Before we can plan for the future, we need to understand what it will look like.

It seems to me that one of the current problems with the way Australia is planning for the future of the COVID-19 pandemic at both Federal and State level is the way in which that future is being understood, both by those in power and by the citizenry in general. Sometimes I think that what I perceive to be implicit and explicit misunderstandings or misapprehensions are views that individuals genuinely hold. Sometimes I think the suppositions underlying the views being expressed merely suit the political inclinations of those speaking; that they do not really believe the implications or presumptions of what they are saying, it simply being the case that the position they are presenting is advisable from a political point of view. Either way, it is a problem. If we are to respond to the virus appropriately over the next few months, there needs to be a collective acceptance and understanding of the way COVID-19 is going to unfold over the next few months, particularly now the delta variant has become predominant. In my view the following points go relatively unacknowledged in current public discourse. Nevertheless, I also think them to be unconvertible.  

COVID Zero will soon be behind us

Over the past few weeks as the number of COVID infections in NSW first began and then continued to rise in Sydney and NSW various commentators and experts have questioned the idea that we need to learn to live with COVID. The idea seems to be that not only should we be aiming for COVID Zero in the short term (the next month or so) but that this should continue to be the strategy for the medium (in 6 months to a year) and perhaps even long term (for the next 5 to 10 years). Personally, I have no doubt that COVID will become endemic in Australia, as it now is in the rest of the world. The difference is that we still have the opportunity to exert some control over the virus and mitigate the consequences of its spread, albeit primarily through our vaccination programme. We should therefore be thinking about how to effectively manage the spread of the virus across Australia and how we should respond to various scenarios as they develop.

Whilst this does not mean we should immediately abandon our existing strategy of COVID Zero, it does mean that we need to think about when it is appropriate to change gears. The federal government’s four phase plan is an example of such thinking, albeit one that only scratches to surface of what needs to be considered. As such, and in contrast to the aforementioned commentators, I do think COVID-19 is something we need to learn to live with. Part of my reasoning is what the consequences what refusing to live with COVID-19 might look like. What are the decisions that we will need to make if we are to continue with the COVID Zero strategy in the medium and longer term?