Australia has changed its coping strategy to covid-19: it’s time to abandon lockdowns and “get out of the cave,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced.
With vaccination speeding up, Australians will “soon be living with the virus” for the first time, he said. That is, they will not try to eliminate your circulation.
It’s a radical change for a country accustomed to seeing few cases of infection.
What is the strategy?
The strategy adopted by the state was what some have called the “Australian fortress”.
Australia intends to maintain its “zero COVID-19” strategy by restricting entry of foreigners, tracing all infections and closing state borders after the outbreak.
Lockdowns have often been enacted in all cities and states – sometimes after a single case.
Melbourne, for example, has been over 200 days since Close throughout that period.
These measures have been criticized for their cost and for people’s mental well-being.
But so far it has prevented outbreaks of Covid-19 cases and thousands of deaths and allowed many Australians to live freely.
So what has changed?
a delta variable This landscape changed Australia. In June, it solidified in Sydney before spreading to Melbourne and the capital, Canberra.
State governments have reopened their capitals. Currently, one in two Australians must stay at home.
This helped suppress the spread of cases. In Sydney, the R number – the rate at which the virus spreads – has fallen from 5 to 1.3.
But officials said the “zero Covid” strategy is no longer achievable.
This added to the Morrison government’s criticism of Australia’s low levels of vaccination, with many accusing him of complacency. Morrison had claimed in April that vaccination was “not a race”.
But he is now following the New South Wales state government in saying that vaccinations are the only way to reopen Australia. The state of Victoria – where Melbourne is located – also abandoned the strategy this week.
What is the new plan?
Experts say around 36% of Australians aged over 16 are receiving full vaccinations – not enough to get out of lockdowns.
“This Groundhog Day has to come to an end, and it will be over when we start to get to 70% and 80%,” Morrison said last week.
Vaccination in Australia is accelerating – now the country vaccinates faster than the UK and US did at the height of vaccinations.
At current rates, Australia could vaccinate 70% of 16-year-olds by mid-October.
The nation has also begun vaccinating children over the age of 12.
The idea is to start easing the lockdowns – that way, vaccinated people will have more freedom.
But the state plans to continue testing and tracing, while maintaining lenient restrictions such as wearing masks and social distancing. Simple closure would also be a possibility, but considered unlikely.
“The proposed plan is actually very cautious,” says Ivo Muller, an expert in population health and immunity at the University of Melbourne.
“It’s not ‘Freedom Day’, it’s not ‘let’s throw everything out the window and go out to celebrate’ – that’s not what is being suggested.”
When will international borders open?
This will happen when Australia reaches 80% of vaccinated people. But the flight will be open only to countries classified as “safe” and people who have been vaccinated.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said she plans to reopen in November, but some experts say that could happen soon.
“With 80% double vaccination, we plan to allow our citizens access to international travel and also welcome Australians back home via Sydney Airport,” Berejiklian said this week.
The national plan also allows for “travel bubbles” to safe countries, meaning that vaccinated foreigners can also enter.
Qantas has indicated that airlines will reopen in December to the UK, USA, Singapore, Canada and Japan.
But is everyone happy?
Polls show 62% of Australians support the government’s plan to reopen.
But many Australians are unsure about the idea of ”living with the virus” after becoming accustomed to low infection rates.
The government model, prepared by the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute, estimates that a 70% reopening of the vaccine could lead to 13 deaths in six months – provided testing and tracing work well. But that number could rise to 1,500 if there are fewer health measures, according to forecasts.
Just this week, Australia recorded the 1,000th death from covid-19, the last G-20 country to do so.
Psychologically, Muller says, this is a huge change in thinking.
More than 90% of cases in Australia have occurred around Sydney and Melbourne. But six Australian states and territories have seen little to no virus.
“They basically have no transmission and no restrictions,” Mueller says. “People are basically living normal lives, so telling them they need to fight the virus is very difficult.”
Therefore, the coronavirus-free parts of the country differ with the federal government and other states on strategy.
Under the Australian federal system, state governments have control over health, police and internal borders.
Queensland and Western Australia (Western Australia) are now refusing to open their states, while Sydney is seeing more than 1,000 infections a day.
“I can’t understand why there are people saying we should intentionally get infected,” said Mark McGowan, Western Australia’s prime minister.
But Morrison argues that these states cannot hide from the virus forever.
“Most Australian states will have to realize that eventually they will have to move away from the elimination strategy because it is not sustainable forever,” Mueller says.
What can Australia learn from abroad?
Experts say a lot can be learned from other countries about how to safely reopen and adjust risks.
Could social distancing be a requirement in schools like France and Mexico? With travel, can Australia adopt the rapid diagnostic tests used in Europe and North America? What is the best vaccine passport that allows safe movement?
Experts stress that Australia now needs to focus on vaccinating high-risk groups, such as indigenous communities, before reopening.
They noted that the plan to reopen Australia had already been shaped by the experiences of the United Kingdom and the United States.
While Delta has caused waves of infections in both countries, vaccinations significantly reduce serious illness and deaths.
“It gives us certainty that we’re on the right track with vaccines,” Mueller says.
Australia’s plan to reopen the vaccine at 80% is a higher level than the 54% adopted by the UK, where the vaccination level is now around 80% of the eligible population. In Denmark, where 70% are vaccinated, almost all restrictions have been lifted.
Singapore, which hit 80% this week, is also ahead of plans to reopen, but is taking a cautious approach like Australia, keeping travel only to countries deemed safe and restrictions such as wearing masks.
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