Australia Is Playing With Fire

The COVID Free Nation Has High Standards, Unrealistic Exceptions and Not Enough Good Vaccines

It was over a year ago that worlds eyes were drawn to Australia as the air filled with smoke and chocked the lungs of its inhabitants. Months later its inhabitants donned masks for another reason as COVID-19 reached her shores. Thanks to a mix of luck, geography, good policy, and soul-crushing lockdowns Australia as a whole has effectively enjoyed a COVID free year.

In some cases, Australia has become a victim of its success. Draconian measures are being implemented at the drop of a hat, drastically impacting personal freedoms and the economy. Currently, 6 million Victorians are locked in their homes, limited to 2 hours of exercise a day, subject to a 9 pm curfew and unable to travel more than a few kilometres from their house. If you were wondering why the Australian Open courts were packed to the brim with raucous supporters one day and empty the next its because there are currently 21 active cases in the entire state.

Without ever explicitly stating it aloud, the acceptable amount of COVID in the country is 0, and state politicians will stop at nothing to keep it there.

Politicians mandate that incoming travellers are locked and isolated inside Hotel quarantines. The Covid free life that Australia enjoys demands that these hotels be airtight. This is the Achilles heel of Australia’s approach, with every outbreak being the direct result of breaches in the hotel quarantine system. Common sense would dictate it is a priority to vaccinate the few staff that attend these facilities, and their families. This has not been the case.

While the US is vaccinating at a rate of well over 1 million people a day, Australia is yet to vaccinate a single person. This is despite the tiny number of doses required to keep the entire country COVID free. Even Israel has vaccinated virtually all citizens over 60 years of age. When it became clear that Pfizer was going to be the first and best vaccine, Israel spent big and delivered results to its people. Australia just stood and watched.

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations on earth, and spending 100’s of billions of dollars to prop up the economy during the crisis, it has only earmarked $5 billion on covid vaccines, treatments and rollout. This accounts for about 1% of the $470 billion, 4-year health budget. It plans to spend 4 times as much on mental health. The federal government has underinvested and has placed Australia at the back of the vaccine queue.

The 10 million Pfizer doses are delayed and are only enough to vaccinate a fraction of its people. Australia has placed virtually all its faith in the Astra-Zeneca vaccine developed by Oxford University, of which it will be producing a million doses a week by the end of February.

Hanging over this vaccine, however, are 3 serious question marks.

1 — General Effectiveness

Compared to the 95% effective Pfizer and Moderna vaccine the AstraZeneca vaccine sits a poultry 65%, with its ability to reduce transmission considerably lower. This drastically reduces its ability to acts as a transmission barrier between hotel security and the rest of Australia.

2 — The Elderly

Additionally, it is not clear that it will adequately protect the most at-risk elderly people. Germany recently restricted the use of a vaccine to those under the age of 55 citing a lack of evidence of the effectiveness in an elderly population.

3 — South African Strain

The final nail in the coffin for the vaccine is the news that the vaccine is only 10% effective in combatting mild and moderate cases of the South African strain. If it becomes the dominant strain everywhere as it did in South Africa, where it accounts for 90% of cases, Australia would not be protected.

In the short to medium term, the AstraZeneca will offer good protection. Although it is only 65% effective, it offers far higher resistance to the most severe effects of the disease. In places like Europe and the US, where anything to reduce the fatality rate is welcome, this makes a huge difference to the health and the confidence of its citizens.

Australia, however, has experienced the pandemic completely differently. Following only 1 major outbreak in Melbourne, Australians do not live in fear of death or sickness but in fear of any cases at all. Given the Country’s position, this is entirely logical. One case could trigger hundreds of deaths, billions of dollars of damage and over 100 days of lockdown. This happened in Melbourne just 6 months ago.

Australia has become so accustomed to 0 cases that are has become an accepted ideology. States have routinely barred travel between states whenever a single community transmission case was uncovered, increasing tensions between states and hammering the trade and tourism that drives the economy. State-level chauvinism has become the norm. Mark McGowan, the premier of WA enjoys a sky-high 89% approval rating thanks to his excessive border lockdowns and inward-looking politics.

It will be almost a year before Australians are fully vaccinated. The best-case scenario is that the current Melbourne outbreak is quashed and all hotel quarantine workers and their families get the Pfizer vaccine in the next month. Perhaps the hope is that all cases will be contained within hotel quarantine, the south African strain will disappear into thin air and Australia will only open to the world when it is fully vaccinated in 8–12 months.

If history is to judge, this is wishful thinking. Outbreaks are almost inevitable and the cost of locking down to international travellers for another year is enormous. It might take every Australian to be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine for things to return to normal. That could be years. Either that or politicians must adjust to a new normal where COVID poses a real but significantly reduced risk.

Once vaccines are rolled out, to ensure that the economy and the freedoms of its citizens are protected, Australians must achieve two things. Achieve quasi-immunity to the worst effect of all strains of the virus and backflip to view covid transmission as normal and acceptable. If not, Australian businesses, innovators and investors will be crippled by uncertainty, her citizens’ lives will be in constant flux and she will no be known as the lucky country no longer.

Prediction Time:

Pfizer vaccine given to hotel quarantine and family within a month

Astrazeneca to be given to everyone else by July or August.

If there is an outbreak while Australia is partially vaccinated, lockdown will still occur but to a lesser extent because there is not enough faith in the efficacy of the astrazeneca vaccine.

Australia will announce the purchase of enough mRNA vaccine to inoculate its entire population against the SA variant at a huge cost to taxpayers.

Hotel quarantines for international arrivals will be in place until all citizens are vaccinated again. OR South African Strain will emerge with potentially unknown consequences and trigger another lockdown.

Some sources:

Thinking Out Loud

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