The end of lockdowns is possible according to new modeling from the Grattan Institute released today. But it’s going to take a collective effort to make it happen, as well as the associated infrastructure and dedicated campaigns and programs.
The effort will be in vaccinations — something a large majority of Australians are yet to have easy access to but are expected to have in the coming months. The Grattan Institute is calling this the Race to 80.
The Grattan modelling finds that with 80 per cent of the Australian population vaccinated (rising to 95 per cent for vulnerable populations including those over the age of 70), we can move away from the ‘zero COVID strategy’. We could get there by the end of the year if vaccines are approved for children, otherwise by March 2022.
While COVID would still be in the community, the modelling finds that severe cases would be rare.
Of course, this is only possible if every person is given an opportunity to get vaccinated, and with all state, territory and national governments doing their bit to make it happen. We need vaccine supply problems to be fixed by October.
Grattan CEO Danielle Wood spoke to Women’s Agenda about the report’s findings earlier this morning and highlighted the impact lockdowns particularly have on women, in losing paid work as well as taking on additional unpaid work.
“We know that during lockdowns women’s jobs get hit hardest, they are disproportionally employed in those sectors that are social facing – like hospitality and retail – so when we lock down women are more likely to lose work and hours.
“We also know then that women largely take on extra responsibilities, around remote learning, domestic work and other caring.
“Lockdowns hurt women,” she added. “That is clear from the data. Moving to a world where you can tame COVID so we don’t need to use lockdowns as public health measures, is entirely possible.”
Wood said that state and territory governments have been receptive to their messages and that while the 80 per cent target is ambitious, she’s optimistic that it’s achievable.
“The data suggests that only about 10% of Australians are in that anti vax camp. There is another 35% that are open to getting the vaccine, they are waiting. It’s the moveable middle to focus on. We haven’t run many campaigns yet, because we haven’t had the supply. But the supply is coming.”
She says that with studies indicating a higher level of vaccine hesitancy among women than men, that we need dedicated campaigns and messaging targetting women.
A big depending factor on how fast we can reach the 80 per cent target will be on how vaccines are distributed, which can not be left up to GPs alone. “We need vaccinations centres, but also community halls, transport stations, events, we want people to be walking past vaccination stations and able to pop in and get one.”
The Grattan report highlights a number of incentive measures that could be used to help get Australians vaccinated, including a lottery-like initiative from the Federal Government “Vaxlotto”, featuring a $10 million a week prize that everyone who has had on jab is entered in, and everyone with two jabs doubles their chances in. The report also recommends state governments issue “vaccine passports” for domestic air travel as well as entry to hospitality, sports and entertainment venues.
“We should throw everything including the kitchen sink at this,” said Wood.
The report authors note that while Australians have largely supported the “hard-line approach” to zero COVID, the Delta variant is making this harder to maintain and the population is “tired and frustrated.”
“National cabinet must now tread a fine line. On the one hand, we cannot abandon zero Covid strategies too early and risk the calamity we have so far avoided.”
Returning to normal with COVID circulating, even with 50 to 70 per cent of the population vaccinated, could risk seeing hospitals being overwhelmed.
“But on the other hand, we cannot remain walled inside Fortress Australia indefinitely, cut off from th rest of the world and periodically cut off from one another,” the report authors write.
They add that “failure is not an option” and that Australians will not accept a high death toll or indefinite restrictions. “Achieving very high vaccination coverage is the only way to avoid these outcomes.”