary to the prevailing narrative, Australia has implemented a mixed-bag response to the pandemic. Except for a border closure to international visitors, and a required two-week hotel quarantine for returning Australians, decisions on how to manage the spread of the virus have been left to individual states.
Hence, life for residents of NSW had largely returned to normal by June, while the experience in Victoria was vastly different. Victoria accounted for 90 percent of the nationwide 900-plus death toll. Local media attributed the disproportionately high share of cases to the state government’s scandalous mismanagement of a hotel quarantine scheme.
Whatever the reason, Victorians were inflicted with 100 days of the harshest lockdown in the western world, ending last October. A night-time curfew was imposed, along with a one-hour limit on outdoor exercise, a ban on leaving home except for essential reasons, and from traveling more than three miles from home for any reason.
Last July, when daily cases in the state peaked at around 700, there were reports of an outbreak in nine low-income housing projects. The 3,000 residents were prohibited from leaving their apartments for any reason for five days, with police patrolling the entrances to the residences. A pregnant woman who created an event on Facebook to protest the draconian lockdowns was arrested in her home in front of her two children.
Border closures and lockdowns have had appalling consequences elsewhere in the country too. When a newborn baby was transported north across the NSW border for emergency medical treatment in the state of Queensland, his NSW-based mother was refused entry into the state to visit her baby without first completing a 14-day hotel quarantine.
Perhaps most disturbing was the COVID omnibus bill, introduced into the Victorian Parliament in September, that would have granted an assortment of unqualified, untrained individuals extraordinary powers to detain their fellow citizens. “Authorized officers” designated by senior bureaucrats would have been allowed to detain people perceived to be high-risk (COVID positive individuals or a close contact) and who refused — or were deemed likely to refuse — to comply with health directions.
A group of 18 retired judges and senior lawyers signed a letter calling on the Victorian Parliament to reject the bill, which they described as “unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse.” In the end, the most egregious provisions had to be scrapped for the bill to get passed. Still, the warning signs are ominous.
What might be the inspiration for this kind of chilling legislation and the broader erosion of fundamental human rights witnessed in jurisdictions like Victoria? A recent article in the New York Times provides a possible clue.
Author Li Yuan draws devious comparisons with the COVID-19 situation in western countries and the enviable position of China, which she claims “has become one of the safest places in the world,” boasting “China resembles what ‘normal’ was like in the pre-pandemic world,” and cynically suggests that while Chinese citizens do not have “freedom of speech, freedom of worship or freedom from fear … they have the freedom to move around and lead a normal day-to-day life,” a basic freedom which “in a pandemic year, many of the world’s people would envy.”
In other words, self-indulgent westerners should stop harping on about their silly freedoms and submit to CCP-inspired government control of their existence so that they too can enjoy a state of COVID-free, reimagined liberty. According to Yuan’s reasoning, those who question the fluctuating and arbitrary public health edicts are noxious naysayers.
Presumably, the thousands of Victorians who remain stranded in NSW while authorities process exemption applications and return permits should stop whining, embrace their “new normal,” and be thankful that the state is looking after them. The distressing truth is this: Australia’s untenable border situation reveals a creeping conditioning to government control spreading throughout the western world.
All who hope their children and grandchildren will enjoy the same freedom they held growing up must heed the warning signs. What we’re witnessing, in real-time, is the dangerous normalization of a dystopian concept of “freedom” in which government dominates your life “for your own good.” Those who not only succumb to but laud such government restrictions for the mythical “greater good” betray those who sacrificed to preserve our God-given freedoms and worsen the odds that future generations can right the ship.