This was the scene on Australian TV at around 7 AM U.S. Eastern Time this morning:
Look at the size of that crowd – 49,000 people together at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, hardly even needing to keep their distance from one another. Hear the joy of Richmond Tigers fans as they sing their team’s fight song after winning the opening game of the Australian Football League season. Watch players from the Tigers and even the losing Carlton Blues shaking hands and giving out hugs and high-fives after 80 minutes of running the equivalent of the 40-yard dash one hundred and six times.
This could be us, America.
What has the state of the pandemic been like in Australia and in the United States? As always, a graph is worth a million words:
The graph shows why Australians are beginning to get back to their normal lives, even though the vaccination rate in Australia is still lower than the vaccination rate in the U.S.
It’s striking to watch normal life happen, right now, from a country where 1,000 people are still dying of COVID-19 every single day. How did Australia do it?
The short answer is that nearly everyone had the common sense, personal responsibility, and basic human decency to follow public health guidelines: stay home whenever possible, and when that is not possible, keep a 6-foot or 2-metre distance from others and wear a cloth mask over both your nose and mouth.
Of course, the vast majority of Americans have the common sense, personal responsibility, and basic human decency to follow the same public health guidelines – but one major lesson we have learned from this pandemic is that even “the vast majority” is not enough. It takes nearly everyone, no exceptions. (I’d love to be able to say something more quantifiable here, and I’m doing some research. As I learn more, I’ll add it here.)
But you might say, what about TEH ECONOMY (TM)? Has Australia sacrificed economic growth, and therefore livelihoods, by adhering too strictly to public health guidelines? Maybe yes, maybe no.
The graph below shows the quarterly per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in the U.S. and Australia, relative to the fourth quarter of 2019 before the pandemic reached either country.
All the social distancing did indeed cost the Australian economy – the economy contracted more than the US economy did in quarter 2 of 2020, at the height of the pandemic.
But here’s the thing: the pain was temporary. By the third quarter of 2020, Australia was already outperforming the US, and now the Australian economy is stronger than it was before the pandemic began.
Adding up all quarters, it’s not entirely clear whose economy has been healthier overall. But the more football tickets Australians buy and Americans don’t, the more clear it would become that Australia would come out on top.
And – let’s not focus on the economy so obsessively that we lose sight of actual human lives – it’s absolutely clear and obvious that in terms of lives lost to the pandemic, Australia is the clear and obvious winner.
If you’re going to say that the U.S. can’t learn from Australia, or you that can’t compare two different countries, I’m going to say: well, why?
Why is a constitutional federal republic of states with a bicameral legislature and a fiercely independent frontier spirit where the most popular sport is football so massively different from a constitutional federal republic of states with a bicameral legislature and a fiercely independent frontier spirit where the most popular sport is football?
America, this could be us.
Stop making excuses and #MaskUp.