Australia and coronavirus: We're a nanny state because we behave like children

This is why we can't have nice things. You only had to look at the photos from Bondi Beach from a week or so ago, and then the almost identical snaps from St Kilda a short time after to realise it. Both were packed. People everywhere.

We can't have nice things because we can't be trusted with them. We can't be given the freedom to act responsibly and in society's best interests because we won't actually do it.

That's part of the reason why the coronavirus-related curbs on socialising in Australia are becoming tighter and tighter: we weren't following them. Not enough of us, anyway. We were crowding beaches, we were piling into restaurants, we were gathering in parks, we were going to parties, we were taking self-isolation more as a rough suggestion than a rule.

If ever you needed a reminder of why Australia is a nanny state, this was it. We're a nanny state because we need nannying. We need someone with a firm hand to tell us what to do.

It's tempting to lay the blame for this episode solely at the feet of young people, as NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian did recently. However, this flaunting of coronavirus-related restrictions is not just about backpackers partying or 20-somethings getting some sun.

It's rich couples attending Mornington Peninsula social gatherings. It's boomers rankling at being told what to do and ignoring rules they see as silly. It's people of all ages tearing through supermarkets buying up all the toilet paper and canned goods.

In the good times, these are national traits we look at with a certain amount of pride. We're Aussies. We're larrikins. We thumb our nose at authority and we don't take anything too seriously. It's all a bit of a laugh.

Except when things get serious, when you need people to do exactly as they're told to save lives. Then it's not so hilarious.

Then you start thinking about other countries in the world that you've visited on your travels, and their varying attitudes to collective responsibility. It seems no coincidence that the countries with the sturdiest commitment to societal wellbeing and the strongest tendency to follow rules are the ones that appear to be coping with coronavirus the best.

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South Korea should really be a world epicentre of viral infection right now, and yet its numbers have plateaued impressively. That's due in part to an aggressive testing regimen introduced very early on in the outbreak, but also to its citizens' propensity to follow self-isolation rules if they're identified as potential carriers. They're told to stay home, and they stay home.

Same goes in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, all places where the virus has so far been relatively well contained with few curbs on personal freedoms, due in part to smart government response, and in part to community obedience.

If you've been to these places on your travels then that would come as no surprise. Consider the respect that the Japanese have for their fellow citizens at all times, the way no one ever eats on public transport or talks on the phone, the way people offer to help strangers any time they look lost, the way smokers all huddle in small, designated areas so as not to offend anyone else. This is a society that places the happiness of the community over that of the individual.

Which other countries are having success with social compliance? Sweden, unsurprisingly. Laws here remain relatively relaxed thanks to Swedes' obedience: more than half of people are working from home without being told to; supermarkets remain well stocked; social distancing is being respected. Restaurants, cafes and schools are still open.

"We who are adults need to be exactly that: adults," said Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven recently. And that's what Swedes appear to be doing: taking the advice of their government and doing what they're told.

(It helps, of course, that Swedes trust their government, a trust that has been built up over decades, featuring leaders who don't advocate going to the footy during a viral pandemic.)

In Australia, meanwhile? Our most popular beaches have had to be closed entirely because people weren't following the rules. Supermarkets have set limits on the amount of produce that can be bought per customer. Restaurants and cafes have been shuttered and many will never return. Incoming passengers are now being locked down in hotels because self-isolation rules weren't being adhered to (aided by a few governmental stuff-ups).

There's no point wasting your time at home now wondering why this has had to happen, why we can't have nice things. It's because some of us are just not that mature. And children need a nanny.

Have you travelled to any of the countries that are now coping well with coronavirus? Have you been to Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden? How do they differ to Australia? Are you surprised at the civil obedience there? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: In Singapore, quarantine comes with sea views and room service

See also: While others are grounded, one airline is increasing flights to Australia

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