Opinion Paul Bongiorno: Scott Morrison seeks immunisation from the escalating crisis in Sydney
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Paul Bongiorno: Scott Morrison seeks immunisation from the escalating crisis in Sydney

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The health advice for New South Wales underscores the deepening emergency in the nation’s biggest city – and the consequences for the Morrison government are becoming more dire by the day.

The escalating community spread of the dangerous Delta variant has prompted Commonwealth and state health officials to revise the risks of administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people between 40 and 60 years of age.

Simply put: The expanding threat of the virus far outweighs the extremely slight risks of suffering blood clots associated with the jab.

Twenty five COVID patients in hospital in NSW right now are under the age of 55 and 14 are under 35.

The outbreak has prompted authorities to push Sydneysiders in these more youthful age brackets to get the AZ shot.

What we are seeing is a dramatic subversion of the preferred political narrative on how to handle the pandemic not only from the state Berejiklian Coalition government, but also from her federal counterparts.

What is evident is a gold standard in denial and evasion of responsibility.

At least Premier Gladys Berejiklian is daily facing the music as the uncomfortable facts force her into retreats and revisions.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in Sydney
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says she does not know how long the lockdown will last.

From Prime Minister Scott Morrison we see a craven form hiding behind the khaki uniform of Lieutenant-General John Frewen.

Morrison has outsourced to the distinguished soldier the politically contentious issue of the failings in planning, purchase and delivery of vaccines to keep Australians safe.

This politicisation of our military is frankly scandalous, and according to former cabinet ministers, previous Defence Force chiefs would not have tolerated it.

Making a uniformed general an apologist for the federal government’s policy decisions that caused the vaccine scarcity is banana republic stuff.

Our vaccine rollout still lags behind the developed world, the PM’s claims last week that even if he had delivered on January’s vaccine timetable Sydney’s lockdown would still have happened, is an admission of failure.

Think about it: Morrison is saying the vaccines Australia ordered, the paltry 10 million doses of Pfizer and the provisions for a wider distribution of home-made AstraZeneca, left the nation vulnerable.

The subsequent problems with AZ only added to this dereliction of better planning and foresight.

When Labor’s Anthony Albanese says the cluster disaster in Sydney is “owned by Scott Morrison” there is more truth to it than spin.

Sure, the Berejiklian government owns its share thanks to its quarantine administered failure and its insistence lockdowns must be avoided at all costs.

But there is no escaping Morrison’s stubborn refusal to provide more purpose-built quarantine facilities around the nation exacerbates the vulnerability.

The costs are now escalating, thanks to the state government pandering to business interests.

We can certainly sympathise with retailers large and small, but their demands on the premier to keep open all the shops have proven to be a dangerous delusion.

Shopping centres and supermarkets daily join the growing list of COVID-19 hotspots.

And yet Australian Retailers Association spokesman Paul Zahra complained on Ten News First last week that the stay-at-home urgings meant the shops had no customers.

The protracted lockdown-lite, according to epidemiologists, means the estimated loss of $1 billion a week will last much longer than more decisive restrictions imposed earlier would have minimised.

Since the recent Melbourne lockdown, the federal opposition has been calling for more support for working families and businesses caught in government health-imposed curbs.

The Commonwealth largely ignored pleas for financial support during the two-week Victorian lockdown, but the prospect of Sydney being closed into a second month has the federal government scrambling to contain the damage as much to its own standing as to the national economy.

The Sydney crisis is a stark reminder that far from the pandemic being over and the economy remarkably recovering, a largely unvaccinated Australia is hostage to an ever-mutating virus.

Australians know it and the consolidated Newspoll is more evidence of their declining support for the Morrison government’s belated and grudging prescriptions.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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