It may seem strange to act so aggressively for a single case, but we Australians complied. There were no complaints of infringing on freedoms. No marches against masks. My city of Perth came to a standstill. The roads were quiet, and our beaches were deserted. A trip to the supermarket for essential groceries saw everyone wearing a mask — for the first time. Other states restricted travel of West Australians, desperate to keep the virus out.
The subsequent two days didn’t bring a rush of cases that we feared; instead, for the first two days of lockdown, no new cases of covid-19 were detected. Residents of other countries might think this was overkill; in truth, that’s how a proper pandemic response should look.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Australia has had fewer than 30,000 cases of covid-19 in total, a quarter of the cases the United States experiences each day. In Perth, we have had 904 cases for the entire pandemic, the vast majority in returned travelers from overseas.
As a consequence, our hospitals are operating as normal, not running out of oxygen like we’ve seen in Britain, or hospital beds as in the United States. Our mortuaries are not overflowing, and the great majority of doctors like myself have never even seen a case of covid, let alone cared for hundreds or more like our overseas counterparts.
Our low case numbers of covid-19 have meant that West Australians have not been subjected to the same restrictions around the world after a nationwide lockdown first gained control in March 2020. We don’t wear masks, and we have been able to enjoy relatively mundane things such as keeping restaurants and bars full of patrons. Our sports teams have continued to play to crowds of tens of thousands of spectators. Our beaches have been as busy as ever, and we’ve shaken hands and hugged our friends. Holidays such as Christmas went ahead as if nothing were amiss, without the threat of mass infections to follow.
The reasons we were able to get to this point have been largely due to decisive political leadership, leveraging our isolation and strict rules. Our international borders remain closed, with entry into Australia restricted to citizens and permanent residents who must complete a compulsory two-week hotel quarantine with regular testing for the deadly virus. We have also closed or controlled state borders, which have offered protection from localized outbreaks in the rest of the country.
Australians have largely supported and adopted a "go hard, go early” approach. Early on in 2020, we cried to politicians to lock us down not only to flatten the curve, but to crush it. Melbourne residents endured a long and harsh lockdown in 2020 after a local outbreak saw cases increase, knowing that they could avoid disaster in doing so.
Whether you’re impressed by the swift actions or concerned at their severity, it’s hard to argue with how well they have worked. That’s especially true when you contrast these actions here, or in other successful nations such as New Zealand, with the devastating inaction around the world that has cost many lives and inflicted incalculable damage to economies, social structures and mental health. It may be too late to go early, but it isn’t too late for the rest of the world to go hard.
Here in Perth, annihilating the chance of any transmission means that we can quickly return to the lifestyle we hold so dear and, most importantly, continue to protect our citizens from a pandemic. We welcome the short-term pain for what we know will be long-term gain; hopefully, others around the world will do the same.