With the developed world exiting from its COVID-19-induced haze, things are very different in Australia. With every state and territory in Australia enforcing some sort of lockdown or border closure, the “you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else” shtick, of which our politicians continually boast, is wearing increasingly thin.
Despite a slowly bubbling groundswell against continued onerous restrictions, most people, including senior government types, remain fervent in the belief that Scott Morrison will hold firm on his “Fortress Australia” mentality until a federal election (which is looking increasingly likely to happen next year).
Morrison himself is doing nothing to dispel those perceptions, claiming that opening borders would lead to “5000 cases a day” and “I don’t think Australians would be happy”.
But that ‘fortress until the election’ view fails to take into account Morrison’s willingness to change any position he holds in order to get re-elected. It also ignores the quiet improvement of Australia’s vaccine rollout, which is about to transition from terribly slow to surprisingly quick as the Pfizer and Moderna cavalry arrive. Assuming that supply arrives as predicted (and so far, Pfizer deliveries have been right on schedule since March), Australia will probably reach current UK vaccination levels by early October, and everyone who wants a vaccine will have been offered one by around mid-November.
The significant increase in COVID cases in the UK is paradoxically real-life proof that the vaccines are working extraordinarily well. Infections among fully vaccinated people in the UK are about 90% lower than non-vaccinated people. Unsurprisingly, the case fatality rate has also dropped by a similar amount — from 1% to 0.1%.
While Morrison is likely correct that restoring freedoms will lead to upwards of 5000 daily infections, if the border were opened in early December — when vaccination levels are above 70% of adults — very few people will die (probably about five non-vaccinated people per day).
By December, after Australians aged over 12 have been offered a vaccination, it would make little sense to continue to report daily “cases”. In the same sense we don’t report “daily cases” of the flu, the common cold or lung cancer. If we’re going to report deaths, perhaps we should report deaths by all causes, which (based on 2019 data) would look something like this:
With Morrison’s 5000 infections per day at a 0.01% fatality rate (which is what the UK is currently reporting) there would be fewer deaths from COVID than from suicide and accidental falls, and far fewer than from diabetes or influenza.
This is why even super cautious countries, such as Singapore and South Korea, have outlined roadmaps out of COVID, with two of the most aggressive COVID-suppressing nations now acknowledging that this virus may never go away and “the good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst”.
It would be a brave prime minister who ignores the rest of the developed world and heads to an election locking up a nation to “save” them from a virus they have been vaccinated against, and which is soon to become about half as lethal as accidental falls.
This article was first published by Crikey.