explainer

3 reasons Australia's situation isn't as bad as you might think, explained by a news journo.

I am not a scientist. Or a doctor. Or a politician. I'm a plain old news journalist.

It's not my job, even remotely, to come up with the policies or public health measures Australia is adopting to tackle the deadly Delta wave.

But it is my job to deliver the advice, direction and expertise of doctors, scientists and politicians in a way that's easy to understand.

Unfortunately, I work in a profession that doesn't always do that... gently. Flashy headlines get clicks and scary images make audiences pay attention. It's just how it works. 

As the pandemic barrels on, locking us in our homes and putting more of our neighbours and friends in hospital, it's easy to feel disillusioned by the news. To want to shut it off. To feel confused by the headlines.

Read: 'I’ve written about the COVID-19 pandemic for 345 days. Here’s what I’ve learnt.'

There's no sugarcoating the fact that there is a lot of doom and gloom, and it is scary right now - particularly in NSW. But there's also a lot of positivity behind the current COVID headlines that is somewhat being lost. 

Let's sift through three examples from the news this week: 

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1) The confusion around Australia ‘opening up’.

This week the Australian National University released some modelling that suggested Australia’s plan to start reopening when the country was 70 percent double-vaccinated, would put too many lives at risk.

The researchers argued that at least 90 per cent of all Australians, including children, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 before relaxing public health measures and opening the international border.

Cue headlines like: 'Prime Minister’s plan to reopen Australia will cause substantial mortality.'

However, as ABC data analyst Casey Briggs explained on Twitter, completely opening up at 70 per cent is not what any authority in Australia is proposing. 

ANU have essentially modelled what would happen if we move to Phase D of the national plan, when in actual fact we will be using a phased approach. At 70 percent we reach Phase B. 

Image: Australian Government. 

As you can see in the government's own national plan, Phase B is when we will hopefully move to 'ongoing low-level restrictions', lockdowns will be less likely, and they will start easing restrictions on vaccinated residents. 

NSW has already pushed forward with this, announcing one new freedom for the double-vaccinated, to ease the pressures of the nine-week lockdown. But that's only because they surpassed a certain vaccination target (more on that soon.)

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ANU's research wasn't flawed. But the media's interpretation of it was, because the Federal Government never planned to "open up" completely at 70 per cent. 

ANU's model also assumes the vaccination rate doesn’t progress beyond the opening up point, but our vaccination rates will only continue to climb. 

2) The focus on daily case numbers. 

Every day, every state and territory leader in Australia opens their daily update with how many cases of COVID transmission there are in the community. They've done this since the pandemic first started and it's the metric on which we've based our 'success'.

Because the leaders do it, the media does it too, but as our vaccination rates start to pick up, we need to pivot and start thinking about that number instead. 

Because as depressing as the case numbers are, particularly for those in Sydney, the vaccination rates are rising just as quickly, and that's really exciting. 

Check out this nifty graph from NSW Health: 

Image: NSW Health.

The effect those vaccination rates are having is even more positive. 

If you look at the current death rate from the NSW outbreak compared to Victoria last year, NSW is nowhere near it. 

Image: Worldometre.

That’s not because Delta isn’t as deadly, it’s because vaccines are working.

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The main problem is, we are trying to vaccinate our way out of an outbreak that already has a foothold, and it's hard to outrun a fire that's already burning. Which is why we have to take cover and lock down until more of us are jabbed.

At Mamamia we're starting to steer away from sharing the daily case numbers, and more toward sharing the vaccination 'donuts' because it's finally a metric we can focus as more vaccination doses become available.

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And we've already hit some awesome targets. 

NSW hit six million jabs on Tuesday, and ABC analysis shows the state's vaccination rate is now ranked among the fastest in the world. 

Now that's some positive news. Keep it coming! 

3) What's happening in Israel.

Israel is currently in the news because they're touted as being one of the most 'vaccinated countries in the world' and yet they've just reached 10,000 cases a day and are bringing restrictions back in. 

It's leading to headlines like: 'Cases soar in highly vaccinated Israel.'

But when you actually look at Israel's statistics, they have vaccinated 78 per cent of their eligible population, which equates to 60 per cent of their entire population.

They simply opened up too quickly. Their population wasn't vaccinated enough to warrant a complete 'back to normal.'

Even so, let's look at the detail of their statistics. The blue line below shows the infection rate of vaccinated over 70s, while the skyrocketing orange line is unvaccinated over 70s. 

If you look at the daily cases verses death rate, you can see that the death rate is significantly down compared to earlier in the year when there was a similar case load.

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See here: 


Image: Worldometer.


So, where does that leave us?

Yes, we are in a very tough spot right now with NSW, Victoria and the ACT in lockdown and hospitals in Sydney filling up. 

Yes, the news makes it feel like we’re never getting out of this mess. (The shouty press conferences don't help).

But there is light at the end of this awful tunnel. We just can’t blow it by opening too quickly.

We’re due to reach 70 per cent of the eligible vaccinated population by November 1. Locked down NSW might move quicker (but that's because they have a reason to, they need to get out of lockdown). The state is due to reach 70 per cent double vaccination by mid-October, and the premier is already giving away certain freedoms. 

From September 13, a household in the LGAs of concern, will be able to sit in the park for an hour as long as the household are fully vaccinated. 

In Greater Sydney, five people will be allowed to gather outdoors, as long as all adults present are fully vaccinated. 

As the Doherty Institute explains, their modelling is based on 70 per cent of eligible Australians with optimal public health measures in place. They say the result of those measures is 2,737 infections and 13 deaths over six months. Any death is a tragedy, but our health system can cope with these numbers. 

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The Institute says they’ve learned from watching countries that have removed all restrictions too quickly (like Israel), and once we reach 70 per cent, opening up at tens or hundreds of cases nationally per day is possible to do without lockdowns if we continue to test, trace, isolate and quarantine.

For more from Gemma Bath, keep up to date with her articles here, or follow her on  Instagram.

Feature image: Mamamia. 

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