Australians are being urged not to forget that the goal was "never" to achieve zero cases of Covid-19, as the country battles a worsening outbreak of the deadly virus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the nation remains in a suppression phase of the fight against the disease while vaccination rates increase.
"The idea that you can have zero Covid in any country has never been Australia's plan," he told the ABC on Monday.
Federal, state and territory governments have set vaccination targets of 70 and 80 per cent before lockdowns end, restrictions ease and the country reopens.
However, some health experts say opening up before there are zero Covid cases is a "disaster waiting to happen" worried the virus could mutate again if restrictions ease too early.
Physician Dr Anthony Moore urged Australians not to give up on eradicating Covid completely, saying Mr Morrison's "low case" strategy could have terrible consequences.
"If this virus is allowed to circulate it will find opportunities to mutate and all this will do will threaten the effectiveness of the vaccines and we are back at square one," he wrote on Twitter.
The "Low Case" strategy is a disaster waiting to happen, if this virus is allowed to circulate it will find opportunities to mutate and all this will do will threaten the effectiveness of the vaccines and we are back at square one. Australia must not give up on ZeoCOVID
— 💉💉Dr Anthony (Tony) Moore (@PerpetualWinger) August 15, 2021
NSW and Victoria premiers say they won't reach zero Covid cases
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews agree their states will not completely eradicate the virus, whereas WA's leader Mark McGowan is signalling he will continue to pursue a zero-case goal, even after 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated.
"Our aim, as it has always been in the pandemic is to keep people out of hospital, keep people alive and safe but make sure that we can live as freely as possible and the chance we have to do that is with the higher vaccination rates," Ms Berejiklian said on Monday.
"We also desperately need to reduce the case numbers and we have been clear about that from day one."
PM slams WA Premier's zero-Covid plan
The WA Premier told Sky News on Sunday his "preferred option" is zero Covid, saying that's what they'll attempt to achieve.
"We retain the right to put in place border [restrictions], that's understood, but some of the measures we put in place might ease, once we reach that level of vaccination," he said.
Mr Morrison told the ABC on Monday Mr McGowan’s plan “wasn’t what was agreed in national cabinet”, adding it contradicted modelling by the Doherty Institute as to when lockdown and restrictions will be eased.
“Once you get to 80 per cent vaccination, it is against the county‘s interests not to open up,” he said.
Ms Berejiklian questioned Mr McGowan's policy during Monday's press conference calling it "unrealistic."
“We want to get as close to having no infectious people in the community as possible, we’ve said we want to get as close to that number as possible,” she told reporters.
“And that is exactly what we’re striving for, let me make that very clear.
“But can we pretend that there will always be zero cases of Delta in Australia? I don’t think that is a realistic proposition.”
Under the four-stage reopening plan, extended hard lockdowns were expected to be phased out after the nation reached vaccine coverage of 70 and 80 per cent.
Let's be clear: the government of NSW deciding to give up on zero COVID is an ideological choice, not an inevitability.
There is much that hasn't been tried, including mass random testing, use of rapid antigen tests in workplaces, and issuing P2/N95 masks to essential workers. https://t.co/rKhgJcVXta
— Dr Zoë Hyde (@DrZoeHyde) August 15, 2021
NSW announces record number of cases
NSW recorded 478 new Covid cases on Monday morning and eight more deaths related to the virus, including a 15-year-old boy with coronavirus who died from meningitis.
The state has also recorded the highest number of Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.
All of NSW is now in lockdown, with Greater Sydney residents now limited to exercise or shop within five kilometres of their home and they need a permit to travel to regional NSW.
Melbourne's lockdown has been extended for a further two weeks, after 22 new cases were recorded, as well as the introduction of a curfew.
Greater Darwin and Katherine have also entered a three-day lockdown, after a man who travelled from NSW tested positive.
Queensland emerged from stay-at-home conditions on August 8, despite still reporting Covid cases. On Monday, they reported no new cases.
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