Celebrity biohacker Dave Asprey has hit out at what he sees as Australian government overreach, writing: “I’m hoping people stay away from tourism in Australia until the government apologizes and returns power back to the people where it belongs,” on DMARGE’s Instagram page.
Asprey is a health hacker who claims to have saved Joe Rogan from kale, recommends wearing blue light blockers before bed, and has a popular bulletproof coffee company. He has 527k followers on Instagram. He’s also a big proponent of intermittent fasting, the keto diet and grass-fed beef.
Asprey’s comment was left beneath a DMARGE post announcing the opening of Australia’s borders to vaccinated international tourists on February the 21st.
One Instagram user responded to Asprey: “I’m hoping unvaccinated ignorant people stay away from Australia.” Another said: “If your [sic] not Australian don’t comment on what you don’t understand.”
Another came to Asprey’s defence, writing: “Vaccinated or not, you can spread and carry covid?”. This Instagram user didn’t mention, however, is that there is mounting evidence to suggest COVID vaccines reduce transmission.
Another Instagram user wrote: “Vaccinated people can carry Covid and get sick. Australia: welcome! Unvaccinated people can carry Covid and get sick. Australia: stay away!”
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What this Instagram user didn’t point out is that the main purpose of vaccination is to prevent people from getting really sick with the virus – something vaccines are highly efficient at doing.
According to The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, “Efficacy against symptoms of the disease in clinical trials has ranged from 50% (Sinovac) to 95% (Pfizer/BioNTech), and similar effectiveness has been reported in the real world.”
While there are breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, their symptoms are typically much milder, and they are far less likely to be hospitalised and to put strain on the medical system.
This, it seems, is the logic behind the Australian government’s decision to let only vaccinated travellers into the country. It’s either that or that they are simply reading the room regarding public sentiment (or maybe both).
The debate over whether Australia’s government went too far in the last couple of years (in terms of lockdowns, and shutting our international borders) is a popular talking point in both Australia and America. In this writer’s experience, many Australians, despite being angry with the errors, heavy-handedness and political posturing that came with it, seem happy with many of the calls our authorities made (perhaps Western Australia and occasionally Queensland notwithstanding) to make the most of the position we found ourselves in, where for a long period of time we were able to avoid COVID completely to buy time to vaccinate everyone who wanted to be.
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Though many Australians enjoy saying to each other “you know other countries think we’re small-minded and coddled,” in order to make themselves feel ‘large minded’ and worldly, when push comes to shove, it seems quite a small minority of people who think we really should have just let COVID rip, and kept our right to travel. Reading the room, from this writer’s anecdotal experience of having lived in Australia during COVID, the main issue most Australians I’ve talked to have is the heavy-handed approach to zero-COVID (and perhaps the strictness of the international travel ban’s exemption system), which saw many people miss key milestones in their friends and families lives (from weddings to funerals) who lived overseas.
Basically, in my opinion, the popular consensus is that the government did the right thing, but was too slow to lift heavy-handed rules and focussed on COVID-zero for longer than was sensible. As Traveller asked in an article in 2020: “So, what’s going on here? We flattened the curve in Australia when we were called to do it. We bought ourselves time. When COVID-19 struck we banded together as a society to keep case numbers low and give everyone a fair chance. But now what are we doing?”
The Traveller article continued: “Australia seems to have a problem. Politicians will tell you over and over again that we’re not aiming for elimination of COVID-19 in Australia, which sounds reasonable enough. Except that everything those politicians are doing seems to be aimed at zero-tolerance of the virus. Only zero cases will do. Anything else is unthinkable and requires drastic action.”
“And so we have Melbourne in an intense lockdown situation. We have restrictions of movement on all Australian citizens that are among the most repressive in the world right now.”
“We have state borders closed across the country. We have families separated. We have relationships split. We also have the sort of unhinged parochialism among the ruling class that culminates in the likes of Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk turning a Ballina-based expectant mother away from emergency surgery in Brisbane, saying Queensland hospitals are ‘for our people only.’”
“And the obvious elephant in the room is that we as a country will probably never get to zero cases of COVID-19. Even New Zealand has had outbreaks. But we’ve become conditioned to believe that that is the only solution, that that is the only goal worth pursuing.”
I’m not sure we’ve paid enough attention to how creepily excessive it is that we’re banning Australians from leaving the country. It’s supposedly tied to the issue of our capacity to handle returning travellers if/when they need to come back
— Nick Casmirri (@ncasmirri) August 17, 2020
Even this though, people are conflicted about, recognising the benefits the basic premise of these rights restrictions (or as some would call it, violations) brought (even if they were far from perfectly implemented). Also, the fact there was nuance at all (Australians with good reason to leave the country were allowed to apply for an exemption, something many Americans don’t mention when talking about how we were ‘locked up’), even if many Australians reckon that nuance wasn’t good enough, is something many Americans often fail to recognize when talking about how badly our rights were removed.
What’s a more interesting discussion, from a utilitarian point of view, is whether the results obtained are worth the costs (economic, mental health, etc.). This is a debate many Americans are not willing to enter into though, as they believe you should never sacrifice your ideals of freedom – or at least the level of freedom they are accustomed to – regardless of the result. Basically: they aren’t utilitarians.
Speaking of America, Australian journalist Josh Szeps, who has spent much of his adult life working in America, recently said it’s not just American right-wing provocateurs who think Australia has lost some serious rights in the last few years, but even his Obama-voting “aunts and uncles” have expressed their sympathies for him for being Australian.
Szeps said on The Briefing podcast that this lack of understanding between countries has come, in part, “because of the misalignment of the way our [Australia’s] COVID experience mapped onto the American experience.”
“They had a very front-loaded crisis that then sort of just petered out into successive waves of somewhat normal infection. Not to say the infection rates aren’t very high over there but it’s become a backdrop to normal life.”
He added: “When Delta hit here [in Australia] and we had our big lockdowns over winter there was a lot of bafflement in America about why our police were being so strict…”
“What’s important for Aussies to understand when they think about these moments is the fundamental difference that’s going on between the world views of Australians and Americans here. I don’t want to speak on behalf of all Australians. I’ve been called an authoritarian bootlicker nazi, and so on, who is just an apologist for a fascist regime in Australia – many of these [comments] are from Australia so there’s definitely a minority of people here who think it’s totally ridiculous the extent to which the police have been enforcing arcane rules about contact tracing and isolation.”
“They think it’s ridiculous that any individual would be forcibly detained or incarcerated in a quarantine facility simply for being a close contact of someone with COVID, and they think that that’s gone off the deep end and all over the states from so many people would speak to me as if I just lost a loved one – my aunts and uncles who are solidly Obama voting anti-Trump people would hold my arm and look at me deeply in the eyes and say: ‘I’m so sorry about what you guys have been through. I can’t believe you’ve had to endure that level of government intrusion.’”
“In the US it is really fundamental to think that the government is basically broken and the government is basically antagonistic towards you and it’s sort of your duty to make sure you oppose government overreach at every step and the idea that government would – beyond what is absolutely critical to prevent a public health emergency – that once you’ve got reasonable rates of vaccination and reasonable hospital capacity and ICU bed capacity, the idea that the government would continue to nitpick and micromanage your life with QR codes and isolation and so on is anathema to Americans.”
“So I think it would be a mistake for example for us to characterise the American narrative about Australia as wholly similar to QAnon or capital rioters on January 6th of last year or something like that. It is a widespread general perception that at this point it’s ridiculous for places not just to be living with COVID.”
That being said, it cuts the other way too. Like Australians sometimes struggle to truly understand the American psyche, many American commentators have made themselves look foolish by pontificating about Australia without knowing the full context. As this article in Quillette by Matthew Blackwell, an Australian writer and Outback Drug and Alcohol Case Manager & Educator in the Northern Territory, explains, there are a bunch of conspiracy theories flying around Twitter about an alleged prison camp in The Northern Territory in Australia, which are, to anyone with boots on the ground, ridiculous.
“This all began when Cole posted a series of videos in which he held forth about the COVID-19 outbreak in the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal communities of Binjari, Robinson River, and Rockhole in the Katherine region, where I live and work,” Blackwell wrote, talking about a conspiracy theorist in the Northern Territory.
“In his most popular viral video, he addressed his audience from in front of an Aboriginal flag, and surrounded by likeminded associates,” Blackwell wrote.
“From a distance of more than 300 kilometers, Cole denounced the Australian Defence Forces for rounding people onto trucks with military force and vaccinating them against their will. He also criticized the government for locking these communities down and forcing the people to flee to find food. He demanded foreign intervention. In another video, Cole described vaccines as an act of genocide and anticipated the death of 15 million Australians.”
“These statements are par for the course from Cole, and as usual, they didn’t attract much attention in the Territory. However, across the Internet, his videos were seized upon by credulous commentators for whom any anti-lockdown agitprop, no matter how outlandish, is just grist to their ideological mill.”
“For several years now, David Cole has been a minor celebrity in the Northern Territory of Australia on account of his colorful conspiracy theories. While few people take anything he has to say seriously, many of us in the Territory enjoy wondering what he’s going to come up with next,” Blackwell wrote earlier in the piece. He also cited community leaders praising the Northern Territory government’s efforts to keep COVID at bay.
A Binjari man known as Billy is very disappointed by the conspiracies. “Whoever’s spreading bullshit, keep it to yourself. You don’t know what’s going on here, it’s just us, we deal with it.” Authorities “have gone above and beyond.” pic.twitter.com/7YowAIyncM
— Matthew Blackwell (@MBlackwell27) December 4, 2021
Blackwell wrote in Quillette: “When I spoke to one of the community leaders of Binjari and told her what an American YouTuber was saying, she giggled: ‘We’re being very spoilt, believe me.’ When asked about the mistreatment of residents during the lockdown, a resident of Binjari told ABC Radio, ‘Those people who don’t know what’s going on, you have no shame or no morals to say that they’re doing that to us, because they haven’t. They have gone above and beyond, and I’m pretty impressed—not just me, it’s my whole community members.’”
Quarantines tend to be mandatory. Sane people have always understand that they’re necessary and spending 2-3 weeks watching TV in a hotel room is not a human rights violation.https://t.co/I6818EIx3b
— Substack Neil Young filling in for Chuck Fina 🚀🔴 (@clifford_banes) November 29, 2021
The gist of it, basically, is that the Howard Springs quarantine centre, which a bunch of Americans thought was like a concentration camp, is actually pretty luxurious. It’s where returning Olympians have quarantined – and it’s got Netflix.
Getting back to Dave Asprey though, and his comments on Australia as a whole (not just the Northern Territory), and his hope that tourists stay away until the government apologizes and “returns power back to the people where it belongs,” we’d really like to know what he’s referring to? Is it the Melbourne lockdown? The Sydney lockdown? This debunked Howard Springs conspiracy theory? The international travel ban? Without knowing specifically what Asprey wants the government to apologise for (though we assume it’s the international travel ban), it’s hard to theorise, and we won’t make any aspersions as to what he means.
But if the government were to give the power back to the people, it’s hard to say how different Australia’s response to COVID would have been. Are we en masse more of a utilitarian nation that America? Or are we just easily led? Who knows.
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What we will say is that there seems to be a parallel between how many Americans were fooled into believing one thing about The Northern Territory, when people on the ground could easily see it was another, and how many Americans, without living the situation in Australia, blindly assume that international travel ban was definitely wrong.
That’s not to deny the anger many Australians feel about the heavy-handedness and political posturing that has come alongside the lockdowns and international border closures (and their length). But many Americans don’t appreciate Australia’s different context of actually having the ability to avoid massive numbers of COVID at the beginning of the pandemic by implementing these measures.
And surveys have suggested a majority of Australians were actually in favour of the travel ban. As SBS reported in May 2021, “More than a year after the nation’s borders were closed, preventing Australians from travelling overseas without an exemption, a Lowy Institute poll has shown only two in 10, or 18 per cent of people, feel all Australians should be free to leave the country.”
“The survey was conducted between 15 and 29 March 2021, with a sample size of 2,222.”
“Almost half of those polled – 41 per cent – agreed with the current policy that requires people to have special exemptions to be allowed to leave the country.”
“But equally, 40 per cent also believed those who have been vaccinated should be free to leave.”
“Vaccination as a prerequisite for international travel was largely supported by most older Australians, with those aged over 60 more likely to support the idea.”
“Only a third of Australians aged 18-59 said those vaccinated should be free to leave now.”
SBS continued: “Natasha Kassam, the director of the Lowy Institute’s public opinion and foreign policy program, said while most people appeared to be impressed by Australia’s handling of the pandemic, there were signs of frustration with the length of time borders have been closed.”
“While many Australians may think of closed borders as a limitation on tourism or business travel, it’s important to remember that a third of Australia’s population was born overseas,” she told SBS.
“Many families have been separated during this pandemic.”
What both Australians and Americans can probably agree on, is that they were separated for too long.