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It's Time

I sit here, fully vaccinated, writing this message in the midst of the latest edition of Melbourne’s lockdown saga - and of course I am now joined by my Sydney and Adelaide friends and colleagues in collective home detention.

And to be honest, I am becoming increasingly frustrated at trying to live, work and lead in a world of unpredictable and inconsistent border closures and lockdowns.

We clearly need to protect our population from COVID, but we also need to acknowledge that lockdowns and border restrictions are disruptive and damaging. They hurt business and consumer confidence, impact personal lives and livelihoods, limit our ability to connect as families and as work colleagues, and have broader negative wellbeing and economic implications.

For those of us that have been through this experience multiple times, it has become abundantly clear that we cannot keep working and living like this and that we need to urgently find a way forward – one that gives us the ability to confidently and safely resume our way of life.

It is insightful talking with senior leaders in places like the UK, US and Canada – countries that initially failed to manage the impact of the pandemic as well as we did in Australia. They clearly understand that the game has now changed. It’s no longer purely about minimising infection – it is much more about learning how to live with, and manage, this virus in a way that minimises harm.

This though requires a real and meaningful commitment to vaccinating our population, particularly our most vulnerable cohorts. And it also raises a question that has been troubling me for some time – if this disease is so serious that a small number of cases can shut down entire cities and states, why aren’t we placing commensurate urgency on the task of vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible?

There is a significant disconnect here and we now need to shift course, properly embrace a national vaccination program, and cease the national fool’s errand of trying to run and hide from COVID.

It’s time to pull out all stops to source sufficient quantities of vaccines from multiple parties to be able to inoculate our entire population. It’s time to provide real and meaningful incentives for people to get vaccinated – such as the ability to travel and attend public events. It’s time to properly engage the private sector in the vaccination program – a critical element of the successful vaccine rollouts in countries like the US. It’s time to mandate that key front-line workers cannot work unless they are vaccinated. It’s time to put proper, robust quarantine facilities in place and stop relying on not fit-for-purpose commercial hotels. It’s time to ensure focused and consistent messaging, communication and policies from our political and health leaders. 

It’s well past time to stop our fixation on eliminating COVID as a nation. We need to start news conferences with vaccination statistics, not new case numbers. We need to vaccinate those most impacted by COVID so we can stop disruptive and damaging local lockdowns, so we can keep our internal borders open, and so we can re-open our international borders to skilled workers, expat Australians, students and the many Australians who have families overseas. 

We need to recognise that COVID is a virus, like swine flu and many others before it, that’s now with humanity for the foreseeable future. Given this, we need to shift our focus from complete avoidance to one of active management so we can safely and effectively re-open our country.

By many measures we won the first half of this battle in terms of minimising infection before the arrival of effective vaccines. It’s time though to understand that the second half is well underway, and that winning the end game depends on our ability to quickly change strategy and get serious about vaccinating ourselves, our families and our communities so we can all safely get on with our lives.