A prediction that more than 3,000 Australians will be admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 even with 70 per cent of adults vaccinated has been rejected as a ‘doomsday scenario’ by a leading diseases expert during an interview with the ABC.
Doherty Institute modelling released on Tuesday showed a six-month outbreak of the Delta strain would kill 1,984 Australians if 70 per cent of adults were vaccinated and 1,281 if 80 per cent were double-jabbed.
The same worst case forecasts 393,515 infections and 14,130 hospital admissions, of which 3,084 would be to an intensive care unit.
But these numbers would only be hit if Australia had ‘minimal’ density restrictions and ‘partial’ Test, Trace, Isolate, and Quarantine effectiveness, prompting Professor Gail Matthews, head of infectious diseases at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, to say they are not realistic.
Pictured: Australians line up to get jabbed at Homebush, Sydney on Tuesday as the city recorded another 199 cases, with a further 239 on Wednesday. At least 70 per cent of adults must get jabbed to make lockdowns much less likely
Doherty Institute modelling (pictured) released on Tuesday showed that if an outbreak of the Delta strain lasted for six months with only ‘baseline restrictions’ – which means only minimal density restrictions as in NSW in March 2021 and ‘partial’ Test, Trace, Isolate, and Quarantine effectiveness – then 1,984 Australians would die if 70 per cent of the population were vaccinated and 1,281 would die if 80 per cent were fully-jabbed
‘Well I think that is a worst case scenario and I don’t think those things are going to happen,’ Professor Matthews told Fran Kelly, the host of ABC’s RN Breakfast on Wednesday.
‘I don’t think we’re going to stop testing and tracing and putting other restrictions in place so that’s a doomsday scenario.
‘Modelling can look at all sorts of scenarios and I don’t think that’s likely to be plausible.’
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said the scenario wouldn’t happen because state governments would re-introduce restrictions regardless of vaccination rates.
‘I have no doubt that if such a scenario were to eventuate, then there are additional measures that would be taken to avert those types of outcomes,’ he said in a press conference.
‘In the same way if we had a very aggressive flu strain that was moving in a similar direction that would have similar results then obviously governments would take steps.
‘But the likelihood of that occurring under an 80 per cent vaccination rate or indeed the other figures you have there at 70 per cent is obviously very different.’
Sydney residents (pictured in Double Bay on Wednesday morning) are in lockdown until at least the end of August
Australian Defense Force troops are pictured outside a pop-up Covid-19 vaccination clinic in Wattle Grove, Sydney on Tuesday
The Prime Minister said an 80 per cent vaccination rate would allow the nation to treat Covid-19 like flu and only require restrictions to prevent too many deaths instead of stopping infections.
The average number of flu deaths per year between 2016 and 2019 was 642.
‘There will always be infectious diseases resulting in hospitalisation, and indeed in death,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘That is something that happens, sadly, each and every day, that is the world we live in, and I think Australians understand that.’
Professor Gail Matthews (pictured) also warned Sydney would see more Covid hospitalisations in coming days
The Federal Government has used the Doherty modelling to fashion its four-stage re-opening plan which removes large lockdowns when 70 per cent are vaccinated and opens the international borders when 80 per cent are jabbed.
Even with high vaccination rates, Covid hospitalisations and deaths are unavoidable, said Professor Jodie McVernon, Director of Epidemiology at the Doherty Institute.
‘The reality is we can’t avoid Covid forever. This is the reality check, this [Delta strain] is twice as infectious as what we started with,’ she told RN Breakfast.
‘So we’ve got to be realistic in framing the future for people and explaining that mobile phones have changed our lives forever and so has Covid, certainly for the near term.’
Dr McVernon said it was not a realistic option to keep Australia shut off from the rest of the world to keep out the virus.
‘This is not something that is going to go away, we can’t hide and hope it goes past,’ she said.
‘We do have to have a mature approach about how we’re going to move forward as a society in a way that doesn’t require lockdowns and all this uncertainty. We’re going to have to keep adapting.’
It comes as Sydney braces for a spike in Covid hospitalisation and deaths after the city’s outbreak rose to 4,063 cases on Wednesday.
Professor Matthews said St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney’s east was bracing for more patients even if case numbers go down, due a lag of up to two weeks between infection and hospitalisation.
‘We will see increasing numbers of patients because we’re still seeing the same number of cases and those cases are going to translate into more patients needing to come into hospital because of the natural history of the infection,’ she said.
‘Even if we saw the cases go down to zero next week, we will still be expecting a lot more patients. We know we have to plan for that.’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has flagged that some restrictions could ease when six million jabs have been given out in the state, meaning 50 per cent of adults will be fully vaccinated.
But the relaxation also depends on case numbers being reduced dramatically.
Under Mr Morrison’s four-stage re-opening plan, a state or territory can move to remove the need for restrictions when the national vaccination rate hits 70 per cent and the rate in that state also hits 70 per cent.
The Prime Minister said he hopes this phase will be achieved before the end of the year but warned the timing ‘is entirely up to how the nation responds to this challenge we’re setting for ourselves’.
NSW Police patrol Bondi Beach in Sydney on Wednesday morning as the city remains in lockdown for another four weeks
This phase, known as phase B, will make lockdowns ‘less likely’ and will give doubled-vaccinated people ‘special rules’ to allow them more freedom than Aussies who refuse a jab.
A ‘small working group’ involving the Northern Territory, Victoria and Tasmania has been set up to determine which restrictions will not apply to the double-vaccinated.
The Prime Minister warned that some localised lockdowns may be required in phase B but ‘broad-based metropolitan-wide lockdowns’ shutdowns will not be needed.
The phase will increase the cap for vaccinated Australians arriving from overseas and allow ‘reduced’ quarantine requirements such as home quarantine – as well as capped entry for students and economic visa holders.
Phase C begins when 80 per cent of adults are double-jabbed, allowing vaccinated Australians to travel overseas for any reason.
Travel bubbles will be set up with safer countries such as Singapore to allow vaccinated travellers to fly in without quarantine.
Mr Morrison said a country would be deemed safe if it has ‘the same sort of vaccination levels as Australia’. The UK has already fully vaccinated 71.4 per cent of adults.
Phase C will remove all domestic restrictions on double-jabbed Aussies and abolish caps on returning vaccinated Australians.
There is no vaccination rate set for phase D, which will remove almost all rules except for testing of unvaccinated arrivals and quarantine for arrivals from ‘high risk’ places.
The Prime Minister warned the plan is based on the Delta variant and is ‘subject to change’ if a new, more contagious variant comes along.
What are the four phases of opening up?
A. Vaccinate, prepare and pilot (from July 14)
Arrival caps cut in half to 3,035 a week; early, stringent and short lockdowns if outbreaks occur; trials of seven-day home quarantine for vaccinated arrivals in South Australia; medicare vaccination certificates available on apps like apple wallet
B. Post vaccination phase (when 70 per cent are jabbed, expected late this year)
Lockdowns ‘less likely but possible’; vaccinated people face reduced restrictions; caps for unvaccinated arrivals increased; a larger cap for vaccinated arrivals with ‘reduced quarantine requirements’; capped entry for students and economic visa holders
C. Consolidation phase (when 80 per cent are jabbed, time not announced)
‘Highly targeted’ lockdowns only; lifting all restrictions for outbound travel for vaccinated travellers; no caps for vaccinated arrivals; increased caps for students and visa holders; more travel bubbles being set up with countries such as Singapore; booster shots rolled out
D. Final phase (percentage or time not announced)
Uncapped arrivals for vaccinated people without any quarantine and uncapped arrivals for unvaccinated people with testing before departure and on arrival