Australia’s Covid Strategy is Failing, Now Changing Course

Australia’s Covid Strategy is Failing, Now Changing Course. By David Evans.

Australia closed its borders sufficiently early that covid never took hold in Australia. The few cases that crept in past quarantine were eliminated before they could spread far, with contact tracing of those who might have been infected and by immediate, short lockdowns.

The exception was the Melbourne lockdown of 2020, which lasted almost 120 days because the leader of Victoria, Dan Andrews, failed to lock down either fast enough or, initially, hard enough. If he had locked down faster and harder, experience in other states suggests it need have only lasted one to three weeks. (Mr Andrews has learned the lesson, and now locks Victoria down quickly and hard at any sign of trouble.)

The results of that strategy  — also pursued by Taiwan, New Zealand, and Vietnam — have been spectacular compared to other advanced countries:

  • Less time locked down and masked up, less loss of mobility, the GDP and employment recovered faster and are now better than pre-pandemic. An early hard lockdown is a short lockdown, and minimizes damage — provided you close the borders, eliminate the virus, and return to normal.
  • For example, here in Western Australia in the last year (after the initial two month lockdown in April and May 2020) there have been three lockdowns — of lengths three, four and five days, for a total of 12 days. The other 353  days of the year were normal — no masks, few if any restrictions on gatherings, and everyone working, going to school, socializing etc.
  • Few deaths, few infections and thus few cases of long covid (source):
Known infections as % of population Deaths Deaths as % of population
Australia 0.16 972 0.004
New Zealand 0.06 26 0.001
Taiwan 0.07 826 0.004
Vietnam 0.03 7,150 0.007
France 10.02 113,103 0.173
Sweden 10.97 14,626 0.144
USA 11.47 643,112 0.193
UK 9.36 131,373 0.192

The first four countries on that list closed their borders and used lockdowns to eliminate the virus. The last four counties did not. Pretty striking difference!

We know our American readers are being told some ridiculous exaggeration and calumnies about Australia and New Zealand. Many are under the misapprehension that we lockdown all the time. Many have not yet figured out that locking down after a mere one case results in the least lockdown (if you find you need to lockdown, you always wish you’d started earlier).

For example, Tucker Carlson has twice in the last week said that “Australia” is under “martial law”. No, civilians are running all our governments, as normal, and the army lent several hundred unarmed soldiers to help with policing in Sydney (only).

But circumstance have changed, and the strategy is now failing in Australia (though not NZ). The virus may be eliminated yet again, but that is now looking unlikely.

Four factors led to the failure:

  1. The time between infection and becoming contagious is about four days for the original Wuhan virus, so contact tracing works. For the flu the time is only about a day, so contract tracing is not feasible. For the delta variant the time is about three days — making contact tracing feasible, but barely.
  2. As more Australians are vaccinated, more people don’t care to obey restrictions quite so much. They know they won’t get sick. The urgency and fear is largely gone (though not enough to stop them insisting on vaccine mandates, just in case they still might catch it).
  3. The number of non-compliant groups is growing. Originally just some migrant groups (especially from the religion of peace), it is increasingly extending to young upper-middle class groups.
  4. Sydney did not lock down quickly enough or hard enough when a single case slipped by quarantine in June. State leader Gladys Berejiklian couldn’t even bring herself to say the word “lockdown” in the week after the infection. The outbreak keeps growing and spreading, and is now infecting 600 per day all across NSW. Sydney prided itself on being the “gold standard” in virus management before this. Now it is the pariah state, as it infects all the states round it and NZ.

NSW has now given up on eliminating the outbreak. It is still locking down, but Gladys is saying that her state will just have to learn to live with it, like North America and Europe before it.

It is is inevitable now that Australia will enter the nasty situation that North America and Europe entered in April 2020  — never ending masks in certain situations, restrictions, and lockdowns of varying degree that merely stave off hospital saturation, and a pretty big death toll. Thanks Gladys.

The good news is, however, that the prior success in keeping the virus out bought us time. The first generation of vaccines is ready. Now that the virus is spreading here, Australians are finally taking vaccination seriously.

The aim is to get to 70% vaccinated by November, than ease all restrictions. Of course, once Australian politicians look at countries that have already done this — particularly Iceland and Israel, which both started putting restrictions back on — they may change their minds. But in any case, this is the new strategy.

Robert Gottliebsen on Australia’s current covid thinking:

It is not how we planned the post-Covid world but a much clearer picture of the way forward is now emerging. The next four months will be tough on children and a vast array of enterprises, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. …

If we look beyond the current crisis, we are now dealing with the first generation of vaccines, with much better vaccines still to be developed. … Australia must develop the production and development capacity for mRNA vaccines and we are fortunate to have a global vaccine leader in CSL. The Victorian government has announced that it will help to establish a major plant when that is appropriate. …

It is clear New South Wales has lost control. Victoria would have gone the same way as NSW without the latest lockdown but it remains at a dangerous point. In both our most populous states the community is seriously questioning which is worse — the virus, or the impact of the control measures. Our problem is that if restrictions are lowered the hospital system will not be able to cope. …

If we were to confine our vaccination to those people aged 18 and above and have greater community mingling, then vaccinated parents, grandparents and friends will catch the virus but may suffer no symptoms. Unknowingly, they will spread the virus to unvaccinated children.

Our younger people are being given no hope and self-harm and even suicide rates are ranking with the virus in seriousness, particularly in Victoria and NSW….

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and a few other private groups are unfairly incurring the wrath of unions and others for demanding that their staff be vaccinated. I think it is likely that the more responsible WorkSafe bodies will look at their legislation and realise that work sites will be very unsafe for the unvaccinated.

Just as occurs with children, vaccinated staff may well be infected and have no symptoms and pass that infection on to the unvaccinated.

Today, Balmain [a suburb of Sydney] is an area where many affluent people are meeting in breach of lockdown restrictions and are open about it. It is unfair to isolate Balmain because not all residents in the area are involved and “Balmain syndrome” is prevalent in other parts of Sydney and Melbourne as the young upper middle class believe they are beyond Covid-19. If restrictions are going to be continued we will need to crack down.

Sydney has to find a way to get through its crisis until around November-December without overwhelming its hospitals and morgues. Victoria has to win its battle while easing restrictions in September and every state needs to keep the NSW virus from crossing borders. The damage in the next few months — both human and to some enterprises — will be severe, but by 2022 we will have developed the means to live with the virus and may be one of the global leaders in combating it.

Australia is now crossing the Rubicon, transitioning from keeping the virus out to a vaccinated future of living with it.

What are odds that Gladys will be re-elected?