Australia's way out of COVID - PM's plan

How Scott Morrison’s ‘four-phase’ road back to normal will work

Almost after 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian government has come up with a national pathway, a way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison said National Cabinet had agreed to a four-phase program that would end with coronavirus being treated “like any other infectious disease”.

“The pathway we have agreed today, I think, gives all Australians encouragement and, I think, much needed hope in what has been a very difficult time,” the Prime Minister said.

Here’s how Australian will see it unfolding:

Phase One – Vaccinate, Prepare, and Pilot

The key component of phase one is the national vaccination plan, to get every Australian fully vaccinated.

According to the Prime Minister, this is the phase the country is currently in. This gave the Opposition leader Anthony Albanese the opportunity to attack the government for no action for more than a year and a half.

Australia’s vaccination is plodding along and picking up pace, though not at the speed the government would have liked.

While Australia took 45 days to reach the first one million target, the number of days to reach its eight million will be about a week.

The government says all Australians would have a chance to be vaccinated by the end of the year, that is if they choose to get vaccinated and are not influenced by the anti-vaccine lobbyists or fall victim to other misinformation campaigns.

To come to grips with the current situation in Australia, the government has decided to temporarily reduce commercial inbound passenger arrivals to all major airports by 50 percent, to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities, by July 14.

“Simply reducing the caps doesn’t necessarily provide a fail safe, but because of the particular virulence of the Delta strain, it is believed that is a prudent action while we remain in this suppression phase of the virus,” Mr Morrison said.

The government will prioritise bringing Australians home who will first go to Darwin for quarantine at the Howard Springs facility.

“I would note in recent days and weeks that we have seen demand for those facilitated flights run by the Commonwealth having actually dipped and so those flights we have been bringing in have not been full because there hasn’t been the demand to take those up,” Mr Morrison said.

“I suspect that will change now with the commercial flight restrictions, then we will see that supply being fully taken up and we will be enhancing that.”

Lockdowns – to be the last option

Having had to bleed many viable businesses to their untimely death as unavoidable casualties of the necessary lockdowns, the National Cabinet has in principle agreed that lockdowns would only be used as a last resort.

Pilot alternative quarantine options
Alternative quarantine options will be introduced and trialled for separate jurisdictions, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers.

Vaccinated people could also only be required to quarantine for seven days instead of 14.

Next in line will be trials for the entry of international student and economic visa holders.

The digital Medicare vaccination certificate is also set to be adopted by the government.

National hotel quarantine network will get a very close scrutiny to ensure it is up to standard.

Phase Two – Post-Vaccination

Somewhat in the air at the moment, a yet-to-be-determined vaccination threshold will trigger the second phase of the plan.

Scott Morrison said it would be a “scientific” number, not one motivated by political considerations.

Some experts believe this threshold to be 50 per cent while others, more cautious pundits believe it should be 70-80 per cent when Australia can feel health safe to bring in new measures to safely avoid lockdowns and continue baby steps towards normalcy of pre-COVID-19 times.

“Once we get through that gate, and that will be determined by the scientific evidence, then we will move into a phase where we seek to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of COVID-19,” he said.

This phase should include eased restrictions on vaccinated residents regarding lockdowns and border controls.

Inbound passenger caps will be increased for unvaccinated returning travellers, with even larger caps for those who are vaccinated.

A capped entry of student and economic visa holders, subject to quarantine arrangements and availability, will be allowed and supplemented.

The government may also look to implement the vaccine booster program at that time.

Lockdowns would only occur in extreme circumstances to prevent escalating hospitalisation and fatality.

Also read: COVID-19 and the Politics of Fear

Phase Three – treat COVID-19 as “flu”

The third phase of the plan will involve the management of COVID-19 in the same way as other infectious diseases.

Once the first two phases have been accomplished, with a lot more than half of Australia already vaccinated, minimal or negligible local transmission rates, Australia should be able to treat hospitalisation and fatality rates from the virus similar to that of flu.

“When it is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu and that means no lockdowns,” he said.

Vaccinated? – No restrictions

Vaccinated residents would be exempted from all domestic restrictions, and there would be no caps for vaccinated travellers to travel to Australia.

Caps on student economic and humanitarian visa holders will be increased to allow them to come back to Australia.

Restrictions on out-bound travel for vaccinated persons would be removed. Travel bubbles arrangements will be extended to new countries depending on their vaccination programs and Australia assessing the risk of allowing people in from those countries.

Phase Four – Back to Normal – hurray!

Vaccinated travellers will be allowed to enter Australia without quarantining and possibly caps on unvaccinated arrivals will be removed. At that stage, all international arrivals will be tested for COVID-19 pre-flight and on arrival.

Sounds great! but a lot of work is yet to be done, particularly on modelling of all four phases.

This modelling (for the four-phase plan) was crucial to its success and the Prime Minister (last week) hoped this work will be completed by the end of July.

“What it means is, Australia gets vaccinated, Australia is able to live differently,” Scott Morrison told Australians.

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