Many Australians are looking forward to the time when 70 per cent of over-16s are fully vaccinated, and the freedoms this will bring.
This number is being touted by the government based on modelling from the now famous Doherty Institute report.
But how "normal" is life really going to be once we hit this target?
There’s a lot the modelling doesn’t tell us specifically. But one thing is certain, while hitting 70 per cent vaccination coverage may provide some additional freedoms, it will unfortunately not return life to "normal".
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A lot depends on testing and contact tracing.
As with any modelling, there are limitations. The modelling is based on the premise of a single national epidemic, which doesn’t account for the many geographical and population differences across Australia.
This, and other assumptions, may not hold up in the current context of case numbers in Australia.
But let’s, for a moment, ignore these flaws. Let’s think about what life will look like if restrictions are lifted based on the recommendations set forth in the report.
We’re being told lockdowns won’t be needed often, and they won’t need to go for long. But it’s hard to say specifically what they will look like, as much of this is dependent on the public health workforce’s ability to test, trace, isolate and quarantine.
This is a measure of the public health response which involves testing to identify people with COVID-19, isolating those infected to limit the spread, and effective and timely contact tracing and quarantining of people in contact with those testing positive.
This test, trace, isolate and quarantine factor underpins a lot of the modelling, and outcomes vary depending on how effective this strategy is.
For example, assuming our system of test, trace, isolate and quarantine is "optimally effective", then low-level restrictions are likely to be effective the majority of the time.
However, if case numbers increase and test, trace, isolate and quarantine becomes only partially effective due to pressure on the public health workforce, medium to strict social restrictions will be required the majority of the time. This is despite more than 70 per cent of over-16s being fully vaccinated.