A new study lays out what Australia needs to do to manage its border without cutting arrival caps

(Steve Christo, Corbis via Getty Images)
  • A new study lays out how Australia can reopen its borders by managing risks around levels of COVID-19 vaccination.
  • If 60% of adults and children are vaccinated by 2022, Australia would be able to reopen its borders with minimal fatalities from the virus, it found.
  • The study’s author said that the latest outbreak suggested the country needed to look toward managing the pandemic rather than eliminating COVID-19 completely.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

If 60% of adults and children are vaccinated by next year, Australia could move toward managing the COVID-19 pandemic rather than seeking to eliminate it, according to a new study that seeks to measure the risks of opening our border.

Published by the University of Melbourne, the modelling completed by epidemiologists looks at the impact of changing the number of arrivals to the country, and weighs it against the decreasing risks as the population continues to be vaccinated.

It suggests Australia could allow entry to 4,250 people from countries with low infection rates to enter the country per day, the equivalent of half the pre-pandemic volume, and still keep the number of infected travellers to 0.2 if a 60% target is reached.

On July 2, the Morrison government announced it was cutting Australia’s weekly quarantine intake from 6,070 to 3,035 – well down from the initial cap of 4,000 was first introduced last July.

The study comes as Australia reaches a new phase in the ongoing pandemic, where the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant has met a population currently only 8.5% fully vaccinated.

Last week, National Cabinet agreed to a four-step plan to reboot Australia’s halting vaccination program and help propel the country toward a vaccination rate that would allow it to reopen international borders. It came after outbreaks of the Delta variant in several states, leading to snap lockdowns, including the Greater Sydney one that is heading into tis third week.

Tony Blakely, author of the University of Melbourne paper, told The Australian it was unlikely Australia would be able to fully open up to all travellers with no quarantine requirements before 2023.

The modelling estimated case numbers and deaths depending on how many infected travellers are allowed into the country, plotted against vaccination rates.

“Vaccines alone will not get us herd immunity,” Blakely said, adding that the latest outbreak which has come as many developed countries are reaching 50% vaccination rates and are slowly reopening, suggested that Australia needed to think about “what our risk tolerance is”.

“One of the things we have the most control over is the number of people coming into Australia per day who are infected,” Blakely said.

The study’s modelling suggested that by requiring travellers to be vaccinated and have a PCR test before flying here, it would be possible to keep the number of infected travellers entering the country to just 0.2 per day.

This projection assumes these travellers are coming from countries with low COVID-19 case numbers.

Based on the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and keeping the number of infected arrivals to 0.2 a day, Australia would be likely to record 3.7 cases of Covid-19 a day if 60% of the whole population was vaccinated and some suppression measures remained in place.

According to these projections, the country would likely see 32 deaths a year, with that number rising to between 22 and 186 deaths per year if children were not vaccinated.

The study’s modelling found that if 50% of the entire population including children was vaccinated and the same settings were applied, Australia would see case numbers of 16 per day, with 171 deaths.

If 80% of the adult population was vaccinated, deaths would drop to just over 6.

Blakely said the government should consider what its risk tolerance is and how many travellers it will allow into the country after everyone in the community has had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

“You determine your risk tolerance and you decide on your policy settings and what number of infected people coming into the country per day keeps us within that envelope,” he said.