Zoe Strimpel: Covid restrictions mean Australasians have never looked so imprisoned

The antipodes may be sunny and lovely, but their coronavirus control freakery means their inhabitants are locked down in perpetuity, writes UK columnist Zoe Strimpel

The other evening, a normally robust, stiff-upper-lipped friend came round for a nocturnal picnic in a nearby communal garden. Suddenly, almost in tears, she let rip about the terrible toll of being stuck in a tiny flat with her husband and (now) 2-year-old for a year, all bar a week in Scotland in the summer. I’ll never forget the moment when, glassy-eyed, she stared ahead and said: “I need a holiday. I need to get out.”

And by out, she meant out of the UK. No staycation gives you the resuscitation my friend needed. She needs – we all need – to leave from time to time, and immerse ourselves in a different culture, different food. And no, Yorkshire and Norfolk don’t cut it.

Thankfully, my friend will be able to take just such a trip soon. This is more than can be said for the residents of Australia and New Zealand, countries that chose the path – much lauded by the everyone-must-suffer-to-the-max control freaks of the Left – of total imprisonment in perpetuity. Countries which, as the rest of the world looks for ways to return to normal in the Covid era, have chosen to remain prisons, with nobody out and very few in. They have no other way left to them – and what’s more, they’re smug about it.

In chasing, and nearly achieving, a Zero Covid standard in their own lands, the antipodes stand little chance of opening up to the rest of the big, bad world ever again. Unless, of course, their leadership is either lobotomised or replaced. For Zero Covid is not on the cards, globally speaking, ever.

Australasia’s leaders seem to get a perverse thrill from keeping its populace under lock and key. How else to explain the statement by Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt that even “if the whole country is vaccinated, you couldn’t just open up the borders”. Er…?

Already countless British grandparents have missed meeting their now-toddling Australian grandchildren. Countless children have been unable to hug countless parents. Thousands of Australians are stranded around the world, unable to return home. There have been plenty of howls of discontent from them, but the government rules with a Stalin-grade iron fist. It has made its prison, and now it wants to romp around in it – seemingly indefinitely.

It’s almost too painful to watch. Last week, we saw scenes of Aussie and New Zealander ecstasy as the desperately awaited travel bubble between the two countries was opened. Faced with the footage of relatives hugging at ghostly arrivals halls in Auckland and Sydney, and the forced jollity from the head of a decimated Qantas at the news, I found myself cackling bitterly. So much gratitude for something so tragically paltry.

Naturally, even this bubble had to burst. No sooner had the down-unders got this extremely modest taste of freedom than Australia’s government threatened a year in prison (the kind with barbed wire) for Australians who use New Zealand as a gateway to a third country.

Australia has almost no Covid – that’s the prize for becoming a prison – but, as the rest of the world understands, Zero Covid doesn’t actually exist. Which is why, for instance, cases have regularly appeared as if by magic even in New Zealand, months after no reported infections. It’s why a fully vaccinated airport worker tested positive a day after the travel bubble began last week. And it’s why, in most places, a single positive test isn’t treated as a total catastrophe.

At a moment when people are wall-eyed with desperation to get out of the UK after just three months of ‘illegal’ non-essential travel, and when the vaccine passports that may enable them to do so are around the corner, Australia provides a heart-sickening vision of how much worse things could be. It shows what Covid has been able to do to a once-sane country.

Just 14 months ago, Australia was still promoting its welcome for tourists. I know, because I was planning a trip, and was heartened that it seemed so unfazed by the brewing storm. The country was still outward-facing, still understood the urgent importance of tourism and had not yet developed its obsession with control, and a hysterical, irrational approach to risk.

In the 13 months since I returned from my abbreviated jaunt, I have seen countless pictures of Aussie friends cavorting, mask-free, in their beautiful land. But instead of envying them, I pity them. In barring its citizens from being able to leave, as well as take their chances coming back, Australia has made itself a hell, plain and simple, its populace held, in many cases, against their will.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful and lovely Australia is in summer, it’s a prison. I’d take rainy old England any day if it meant the very basic freedom to leave. Thankfully, the last few months aside, that’s exactly what it means.

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