Can Australia avoid a fourth wave of Covid as it reopens to the world?

More than 2.1m new cases and more than 28,000 new deaths were reported in the week to 17 November, marking increases of 8% and 5% respectively compared to the previous week.

How bad are Covid cases in Europe?

While some of the countries struggling the most have lower vaccination rates, rises in cases and deaths are also being seen in Ireland, where almost 90% of those over 12 are fully vaccinated.

Australia has vaccinated a similar proportion of the total population to Ireland, but Prof Nancy Baxter says it is difficult to directly draw parallels.

Are our vaccination rates high enough?

Though there are still new cases emerging each day, reopening in states such as NSW and Victoria occurred at higher vaccination rates and lower daily case numbers than in many other countries, which puts them in a better position.

A key factor is that they’re going into waning immunity right now as they were vaccinated earlier compared to us. It does make it clear how important it will be to get booster shots into people.

Prof Nancy Baxter
University of Melbourne’s school of population and global health

The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, has urged everyone eligible to get their booster shot, but at the same time the third shot will not be required to be considered fully vaccinated.

How important are booster shots?

Baxter said this advice may change.

More Australians will be eligible for vaccination if authorities recommend vaccination among 5 to 11-year-olds.

What about increasing overall vaccination?

By the next Australian winter, many may have already received booster shots and young children will be at least partially immunised.

Few countries have started vaccinating those under 11 as they head into winter.

It will take more than high vaccination rates to prevent hospitalisations and deaths in Australia at levels that hurt the health system in future, Baxter said.

Is vaccination enough?

“People in Australia really have done a fantastic job getting vaccinated, but if cases do start to rise and we are asked to wear masks indoors again, if we do that early enough, that potentially could stop things from getting worse."

There’s always a threat that you’re going to overwhelm the healthcare system if the spike goes high enough when you have an outbreak. You’re just better off pre-empting this as cases first start to rise by telling people to wear masks or have some distance requirements.

Prof Nancy Baxter
University of Melbourne’s school of population and global health

This will stop us from getting to the point of locking down a city or jurisdiction. That’s the hard lesson they’re learning in Europe right now that we need to notice.

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