Targets, horizons, pathways

By July 2, 2021Australian Politics

After being in hiding from Zoom for most of the week (rumours are that it is to count his numbers, as Frydenberg does the same), Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared outside The Lodge, in Canberra, after his post G7 isolation. When he fronted the cameras he said that he would use this morning’s National Cabinet meeting to discuss setting vaccination targets which, once reached, would mean lockdowns and travel restrictions would no longer be required1. This, presumably, is when ‘herd immunity’* is achieved2.

This is just another in the long line of idiocy spread by the government. Targets were announced earlier this year, with such benchmarks as: ’80,000 doses administered by March 1st’. 30,000 were in fact administered by that date. Next, 4 million doses were going to be administered by the end of March; er, no, by mid-April; er no, sometime. Then we had a target of 40 million doses of vaccine (i.e. 20 million people fully vaccinated) by the end of October; er, maybe later; er, maybe mid-December; er, maybe late January. No, no, apparently, we all ‘misunderstood’; it was 20 million doses by the end of October4. In mid-April, Morrison apparently gave up, and said we are not going to set targets, just horizons, after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) revised their advice recommending against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50 because of the risk of blood clots5. So now we are back at targets again, apparently.

But no! After Morrison’s meeting with the National Cabinet, and 17 months after the virus arrived in Australia, we don’t have ‘targets’ we now have a plan, or a pathway, out of Covid-19. The plan involves four phases and we are in Phase 1 now. One could be forgiven for believing that this phase, as far as the government is concerned, is the ‘headless chicken’ phase. Morrison ‘hopes’ we get to the second phase next year. This is when international travel caps for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers will be lifted. Phase 3 will be when Australia deals with Covid-19 much as it does with the seasonal flu, with no restrictions on vaccinated travellers6. It looks like the September, 2022, estimate of the full vaccination of the populace given by the ABC was accurate, rather than the October-December-January dates ‘targeted’ by the government. There was no date given for when we might get to Phase 4, but that is when things supposedly return to pre-pandemic life6.

At the time of writing, Australia has had 5.9% of the population fully vaccinated, while Israel has had 60% of its population vaccinated7, and they could be in something akin to Morrison’s Phase 3 now. Indeed, Israel has lifted nearly all Covid-9 restrictions, so that Israelis no longer require proof of vaccination or recovery to enter various venues, while capacity limits at shops, restaurants and other sites have been lifted. There are now no caps on gatherings, indoors or outdoors8. In Israel a week ago, 100,000 attended a legal pride march in Tel Aviv, the biggest event since the beginning of the pandemic9. However, now the Delta variant has arrived in Israel and case numbers are starting to increase again. They have has gone from about 16 per day in the middle of June to over 200 a day at the beginning of July10. Their large 60% vaccination rate which some seem to believe is close to herd immunity11, leaves them in much better shape to handle an outbreak of this variant. That is where we could be, if the vaccination ‘strollout’ had not been such an unmitigated shambles. Instead, all we get are more announcements.

*Herd immunity: This is achieved when such a large proportion of the population has been immunised, that the disease cannot spread much beyond isolated cases. For example, if someone with such a disease is surrounded by friends, family, colleagues and contacts in their life, who are immune to the disease (either by vaccination or having had the disease), it cannot spread beyond that person. This is only true of person-to-person transmissible diseases, and not all vaccine preventable diseases are like that. An example of this is tetanus, which is picked up from bacteria in the environment and not from people who have the disease2.



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