A word of encouragement from Down Under
During the global Covid-19 pandemic I have been following Bermuda’s progress from afar with concern for family and friends on the island. I am relieved to note that the active-cases number appears to be consistently falling after the recent high numbers earlier this month — and it is with sadness that I note the number of deaths has risen to 31 individuals. The recent discussion regarding mandatory quarantine for unvaccinated returning travellers has obviously caused much debate and polarising of opinion, and I thought that it might be helpful to provide a perspective from Australia as to the experience of Covid-19 control measures.
Australia is part of the continent of Australia and Oceania, but it is essentially a big island. This made it possible for the authorities to enact prompt border control measures from the outset of Covid-19.
Flights from many “high-risk” countries were stopped completely and Australian borders were closed to all non-residents early in March 2020. Quarantine measures were enacted promptly, initially with self-regulated home quarantine, but swiftly this became mandatory hotel quarantine by the end of March 2020, and thereafter enforced quarantine at the returning traveller’s expense.
The number of returning passengers has been strictly capped by each state to match quarantine availability, and this has led to many Australians experiencing great difficulty in securing affordable flights home. Since March 2020, all Australian citizens must apply for permission to travel internationally, and this is not always granted. In addition the individual state borders have been strictly regulated, often closing to interstate travel, depending on Covid-19 statistics in neighbouring states.
The above measures have led to significant personal hardship for many people. Individuals have been unable to travel to visit sick relatives, and many have been unable to attend funerals or weddings. Most international students have been unable to return to Australia to study.
The economic impact has been profound for the tourism and education industries. However, these strict measures, in combination with widespread testing, lockdowns, contact tracing and social distancing have controlled Covid-19 dramatically since the initial wave of 2020.
I reside in New South Wales, which has a population of nearly 8.2 million people. From January to May this year, the total number of Covid-19 cases was 553, with only 49 community-acquired cases — the rest being detected in quarantined travellers — and there have been no deaths.
With such low community transmission, it has been possible for life to return to near-normal in Australia. Schools and churches are open, restaurants and theatres are operating, mask wearing is not mandatory for most activities, and “travel bubbles” exist with Tasmania and New Zealand, allowing travel without quarantine.
Australia has lagged behind other nations with our Covid-19 vaccination roll-out, but this is fortunately beginning to gather momentum. The recent explosion of Covid-19 in India and the temporary block to returning residents have highlighted how rapidly conditions can change, and it is essential that the population is immunised to provide protection against another wave.
Each nation has had to grapple with the management of this pandemic, and there is definitely no “one size fits all” template to follow. Governments must be guided by the growing scientific evidence about Covid-19, and must take actions to protect their citizens, while trying to maintain economic viability.
As individuals, we may feel frustrated by regulations that impact our freedom to travel and socialise, and we may feel hesitant about taking on the responsibility of being vaccinated. Yet our individual actions have a wider-reaching impact for our immediate communities and for humanity across the globe.
Be safe, Bermuda. I hope to see you soon.
KATHERINE MICHELMORE, MD
Warilla, New South Wales