The other day someone sent me a photo from the movie Groundhog Day.
Bill Murray was pictured reporting on the weather as he was condemned to do for the entire movie. On the top of the picture were the words, “Well it’s day 272 of 15 days to flatten the curve.”
I wish I didn’t have to write again on the coronavirus. I wish that our success last year at closing the border would last for ever. But life and leadership is not about wishful thinking. We have to face up to the problems we have.
And we continue to have a problem with a virus that we can blame the Chinese Communist Party for.
The virus has now mutated to the so-called ‘Delta variant’. That variant is more transmissible and that is causing outbreaks right around the world.
Vaccinations will not return us to a zero Covid state. Outbreaks are occurring even in countries with high vaccination rates. Iceland has 75 per cent of its people vaccinated - the highest rate in the world. Yet it has still experienced record new numbers of coronavirus cases over the past week.
The same is true for many other highly vaccinated countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel.
So we will have to live with the coronavirus. The government’s modelling confirmed that last week.
Even at an 80 per cent vaccination rate, 280,000 Australians will develop “symptomatic” infections of the coronavirus, including 40,000 Australians who have been vaccinated, within six months of hitting that target. Only 34,000 Australians have been infected with Covid since the beginning of the pandemic.
That’s the bad news but there is lots of good news and hope too, just don’t expect to hear about it on the nightly news.
The Delta variant in Sydney has spread much more widely than previous strains despite the locking down of Sydney. But the Delta variant has a much lower fatality rate than coronavirus outbreaks last year. This is great news.
Last year, 3.2 per cent of coronavirus infections ended in death. In Sydney over the past few months, that rate has been 0.5 per cent, meaning that the Delta variant is killing 85 per cent fewer people than coronavirus variants last year.
This is probably not because the Delta variant is any less fatal itself but because we have vaccinated many of our vulnerable people this year.
Most older Australians are vaccinated, and almost all Australians in aged care homes have been vaccinated. Vaccines have been available to older Australians for almost six months now.
Without the vaccines another 160 Australians may have died so far in the Sydney outbreak. The vaccines are working to reduce deaths and hospitalisations.
Because of this good news no one has properly explained why we are still using the cruel and costly lockdowns that we used last year. Lockdowns were justified last year when we had no vaccines and there was great uncertainty about how bad the virus was.
But things have changed now for the better and lockdowns are still as costly as they were last year. The economic cost is huge but more importantly lockdowns have a huge cost on people’s mental health, their relationships and even children’s education. Lifeline has had a record number of calls over the past few weeks. Unfortunately we have a media cycle where we announce coronavirus cases every day but we don’t report the number of small businesses that went bust the night before, the number of marriages that broke up or the children who are locked in abusive households.
We must end these cruel lockdowns and find a smarter way to live with coronavirus. That should mean protecting those who are vulnerable but allowing those who have to work to provide for their family. That is a basic human right.
Otherwise it will be Groundhog Day for us all for a long, long time yet.