Nowhere is the paranoia and overreaction to the (imaginary) threat posed by COVID's "Delta" variant more intense than in Australia, where tiny clusters of mostly mild COVID cases (most of which have reportedly been identified as instances of the Delta variant) have prompted another wave of lockdowns, involving not just Sydney (the island nation's most populous city), but six other cities encompassing half of the Australian population (more than 12MM people).
The cities now under lockdown include: Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Townsville and the Gold Coast. And on Wednesday, the outback town of Alice Springs also entered a snap lockdown after cases emerged in South Australia.
Australian authorities now fear the Delta variant could now spread to nearby Aboriginal communities which are already vulnerable due to low vaccination rates. State leaders across the nation said they were "facing a pressure cooker situation" as more cases were discovered, triggering new lockdowns.
With only 5% of the population is fully vaccinated, many have urged the government to accelerate its vaccine rollout.
But messaging around the country's main vaccine, the AstraZeneca jab, has been contradictory. Already, PM Scott Morrison has moved to expand access, announcing Monday that anyone under 40 who wants the AstraZeneca jab could have it after talking to their general practitioner. His message was swiftly rejected by the Australian Medical Association's president, who said it took him by surprise and went against expert advice. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization recommends AstraZeneca only for patients in their 60s and older (because of the rare, but still deadly, cerebral blood clots seen in some patients with low blood-platelet counts).
Health officials have been alarmed by the fact that the Delta variant has been found in five of eight states and territories just 2 weeks after it was first isolated in Sydney.
As WSJ explained in a lengthy story tracing the spread of "Delta" across Australia, the outbreak began at a shopping mall in Sydney's Bondi Beach. Australian authorities even claimed to have caught the "transmission" of the variant on tape.
After the first cases were confirmed, Sydney was quickly locked down for the first time in a year. Still, the outbreak is "small" by global standards. If it weren't for all the "alarm" about the Delta variant, there likely wouldn't be a lockdown.
Australia has kept its COVID numbers enviably low by imposing tight restrictions on who is allowed to travel to the country. Except for certain emergency exceptions, almost no foreigners have been allowed in since the start of the outbreak. But countries can't keep everybody out forever. The lockdowns have become another political black eye for conservative PM Scott Morrison. As we reported yesterday, many Australians are growing increasingly frustrated with what they see as an overreaction. Unfortunately, when everybody looks back at this a year from now, will they be even more furious when the realize how badly public health authorities overreacted?