No Freedom Day: National plan 'too dangerous' under Delta, experts say

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New modelling has found at least 90 per cent of all Australians, including children, should be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the country can open up safely.

The third wave, driven by the more infectious Delta strain, is taking hold in younger and unvaccinated age groups.

Little is known about the impact of so-called "long Covid" on children, which sees the virus cause damage to the lungs, heart and brain for months after recovery.

Vaccination rates have shot up in NSW as the nation strives for the 80 per cent target. Source: Getty
Vaccination rates have shot up in NSW as the nation strives for the 80 per cent target. Source: Getty

Research released on Tuesday shows children will directly benefit from vaccination.

"If we could achieve 75 per cent vaccination coverage among children and adolescents, we could prevent 12,000 hospitalisations in these age groups," Quentin Grafton from the Australian National University said.

Some 6.9 million cases with symptoms, 154,000 hospitalisations, and 29,000 fatalities could be the result of lifting restrictions at 70 per cent adult vaccination coverage, even with a 95 per cent vaccination level for those aged 60 years and over, the research found.

Scott Morrison says Australia "has to move forward" and open up when 70 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

"We will live with this virus like we live with other infectious diseases," he said on Monday.

'Too many lives at risk'

Researchers Zoe Hyde from the University of Western Australia, Tom Kompas from the University of Melbourne and Professor Grafton say the prime minister's current national plan "puts too many lives at risk".

"It's simply too dangerous to treat Covid-19 like the flu," Dr Hyde said.

Prof Grafton said under 80 per cent vaccination coverage for only those over 16, as per the national plan, there could be 25,000 fatalities and some 270,000 cases of long Covid.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has implored state leaders to stick with the plan to open up. Source: Getty
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has implored state leaders to stick with the plan to open up. Source: Getty

State and territory governments are also pushing back against the plan that national cabinet signed off in July, before the Sydney outbreak seeped into other areas.

The national cabinet of Australian government leaders has asked the Doherty Institute to update its advice commissioned by the Morrison government, to reflect the current higher caseload.

But Western Australia is not budging from its zero-case goal, while Queensland warns it may not reopen its NSW border even at the higher jab threshold.

Coronavirus continues to surge in NSW with three days in a row of more than 800 new daily cases.

In Victoria, there were 71 new infections Monday, while the ACT recorded 16.

Australia has fully vaccinated 30 per cent of its population aged 16 and above, while 52.8 per cent have had one jab.

Mr Morrison said heavy restrictions, which are affecting more than half of Australia's population across Victoria, NSW and the ACT, could not continue indefinitely.

"Otherwise, we stay in the cave forever. That's not a sustainable solution," he said.

Updated Doherty Institute modelling will be presented to national cabinet on Friday.

"Even if the country achieves the four steps we are calling for, fully relaxing public health measures to eliminate community transmission could still, eventually, result in some 5000 fatalities and 40,000 cases of long Covid," Dr Hyde said.

There will be no 'Freedom Day': Doherty Institute

The Doherty Institute released a statement overnight saying the vaccination targets were the "light at the end of the tunnel". 

"In an average year of influenza, we would roughly have 600 deaths and 200,000 cases in Australia," it said.

"In the Covid-19 modelling, opening up at 70 per cent vaccine coverage of the adult population with partial public health measures, we predict 385,983 symptomatic cases and 1,457 deaths over six months."

That number could be reduced further with "optimal public health measures," it noted. 

"We’ve learned from watching countries that have removed all restrictions that there is no ‘freedom day’. We will need to keep some public health measures in place – test, trace, isolate and quarantine – to keep the reproduction number below 1.0.

"Once we reach 70 per cent vaccine coverage, opening up at tens or hundreds of cases nationally per day is possible, however, we will need vigilant public health interventions with higher case loads."

with AAP

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