SYDNEY – The current Australian summer – during which the country was supposed to enjoy a carefree holiday season, filled with travel, festivities and sport – has not quite turned out as planned.
Instead, the new year period has been marked by a series of national setbacks, including failures in the Covid-19 testing regime and a surging outbreak of the Omicron strain that has put immense pressure on health systems.
In some pockets of Sydney, as many as 25 per cent of residents now have Covid-19. And, of course, there was the seemingly endless saga involving the deportation of Novak Djokovic, the world’s top men’s tennis player.
As a result, the sense of optimism that surrounded the start of the summer in early December has quickly faded. Back then, case numbers and fatalities had been low, the economy was soaring, and many Australians were preparing to finally travel interstate for holidays and reunions with family and friends.
But the past few weeks in Australia have been marred by missteps, disappointment and political failures.
As Covid-19 cases began to soar in December, testing clinics could not keep up, forcing people to queue for up to six hours.
In hard-hit states such as New South Wales and Victoria, the authorities began encouraging the use of at-home rapid antigen tests, but there were not enough tests to meet the sudden demand.
Meanwhile, delays in the initial vaccination roll-out meant that many people had not yet had booster shots, prompting the authorities to repeatedly shorten the window of time before having boosters, eventually settling on three months.
And the sharp increase in cases caused staff shortages, which led to a lack of some grocery supplies as well as workers in critical areas such as health.
National case numbers surged to more than 100,000 a day, though they have dropped in the past week. On Tuesday (Jan 25), the authorities recorded 46,842 new cases. Deaths have been increasing, with 75 deaths recorded on Tuesday.
But hospitalisation and intensive care numbers appear to be plateauing in the worst-hit states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. There are currently almost 5,400 Covid-19 cases in hospital, with 395 people in intensive care.
Not surprisingly, the public mood in much of Australia has soured in recent weeks. The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan survey last week found consumer confidence had dropped to its lowest January level since 1992.
The missteps also appear to be taking a heavy toll on the standing of the ruling coalition, as an election, due by May, looms. The latest polls show it is in serious trouble, with support for the Liberal-National coalition dropping to 34 per cent from 39 per cent in the past two months. Support for Labor was 35 per cent, up from 32 per cent, with the remainder of voters opting for the Greens and other parties.
Significantly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval rating has been steadily dropping. Mr Morrison leads Labor leader Anthony Albanese as preferred prime minister by just 38 per cent to 31 per cent, with the remainder undecided.
Given his small lead, it may be difficult for Mr Morrison to reverse the trends, especially as the nation comes to terms with repeatedly dashed hopes.