News Coronavirus As Australia opens up, here’s what we can learn from the rest of the world

As Australia opens up, here’s what we can learn from the rest of the world

COVID cases Europe
Australia could learn from Europe's COVID-19 surge over winter. Photo: Getty
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Other countries may have learnt from Australia’s snap lockdowns and border closures in early 2020, but now it’s our turn to look at the rest of the world and see how to live with COVID-19.

Here’s what the experience overseas tells us about our future.

Case numbers will rise

Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, yet the island nation saw daily case numbers jump into the hundreds after the government relaxed lockdown measures earlier this year.

Case numbers continued rising even when some restrictions were reintroduced in September – hitting a peak of 5324 on October 27.

Dr Alex Cook, associate professor and vice dean at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, told The New Daily that a rise in cases was inevitable.

“It wouldn’t matter how slowly measures were relaxed, an epidemic would still have happened, but controlling the speed of reopening will govern the ability of the healthcare system to handle severe cases,” Dr Cook said.

Singapore COVID cases
Singapore reintroduced some restrictions after cases surged in September. Photo: Getty

He said Australia should brace for an increase in cases as the country reopens its borders, but noted certain factors in Australia’s favour.

“Comparing the two countries, Australia scores higher on the Oxford policy stringency index, and although it has vaccinated a smaller proportion of the population, more people got their vaccines recently in Australia, which is when the vaccine effectiveness is higher,” Dr Cook said.

(The Oxford policy stringency index records the number and strictness of government policies, but offers no judgment on their appropriateness.)

Australia in strong position

More recently, Europe has “once again” become the global epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Health Organisation.

Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands are just a few of the countries seeing record-high case numbers, with Austria entering a nationwide lockdown on Monday.

That Europe has reintroduced restrictions soon after reopening their economies has alarmed some people in Australia.

But many of these countries ended their last lockdowns with lower vaccination coverage than Australia had when it ended lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria and, in most cases, their restrictions were softer than Australia’s to begin with.

Experts say Australia is reopening from a stronger starting point than Europe did, meaning it’s unlikely case numbers and deaths will climb as high here.

But Europe nevertheless provides a cautionary lesson about vaccine rollouts.

Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and a former Harvard researcher, shot to global prominence during the pandemic for providing play-by-play updates of COVID-19 situation around the world to his 600,000 Twitter followers.

He told TND that Europe “dropped the ball” on booster shots.

Germany COVID cases
Germans line up to get vaccinated after record case numbers during winter. Photo: Getty

Booster shots crucial

Although Europe was quicker out the blocks with vaccination than Australia, this meant that many people over there were due for their third shot when the Delta strain arrived.

And this meant they were less protected.

Meanwhile, Australia started giving booster out shots in November to people who were vaccinated at least six months ago.

“The waning starts at month three and gets serious by month five,” Dr Feigl-Ding said.

“Six months is just the arbitrary time to get it.”

It’s worth noting, however, that even when antibody levels wane, the immune system still remembers how to make new antibodies when needed.

This means people who received their second shot months ago will still have some level of immunity.