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While The Age has long urged all eligible Victorians to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and has supported mandatory vaccinations for those in high-risk workplaces, we have been less convinced about the government’s hard-line decision to bar the unvaccinated from almost all public life indefinitely.
We have questioned whether the rules are strictly based on health advice, whether they are too punitive and whether they are really the best way to influence the shrinking numbers of vaccine-hesitant still among us.
But of particular concern has been the government’s reluctance to reveal the point at which the rules will be relaxed.
On this, in fact, Premier Daniel Andrews has been frustratingly opaque.
When he made the initial announcement in October – bullishly declaring “if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not getting in” – he suggested, vaguely, that the rules might remain in place “for the entirety of 2022”.
Last month, he said they would last at least until the Australian Grand Prix in April next year.
Then, on Thursday, he let slip the rules could change depending on an assessment of vaccines for children aged between five and 11 and the booster program.
“That’s not months and months away,” he said. “That’ll be in the next few weeks, and then we’ll be in a better and stronger position to perhaps have some changes.” It was, as Sumeyya Ilanbey reported in these pages, more than he’d given away previously. But it was hardly a road map.
NSW has set clear targets: lifting most restrictions at 95 per cent fully vaccinated or on December 15, whichever comes sooner. Targets have worked in Victoria in the past, too, which makes it doubly mystifying why Mr Andrews refuses to use one now.
Are we to assume that keeping the unvaccinated hold-outs in limbo, with no end in sight, is part of the strategy to encourage them to do the right thing?
At some point that will become self-defeating: it will only make anti-vaxxers more resistant, more militant and more entrenched in their opposition.
Public health and social policy experts have for months warned that the mandate could prove needlessly divisive. Margie Danchin from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute told this masthead “having the vaccinated and unvaccinated divided undermines trust in government and health providers, and it is fracturing relationships in families. It should be far more focused on understanding what the actual risk is”.
The front line, of course, is retail and hospitality, whose young workers have been forced to play policeman, exposed to arguments, vandalism and outright violence of the kind visited on a Dymocks staffer, allegedly pushed down an escalator after asking to see a customer’s QR code.
Then there’s the irritating inconsistency of it all, with some establishments scrupulous about checking and others not bothering at all despite the threat of an enormous fine.
Back in October, we accepted the vaccine mandate, albeit crude and possibly punitive, as the price of freedom from lockdown. If it did indeed give some tardy Victorians the final push they needed, it did its job.
Yet as we crest 90 per cent fully vaccinated, health experts now believe it can be lifted with minimal risk. Even as we continue to support mandates for high-risk workers, there seems little to gain from continuing to bar the unvaccinated from daily life.
A tiny number will continue to refuse the vaccination. Some are simply selfish, or deluded, but we can live with it if they no longer pose much of a risk to others. The rest we can surely reach through education and social pressure.
Accordingly, we call on Mr Andrews to scrap the mandate as soon as possible, or at least to detail exactly the criteria that must be met for him to do so. Keeping it in place without a particular end point will only continue to fuel anti-vaccination victimhood – and to unnecessarily punish those who truly believe the misinformation they have been fed.
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