With Sydney’s latest COVID-19 outbreak getting worse, what is Australia’s exit plan?

Ongoing lockdowns across Australia show the COVID-19 eradication strategy has failed. Australia needs an alternative.

For most of the past 18 months, Australia has been viewed as being among the more successful countries in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic originating from China.

Australia quickly closed its borders to all non-residents on 20 March 2020 and has had strict border controls in place since then, requiring all travellers to quarantine at their own expense for 2 weeks to hopefully avoid spreading COVID-19 in the community.

Meanwhile, the initial country-wide lockdown from mid-March 2020 was successful in eradicating the virus and Australia reopened a few months later, albeit with the borders still closed to non-residents.

Australia seemed to be sitting pretty and eradication of coronavirus was at hand.

Or was it?

Quarantine outbreaks

Despite the initial success, Australia has been plagued (pun intended) by the virus escaping numerous times from quarantine.

Victoria was the first to experience this, being forced into another four-month lockdown starting in June 2020 due to the sheer incompetence of the Andrews Government and the Victorian Health bureaucracy.

But other states have had similar outbreaks, especially NSW, which has been receiving the bulk of international travellers returning to Australia.

NSW was forced to place the Northern Beaches of Sydney into lockdown over the Christmas / New Year period to stop an outbreak that almost certainly came from quarantine.

Another likely quarantine outbreak in May 2021 was successfully quelled.

However, the latest outbreak is the worst yet. Thanks to a limousine driver working at Sydney airport being irresponsible and not wearing a mask, Sydney is in lockdown again.

Initially just for two weeks, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian extended it for another week and, given today’s 112 new cases with 48 unlinked, further extensions are inevitable.

Eradication strategy a failure

To me, this shows the failure of the eradication strategy Australia has been pursuing for the past 18 months.

Regardless of any protestations to the contrary, this has been the strategy followed at both Federal and State level by both Liberal and Labor leaders.

The goal was to first eradicate the initial outbreak via locking down the country, then keep the borders closed and require 14 days quarantine for any returning travellers to keep the virus out of Australia until the population was vaccinated.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is highly contagious and so quarantine outbreaks have occurred with frightening regularity.

Right of return

In theory, after the initial successful eradication of COVID-19, the best way to keep it eradicated would have been to ban any incoming travel to Australia until the vaccination rollout was complete.

Of course, in practice this isn’t possible.

It is a fundamental principle of international law that Australians have the right to return to their country.

So this has forced the Federal Government to continue to allow Australian citizens and permanent residents to return to Australia. However, their numbers have been strictly limited – since further reduced – and they have been required to quarantine on arrival for two weeks at their own expense.

And as I noted recently, Australia’s vaccination rollout has been a debacle.

For some reason, up until recently there was a distinct lack of urgency on the part of both the relevant regulator – the Therapeutic Goods Administration – and the Federal Government to get Australia vaccinated as soon as possible.

So New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has no choice but to maintain Sydney’s lockdown until the latest outbreak is under control.

Vaccinations, vaccinations, vaccinations

Unless Australians are prepared to deal with lockdowns every time there is a new outbreak while also being content to keep our international borders closed indefinitely, the only proper exit strategy is to get Australians vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Happily, the vaccine rollout is speeding up and it appears Pfizer will now deliver vaccine doses more quickly than originally agreed with the Government.

Unfortunately, with only 9.0% of the population currently fully vaccinated, lockdowns and closed borders are going to be the norm for a few months yet.

Yet a successful vaccine rollout is the only viable exit strategy from the COVID-19 nightmare.

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