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Pandemic politics fuelling right-wing response

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NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet received a backlash after letting his state's guard down too soon (Screenshot via YouTube)

The politicisation of the COVID-19 pandemic is making the crisis worse, furthering the spread of the virus and resulting in more deaths, writes Bilal Cleland.

IN THE UNITED STATES, which seems to be the point of reference for the right-wing “freedumb” protesters in Australia, the pandemic has been politicised to a lethal degree.

As reported by NBC News:

‘Right-wing state legislatures like Montana’s have rushed to stop employers from requiring vaccinations despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines protect people from COVID-19.


Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order preventing governments and school districts in the state from requiring people to even wear masks.’

A similar politicisation has developed in Australia, with political divisions being sharpened over pandemic issues. We are moving into election campaign time and things could get nasty.

A recent case in point was the controversy over the administration of a booster shot, a further protection against the virulent Omicron variant.

The Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, advocated the time between the second vaccination and the booster be reduced from five months to four.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said this was:

“Utterly irresponsible, utterly inappropriate, utterly unworthy of someone who wants to be a prime minister.”

Only one day later, he announced that booster shots will be reduced from five to four months from 4 January and then down to three months from January.

In NSW the new Premier, Dominic Perrottet, told his state to take personal responsibility for the virus as the QR code, masks and track and tracing were dropped.

Epidemiologic expert Professor Mary-Louise McLaws responded:

“I see that the NSW Health Department and Minister of Health are abandoning public health responsibilities and focusing on only hospital cases. Hospitalisation can be manipulated...”

Former Independent MP Dr Kerryn Phelps was also scathing in her response, pointing out that in the same week that the Omicron variant started to take off exponentially, virus control measures were being dropped.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard predicted 25,000 cases a day by January 2022 at the same time the Premier was announcing the abolition of control measures.

Dr Norman Swan, host of Radio National’s Health Report, co-host of Coronacast and commentator on ABC TV’s 7.30 tweeted on 24 December suggested that this figure of 25,000 is already with NSW:

‘In the U.S. last year, the underdiagnosis rate ranged from 7-10. So let’s take a fair midpoint, say five. That’s 5x5000=25,000. Let’s take last year’s rate (three) and it’s still 15,000 a day. That’s why if you live in Sydney, by now you know someone who’s got or had COVID.’

The leaked Doherty Institute modelling projecting 200,000 daily cases was based on the assumption that it would occur only if nothing was done.

Perrottet was forced to respond. Masks indoors were again mandated. Immediately after Christmas, social distancing measures in indoor venues returned and “QR check-ins will also again become compulsory in hospitality and retail”.

Perrottet’s hands-off approach was mirrored by PM Scott Morrison.

He was lambasted by Quentin Dempster, a Walkley Award journalist, on Twitter on 23 December 2021:

‘It’s now apparent this response is politically calculated to hold LNP’s anti-vax anti-government base, now being incited by Clive’s UAP billboards and ad blitz. Thus are we governed. UAP=LNP.’

If this is correct, we have a major problem.

The ASIO caseload of homegrown violent far-right extremists has grown from 40 per cent to 50 per cent in just a year.

According to Joel Jenkins:

‘We must recognise that elected officials see political capital in allowing this [Coalition provocation and silence] to continue.’

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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