Australia, like several island nations, won the first phase of the pandemic. They managed to contain the virus through strict lockdowns and border restrictions, and for much of the last year and a half life has been relatively normal. Now they’re losing the long phase, and the nation’s Prime Minister laid out a re-opening plan that could stretch years. I do not expect it to take nearly as long.
However with limits on the number of people who could arrive, many Australians were kept out of their home country. People couldn’t generally leave the country either, so families were separated. And there were still sporadic outbreaks, mitigation measures, and even semi-regular restrictions on crossing even domestic borders.
Now, though, Australia like some other similarly-situated countries is losing this next phase of the pandemic. They largely blew their vaccine rollout. And a largely unvaccinated population, without immunity from prior infection, is almost entirely vulnerable to the virus. While the United States and Europe mostly returns to normal life Australia once again faces lockdowns – and little prospect of being able to leave the country (or, for some, being able to return).
We’ve seen recent lockdowns in New South Wales and especially Sydney, and even Perth, Brisbane and in Alice Springs and now Australia is reducing in half the number of residents who can enter the country into 14-day state quarantine.
And the country has laid out a plan to re-open that seems nuts except when you consider that each time politicians impose greater restrictions in the country their popularity actually rises.
- Reduce arriving Australians to limit the number of potential carriers of the virus, likely through end of 2021
- Allow more Australians to return home, and let them quarantine for 7 days at home instead of two weeks in a state-managed facility (2022)
- Eliminate travel restrictions for vaccinated citizens (date uncertain)
- Allow vaccinated visitors without restriction, and unvaccinated visitors with a testing regime.
If this plan were actually followed it might be 2024 before people could visit Australia. That might even mean that non-residents couldn’t visit their families who live in Australia, though Australians could visit them by leaving the country perhaps in 2023.
Right now it makes sense to offer cautious rhetoric, because the country is more at risk to the Delta variant of the virus than most and because only caution will hold it at bay since they aren’t on the verge of vaccinated the majority of their population. However mRNA vaccines are slated to arrive in substantial quantities late this year. Provided the country doesn’t blow its vaccination program further, Australians in-country will be largely protected and there won’t be nearly so much cause for caution by the time they’d otherwise be entering phase 2.
While caution isn’t likely to end, mass vaccination should coincide with seasonal variation in the virus, and they’ll see quickly they aren’t facing spread. As time wears on, and the rest of the world manages to move on, they’ll feel more and more left behind. And I’ll predict that re-opening of international travel happens more quickly than this current framework projects.