A.In the fight against the particularly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, australia is saying goodbye to its previous zero-covid strategy. After Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australians would “have to live with the virus”, the heads of government of the two most populous states admitted that they could barely meet the goal of zero cases that they had pursued so far.
“It is impossible to eliminate the Delta variant,” said New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian recently. The aggressive new variant is a turning point in the pandemic: “Every state in Australia will sooner or later have to live with Delta.”
Corona is a matter of the country
The fight against the virus in Australia is first and foremost a matter for the states. The head of government of New South Wales dared to venture further with her statements than some of her colleagues. This is not surprising, because the number of new infections in their state, around 1,300, is currently far higher than what Australia has experienced since the pandemic began.
Berejiklian is getting support from Daniel Andrews, head of government in the neighboring state of Victoria. Under him, Victoria’s capital Melbourne has been locked down for 200 days. His opponents insult him as a “dictator”, his fans see him as “Dan, the strong”.
Not even a third are fully vaccinated
The Melburnians, as the inhabitants of the metropolis call themselves, are worn down, criticism in business and media is growing. There are two main reasons that zero Covid is no longer a realistic goal in Australia, says epidemiologist Sharon Lewin from the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne of the FAZ These are the pitfalls of the Delta variant and the slow vaccination campaign.
In Australia, only 28 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, with 48 percent receiving the first dose. “Most people thought they had time and didn’t need to get vaccinated,” says Lewin. In addition, the Australians initially did not trust AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which the government had relied on, and there were supply bottlenecks.
Canberra is accused of failing to get vaccines. In the meantime, Daniel Andrews has also made it clear that he is no longer sticking to the zero Covid target. Despite the strict lockdowns, his government reported 176 new infections on Thursday, the highest number in a year.
“Getting back to zero from here seems very unlikely,” says epidemiologist Lewin. With around half of the 25 million inhabitants, New South Wales and Victoria have great weight in Australia. They therefore hope that the rest of Australia will follow them, said country chief Berejiklian.
She was referring to the four other states that want to adhere to zero Covid due to the lack of or few new infections. But Berejiklian and Andrews are now on the line of Prime Minister Morrison. He recently described the idea of being able to shield yourself from the corona virus forever as “absurd”. “We can no longer hide in a cave,” said Morrison.
Lockdowns prevented worse
His government in Canberra had long relied on a tough zero-Covid strategy. With strict entry and exit bans, strict quarantine regulations, intensive contact tracing and local lockdowns, Australia had successfully contained the virus. By May of this year, there were fewer than 30,000 cases down under. The number of deaths is just over 1,000.
In Germany, this value was exceeded in April 2020. Australia was therefore also cited as a model in Germany by proponents of a zero Covid strategy. In fact, measures have prevented thousands of sick and dead people. Daniel Andrews cited estimates that the recent lockdown in Victoria alone prevented 6,000 infections.
Openings from a vaccination rate of 70 percent
In July Victoria managed to suppress the Delta variant, says Sharon Lewin. But: “In order to maintain zero Covid, you have to make Australia a fortress. The consequence is that every small outbreak, every penetration leads to a lockdown, ”says the epidemiologist in an interview. Such a life cannot be sustained in the long run.
The Australian government therefore wants to gradually open the country and largely dispense with lockdowns when at least 70 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. Canberra and the states had agreed on this plan. Further opening steps, also with regard to international travel, should take place when 80 percent of adults have been vaccinated.
Drive vaccination campaign forward
“Now there is finally an incentive,” says epidemiologist Lewin. “When the vaccinations have reached a high level, then people get more freedom.” So Australia is now doing everything in its power to increase the vaccination rate. Morrison wants to portray himself as the driving force of normalization after the messed up vaccination campaign.
But it will take some time until the opening. Victoria just extended her lockdown. Sydney will also have to live with restrictive measures for a while. After all, the idea is not just to let the virus take over, says Lewin.