|The Christian PM and the Socialist Premier.|
Scott Morrison says the Western Australian government’s plan to continue a Covid-zero strategy even when most people are vaccinated is at odds with the national plan, labelling the suggested approach “absurd”.
In a morning media blitz on Monday to promote the government’s deal to secure 1m extra Pfizer doses from Poland, Morrison said the national plan was “very clear” that a zero Covid strategy would be abandoned once adult vaccination rates reached between 70% and 80%.
“It was … agreed in principle with the targets that were set by the Doherty Institute, which made it very clear that once you get to 70% and 80% at that level, and particularly at 80%, then you are managing the virus just like you would the flu,” Morrison told Sky News. “That’s what the national plan was about – it gives people that hope and the path forward. It is the path out, and that is the national plan, and that was the plan that was agreed to.”
On Sunday, Mark McGowan told Sky News that the state’s “preferred option” was zero Covid, and the state would pursue that goal even once vaccination rates reached as high as 80%. “We don’t want to have deaths and we don’t want to have spread of the virus, but there can be some easing of some of the rules,” McGowan said.
“We retain the right to put in place border [restrictions], that’s understood, but some of the measures we put in place might ease, once we reach that level of vaccination.” Asked if he was disappointed by those comments, Morrison said he believed premiers and chief ministers “want to see people in Australia come out of this”.
On Friday Morrison said state border closures remained appropriate while vaccination rates were low, but he wanted them abandoned once rates reached the targeted levels of phase B. “The whole point of getting to higher and higher levels of vaccination, particularly once you go past 80%, is that is when we are saying goodbye to lockdowns, and where there are no lockdowns, there should be no borders,” he said.
“So it is a decision for now, because borders exist now. But in the future, the whole point of getting to 70% and 80% is to say, ultimately, goodbye to those arrangements as well.” Victoria and Queensland have said that they support the end of lockdowns once the vaccination targets are reached, but have reserved the right to operate border controls, particularly while the New South Wales outbreak remains uncontrolled.
Tensions between the states have been running high in the wake of the NSW Delta outbreak, with more than half of the country in lockdown as a result of the virus spreading from greater Sydney, and differing views about the Berejiklian government’s response.
There are also mixed views about the eventual likelihood of vaccine passports being needed to travel between states. Morrison has said they might not be necessary, despite national cabinet agreeing to push ahead with the concept.
On Monday he again stressed that the NSW lockdown aimed at suppressing the virus needed to work, warning of a “horror show” if the state abandoned its effort. “The idea that we can just let this thing rip is absurd, and just as absurd is the idea that you can get to Covid zero – they are both extreme positions, they are both absurd,” Morrison told 2GB radio.
“So we will just stay in the sensible centre ground here, which is where you get people vaccinated [and] you put in place the lockdowns that are necessary to deal with the Delta strain.” He said he understood that lockdowns were difficult, but there was “no alternative” while vaccination rates were low.
“I wish there was a different way through, I really do. But the Delta strain has changed all of that. I hear others are saying, ‘Oh, the lockdown, we should never have them’, and all the rest of it, but I have seen what’s happening in other countries where they have followed that approach, in the southern United States and other places, and it’s a horror show. There is no alternative.”
The government will distribute half the newly secured Pfizer vaccine doses to NSW in an attempt to help the state get on top of the outbreak, with the other 500,000 distributed among the other states. Morrison said the new doses were “a million doses of hope”, after the NSW chief health officer, Kerry Chant, stressed that vaccines would only be a part of the solution for state.
“There is no silver bullet and vaccination is not a silver bullet,” she said on Sunday. “It is a tool. And vaccination alone will not get us out of this situation. We need to follow the public health orders, and my message to everyone is, let’s redouble our efforts for the next couple of weeks.”
Singapore to treat COVID like the flu
Singapore plans to stop routine Covid-19 testing and ditch publishing daily case numbers as it looks to treat the virus in the same way as the flu. The pathway out of Covid restrictions was laid out in an editorial in the Straits Times by a taskforce of Singaporean ministers.
“We can’t eradicate it, but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease, or chickenpox, and get on with our lives,” they stated. The key platform to ensure the pandemic gets treated as an epidemic is vaccinations, with a target to have two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated with two doses over the next four weeks.
Once that target is achieved, Singapore is set to resume large gatherings and major events with no restrictions other than contact tracing and rapid testing. Travel would also be opened up to countries that have also controlled the virus to a similar degree.
“History has shown that every pandemic will run its course,” they said. “We must harness all our energy, resources and creativity to transit as quickly as we can to the desired end-state.”