For many years, Australia was considered a multicultural paradise: people from about 200 countries live on the fifth continent. However, during the pandemic, the island nation shut itself down to the point that some now speak of “Fortress Australia”, in German: “Fortress Australia”.
Closed borders combined with strict quarantine and contact tracing programs have successfully guided Australia so far during the pandemic: to date, the country has recorded nearly 30,000 infections and 910 deaths. However, due to border closures and limited quarantine places, it is difficult, and above all, that it is costly even for Australian citizens to return to their home country from abroad. Australians who are currently intending to leave their country also need a good reason and must obtain a waiver.
Almost hermetically locked off Australia
The country’s near-tight lockdown meant that up to 40,000 Australians were stranded overseas and were unable to return home. Meanwhile, the regulations have also angered many, preventing Australian travelers from India, where the epidemic is currently particularly prevalent, from traveling home. If they try anyway, they could face fines of up to 66,600 Australian dollars, the equivalent of roughly 43,000 euros, five years in prison, or both.
That rule was raised again in mid-May, and the first aircraft from India now landed in Australia again – but 70 of the 150 passengers were eventually turned away in India after they or a relative had tested positive for Covid-19 before the flight. . Many Australian public health experts have now called for these Australian citizens to be “medically evacuated”, but no policy decision has yet been made.
Closed borders until mid-2022?
Although there has been a travel corridor with New Zealand since April, Australia has yet to set a timetable for when to reopen its borders to the outside world. The current family budget is calculated as if the borders will remain closed until at least the middle of next year. The latter could also be related to the fact that the vaccination campaign is going rather slowly. Only three million doses of vaccine have been given so far – that is, only a small fraction of the 25 million Australians who have been fully vaccinated.
But the hard-line policy appears to be gaining support from the Australian public: According to a survey by the Lowy Institute in Sydney, for example, only a third of Australians believe the government should do more to bring its citizens back into the country. Demographers and sociologists have also noted that the self-image of Australians as “global citizens” has also changed in recent months. And so some experts are already questioning what this “Australian collective psyche” says, as stated over the weekend in the Australian edition of The Guardian. How could a person who once prided himself on his multicultural heritage suddenly support such a strict closure of borders?
Demographics: ‘Australia has done nothing special to contain COVID’
Liz Allen, a demographer at the Australian National University in Canberra, is now concerned that Australia will gamble on the benefits it gained from working during the pandemic. She told the Guardian: “Australia has not done anything special or wonderful to contain Covid.” Instead, she took advantage of her geography and was lucky too. “We dug a hole and sank our heads into it, and now we’ll stay there,” she said.
There is currently no discussion of the risks or the creation of new quarantine facilities – all out of fear of “going wrong.” This could now restore the country both culturally and economically. A group of the fields of business, law, the arts and the sciences made a similar statement on Friday. The government called for a “life with Covid” strategy to avoid harming Australia’s image.
People in the “golden cage”
Ines Willux, president of Ai Group, fears more than just the reputation of Australia. “We are an economy built on open borders,” he said in an interview with ABC. Australia needs international students, tourists and immigrants. The economist believes: “Then there will be an inevitable settlement.”
Australia will continue to feel the competitive advantages of an isolated country that feels safe from the pandemic spreading everywhere else. But the question is how long the Australian government can keep people in a “golden cage”, especially when more and more countries open up and life returns to normal. In Willux’s view, Australia has only two options: completely change the economy or find a way to return to the old lifestyle.