Australian PM Under Fire For Covid Response

 The fortunes of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison have taken a turn for the worst in the space of a week. He breezed through the pandemic's first year, reveling in Australia's immunity to its harshest consequences. As a federal election looms less than a year away, he appears unassailable. However, as the epidemic wreaks havoc on political reputations, the odds have altered.

As Covid instances continue to climb, Sydney's lockdown has been prolonged for another month. Since June, residents of Australia's largest metropolis have been ordered to stay at home as the country battles an epidemic of the Delta strain. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull blasted the vaccination rollout to the BBC Wednesday, calling it "the greatest failure of public management I can recall."

Mr. Morrison's collapse was slow at first. There had been murmuring dissatisfaction when Australians realized that vaccination deployment was sluggish in comparison to other countries. According to the most recent data, just 16% of Australia's adult population has gotten two vaccinations, compared to more than half in the UK.

But today, both on the streets and in the studios, the murmuring has evolved into outright rage. Despite the fact that Victoria and South Australia were both released from lockdowns on Wednesday after containing minor outbreaks, public opinion on the government's handling of Covid has altered.

The previously lauded strategy of keeping illnesses under control by sealing borders and imposing hotel quarantine for arrivals, as well as fast state lockdowns and stringent contact-tracing, now looks to have hit its limitations. The pandemic fight is being hampered by the sluggish vaccination effort.

Mr. Morrison was caught off guard by a commercial radio broadcaster, Jason Hawkins, on Wednesday last week. “What does this spell? S,O,R,R,Y,” the presenter asked him live on television.  Mr. Morrison was baffled. Despite repeated calls for an apology, the prime minister refused, as he did again later that day at a news conference. He had no intention of apologizing. 

Except that he did the next day – kind of: “I'm sorry that we haven't been able to get the marks that we had hoped for at the start of this year - of course, I am.”

It was enough to get the term "apology" into the headlines, but it was too late to save him. “It doesn't look good when Morrison refuses to utter the term but then says a tepid ‘sorry,'” John Hewson, the Liberal Party's leader from 1990 to 1994, said.

Sue Cato, who advises the boards of some of Australia's largest corporations – as well as its most famous politicians – on public relations, believes it is too little, too late.

The public outrage then spilled onto the streets, with rallies against Sydney and Melbourne's ongoing, heavily policed lockdowns. The reasons for the jumble of protestors on Sydney's streets were frequently nonsensical and devoid of any scientific basis – but the fury was evident. The protestors may be a small minority, but the pandemic's apparently unending nature is wearing on people's tolerance.