The COVID diaries #13 – where to from here?

We’re in a strange situation here in Australia. Over the course of the last year we’ve done a pretty stellar job of stamping out eruptions of the plague, probably better than anywhere else in the world (except New Zealand). Despite myriad fuck-ups we were the proud owners of a Covid-free nation (more or less).

But now there’s a pretty major outbreak of the Delta strain in New South Wales. They’re doing 200-300 cases per day, with many of them out and about in the community at the time of diagnosis. This is pretty bad news.

Worse news is that it seems many people aren’t really thinking about how this will evolve in the future.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think we will ever get control of the NSW outbreak. I think it’s too virulent and the full-Wuhan style lockdown that would be required to control it is political suicide. So I think Sydney will bumble along for months with decreasing rates of lockdown compliance and increasing infection rates.

Of course, if it’s big in Sydney it’ll be big everywhere else sooner or later. Melbourne just entered its 6th lockdown, only two weeks after the 5th one ended. South East Queensland is back in the hole too. This is the beginning of Covid becoming endemic in Australia.

So we find outselves back in mid 2020, trying to flatten the curve. It’s not well known outside the health sector, but much of the hospital system is running at about 95% capacity most of the time. A big outbreak with lots of unwell people will really stretch the system and will prevent many people with lower-grade illnesses receiving treatment at all. People still have heart attacks in pandemics, and they’ll be fine, but your grandmother with the dodgy hip or your uncle’s florid groinal rash may not get seen.

So then we have to think about vaccines. Australia has been frankly hopeless at getting needles into arms. The reasons are complex and political, but basically the government put a big bet on Astra Zeneca being the go-to shot, but then proceeded to undermine it with great efficiency when it fell out of favour. Very limited stocks of Pfizer are the jab of choice, and many people aren’t worried enough about Covid to consider getting anything else. Add to that the constantly changing critera for who can be vaccinated and we have a recipe for a vulnerable population.

So here we are. Covid is beating down the door and we have a virus-naiive population who can’t access vaccines. How do we manage this? Sooner or later lockdowns will lose their lustre, and we just have to hope that we can hold out long enough to get most people semi-vaccinated.

The next headache will be that the vaccines are pretty good, but are only a 98% chance of preventing death. Many people seem to believe that they’re a magic bullet and statistically 2% of them will be wrong.

I give it till the end of the year before the wheels fall off completely.

See you in December.


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