The 7th Victorian lockdown has lifted for Daylesford and Hepburn Springs along with most of regional Victoria. But, unlike all the previous restarts, this one is different. COVID has not gone away. We have not reached zero.
There are over 300 cases a day, mainly in Melbourne and Shepparton and all the indications are that numbers will continue to grow, even with lockdowns.
It is clear that both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccinations reduce the chances of transmitting COVID and they are highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. Recent US research indicates that unvaccinated people are 30 times more likely to be hospitalised with COVID than those who are fully vaccinated. So vaccination matters.
That doesn’t mean vaccination is perfect. Some who are fully vaccinated will still catch COVID and a smaller number will still be hospitalised – but at a much lower rate than those who are unvaccinated. Vaccines dramatically reduce, but do not eliminate the risks of COVID. As the UK and Israel have found there will continue to be COVID cases even with very high levels of vaccination.
The best available evidence suggests that when 80-90 percent of the whole population (including children) is vaccinated, the rates of serious illness and hospitalisation can probably be managed without widespread lockdowns.
While everyone wants to return to a more open and unrestricted way of life, targeted lockdowns and tighter restrictions are likely to be required until these levels of vaccination are reached in Australia if we are to keep our health system from collapsing.
Current government plans in Victoria have a target of 70 percent vaccination for the adult population to start the process of lifting restrictions in Melbourne. That is likely to happen in the next week or two.
As restrictions lift in Melbourne and it becomes possible for people to travel within the State again, it is inevitable that COVID will spread to rural settings. We are now entering the period where we will need to learn to live with COVID.
Because Daylesford and Hepburn are preferred destinations that attract high levels of visitors, we are at higher risk. Getting the local vaccination rate up as high as possible is important, but it won’t be enough.
It will be important that sensible public health measures continue to be put in place. For the moment that includes restrictions on the number of people in community, recreational, education and work settings; the continuing use of masks, social distancing and hand hygiene and getting tested if any symptoms appear.
COVID has already taught us there is no certainty about the medium and longer term. We have been on hold for almost two years while we waited for vaccines. Now we have to learn to live with COVID.
Learning to live with COVID will mean more changes. It is almost certain that soon we will have to show our vaccination status before we are able to take part in social, recreational, educational and work settings. Vaccine passports will become a way of life for us all.
Even if we reach very high levels of vaccination, hundreds and probably thousands of people will die from COVID each year.
It will take a while for us adjust to the emerging COVID normal world and it is worth doing that cautiously.