Watching developments in Australia from the vantage point of Plague Island has been a weird mixture of reassurance and fearfulness. In the early weeks of the pandemic J. and I were worried that our families there would catch Covid while we were stuck over here and unable to travel back. When it became clearer that the risk of that was much smaller than in Britain, the worry was just that we wouldn’t get to see them for a long, long time. It’s two years since I last saw my folks, and will be at least another. But at least they’ve been safe.
Until Delta. The strong uptake of vaccines in the UK has meant that even as Delta infections have spiked in recent weeks as strongly as Alpha did in January, deaths have stayed low. But we look at Oz and see sitting ducks: a largely unvaccinated population facing a far more contagious strain capable of outrunning attempts to contain it. We were chatting the other day with the father of a friend of our daughter’s, who mentioned that two months ago he lost eight members of his extended family to Delta back home. He’s from India. Australia isn’t the first largely unvaccinated population exposed to this variant.
The complacency I’ve seen on Australian social media about the vaccines has been perplexing, and not just because when I got my first dose I felt like an astronaut at lift-off thanks to those miraculous millilitres of the future inside me. Even leaving aside the antivaxxers, people giving concerns about blood clots as their justification for delay seem to think that the choice is between that tiny individual risk and being completely fine. No: the choice is between that tiny individual risk and a much greater risk, if it gets established in Australia’s vulnerable population, of a disease that can debilitate or kill you. If Australia starts seeing anything like the death rates the UK had in January, its 923 Covid deaths since March 2020 will be joined by hundreds more every day.
The world has been handed suits of armour months or even years before we had been expecting them, and too many Aussies are quibbling about the fit. The battle may have been raging beyond the castle walls so far, but Delta is a siege ladder, and arrows are starting to land at their feet.