News Coronavirus Doubts grow that 70% vax target won’t be enough

Doubts grow that 70% vax target won’t be enough

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The push to reach the experts' recommended 70% vaccinated rate might not be enough to curb the virus adter all. Photo: getty
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While NSW posted the highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases recorded by any Australian jurisdiction on Saturday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants people to focus on a different statistic.

“The more important figure going up is the vaccination rate,” she told reporters as NSW reported 825 new locally acquired cases and three deaths.

“The vaccination rate is where we can look forward to living life freely.”

However, a professor who helped develop the modelling that underpins Australia’s path out of the pandemic says the reverse could be true.

University of Melbourne professor of mathematical biology James McCaw has warned that if NSW case numbers don’t come down it could actually mean “stronger versions of lockdowns rather than weaker”.

Prof McCaw contributed to Doherty Institute modelling suggesting that once 70 per cent of Australians aged 16 and older are vaccinated, and later 80 per cent, stringent lockdowns would unlikely be required.

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He says the modelling works on a series of assumptions that don’t apply to the current situation in NSW, including outbreaks that begin in the 10s of cases, not hundreds, and ongoing low-level social restrictions.

The modelling also assumes there will be “optimal” testing and tracing, along with very efficient isolation and quarantine systems to keep cases under control.

“At high caseloads the public health units are under a lot of stress and obviously those things are not working optimally,” Prof McCaw has told Guardian Australia.

“They are just not as effective (and so) obviously it’s harder to control the spread of the virus, so something else has to help and what that other thing is, is stronger social measures and stronger versions of lockdowns rather than weaker.”

He said NSW must drive case numbers down and questioned the relevance of the modelling if that didn’t occur.

“There is a very, very clear and coherent relationship between the targets Doherty puts forward and the response required by NSW to help us get there.”

NSW delivered a near record 127,000 vaccinations on Saturday and 57.6 per cent of residents aged 16 and over have had one jab, and 30.8 per are fully vaccinated. Nationally the figures are 51.8 per cent, and 29.6 per cent respectively.

The outbreak in Victoria is also spiralling with 61 new cases recorded on Saturday and a further 65 cases announced on Sunday and regional areas joining Greater Melbourne in lockdown.

Almost 50.43 per cent of eligible Victorians have now had one vaccine dose and 29.37 per cent two.

“Our long-term strategy to be open, to be growing, to be employing, to be in a very different world, is for 80 per cent of people to be through that vaccination program,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“You can act on that right now, right now.”

The ACT recorded eight new locally acquired cases on Saturday with the outbreak in the territory hitting 102 cases.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr says with vaccination clinics booked out until October, a new mass hub will open at the Australian Institute of Sport.

Queensland recorded no new locally acquired cases but remains restless over the NSW outbreak. Only exempt essential workers who’ve had at least one shot of vaccine are allowed to cross the border.

Qld to ‘probably’ reopen

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young urged people to get the jab with 45.88 per cent of those eligible having had one dose and 27.4 per cent having two.

She said once the 80 per cent target is hit, Queensland will “probably” reopen to NSW and the rest of Australia regardless of any outbreaks.

At that point the state will no longer pursue COVID-19 eradication either, she said.

Federal Employment Minister Stuart Robert has praised the pace of the vaccine rollout.

“In the last three days over 900,000 vaccinations have occurred … 900,000. It is equivalent to 215 per minute, It is an extraordinary rate of achievement being built.”

Anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police in Melbourne on Saturday while hundreds also gathered in Brisbane to make themselves heard.

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