The patchwork of COVID-19 vaccine uptake will keep health measures in place well into 2022 but if hospitalisations are kept in check Australia can look forward to a "measured, staged opening", a leading epidemiologist has predicted.
Professor Catherine Bennett, Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University has said while the nation moves into "suppression mode" as vaccination rates increase, contact tracers will no longer need to find every COVID-19 case.
"The virus is in the community, the COVID-19 response transition has begun, and we are on track to live with the virus, but control the disease, from the first quarter of 2022," Professor Bennett wrote in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal published on Wednesday.
The Australian government's national plan is to transition the country's COVID-19 response from the current phase A ('vaccinate, prepare and pilot') to phase B (70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated) and C (80 per cent vaccination).
Professor Bennett said some political leaders have "retreated into a protectionist position of zero tolerance" despite the Delta variant prompting a need for discussions about how many deaths Australia will tolerate as zero cases becomes out of the question.
"In the outbreak jurisdictions at least, we are now drawn into the more compelling global experiment to find a workable, ethical and economically sustainable approach to controlling disease incidence and hospitalisations," she wrote.
Professor Bennett said restrictions of some kind will be required wherever community transmission persists until vaccine targets are met.
"Masks indoors will be the last precaution to go and large gatherings the last banned activity to return, although large events will no doubt happen sooner if we go the way of adopting vaccine passports as have other countries."
Australian Associated Press