Major doubt cast over Australia's path out of lockdowns

·3-min read

While NSW posted the highest number of new daily Covid-19 cases recorded by any Australian jurisdiction on Saturday, and then again on Sunday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged people to focus on a different statistic.

"The more important figure going up is the vaccination rate," she told reporters as NSW reported 825 new locally acquired cases and three deaths o Saturday. 

"The vaccination rate is where we can look forward to living life freely."

However a professor who helped develop the modelling that underpins Australia's path out of the pandemic says the reverse could be true.

University of Melbourne professor of mathematical biology James McCaw has warned that if NSW case numbers don't come down it could actually mean "stronger versions of lockdowns rather than weaker".

A masked woman walking past a poster of Sydney harbour during the city's ongoing lockdown. Source: Getty
A masked woman walking past a poster of Sydney harbour during the city's ongoing lockdown. Source: Getty

Prof McCaw contributed to Doherty Institute modelling suggesting that once 70 per cent of Australians aged 16 and older are vaccinated, and later 80 per cent, stringent lockdowns would unlikely be required.

He says the modelling works on a series of assumptions that don't apply to the current situation in NSW, including outbreaks that begin in the 10s of cases, not hundreds, and ongoing low-level social restrictions.

That reality is being pointed out by state premiers and chief ministers outside of NSW. 

"The Doherty Institute modelling said there would be around 30 active cases," ACT chief minister Andrew Barr pointed out to reporters on Sunday.

"It is unlikely, based on what we are seeing out of New South Wales."

Also on Sunday, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly conceded the Doherty report’s path to freedom “was based on the low number of cases”.

A woman is questioned by NSW Police on Broadway on Saturday during anti-lockdown protests. Source: Getty
A woman is questioned by NSW Police on Broadway on Saturday during anti-lockdown protests. Source: Getty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, says he has received updated advice from the Doherty Institute that even with hundreds of cases a day, communities can still move beyond lockdowns at 70 or 80 per cent of the adult population vaccinated.

However the states, which ultimately hold the power when it comes to Covid restrictions, could push back.

Warning on 'stronger versions of lockdown'

The modelling also assumes there will be "optimal" testing and tracing, along with very efficient isolation and quarantine systems to keep cases under control.

"At high caseloads the public health units are under a lot of stress and obviously those things are not working optimally," Prof McCaw told Guardian Australia.

"They are just not as effective (and so) obviously it's harder to control the spread of the virus, so something else has to help and what that other thing is, is stronger social measures and stronger versions of lockdowns rather than weaker."

He said NSW must drive case numbers down and questioned the relevance of the modelling if that didn't occur.

"There is a very, very clear and coherent relationship between the targets Doherty puts forward and the response required by NSW to help us get there."

NSW delivered a near record 127,000 vaccinations on Saturday and 57.6 per cent of residents aged 16 and over have had one jab, and 30.8 per are fully vaccinated.

Nationally the figures are 51.8 per cent, and 29.6 per cent respectively.

The outbreak in Victoria is also spiralling with 61 new cases recorded on Saturday and a further 65 on Sunday as regional areas joined Greater Melbourne in lockdown.

Almost 50.43 per cent of eligible Victorians have now had one vaccine dose and 29.37 per cent two.

with AAP

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