Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called on the United States government to cool diplomatic relations with Australia over reports that country’s draconian COVID-19 lockdown measures, which have recently given way to massive — and often violent — protests.
Australia, and particularly the New South Wales capital city of Sydney, is struggling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak, likely driven by the Delta variant, and to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Some of Australia’s largest cities have returned to strict lockdowns — in some cases, severely limiting people’s ability to leave their homes, even to work, if they are not vaccinated, or if they live in an area with a lower vaccination rate.
The strict measures have led to massive protests, centered in Victoria, where unemployment rates are skyrocketing. More than 200 people were arrested and at least 10 police officers were injured in a clash between anti-lockdown protesters and local law enforcement in Victoria last weekend, according to CNN.
DeSantis took aim at Australia’s COVID-19 measures in a speech late Tuesday, questioning President Joe Biden’s decision to maintain diplomatic relations with Australia in light of forced lockdowns, and defending his decision to protect residents of Florida from government overreach using COVID-19 as an excuse.
“I really believe that if we had not done what we did during the last year and a half to keep the state open, to protect people’s jobs, to protect our small businesses, to protect our kids being able to go to school — if we had not done that, a lot of these other states wouldn’t have followed,” DeSantis said at a meeting of the International Boat Builders in Tampa, Florida.
“And who knows where we would be right now?” he said.
He then said Australia had gone “off the rails” trying to contain the virus.
“You say, like, ‘It can’t happen here,’” DeSantis told the crowd.
“You know, you guys, look what’s going on in Australia right now. You know, they’re enforcing, after a year and a half, they’re still enforcing lockdowns by the military,” he said, referencing reports from earlier in the summer that indicated the Australian government was deploying its armed forces to keep people in their homes.
“That’s not a free country. It’s not a free country at all,” DeSantis said. “In fact, I mean, I wonder why we would still have the same diplomatic relations when they’re doing that. Is Australia freer than China, communist China, right now? I don’t know. The fact that that’s even a question tells you something has gone dramatically off the rails with some of this stuff.”
The Australian government does not anticipate releasing lockdowns until at least mid-October and perhaps not until mid-December, according to Reuters, when the country’s government believes it will reach a 70% vaccination rate — and even then, if Australians remain unvaccinated, they could find themselves shut out of public life.
“Movement restrictions across New South Wales, the country’s most populous state and home to Sydney will be lifted gradually between Oct. 11 and Dec. 1 as vaccination rates push through 70%, 80% and 90%,” the outlet reported. “However, people who are not fully inoculated will be barred from joining the vaccinated to resume community sports, dining out, shopping and other activities until the final date.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Sydney as Australia’s capital. It is the capital of New South Wales.