• John McDonnell

Premier choice – get vaccinated or get locked down

Premiers Daniel Andrews (2nd from left) and Gladys Berejiklian (right) flank the Prime Minister in December

At her press conference on Thursday, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian was clearly resigned to the fact that the lockdown in Sydney was not bringing the COVID-19 Delta variant under control.

She kept repeating that people in Sydney should get vaccinated because that was the only way the lockdown would be lifted.

The premier had just announced further lockdowns in Newcastle and the Hunter region, because the virus had spread to there and the Central Coast.

Ironically, the premier had reallocated Pfizer vaccine from these regions to year twelve students in Sydney, so they could be vaccinated before their final exams.

On Wednesday, authorities were “very concerned” after “very high rates” of coronavirus were detected in sewage in Newcastle.

Overnight, the premier said cases had been confirmed in the area, announcing on Thursday:

“As a result, similar to what occurred in Orange, there will be a one-week lockdown in the Hunter and Upper Hunter region.”

NSW had 262 cases on Thursday, the highest number since the current outbreak began. The Premier also flagged that the government was looking at possible incentives to get workers in some industries vaccinated, and said the option of "no jab, no work" had not been ruled out.

"We're definitely trying to consider options that are more positive, to say classes of employees can go back if they've had the vaccination.
"We're considering those options. I don't want to rule anything in or out. Our decisions will be based on health advice and what is critical."

Forty-three of the new cases were infectious in the community, 29 were in isolation for part of their infectious period and the isolation status of 80 cases remained under investigation.

There are currently 290 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 51 people in intensive care, 24 of whom require ventilation.

The premier has a target of having 6 million people vaccinated by the end of August and this looks like the only option for reducing the rate of infection in NSW.

Four hours after the Berejiklian press conference, Daniel Andrews turned up in the Treasury Gardens in Melbourne to announce another lockdown. He said that his advisers had advised the restrictions were necessary because Melbourne had five cases of the Delta variant, three of which were mystery cases.

Premier Daniel Andrews described the decision to lock down again as "very difficult":

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am to have to be here doing this again.
"But with so few in the community with one vaccination, let alone two, I have no choice but to accept advice, and we collectively [have] to make this important decision to keep Victorians safe.
"The alternative is we let this run … away from us and our hospitals will be absolutely overwhelmed [with] not hundreds of patients but thousands."

Premier Andrews said that it was unlikely that Victoria will achieve 80 per cent vaccine coverage until the end of the year so unless community transmission was reduced to zero through an early lockdown, Victoria would be shut down until then.

It is an invidious choice for premiers: shut down with all the nasty consequences for students, small businesses, and mental health or push to get 80 per cent vaccination coverage as soon as possible in the face of vaccine reluctance.