As the federal government scrambles to sell a new path towards reopening to a mostly locked down public, several Australian think tanks have presented modelling suggesting Australia becoming 80% vaccinated is the best path forward.
The analysis comes amid reports the government is quietly preparing for targeted lockdowns to stretch into 2022, as the country’s COVID-19 crisis rages on.
On Thursday, progressive think tank the Grattan Institute released a report that models several scenarios that could lead Australia to reopen following the recent outbreaks that have placed over half the population back in lockdown.
The ‘Race to 80’ report’s key finding: that Australia needs to be 80% fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, including 95% of over-70s, before the country can safely relax it’s current approach stands in stark contrast to the current levels.
Just 39% of NSW residents over the age of 70 are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to federal government data.
Currently, 14.1% of Australians are fully vaccinated and 17.8% have received one shot, ranking Australia’s vaccination effort 37th out of 38 OECD nations.
The report shows that based on the Delta strain’s infectiousness and vaccine effectiveness, opening at 80% would result in the country effectively quashing the virus.
A more pessimistic scenario shows an outcome not significantly worse than a bad flu season.
However at 70%, it projects moderately high deaths, as well as ICU demand that shoots up beyond emergency surge capacity.
And at 50%, it predicts a “very long lockdown and a very significant health toll.”
Tom Crowley, one of the authors of the report, wrote on Twitter that it’s still possible for the country to become 80% vaccinated this year.
“The country has enough supply to hit 80 and beyond this year,” Crowley said.
“The two challenges for govts (states, not just feds): get a jab in the arm of everyone who wants one and convince the quarter who are delaying to get jabbed sooner rather than later,” he said.
The report comes as the government scrambles to reorient its plans to reopen the country, which have been blown up by the arrival of the more contagious Delta variant.
On Friday the Doherty Institute will present scenarios to national cabinet which show the vaccination rates needed for Australia to start opening up, according to The Australian.
Vaccination targets for Morrison’s “four-phase plan” for COVID reopening will go to cabinet, and Treasury will be tasked with figuring out the economic costs of different outcomes.
The Doherty Institute’s modelling will also be released to the public, health minister Greg Hunt has said, but the government has not yet provided a solid timeframe for this.
Reports are also swirling that Morrison and national cabinet leaders are preparing for targeted lockdowns that may continue into next year, backed by the Prime Minister’s refusal to rule out lockdowns in 2022.
On Wednesday Morrison said the national vaccination rate was running at more than a million doses a week, and had been boosted by the upgraded advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) on the use of AstraZeneca.
Greater Sydney’s lockdown was extended by another month earlier this week, with NSW recording its worst day since the pandemic began on Thursday with 239 new infections.
Morrison also said he was hopeful lockdowns would be a “thing of the past” once vaccination rates were higher.
“What we’re seeing overseas is when countries do reach those much higher vaccination rates, then that does give their governments a lot more options in the suppression limitations they have to use to deal with the virus,” Morrison said.
“We are setting the targets scientifically, combined with the economic advice as well, and that gets us a roadmap to Christmas.”