Australia decides on a pandemic exit strategy

It’s not perfect but it’s the only way out of this debacle.

Perhaps finally acknowledging that the vaccine rollout is a debacle – or at the very least, is perceived to be a debacle – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the National Cabinet have released a blueprint to exit the pandemic nightmare.

It consists of four stages which, in summary, essentially depend on as many adult Australians getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

Incentives matter

Explaining to the public that getting vaccinated is the only way out of the pandemic is a good idea.

This should really have been the goal from the get-go but there was never a sense of urgency from the government or the bureaucrats at the TGA or ATAGI. They all clearly believed they could just shut up shop – that is, keep our international borders closed and implement lockdowns – whenever necessary.

Of course, as the protests last weekend showed, more and more people are sick and tired of lockdowns.

So instead of the media continuing to hyperventilate about people losing patience with government incompetence and the resulting lost jobs, destroyed businesses, increased poverty, lost hope and so on, perhaps they could be more constructive and actually help the authorities get everyone vaccinated.

For example, one thing the media could do is to explain that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be taken by the majority of people regardless of their age, subject to them consulting with their GP and understanding both the risks and benefits.

Vaccinations the thing

Anyway, to the plan.

As I said, incentivising people to get vaccinated is the right thing to do. Thankfully the various Federal and State governments and ATAGI are now all on the same page emphasising that quickly vaccinating Australians is the only way back to some normalcy.

Unfortunately, only 19% of the adult population is fully vaccinated so we are still a long way from the 70% minimum to allow us to move from Phase A to Phase B.

Short term pain

At the current speed of the vaccination rollout, it will be late this year or perhaps early in 2022 before we can possibly move to Phase B.

So it appears the current Sydney lockdown will have to run its course.

Even if additional vaccine supplies are diverted to the affected areas of Sydney as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian intends, it will take time to distribute these vaccines and for them to have any effect.

Hopefully by then the lockdown will have been lifted or, if not, is about to be lifted.

In any case, whatever happens in Sydney, the plan requires that average vaccination rates across Australia reach the threshold – in this case, 70% – before we can move to the next phase.

Until then, the only major change from current practice is that short, sharp lockdowns rather than a proportionate response will be imposed for the duration of Phase A.

Lockdowns less likely

Once at least 70% of the adult population is vaccinated, then we can move to Phase B where, importantly, ongoing restrictions will be “low-level” and lockdowns “less likely but possible”.

Vaccinated Australians will also benefit from eased restrictions, although the details are still to be decided.

Hopefully this will further encourage Australians to get vaccinated.

Once 80% of the adult population is vaccinated, we can move to Phase C.  Phase C will involve minimum ongoing baseline restrictions and “highly targeted lockdowns only”. Happily, vaccinated Australians will be exempt from all restrictions including on outbound travel.

In the final stage, our international borders will be opened and ongoing restrictions and lockdowns will be no more. What is required to reach this stage is not yet clear.

So, in summary, as I noted previously, the only way out of this debacle is vaccinations. It was indeed always a race.

Given the circumstances, the plan is as about as good as we could hope for.

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