Victoria’s roadmap to reopening will see our hard work pay off

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Victorians are tired.

We have had lived through over 200 days of lockdown. Businesses and schools have been closed for many weeks, and we are desperate to see our friends and families. It’s all too familiar.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.Credit:Nine

But the situation today is actually very different to what we were facing in 2020.

Although in 2021 we are facing the great challenge of containing Delta, we now have highly effective vaccines available and we know with confidence that they work in reducing hospitalisation, death and transmission.

The announcement on Sunday of Victoria’s new Roadmap to Deliver the National Plan should be celebrated by every Victorian. There is a road out of this – a long, slow and at times bumpy one to be sure. But we are heading in the right direction.

Victoria’s exit from lockdown demands striking a careful balance between increasing freedoms for the vaccinated and a very close watch over our health system. Guided by modelling from the Burnet Institute, even while maintaining current lockdown measures until the end of October, we have a few difficult months ahead.

The Premier rightly acknowledged on Sunday that while we’re no longer aiming for COVID zero, it’s imperative we don’t jeopardise our health system in the rush to open up.

I work as an infectious disease physician at two public hospitals in Melbourne. Although I no longer work on the wards, I speak to my front-line colleagues frequently. Our doctors and nurses are tired from and anxious about the current COVID-imposed workload, and are very concerned about what is to come. They have kept us all safe for months, and we must do everything possible to ensure our healthcare system can function. This is why strict lockdown measures must remain in place for now.

And once we get to at least 70 per cent double vaccinated, our lives will start to transform.

Mandatory vaccination for multiple sectors is a core part of the Victorian Roadmap. In addition to aged care, construction and freight workforces, all healthcare workers will need to be vaccinated too, with a first dose needed by October 15.

Mandatory vaccination for multiple sectors is a core part of the Victorian Roadmap.Credit:AP

The Roadmap lists certain venues for opening – but only on the condition that all eligible attendees to the venue are vaccinated. I fully applaud the government’s leadership here. These clear recommendations from the Victorian government will greatly assist business owners.

In just a few short weeks, we are on track to achieve those key vaccination targets of 70-80 per cent which have been the cornerstone of the Doherty Institute-led modelling consortium’s Technical Report and recent Addendum prepared for national cabinet released on Friday.

But raw vaccination numbers are not alone sufficient. Central to our exit plan in Victoria is the combination of high rates of vaccination, contact tracing and some public health and social measures.

The original report from the Doherty-led consortium of modellers compared outbreaks that were seeded with 30 cases at a time when “COVID-zero” was the goal. What our experts have confirmed is that whether you start at 30 cases or 800 cases, you can still open safely when you have 70 per cent of the population vaccinated, provided there are sufficient public health measures in place and our contact tracing systems are working.

Keeping a lid on things is key.Credit:Wayne Taylor

One important new finding from the modelling released from the Doherty Institute last Friday, was that opening up with thousands of infections will result in earlier and larger outbreaks. Keeping a lid on things is key. This is exactly why we must adhere to the stronger Victorian restrictions we have in place now, until the end of October.

It may not feel like it, but your hard work is working. Obviously we all want the infection numbers to drop. But through our collective efforts, we are avoiding the much worse situation from unconstrained spread. Minimising transmission of Delta is a major challenge, but we can’t let our current numbers climb higher.

The Victorian government has announced its plan. Now every Victorian needs to think about their own personal plan. Because what each of us does really matters.

You can make a difference by getting vaccinated.

You can make a difference by encouraging at least one member of your family or community to get vaccinated. Maybe more than one.

You can make a difference by choosing to stay home, and by reducing your movements.

You can make a difference by getting tested as soon as you have the slightest of symptoms.

Finally, if you are unlucky to become infected with COVID-19, please don’t delay; make sure you seek medical advice immediately. We now have treatments using special antibodies that can stop people progressing from mild to severe disease. But these treatments need to be given early in the infection.

Despite our weariness over the last 20 months, Victorians have demonstrated that we are resilient and care for one another. We were one of the few places in the world to successfully crush an outbreak of the Wuhan strain of COVID-19 in 2020. Although this isn’t possible now with the Delta strain, we have new tools in our toolbox with highly effective vaccines.

As we emerge from this terribly challenging period — and emerge we will —the world will look different as we learn to live with COVID-19, but we will triumph again.

The ball is in each of our own courts now.

Professor Sharon Lewin is the director of the Doherty Institute. She is also Melbourne Laureate Professor of Medicine at The University of Melbourne and a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Practitioner Fellow.

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