IN conversation, the general line about the deportation of Novak Djokovic appears to be one where we have the brave public health experts and authorities holding back the powerful, selfish and stupid anti-vaxxer Djokovic.
But this image of the Australian David versus the Serbian Goliath is not all it appears to be.
Djokovic may well be selfish and stupid. He certainly appears to be a vaccine sceptic. But the decision to deport him had nothing to do with any threat he posed as a Covid carrier. The threat and eventual deportation was a new form of moralised public health politics.
Ultimately, the tennis star was deported after three judges ruled in favour of the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, who argued that Djokovic’s views on vaccines were themselves a threat to “public health” and “good order”.
It is worth chewing on this decision a little because, historically, the deporting of individuals for their opinions would have been seen as potentially very dangerous and authoritarian.
It is also worth bearing in mind that it is not only Djokovic who is being targeted here, but rather it is the people of Australia themselves who are seen as needing to be protected from another person’s opinions or even their thoughts.
The term “other” is apposite here because the ease with which Djokovic has been demonised across the world suggests that those who question or reject the Covid vaccine are fast becoming our very own modern-day witches.
I am about as pro-vaccination as you could get. I’ve had my three jabs but that didn’t stop me catching Covid over the Christmas break. Nor did it stop me having to go into isolation because I could infect others. What the vaccine potentially did was to protect me from becoming more seriously ill.
In this respect the vaccine, as has been noted, is limited at stopping the spread of the virus. What it does is protect individuals and especially older and vulnerable individuals when they do catch it. In other words, vaccines are not a magic bullet and are limited in protecting anyone other than the person receiving them.
If Omicron was the plague and the NHS was literally collapsing with the number of people dying, this argument could change, but it isn’t the plague and the numbers in intensive care with Covid in Scotland remains around 45 people on any given day.
So why are the unvaccinated becoming modern day monsters, banned from sitting in Germany’s parliament, barred from most public settings in Perth, Australia, for the foreseeable future and in our own country banned from large public gatherings and possibly even certain workplaces in the near future?
The answer, I believe, is that safetyism and especially the safety regime represented through public health is fast becoming a quasi-religion that risks dividing society and demonising personal and individual freedoms.
Discussing what he saw as a dangerous obsession with vaccinations promoted by eugenicists and health experts in the 1920s, GK Chesterton, described vaccination zealotry as a modern form of baptism.
Today, we find that vaccinations are again shifting from a scientific and medical matter to something that has a far greater social, moral and political meaning, and as some have argued, being injected “for the good of public health” is fast resembling a spiritual form of anointment.
Within this morality tale, the science and the facts regarding vaccinations become secondary to the sense of moral goodness associated with being vaccinated or anointed. As a result, those who refuse the vaccine become unclean – the lepers of late modernity.
Within this moralised climate, where public safetyism becomes a moral absolute, it makes sense for individuals like the Welsh chief medical officer, Sir Frank Atherton, to argue that in future it would be only right for people to self-isolate when they catch a common cold.
For the sake of all of our future freedoms and any chance of normality being resumed we need to calm down about the unvaccinated and tell our public health experts to get back in their scientific box.
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