For much of the pandemic, Australia aimed for zero Covid, and it worked. But as Australia changed its course and loosened restrictions, the omicron variant hit. In just over a month, cases have risen from around 1,000 a day to more than 100,000 a day.
As 2021 was drawing to a close, many Australians were cautiously optimistic that the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic was behind them.
The prime minister and other state and territory leaders point to Australia’s vaccination rate as a key reason why the country will weather the omicron storm.Around 77 percent of the overall population has received two doses of the vaccine, compared to around 62 percent in the United States.
And the Australian government often trumpets another number — around 92 percent of the over-16 population has received two vaccine doses.Australia has alsoramped up its efforts to disseminate the booster shot.Peter Collignon, a professor and infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University, said Australia’s high level of vaccination meant it was in a “good place” to deal with omicron.Read more: NBC News »
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Vaccines saving lives The prime minister and other state and territory leaders point to Australia’s vaccination rate as a key reason why the country will weather the omicron storm. Around 77 percent of the overall population has received two doses of the vaccine, compared to around 62 percent in the United States. And the Australian government often trumpets another number — around 92 percent of the over-16 population has received two vaccine doses. Australia has also ramped up its efforts to disseminate the booster shot . Peter Collignon, a professor and infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University, said Australia’s high level of vaccination meant it was in a “good place” to deal with omicron. “This is serious, we need to take precautions, but it’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “In the initial waves of Covid, for every 100 people infected, we had one death,” he said. “Now we’re seeing a tenfold, at least, rate lower than that. And that’s a reflection of vaccination. So that’s good news … Plus, omicron itself does appear to cause less severe disease.” Australia’s initial tough approach toward Covid, followed by its slow but successful vaccine rollout, have meant the number of deaths due to the virus has been around 2,500, compared to around 846,000 in the U.S. “And one plus side of this is if we have a large proportion of the population that is vaccinated and has asymptomatic or mild disease, it may put them in a better place come next winter, which will be the next expected uptick in cases,” Collignon said. Pushing through Amid criticism about the government’s response to the omicron surge, the prime minister maintains Australia is well-placed to get through to the other side. “You’ve got two choices here: you can push through or you can lock down. We are for pushing through,” Morrison told reporters. “It’s going to be tough. The whole pandemic has been tough and Australians have shown resilience, patience and determination … The best possible medical advice is to push through.” Omicron “has been moving at a very quick rate compared to our early estimates … what we’ve also seen is the severity of it being far less than perhaps was anticipated.” And with an election approaching in Australia, the pandemic is as much of a political contest as ever. Morrison, who leads a center-right coalition government, will face Anthony Albanese of the center-left Labor Party. Albanese has attacked Australia’s current trajectory as reckless. “The ‘let it rip’ approach is creating major issues in our health system, with people under such enormous pressure,” he told reporters. He added the approach “is tearing communities apart. That’s the truth.” Nick Baker