For Morrison and Berejiklian the COVID game plan is dead simple: Let it rip!

The much-hyped promise of more freedom in NSW has become only an aspirational target, warns Michael Pascoe.

The much-hyped promise of more freedom in NSW has become only an aspirational target, warns Michael Pascoe. Image: TND

I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but shorn of euphemisms and false hopes, here is the Morrison and Berejiklian governments’ COVID plan for summer: Let it rip.

When 64 per cent of the population is vaccinated – 80 per cent of adults and almost no children – the Prime Minister and New South Wales Premier want our restraints to be lifted, allowing the disease to run riot through the population.

The vaccinated and unvaccinated alike in populated areas will  encounter the virus. Most of the vaccinated will be fine, or at least not sick enough to require hospitalisation. They’ll still play a role in spreading it, as will those under 16 that the governments prefer to pretend don’t count in vaccination targets.

Unvaccinated adults will suffer the same fate they are suffering now – a high percentage of very serious illness requiring hospitalisation.

In round numbers, of the 7,000 active cases in NSW on Monday, 64 were in ICU – nearly one per cent – with another 328 elsewhere in hospitals.  All up, 5.6 per cent require hospital beds.

Hundreds of thousands of cases

Given the infectiousness of the Delta variant, letting the virus rip could rapidly mean hundreds of thousands of cases, overloading our health system.

As previously explained, our intensive care units are hospitals’ “centre of gravity” – once the ICU is full, much of a hospital’s other functions become impossible. Thus hitting a vaccination percentage won’t guarantee an end to lockdowns and restraints – it will be the ICU case load that determines “freedom”.

But as we’re witnessing daily in the NSW government’s media conferences, once Delta gets established to the tune of hundreds of cases it’s hellishly hard to contain. If it gets established in the thousands, well, good luck.

And then there are the implications of “long COVID” for adults and whatever the virus is doing to children. We’re still finding that out as the rate of children’s infections spiral.

If the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier are being truthful in their announced intentions, it looks like they’re determined to do a Boris – follow the British experiment in letting the virus have its way with the population.

Obvious and terrible consequences

The hard-headed outcome is eventual herd immunity. Pretty much everyone who can get it will get it, with the obvious consequences.

It threatens to be horrific and not just for those who chose not to be vaccinated. Their decision will impact people in car accidents, people undergoing open-heart surgery, those awaiting surgery – everyone needing hospitalisation.

The hospitalisation of the unvaccinated will end up killing people not infected with COVID.

Which is why it is galling to see governments pussyfooting about mandating vaccination, bowing to the anti-vaxers and assorted ratbags.

If it gets to the feared stage of ICU overload, nobody will want to again see Scott Morrison saying what he said on Tuesday about the Afghans his government is leaving behind to the Taliban – “we wish it were different”.

And as for the airly-mentioned 50 and 70 per cent vaccination targets (in reality, 40 and 56 per cent of the population), forget about it.

That’s the straight outlook. I would like to be wrong, but opening up at a 64 per cent vaccination rate will do that.

There is another possibility: the Morrison and Berejiklian governments continue to be less than straight with us – as the fake 80 per cent figures gets closer and Delta persists, we’ll own up to a real 80 per target with restraints and lockdowns part of the furniture depending on ICU figures as the virus makes its way through the unvaccinated.

In either case, yet again, the handling of our reality continues to undermine confidence in leadership.

Topics: Coronavirus Australia, Covid Vaccine, Opinion
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