The coronavirus pandemic saw its worst day in Sydney last week, as the Australian capital recorded its highest number of COVID cases yet. In an effort to suppress the virus, New South Wales’ premier announced new measures to include masks for all residents outdoors and a mileage radius of no more than 5km from residents’ homes. Gladys Berejiklian asserted, “We can only assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better given the quantity of people infectious in the community.”
Currently, residents face a $200 fine for failing to mask, and businesses are subject to forced shutdown and heavy fines for noncompliance. Residents will now face a stiff penalty of $500, replaced with fewer warnings. Sydney’s 500 million residents have endured the current lockdown for weeks and do not anticipate an end until at least mid-August. A recently released University of Sydney model further suggested that the lockdown would need to continue through to mid-September, at the earliest, and only then if 40% of the population have been vaccinated.
Perhaps an even greater concern than the newly stated lockdown measures is the means by which the Australian state intends to enforce them. The Daily Wire reported last week on Sydney’s request for military personnel “to boost [the police force’s] operational footprint.” Just exactly what role the Australian military will play in supporting police forces remains unclear. State Police Minister David Elliott claims it would help because a small minority of Sydney residents thought “the rules didn’t apply to them.”
The Australian Lawyers’ Alliance responded in kind, referring to the suggested use of armed forces as a dangerous precedent: “Using the defence force to ensure compliance by Australians or to deter civil disobedience is a concerning use of our armed forces.”
Steve Christou, one local Sydney mayor said of residents, “They can’t afford to pay the mortgage, the rent, the food or work. Now to throw out the army to enforce lockdown on the streets is going to be a huge issue to these people.”
While Australia continues to grapple with a low vaccination rate and an uptick in COVID cases, the use of military forces heralds a new era in which the use of armed forces can more easily be justified in future national emergencies.