Following widespread anti-lockdown protests, Australia will end its “covid zero” policy, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison said is not “sustainable” as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads in the nation.
Australia has adopted some of the strictest coronavirus lockdown policies in the world in an attempt to eradicate the coronavirus within its borders. Major Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, were placed under lockdown under a policy that has been characterized as “wildly successful” for keeping COVID-19 deaths under 1,000 since the beginning of the pandemic — at the cost of restricting personal liberties, closing the borders, and preventing more than 30,000 Australians traveling abroad from returning home.
But with the advent of the more contagious Delta variant, the Australian government was forced to change its policy, as “covid zero” is not attainable. Instead, the coronavirus lockdowns will end once 80% of adults in the nation are vaccinated against COVID-19, the Economist reported Saturday. Restrictions would only be reimposed in the case of a hospital threatening to reach full capacity.
Initially, Australia attempted to control spread of the Delta variant by implementing “circuit breakers”: A policy of locking down any area of the country where a positive COVID-19 case was detected to stop the spread of the virus “at the beginning.”
But in an op-ed published on Aug. 23, Morrison said that the measures needed to make “covid zero” a reality in Australia were “not a sustainable way to live in this country.”
“Once you get to 70% of your eligible population being vaccinated, and 80% … the plan sets out we have to move forward,” the prime minister explained in a video address. “Because if not at 70% and 80%, then when? Then when? This cannot go on forever, this is not a sustainable way to live in this country.”
The challenge now is for Australia to increase the number of people who are vaccinated. Because the “covid zero” was believed to be a success given the low number of infections and deaths recorded in the country, Australia has lagged behind the United States and Europe in vaccinations. Only 27.4% of the country is fully vaccinated, according to the Guardian, with millions more needing their shots to reach the government’s goal of 80% of adults vaccinated. But the government believes it can meet its goal by December.
For now, the country remains in lockdown. Australia reported 1,126 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, mostly in New South Wales, where the Delta variant outbreak is worst.