The current NSW hard lockdown is not going well. Four weeks in and the numbers are going up and not down. The Four Yorkshiremen of COVID strategy are out in force on social media insisting that NSW hasn’t even tried a REAL hard lockdown “..That’s not a lockdown. A real lockdown looks like……..” and insisting that Gladys go HARDER and not stop until she hears the pips squeak. While yet others are insisting it is time to rip off the band-aid and follow Boris “BOJO” Johnson into the land of “let it rip” freedom. Perhaps it is just time for a new approach in NSW….a Partial Lockdown where the fully vaccinated are subject to fewer restrictions than the unvaccinated.
What is different now to other Aussie lockdowns?
Delta is different
There is a tendency to apply what worked once and make no allowance for things that have changed. The most obvious change is that COVID-19 has changed and the new Delta strain is substantially more contagious than earlier strains that were effectively eliminated through lockdown strategies. There is a very real chance that once the Delta strain has gained the sort of foothold it has gained in Sydney, it may not be possible to eradicate it, just as we have not been able to eradicate a bunch of the other significantly contagious viruses (influenza, para influenza, common cold, rhonivirus etc) that circulate and have continued to circulate in Australia throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sure we can blame Premier Gladys Berejiklian for underestimating the Delta strain and fluffing around while it was still a small outbreak in the Eastern Suburbs and not stamping it out with extreme prejudice, but the fact is that she didn’t and now it may not be possible to stamp it out. And even if there were a cocktail of extreme super duper hard lockdown measures that would eventually work, the second difference discussed below suggests it may not now be worth the effort trying to eliminate the Delta strain in Sydney.
Full vaccination is different
The second key difference to other lockdowns is that there is now a significant number of people in NSW who are fully vaccinated. At the moment in the NSW there are 1 million people who are fully vaccinated and another 2.4 million who have had one dose and will be fully vaccinated in a matter of weeks. Every day tens of thousands of people are joining the ranks of the fully vaccinated.
This is a completely different state of affairs to a few months ago when it just wasn’t possible to get vaccinated at all.
1 million people is a lot of people to keep locked down when they are fully vaccinated. If someone has gone to the trouble of getting fully vaccinated there needs to be a very good reason to prevent them from using their vaccination status to operate a business or earn wages (and not rely on some sort of government drip) or just get out and about.
And NSW has one of the lowest percentages of full vaccination so this difference is even more striking for the other Australian states.
So what would a Partial Lockdown look like?
How might the lockdown restrictions in NSW be modified for a Partial Lockdown?
In a Partial Lockdown those who are fully vaccinated would be given a “Partial Lockdown licence” and be subject to fewer restrictions, perhaps including the following:
- Remove the 10 km restriction on exercise and outdoor recreation for the fully vaccinated
- Allow businesses currently required to close to re-open if all of the staff working are fully vaccinated
- Allow the fully vaccinated to return to work
- Allow the fully vaccinated to shop (and even “browse”!)
The above may not sound like much but with 1 million fully vaccinated people in NSW it would mean that at least some economic activity can get moving straight away.
More importantly it will create an immediate and tangible incentive for the unvaccinated to get moving and get vaccinated.
With millions of doses of AstraZeneca lying around on the shelves in GP and immunisation hub fridges in Sydney and across Australia the excuse that one cannot get vaccinated is no longer valid. While other Australian states may wish to hold on to their stocks of Pfizer there is no excuse for them holding onto their excess stocks of AstraZeneca while they are able to maintain zero local transmission status and their citizens feel no pressure to get vaccinated. It is perfectly fine for their citizens to stay picky and wait for stocks of Pfizer, Novavax and Moderna to drop from the skies in a few months but in NSW the luxury of zero local transmission is now just a memory.
No Freedom Day
A Partial Lockdown is not about letting COVID rip or about declaring some loopy BOJO “Freedom Day”. It is nothing more than reducing the restrictions that apply to the fully vaccinated. Everyone who is not fully vaccinated in areas where there is no longer zero local transmission will remain subject to lockdown restrictions.
But this will make the unvaccinated second class citizens.
At the moment those who have taken the trouble to get fully vaccinated are being treated like second class citizens. It is a bit like refusing to allow anyone to drive a car on the basis that requiring people to obtain a driving licence unfairly discriminates against those who haven’t bothered to obtain a driving licence.
The fully vaccinated have obtained their Partial Lockdown licence and should be allowed to use it. If any unvaccinated person wants a Partial Lockdown licence all they have to do is to go and get themselves vaccinated with whatever vaccine they can get their hands on.
But how will the COVID cops police this?
To a large extent policing it will not be necessary. Anyone who is unvaccinated and is not observing the lockdown and is wandering around as though they have a Partial Lockdown licence, will be playing COVID roulette and will suffer the consequences of an infection if they catch one. It will not take long before the unvaccinated will understand the risks they are taking and respond by either staying home or getting off their butts and acquiring vaccination or if they have balls of steel they can continue to play COVID roulette.
If nanny-state lovers wish, it would not be difficult to require Partial Lockdown licence holders to carry their vaccination report around with them or for the State Government to add vaccination status to the Service NSW app that everyone is using to read QR codes. That way the COVID cops could ask people to show their Partial Lockdown licences on demand and taser those that refuse to comply.
But they can still infect the unvaccinated!
The usual reason given for locking down the fully vaccinated is that there is evidence that some of them can still contract COVID and some of them can still infect other people who have not been vaccinated.
The problem with this logic is that if there is COVID-19 circulating in the community we are going to have to keep the fully vaccinated locked down until 100% of the population has been vaccinated as until we reach that point there will continue to be a risk that an unvaccinated person will be infected by a fully vaccinated person. And why do this anyway when the alternative is simple. Just recommend that the unvaccinated stay in lockdown and away from the rapidly growing numbers of the fully vaccinated who may be infected (but are unlikely to be very infectious).
Keeping the unvaccinated safe
Of course it would be nicer for the unvaccinated in NSW if we could get back to zero local transmission so the unvaccinated could wander freely while they make up their minds whether or not they will get vaccinated or whether they will wait for their “preferred” vaccine to become available. But that may not be possible in NSW if zero local transmission is no longer possible and where we have over 1 million people (increasingly by tens of thousands every day) who are already fully vaccinated and may not be convinced that they should continue to be locked down while some (not all) people choose to wait for their preferred vaccine.
Unvaccinated individuals who live alone can make the decision for themselves. If they don’t want to get vaccinated with either vaccine (and there are quite a few who don’t) or are awaiting a vaccination booking they can either stay at home (personal lockdown) to avoid the virus or take their chances outside of the home. At any time they can change their decision either by getting vaccinated with a different vaccine that is more available or if they decide the risk of leaving home is too great they can return to their personal lockdown.
Household can also make their own decisions. If any of the family members wish to leave the home the ENTIRE family should decided whether they will allow this as any movement outside of the family home entails risk in circumstances when there is local transmission of COVID-19. Unfortunately, for some families there is little choice whether some family members leave home as those family members are the income earners or do essential work so in most cases the best choice for households which cannot maintain a tight household lockdown is for all members of the family to get vaccinated asap.
One of the problems for those arguing that we should maintain a hard lockdown (including lockdown of the fully vaccinated) is that they assume that everyone wants to get vaccinated and the only thing standing in the way is sufficient supplies of vaccine. But we already know from the experience in other countries and with other well established vaccines that there are plenty of people who given the choice will simply refuse to have COVID “devil juice” injected into them and will prefer to take their chances.
Although not Anti-Vaxers, the unvaccinated who are refusing to get vaccinated with AstraZeneca are not much different as they have access to a vaccine and are refusing to take it. Overseas reports indicate that Novavax is far superior to both Pfizer and AstraZenca and should be available late 2021 or early 2022. Should we maintain a hard lock down just so those that want to wait for Novavax remain safe until they get their “preferred” vax?
Issue as many Partial Lockdown licences as fast as possible
It is highly likely that when Gladys introduces the concept of a Partial Lockdown this week (we choose Bushell’s tea leaves) and starts reducing restrictions on the fully vaccinated, that there will be a rush from many of those sitting on the vaccination fence for a jab of anything. Accordingly, it is important that the state government set up immunisation hubs right across Sydney but especially in the South Western suburbs where local transmission of Delta is a real problem.
Who knows, if we jab fast enough in the South West it might be possible to reduce new infections and infections out in the community back to zero but without the promise of Partial Lockdown licences we can be certain that there will not be enough jabs demanded.
The proposed Partial Lockdown approach is ironically the only way we can get back to zero local transmission.
At the moment between 50,000 and 60,000 doses of vaccine are being administered in NSW per day and the NSW government has proved it is able to conduct over 100,000 COVID tests. As the most well organised state in the Commonwealth the NSW government should set the goal of delivering 150,000 doses of vaccine per day or 1 million per week. As the Commonwealth government is currently exporting AstraZeneca to other countries it should not be difficult to secure ample supplies of AstraZenca to reach this target.
But what about the other states that have zero local transmission?
Well the answer is simple.
They insist that it was the failure of Gladys to protect the NSW borders and to allow the Delta strain to escape from quarrantine. This true but also means that the answer is that the other states should take responsibility for their own borders and stop expecting NSW to protect them from infected arrivals from the outside world.
There is nothing stranger than hearing Victorians simultaneously whinging about the failure of Gladys to protect NSW from infections from overseas while complaining that Victoria should not be responsible for protecting Victorians from a truckload of removalists from NSW. If Victoria wants a belt of steel they should build it on the Victorian side of the border with NSW for as long as they think necessary. Dont fret we will still love you and your coffee.
The other Australian states should seal their borders with NSW and protect their zero transmission status for as long as possible but they would be well advised to take seriously the problem that their own citizens are unlikely to take the vaccination message seriously while they perceive there is very low risk of infection. While they might say they just want to wait for Pfizer you may find they decide, when loads of Pfixer is available, that they would prefer to wait for Novavax in 2022.
Demanding that Gladys crush the economy of NSW chasing the dream of elimination of the Delta strain may feel good but it is unlikely to happen. The NSW construction industry will put up with a hard lockdown for about another 2 weeks at best. Keep in mind that Premier Daniel Andrews never locked down the Melbourne construction industry…..and for good reason.