As states across Australia grapple with various lengths of lockdown the prospect of reopening can feel like a distant reality. Not least because of a continuous growth in cases and a constantly evolving path forward. Needless to say, if you're feeling at sea, you're not alone. There's been a lot of mixed messaging and it can be difficult to figure out what on earth is going on.
Since the lockdown in NSW began, the requisites for reopening have changed dramatically; initially it was said that we would emerge from lockdowns once we reached zero cases. Unfortunately, with the harder-to-suppress Delta variant, this is no longer a viable solution. Plans have instead been reoriented to target a new goal of having 70-80% of the eligible population vaccinated before we begin reopening.
As it stands, the government have structured their four-phase plan for reopening around the Doherty Institute Modelling Report. Unsure of what that plan entails exactly? Take this as your easy-to-digest explainer.
What is the Doherty Institute Modelling Report?
The Doherty Institute is a partnership between the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital where scientists and clinicians research solutions to prevent, treat and cure infectious diseases. At the start of NSW's lockdown, the institute worked on a series of modelling that highlighted the pathways forward out of snap lockdowns. The report was initially based on the comparably low cases at the time, 30 or so — it's this point that many critics have clung on to in debate against the report.
Last night on ABC's program, The Drum, Doherty Institute director, Sharon Lewin insisted that the rising case numbers would not impact the government's plan of action and that the modelling accounted for these new developments.
"Whether you open up at 30 [cases] or you open up at 800, you will still continue to see numbers escalate," explained Lewin. “At the moment there really is no difference with how the model predicted outcomes."
In a Twitter thread, the Doherty Institute further explained their reasoning behind the new focus on vaccination rates. Supporting the 70-80% goal, they explained that this level of vaccination would make it easier to control the virus, and therefore create a situation in which it is possible to live with COVID-19. Although, this dynamic would not completely eliminate the possibility of deaths from COVID-19, but simply allow it to mirror our relationship with the flu — which also has a high yearly infection and death rate.
However, while they are for the removal of lockdowns, the Doherty Institute emphasised that this could only happen if we adhere to preventative measures like social-distancing and mask-wearing.
During todays press conference, Dr Kerry Chant weighed in on the conversation. She said, "So, in terms of the Doherty modelling, what they’re saying is around 80% you have options and choices. It’s not to say you’re not going to have to calibrate and respond your level of restrictions or what you permit – it may be that we actually have indoor mask-wearing for years in certain settings.
She continued, “We may have factors that you’re only permitted to go to certain high-risk venues if you’re vaccinated and show proof of vaccination. The world is grappling with how we co-exist with COVID and the virus may throw us curve balls. You know, we’ve got the Delta variant. God help us if we have another variant. This is not a one-size-fits-all.”
Yet, some health experts have expressed pause for the current modelling, as it means possibly reopening while vulnerable communities are worryingly under-vaccinated. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities, who are inherently more at risk if they were to contract coronavirus.