It’s official. Australia’s pandemic will continue well into 2022, even as other major economies reopen with populations effectively fully vaccinated.
“The government has also not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses,” Scott Morrison said yesterday — on Facebook, not by way of a media release, for messaging reasons doubtless carefully considered within his office. “While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.”
That threw Dan Tehan under a bus, given only hours earlier the trade minister had said “that is definitely the aim, that is the goal we have set: trying to have all Australians have a dose by the end of the year”.
So now we’re onto our fifth rollout schedule after the government brought forward its original schedule in January and boasted it would vaccinate four million people by the start of April.
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The penny might have now dropped with Morrison and his team that such is his reputation for mendacity and so disastrous has been the rollout so far that any new targets announced by the government would be met with universal incredulity. Even Scotty from Marketing can’t market this debacle.
That doesn’t mean that Morrison has stopped spinning. We are, according to his Facebook post, leading the world — or, at least, in the top seven fastest rollouts. A chart offered by the prime minister has us high on the leaderboard for vaccinations per 100 based on days since first vaccination — ahead of countries such as Sweden, France and Canada, although the bureaucrats at the Department of Health didn’t bother putting Israel on the chart “as it is beyond scale of the graph”.
The truth is, on doses per 100, we’re down near the bottom, behind, usually by a long way, every developed country except New Zealand and Japan, and behind a large number of developing countries as well. The “days since first vaccination” is meaningless — many countries had to put together their vaccination rollouts far more quickly than Australia and have still managed to significantly outpace us, despite the extra time we had to organise the logistics of a rollout.
We’ve in effect gained no advantage in terms of rollout speed from having several extra months to prepare — and that was before last week’s debacle with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The spin on the speed of the rollout is a lot like the way the government insists on reporting carbon emissions per head of population rather than Australia’s overall emissions, as if the laws of physics will give us a waiver for population growth.
As for the “uncertainty” that Morrison blames for his now being unable to offer any meaningful schedule, the government has known all along of the risks it faced with its vaccine strategy, particularly from vaccine nationalism in producing countries and the dangers of relying too heavily on a small number of vaccines. “We are putting all our eggs in one basket,” Labor’s then-health spokesman Chris Bowen warned all the way back in August last year about the government’s approach. Now we’re stuck with the consequences of over-relying on AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
Instead, it is economic uncertainty that we must deal with: no border reopening until sometime in 2022, constant threats of lockdown, persisting lack of investment because businesses remain uncertain about likely demand, continuing impacts on tourism and higher education (two of our big export industries), and the longer-term impact on demand of preventing migration for another six months or more. And all while the government is withdrawing fiscal stimulus.
The IMF’s take on Australia’s and the global economy is that we’re world champions to this point because of our capacity to lock down our borders and our fiscal and monetary policy strategies, but we’re going to be left behind as economies like the US and the UK reopen and kick into gear. And that was before the rollout delay that means uncertainty for the rest of the year here.
Morrison will need another dodgy graph to explain away that costly economic gap.