Australian cops descend on man for ... not wearing a mask outdoors?

A sequel to this weekend’s post about the recent clashes between police in Melbourne and a mass of protesters who objected to the new vaccine mandate for local construction workers. In some of those clips it was hard to tell who was the aggressor; news reports claimed that some protesters tried to storm a local trade union and threw objects, including bottles, at the cops.

In this new clip from Melbourne that’s going around today, it’s clearer who the aggressors are.

This poor gent appears to have committed two infractions. He’s not wearing a mask outdoors, a precaution even our hypercautious CDC sees no need for given that outdoor transmission of COVID is practically nil. And he’s in a place he has “no valid reason to be,” which I take it is a reference to straying outside his lawfully decreed social-distancing “risk zone.”

The Aussies aren’t coming all the way back from this.

This clip is also circulating today but it comes without context so we can’t be sure why the cops are so animated. Are they taking someone down for some more serious criminal offense we’re not privy to, or is this really how they respond to maskless people breaking quarantine?

Little context here either. Was this one taking during the violent protests in Melbourne last week or are the police really moving in for the crime of being in a mall without a permit?

This one is clearer. St. Kilda is a beach in Melbourne where protesters have gathered each day for the past week. Cops reportedly arrested 200 people there on Friday and issued fines totaling $1 million. Maybe they’re on edge because they fear a gathering of protesters will turn into another riot, but they’re taking the crime of breaking lockdown rules very seriously.

Finally, there’s this out-and-out brawl between cops and locals in Sydney, which is missing important background. According to the Daily Mail, the five men apprehended here are members of a known gang. It’s unclear if the cops were targeting them for that reason or if they just happened to stumble across gangsters who were breaking COVID rules, but the initial offense was “failure to comply with carrying a face covering” until the men began throwing punches. It may be that, in some cases, the police are now using COVID infractions as an excuse to haul in more dangerous offenders.

Inasmuch as the Australian government has a plan to ease tensions, I think it’s this simple: Hold on a little longer. Their aim is to ease restrictions locally when 80 percent of the population has had one dose of the vaccine. They’re catching up to the rest of the western world and will soon pass the United States, which had a head start of many months and is now set to have the smallest share of its population vaccinated of any country shown here:

They’re hoping to reach 80 percent by mid-October sometime, at which point freedoms will return — in theory. In reality, I wonder how well the Aussie government will tolerate rising case counts and deaths once people are able to mingle semi-freely again after 18 months of following a “zero COVID” strategy. Accepting a threshold of daily infections and fatalities that’s chronically much higher than they’re used to will require a major psychological adjustment. Are they prepared to adjust? Or, given how used to lockdown most of the population has gotten, will they lurch back towards restrictions once they reach, say, 50 deaths per day? In the past year, they’ve never had as many as 15 in a single 24-hour span.

A country that’s gotten comfortable with letting cops push people around in the name of preventing infections may return to its comfort zone more quickly than we’d think once infections rise.