Australia’s largest city has started living with Kovid. Asia will be watching


That changed on Monday as Sydney, Australia’s largest city and the capital of New South Wales, emerges from a strict lockdown imposed in June to contain the Delta outbreak.

McTighe said he is “excited” to resume his life and see his loved ones, but he is concerned about what COVID-19 could mean for the city of 5.3 million people in the community.

“I think until everyone has a better understanding of this thing and how it keeps changing, we should be concerned,” she said.

For more than 18 months, Australia has isolated itself from the world, closing borders and imposing a strict lockdown to stamp out the Covid-19 outbreak in an effort to eradicate the virus.

Now, emerging from Australia Its so-called “cave” And trying to live with it.

Starting Monday, fully vaccinated Sydneysiders, who make up more than 70% of the city’s adults, can return to restaurants, bars and gyms – and many like McTighe are now able to reconnect with loved ones in aged care after months Huh.

But all the hard-earned liberties will come at a cost – national modeling shows Sydney will have thousands of new infections and inevitable deaths.

Questions remain about how the hospital system will cope with any surge of new cases, the impact on vulnerable people and how quickly Sydney can adapt to living with COVID.

What happens next will be important for both the city and Australia. But other zero-Covid countries in the Asia-Pacific region will also be watching closely to see if Sydney can be successful in keeping the number of cases and deaths down to avoid overwhelming hospitalizations, while still restarting business. And people are allowed to move on with their lives. .

end of zero covid

For the first year of the pandemic, Australia was one of the few major countries to successfully contain COVID-19, through strict border restrictions, mandatory quarantines and temporary lockdowns.

But the Delta outbreak in Sydney in June quickly spread to neighboring Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Delays in Australia’s vaccination rollout, partly due to short supplies, left the population vulnerable – forcing officials to impose local lockdowns.

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Professor Mary-Louise MacLaws from the University of Infectious Disease Epidemiology said, “I always believed we could eliminate non-delta COVID… New South Wales (UNSW).

As cases rose, it became clear that keeping people inside was unsustainable for economic and health reasons – and Australian officials came up with a plan to get the country out of the pandemic.

With the initial supply issues resolved, the vaccination program intensified.

Last week, NSW became the first state to reach the initial 70% double vaccination target. Other states are expected to reach that number in the coming weeks, and the entire country is expected to open up by the end of the year.

But experts warn that it is not without potential dangers – and some people are taking more risks than others.

reopening australia

Australia’s reopening plan is built around total adult vaccination rates in each state, but vaccination statistics are not evenly spread.

According to government figures, complete vaccination rates are as low as 30% in some suburban areas of Sydney.

The state’s indigenous population also lags behind the statewide numbers. For example, as of 6 October, less than half of indigenous people aged 15 years or older on the NSW Central Coast had received a dose of both vaccines. This is a problem because Indigenous people generally suffer more chronic health problems than non-Indigenous people, putting them at higher risk of complications from COVID.

And the youth are also a matter of concern. In NSW, only 58% of people aged 16 to 29 have been fully vaccinated – the lowest of any age group except for 12 to 15-year-olds who were recently given access to vaccines.

Customers line up to enter a store in Sydney on October 11, after more than 100 days of lockdown.

UNSW’s McLaws said young people are likely to be among the first to take advantage of the freedom to reopen, so making sure they are fully vaccinated is especially important.

She likened it to a patch of dry kindling, which, if ignored, could eventually lead to a bushfire. “Young people, they start fires, and then the groups that are at risk are … vulnerable and indigenous populations and generally territorial areas outside big cities,” she said.

Australia’s strict border controls and quarantine measures allowed the country to avoid the chaos experienced in other countries in 2020, when Covid cases spread from hospitals to temporary medical units.

However, despite 18 months of preparation, health groups have warned that the NSW hospital system may not be able to cope with the surge of new infections.

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Last month the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association urged the state government to boost staffing levels, showing that the system was already under pressure before the latest Covid outbreak.

And on Thursday, after NSW’s new premier announced plans for a quick reopening, the head of the Australian Medical Association, Omar Khorshid, urged officials not to be “reckless”.

“The end result of opening up too fast or too early will be avoidable deaths and a resumption of lockdowns and other restrictions – nobody in NSW wants to see,” he said in a statement.

“Sydney should use this opportunity to show the rest of the country how to live with COVID while protecting health and health care.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country’s states have 18 months to prepare for high Covid cases – and “the plan is well in place.”

He also urged Australia to play a role in taking pressure off the system.

“Where there are no cases, or are there 500 cases, or really 1,500 cases a day. The best thing you can do to support the nurses and everyone who works in hospitals is to get vaccinated,” They said.

A doctor gives a Pfizer vaccine to a client at the Belmore Sports Ground vaccination center in Sydney, Australia, October 3.

Setting ‘Good Examples’

Australia is beginning its transition from zero COVID to living with the virus through a high vaccination rate – but it is not the first country in the region to do so.

In June, the Singapore government announced that it was going to focus on limiting severe COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rather than infection rates. Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world – 83% of its total population has been fully vaccinated.

But after easing restrictions, Singapore saw the highest number of Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. In early October, the country reimposed some restrictions to curb rising infections and ease pressure on the health system.

Last week, people allowed to gather were reduced from five to two, working from home became the norm, and classes were suspended or moved online for students aged 12 and under.

Australia is also expecting case numbers to rise – this is inevitable as people begin to mix even while following other public health advice, including wearing masks.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrott got a haircut on 11 October, following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in the state.

National modeling from the Doherty Institute has predicted that with “partial public health measures” and a 70% double vaccination rate, the number could rise to 385,000 cases and 1,457 deaths in six months – more than Australia’s total toll on the entire pandemic. It added that with more caution, those numbers could see a decline.

Ahead of the reopening, Australia’s leaders have cautioned its citizens to prepare for more deaths, casting this as a cost to get back to normal life.

But like Singapore, Australia hasn’t ruled out imposing tighter restrictions on the rapid rise in cases.

Apart from Singapore and Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam have all spoken of abandoning the elimination strategy. In some of those places, which are already a cause for concern – in New Zealand, commentators have feared the move could spell disaster for the country’s most vulnerable.

Experts said countries around the region will be looking to Sydney to see how successfully it proceeds to reopen – and to learn from its mistakes.

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And not just other countries – Morrison is keen to move quickly with a nationwide reopening, and other states and territories in Australia will be keeping a close eye on NSW.

Victoria, Australia’s second largest state, will likely be the next state to reopen later in October.

Paul Griffin, director of infectious diseases at Matter Health Services, said other governments would be particularly interested in how Sydney’s health system reopens.

“I don’t think case numbers will be the major metric,” he said. “I think these will be markers of significant disease, and intensive care admissions and, of course, mortality.”

If hospitals become overwhelmed with infections, and cannot perform normal services safely, that would be a “red flag”.

Sydney resident McTighe said she still believes the original lockdown was necessary and does not expect a reopening to necessarily smooth – there could be an increase in cases and a re-introduction of restrictions, she said .

But for now, she said she’s very excited to be living “a normal life again.”

“You can see a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

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