The ongoing need for lockdowns and effective contact tracing need to be considered in the public debate over plans to reopen Australia, according to Burnet Institute Senior Principal Research Fellow, Professor Allan Saul.
Modelling from The Doherty Institute suggests Australia can safely start to reopen once 70 to 80 percent of the adult population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Professor Saul told ABC Radio National’s Health Report the Doherty model makes it clear that restrictions will be necessary even with 80 percent vaccination coverage.
“The Doherty model suggests that we would need about 30 percent of the time in a severe lockdown, equivalent to Melbourne stage four, with 80 percent coverage,” Professor Saul said.
“It’s really quite important that people understand that this is not lockdown free.”
Professor Saul told host Dr Norman Swan the amount of lockdown that’s required will depend on the efficiency and effectiveness of contact tracing in the community.
“The model actually assumes that the contact tracing is as important in reducing the transmission as the vaccine is at an 80 percent coverage,” Professor Saul said.
“And very small changes in the efficiency of that contact tracing really make a very big change in how much lockdown we need to maintain COVID at low levels.
“But there’s a Catch 22 – as cases come up, then the contact tracing goes down.
“And because contact tracing is a very significant part of controlling the outbreak, as the contact tracing goes down, cases go up even faster, and contact tracing gets even worse and rapidly spirals out of control, and so that’s where the worry is."
“It’s essentially an unstable situation, and you don’t need a large increase before there’s a problem.”
Professor Saul said the Doherty modelling was remarkably comprehensive with a huge amount of information but needs some ‘careful thought’ from people who are making decisions based on it.
Click here to listen to Professor Saul’s interview on The Health Report.