• Matt Balogh

At some point, we need to learn to live with COVID-19

Updated: May 10

Australia has done an extraordinary job of avoiding COVID-19. This has been achieved by strict limitations on overseas travel, well-obeyed lockdowns, and thorough case tracing. Living in Australia today shows little signs of COVID. Except for one thing – the inability to travel.

As at May 2021, the incidence of vaccination amongst Australians is well below forecast expectations. In part, this has been caused be delays in the availability of vaccines, particularly the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. There are concerns about the use of the Astra Zeneca virus amongst people under the age of 50 due to cases of blood clot associated with that virus. It appears the incidence of blood clots is at around one in 800,000 vaccinations, and most of those incidents, though unfortunate, recover. Compare this to the death rate for COVID-19, of between one and two percent.

At some stage in the next year, there will be sufficient vaccines available for all Australians. In my opinion, that should be sooner, with the adoption of Astra Zeneca more prevalently. For instance, if all Australians took the Astra Zeneca vaccine, we might expect around 30 cases of blood clots and perhaps a handful of deaths. The common flu is far more dangerous, typically being accountable for 250 deaths in Australia each year. Cigarettes and alcohol are far more dangerous, but not illegal. Getting into a car, or running across the road is far more dangerous than the Astra Zeneca vaccine. Of course, there are those that, due to pre-existing medical conditions, should wait for the Pfizer or Moderna alternatives, which should start to trickle into the country soon. Not soon enough, due to incompetent delays by the Australian Federal Government in negotiating imports or local production.

Eventually, the vaccines will be here, but will people get vaccinated? As long as COVID-19 remains largely absent from the community, they will not rush to do so. This raises the question, what is the purpose of the vaccines? The purpose of the vaccines is to reduce the symptoms and likelihood of death of COVID-19. Not to prevent transmission (although there are unconfirmed signs that it also reduces transmission). The purpose of the vaccines is to allow us to live comfortably with COVID-19 in the population. Without COVID-19 in the community, people will not be motivated to be vaccinated. What is the problem with that? The problem is that our borders will remain highly restricted, with just a trickle of International travel. Over a third of Australians have at least one parent born overseas. Many Australians, like myself, are dual citizens. In my case, I also have a home in the country of my childhood – currently deteriorating to a ruin, because repairs are not being done in the absence of my visits. Education, trade, culture and much more are dependent on a vibrant International travel community. The Australian economy is staggering under the burden of a shortage of skilled trades that normally come from immigration. Luddite isolationists that think that the need for International travel is an unnecessary luxury will bring Australia to its feet, isolated like North Korea.

The point is this: as vaccines become more available over the coming months, International travel needs to open-up for vaccinated travellers, starting with people with legitimate reasons to travel, and slowly opening up the doors to recreational travel in the long term. Frankly, we need to let COVID-19 in the door, gently, of course, so that people become vaccinated, and let the vaccinations do what they are designed to do, which is minimise the symptoms and risks. COVID-19 will become much like the common Flu, prevalent, manageable, but always there in the background, part of everyday life. Cutting ourselves off from the world in fear of COVID is to surrender and die.

Just to be clear: If we are waiting for COVID to go away before we can travel again, as Scott Kim Jung Un Morrison suggests, you might as well toss your passport on an open fire – except that is totally illegal, don’t do it. If we wait for some critical mass of people to be vaccinated before easing back the travel restrictions, it will never happen, because there is not enough motivation to be vaccinated. The easing of quarantine and other restrictions need to ramp up in order to encourage the general population to be vaccinated. A future with travel is a future where COVID-19 is as common as a cold or the flu, but rarely fatal. So, let’s get vaccinated and let’s get travelling.

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