After a national cabinet meeting in July, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced vaccine targets for eased restrictions, saying that 70% of the adult population needed to be fully vaccinated before the country moved to Phase 2 of his plan for opening up the nation1. This ‘plan’ for Australia to open up was come up with after various targets and horizons had been jettisoned, largely because of a lack of vaccine supply2.
Morrison said the states and the federal government had agreed to the target at national cabinet. The 70% adult vaccination target would need to be reached nationally, and then in any individual state, before restrictions could be eased. Under ‘Phase 2’, vaccinated people would be placed under fewer restrictions, and there would be a higher arrival cap for vaccinated Australians returning from overseas. An 80% vaccination rate of adults would be required to reach ‘Phase 3’, in which vaccinated residents would have no restrictions, and would be allowed to leave the country, and “broad metropolitan lockdowns” such as those currently in operation in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra would not occur1.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stated that economic support for states would stop when the vaccination rate (presumably among adults) reaches 70%. He based this number on the Doherty Institute modelling. However, when queried (7:56 in to interview3) about the fact that there needs to be a decrease in cases even with a 70% vaccination rate, he simply ignored it and stated that we should be under no illusion that we can “eliminate Covid”. He then started (9:183) rattling off the UK’s statistics of “75% vaccination rate double dose yet in any one day they are getting 30,000 cases and more than 100 deaths”. He followed this with “living with Covid there’ll be cases; by living with Covid, there’ll be people in hospital, and with living with Covid, there’ll be deaths”3.
Frydenberg’s figures on the vaccination rate in the UK was wrong. At the time of writing, the UK has had 60.88% of its population fully vaccinated and another 9.1% partially vaccinated4. It is also a dubious statement that Covid-19 cannot be eliminated. Tasmania has gone for 463 days without a local Covid-19 case, 254 days without an imported case and 15 days since the last active case recovered. If that is not elimination then it must be damned close5. So, it seems clear that the government has now given up on preventing deaths from Covid-19, probably because it costs too much.
Iceland lies in the middle of the North Atlantic, about two thirds of the way from Norway to Greenland. It has a population of only about 360,000, just a bit less than the Australian Capital Territory6. At the time of writing, Iceland had 74.82% of its entire population vaccinated4, and like many places on the planet, it suffered two major waves of infection, the first peaking at the end of March, 2020, and the second peaking in the middle of October, 2020. However, despite their high vaccination rate, they are in the middle of a third major wave, worse than either of the previous waves, and which peaked in the first week of August7. They have had no deaths in this wave, but as they have a small population and because deaths lag infection by about two weeks, it is perhaps too soon to tell8.
Israel has a population of about 40% that of Australia’s and it has suffered significantly from the pandemic, with a relatively light first wave peaking in early April, 2020, a second in the middle of July, 2020, followed soon after by a severe one peaking at the end of September, 2020, with a seven-day moving average (SDMA) of over 6,000 new cases a day. This was followed by a fourth wave which peaked in the middle of January 2021 with over 8,000 (SDMA) new cases per day9. Israel has had 62.84% of its entire population vaccinated and just over 5% partially vaccinated, similar to that of the UK4. Like the UK, Israel is also in the throes of a fifth wave of Covid-19 infection with an SDMA of just under 7,000 new cases per day, and still climbing. It has also seen a rise in the number of deaths with an SDMA of 21 per day9.
As I have noted here before, the government fudges the vaccination figures by using the better looking ‘percentage of the eligible population’ (i.e. those over 16) as a guide, and that is why they also quote about 30% being fully vaccinated. In fact, 23.19% of the entire Australian population have been fully vaccinated4. So, when Morrison and Frydenberg talk about a 70% vaccination rate, they are only talking about the rate among those over 16, which translates to a vaccination rate of the entire population of about 56%. That is less than the vaccination rates in Iceland and Israel and they are both suffering badly from a new wave of infection.
To attempt to understand what Morrison and Frydenberg have in store for us if we open up at 56% of the population fully vaccinated, you only have to look at the UK after its Freedom Day (July 19), when many Covid-19 restrictions were eased. I wrote a piece about it a few days later and at that time it was clear that the rapid decline in numbers of new daily cases was starting to slow down10. Now, over a month later, it is clear that the decline stopped at about 26,000 (SDMA) new cases a day, and has now climbed to almost 30,500 (SDMA) per day. The SDMA of deaths is now climbed to 98 per day11. These were the figures Frydenberg alluded to in his interview3.
The government keeps parroting the Doherty Institute modelling, but nowhere do they admit that this modelling was based on low transmission numbers. University of Melbourne professor of mathematical biology James McCaw, who is part of the Doherty Institute and helped develop the modelling, said multiple factors needed to be considered in following the plan, which models both 70% and 80% of the population being vaccinated. He said that the modelling was “built around the fact that we can open up when we are able to manage the virus circulating in the community” and that “effective management of circulating virus without lockdowns requires high vaccine coverage and it requires there not to be a lot of cases in the community.” As a consequence, virus case numbers in NSW would need to drop for such high vaccination rates can be effective.
If Morrison and Frydenberg ignore this caveat, they are condemning Australians to another wave of infection and death like that now happening in Iceland, Israel and the UK. The reason they are so keen to open up is because people’s lives are of no consequence to them, as long as their mates are doing well and the donations keep flowing.