A leading Australian economist warns that unless Sydney’s current COVID outbreak can be brought under control, lockdown restrictions will become a permanent feature in the nation’s largest city until the majority are vaccinated.
And Australia’s top vaccine advisory group is urging everyone in Sydney to get jabbed “with any available vaccine”.
Speaking to The Australian, Commonwealth Bank Australia (CBA) head of Australian economics Gareth Aird says the next week will be crucial in determining the length of Sydney’s restriction period.
“We will have a much better gauge as to whether or not the stricter lockdown will push the daily number of new COVID-19 cases down in a way that means we can project the end date of the lockdown,” Mr Aird says.
“If not, we are likely to be facing a central scenario for the economy that sees the lockdown in Greater Sydney as a permanent feature until a yet-to-be-determined vaccine threshold has been reached.”
In a statement released on the weekend, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) says that people aged over 18 in Greater Sydney should “strongly consider getting vaccinated with any available vaccine including COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca”.
“This is on the basis of the increasing risk of COVID-19 and ongoing constraints of Comirnaty (Pfizer) supplies. In addition, people in areas where outbreaks are occurring can receive the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine four to eight weeks after the first dose, rather than the usual 12 weeks.”
The situation in New South Wales was declared a ‘national emergency’ on Friday and, according to the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the outlook for the week is more likely to be negative than positive based on the current settings.
“Today we saw a large number of new cases in this outbreak in NSW despite the lockdown settings, and that is a sign that perhaps that lockdown settings alone do not work once Delta gets out to this level into the community,” AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid told The Guardian on Friday.
On Monday, NSW health authorities reported 145 new COVID cases, with 51 infectious while in the community. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian responded to reports that the state government is planning for the lockdown to continue in Sydney until at least 17 September.
“I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions like that,” she told radio station 2GB.
“[That information] certainly wasn’t from me or anyone in the know.
“I know that everybody thinks they’ve got a scoop in saying when this will end … the real answer is not even the experts know that answer because it is literally a day by day, week by week issue.”
NSW’s approach to lockdown stands in contrast to those in Victoria and South Australia, where strict measures were implemented in a shorter time period.
“It’s a natural experiment – a tale of three cities,” Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, told The New Daily.
“You’ve got NSW, which went in very late and not very hard.
“You’ve got Victoria, which went in much quicker and harder, and you’ve got South Australia, which went even quicker and even harder.”
“What I’m seeing is the effective reproduction number [in Victoria] has been drastically dropping,” Prof. Esterman says.
“Four days ago [Monday 20 July], it was nearly five and now it’s 1.6, which shows me it’s slowing down.”
On Friday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called for a ‘ring of steel’ to be set up around Greater Sydney to protect the rest of Australia.
“We need a ring of steel around Sydney so that this virus is not spreading into other parts of our nation,” he said.
“Let’s focus on what’s going on in Sydney, let’s focus on not spreading what’s going on in Sydney across the rest of our country.”
Victorians have been under strict lockdown conditions since 15 July, with residents only allowed to leave home for five approved reasons, shopping and exercise can only be within five kilometres of home (this restriction does not apply to work) and face masks are compulsory when leaving the house.
The restrictions appear to have paid off, with Mr Andrews declaring the state was well placed to exit lockdown on Tuesday night.
“These numbers are the trend that we wanted to see, these numbers are more than promising, but we just have to wait and see what comes through tomorrow to be certain that we can ease restrictions,” he told reporters on Monday.
“I will foreshadow, there will still be rules after midnight Tuesday; it’ll be important that we all follow them.”
In South Australia, lockdown measures were introduced even faster than in Victoria, with strict stay-at-home orders issued for the entire state last Tuesday night. Premier Steven Marshall said the restrictions were harsh but necessary.
“We hate putting these restrictions in place but we believe we have one chance to get this right,” he said in a statement.
Prof. Esterman says South Australia has the best chance of coming out of lockdown in the shortest time – a statement supported by the news that there was just one new case on Monday, an 87-year old man who had been in quarantine .
“We are now in a very good position to lift restrictions tomorrow night, so congratulations South Australia,” Mr Marshall said.
Have you been satisfied with the COVID response in your state? Have restrictions gone far enough? Let us know in the comments section below.
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