Australia’s triumphant Olympians are returning to a month-long quarantine as the country hits its third wave of Covid infections. What’s gone wrong?
Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker – from tortoisemedia.com
One story every day to make sense of the world.
Today, the Australian Olympians on lockdown.
“I feel like we’ve sort of just got to come to terms with it and work out things to do. It’s been a pretty long journey over the last five years, so I think people are keen just to get home and get back into the community, so we’ve got to hold out for that.”Molly Goodman, 9 News
That’s Molly Goodman. She’s a rower – and she’s represented Australia at two Olympics.
When she returned from the Tokyo games – all she wanted was to get back home.
Instead she learned she’d have to spend 28 days in quarantine.
Molly Goodman landed in Sydney a couple of weeks ago – and started her 14 days in quarantine there.
So far, so normal. Everyone flying into the country from abroad has had to quarantine for two weeks – a rule that came in all the way back in March 2020.
But Molly Goodman and a handful of other athletes want to fly on to their homes in a different state – South Australia – afterwards.
To do that, the government of South Australia says they’ll have to do another fortnight cooped up.
That decision is proving controversial, and there’s a row brewing over it.
But I’m interested in this story for a slightly different reason: it tells us quite a bit about how the Australians are faring in the Covid-19 pandemic right now.
They are worried.
Australia is in its third wave of Covid infections. They’ve got, on average, 396 new cases reported each day.
Those case numbers are a lot lower than what we’ve seen here in the UK.
For context, we’re on about 26,000 new cases per day.
But for Australia, it’s a big jump.
For months they’ve kept the numbers of new cases per day under 20, sometimes under 10.
So the numbers they are seeing now are the highest they’ve been since August last year.
Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are currently in lockdown and there are restrictions on where Australians can travel. Lots of states have shut up their borders – even to travellers from other parts of the country.
That’s quite a different picture to the one we’ve been seeing over the last 12 months.
Back in the UK’s winter it looked like Australia had Covid under control.
People were out and about, enjoying themselves…meanwhile here in Britain we were all locked up inside.
But now, things are fully open for us in the UK. Life is slowly getting back to normal…
While over in Australia…lockdowns are in full swing…
So, how has that happened?
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Last year, Australia had what looked like a winning strategy.
To stop Covid cases from getting into the country, they cut off international travel hard and fast.
And the health department quickly scaled up their testing and tracing capacity – if they found an outbreak there’d be a short, sharp, localised lockdown to nip it in the bud.
For a long time, their plan worked.
But the Delta variant – the new, more contagious variant of the virus that’s now dominant worldwide – well that’s has reached Australia’s shores.
And stopping the virus at the border is proving to be a strategy that’s not 100% watertight.
Now the Delta variant is spreading, Australia has another big problem: not enough people are vaccinated.
While other countries around the world raced to get jabs in arms as quickly as they could…this was the word from Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrision, in March this year:
“It’s not a competition, it’s not a race.”Scott Morrison
The thinking was that there weren’t many Covid cases in the country.
Australia’s strict containment strategy meant that life was pretty much normal – even without the vaccine.
So they could afford not to rush it.
Or so they thought…
Australia’s vaccine numbers are going up: 47% of Australians have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Just over a quarter of people have been double jabbed.
But the numbers still aren’t high enough. Which means that as the virus spreads, it’s going to infect people who aren’t protected. And unvaccinated people are way more likely to go to hospital if they get sick.
So any threat of infection is really worrying.
And that’s where Molly Goodman and our other Olympians come back in…
At the moment, South Australia’s containment strategy is still working. They are recording zero new Covid cases, and they want to keep it that way.
That’s why they’re being so strict with the athletes returning from Tokyo.
They don’t want what’s happening in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra to happen to them.
Today’s episode was written and produced by Ella Hill.