After more than a year living with the challenges COVID-19 has brought to our lives, it’s easy to become complacent given the great progress Australia’s made in managing the pandemic.
It’s often accidental as old habits return: forgetting to social distance enough or instantly scan a QR code.
But as the latest outbreak in Melbourne reminds us, COVID is a highly infectious virus and the pandemic is far from over.
While around the world cases, hospitalisations and deaths are mostly trending down as vaccination numbers rise, several countries, including the US and India, continue to endure tens of thousands of cases every day, resulting in ongoing pain and suffering around the world. With many Australians still wanting to return from overseas, the events of the past year suggest it’s unlikely we can keep the virus out 100 per cent of the time.
It’s a complex issue given different vaccination levels across countries and uncertainty surrounding what they mean for transmission. Few Australians understand this more than Victorians and my thoughts are with them during this difficult time.
But with health experts warning COVID may be with us for many years, we are going to have find a way to ‘live with’ the virus for some time.
Vaccines are the critical piece of the puzzle.
I understand there are varying views among Australians with regards to vaccines.
But from my perspective, given the need to help protect our families and friends when further outbreaks occur as well as the economic costs to communities, we need as many Australians as possible to get vaccinated as fast as possible.
As a small, multicultural country that thrives on trade and capital flows with the rest of the world, we’ve become one of the richest nations in the world by engaging in global markets. To date, the economy has fared remarkably well and far better than expected, with total employment above pre-COVID levels and our economists predicting GDP growth of 4.5 per cent this year – far stronger than recent years.
The recent federal budget will further drive the recovery, the government rightly using the nation’s strong balance sheet to spend big on stimulus measures and critical services to lock in the recovery and drive down unemployment.
But in the long term, the extraordinary support from governments can’t remain forever, and closing ourselves off to the world for years and relying on lockdowns when outbreaks occur is not sustainable.
Various industries, particularly education and tourism – our fourth and fifth largest exports prior to COVID –would face significant headwinds. Meanwhile, individuals will remain disconnected from friends and family overseas as travel is restricted – a negative that will also drag on the many businesses that engage in commerce around the world.
Having more Australians vaccinated is key and will better enable the private sector to take the baton from the public sector to drive the next phase of the recovery, with last week’s better than expected capital expenditure data showing many businesses are seizing on opportunities.
As our medical leaders, including the Department of Health, the Australian Medical Association and the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges, have indicated, the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks.
And as one of the nation’s major employers, we are doing all we can to increase the proportion of Australians vaccinated, encouraging all of our people to do so, and for anyone concerned to get personal medical advice.
Everyone has a role to play, not just government, so we are running a comprehensive awareness campaign to help our people make informed choices and access government information and resources on when and how they can get vaccinated. With a large number of our people now eligible to receive the vaccine, our employees can use their sick leave to attend their vaccination appointments and we’re also allowing people time to rest and recover when necessary.
And if governments allow for corporate vaccinations programs going forward, we will run one.
Positively, the nation is headed in the right direction, with the pace of vaccinations steadily increasing to around 4 million to date.
Stepping back and thinking about where we were a year ago when the discussion centred on whether we will even discover a vaccine for a coronavirus, it’s also worth reflecting on how lucky the world is and what an amazing job the scientists and researchers have done in coming up with not one, but several vaccines.
By late last week, about 1.5 billion vaccine doses have already been administered around the world – a pretty remarkable result considering where we were last March. In turn, the focus is tilting towards vaccination numbers from case numbers, a positive development.
In Australia, we must now press on and not be complacent.
As we’ve learnt with COVID, there are rarely easy answers or solutions and responding quickly is key. The ramifications of what we choose are large.
More than a year into this unique crisis, getting vaccinated appears not only Australia’s best defence, but offence too.
By Michael Bennet
Editor, Westpac Wire