Australian protests turn violent as thousands turn out against lockdowns

Fifty-seven people in Sydney have been charged and the cops are looking for a 58th, a guy who punched a police horse before disappearing back into the crowd.

Seriously. There’s a photo and everything.

If you think Americans have lockdown fatigue, consider the Aussies who have been under various restrictions for more than a year. New South Wales, where Sydney is located, fully locked down four weeks ago due to the emergence of the Delta variant and has since had that lockdown extended — twice. Two other states have also locked down, forcing half the population of the country to stay at home unless they have a good excuse to leave. They’re fed up:

With such draconian measures being taken to slow the spread, you might assume that Australia’s in the midst of a ferocious wave. “We live in a democracy and normally I am certainly one who supports people’s rights to protest … but at the present time we’ve got cases going through the roof and we have people thinking that’s OK to get out there and possibly be close to each other at a demonstration,” said the country’s health minister today, criticizing the protests.

They had 163 cases yesterday — in a nation of 26 million people. That’s what the minister’s referring to when he says cases are “through the roof.” Per capita, that shakes out to the equivalent of 2,000 cases in the U.S., a number so low that we never approached it even during our best days earlier this summer, pre-Delta.

The most cases they’ve had in a single day was 721, and that was nearly a year ago:

Just 916 Australians have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic. The last time they averaged more than *one* death per day was October 7, 2020:

“I think it’s important to tell people that the restrictions that we all have been enduring have saved nearly 50,000 lives, in comparison to similar countries like the UK or US. Feel free to quote me on that,” said one COVID modeler at the University of Sydney to the local paper, defending the draconian restrictions. Unlike their cousins in the Anglosphere, the Aussies experienced no excess mortality due to COVID in 2020, a phenomenal result which lockdown proponents attribute to their determination to stay closed before an unmanageable outbreak erupts. With the most contagious variant to date now besieging the rest of the world, Australia’s back to a strategy that’s worked for it.

Which might make sense if they were locking down to buy a little more time to try to vaccinate their way to herd immunity before finally reopening. But here’s the curveball: Australia’s doing terribly at vaccination.

It’s not fully clear to me why they’re so far behind the U.S. and UK but evidently they bet big early on AstraZeneca and then ran into trouble. They may have overestimated how much of it they had stockpiled; then they had a problem getting the EU to fulfill an order; their domestic manufacturing capacity of AZ hasn’t been up to snuff either. A different, locally developed vaccine proved to be a bust during trials. To top it all off, the news that AZ’s vaccine causes blood clots in very rare cases spooked vaccine-hesitant Aussie regulators about the shot. The government scrambled to boost its supply of Pfizer to try to fill the vacuum but Pfizer’s a little busy at the moment, as you may have heard. Although 40 million doses are on order for Australia, only a quarter have shipped so far.

And so, with Delta bearing down on them, Australia is stuck. They don’t have much vaccine immunity in the population but they also don’t have much natural immunity due to their earlier success at controlling the spread of the virus. Essentially they’re in the same posture India was before Delta triggered an apocalyptic wave of infection and death there. The UK’s experience with Delta might be over quickly and relatively painlessly because they’re already close to herd immunity. Australia’s very far away from it, leaving it at the mercy of the variant until many millions more are vaccinated.

If the choice is between lockdown to prevent transmission or reopening and triggering an India-style catastrophe, what choice do they have? They botched their vaccination effort and now they’re out of alternatives.

I’ll leave you with two clips of today’s chaos. If tempers are this short now, imagine what they’ll be like in a month or two. Exit quotation from a sign seen at the protests: “This is not about a virus it’s about total government control of the people.”