Perth’s Piña colada policy approach could be a disaster
A commentator on Patricia Karvelas’ ABC Afternoon Briefing was asked whether Western Australia was likely to open its borders to the eastern states once 80 per cent vaccination coverage is achieved. Jason Falinski MP responded that it was unlikely that the state would make any concessions while they were all sitting around in the sun drinking piña coladas.
Mr Falinksi said that people in Perth had zero community transmission and would fight to keep their elimination strategy. This was entirely based on the closed state-border policy.
The problem with the zero Covid-19 strategy based on closed borders is that it breeds complacency.
This is reflected in the low vaccination rate in Western Australia, which lags the rest of the country and is twenty percentage points behind New South Wales on first vaccinations. If the Delta strain of coronavirus gets into the state it could be a disaster.
There is a model for what could happen in NSW in New Zealand.
NZ identified an Australian visitor who tested positive for the virus and immediately ordered a nationwide lockdown. Unfortunately, the man had been out and about for a couple of days and nine days after the lockdown was ordered, NZ had 62 cases a day of the Delta variant.
Like Western Australia, New Zealand had a low rate of vaccination. This was matched by a reduction in the availability of intensive care beds and a lack of resources for contact tracing. Importantly, because of complacency, people in New Zealand are slow to get tested in situations where they have been exposed to the virus. This means that a large number of them are out in the community while infectious.
By Thursday, the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, was being ambivalent about her policy of eradicating the Delta variant. In her press conference, Ms Ardern said that the number of daily infections was likely to increase and the lockdowns may continue for some time without eradicating the virus.
She was probably reflecting on the experience in Victoria where a level four lockdown, like that in New Zealand, has not been able to suppress the Delta variant. The damage from the Victorian lockdown has been most acutely felt in the regional centre of Shepparton, where a third of the town is now in isolation and there are issues involved in providing them with food and medication because there are not enough people available to do the deliveries.
Some New Zealanders are getting restive at being locked down. The South Island is totally free of the virus and yet every business on it is closed down. This is a huge price to pay for equity of treatment and comes at a huge cost to the economy.
WA premier, Mark McGowan boasts that his state is supporting the rest of the Australian economy with taxes from iron ore. However, like most things, the iron ore price is unlikely to stay at its current astronomical heights forever. The perfect storm for Western Australia would be an outbreak of the Delta variant combined with a crash in iron ore exports.
If Mr McGowan insisted on keeping his borders closed and locking down his economy, then it would be entirely reliant on the Commonwealth for financial support.
If national vaccination coverage exceeds 80 per cent then Josh Frydenberg may not be prepared to come to the party. Not only that, but WA may have to learn to live with the delta virus.