Australia’s top scientists provide solution to end lockdowns forever

The scientific body behind Australia's pathway out of repeat COVID-19 lockdowns has said it is possible for the country to open up once it has reached 70 per cent vaccine coverage, even with "tens or hundreds" of positive cases.

After days of political back and forth about the modelling underpinning plans to leave lockdowns in the past, the Doherty Institute released a statement this evening charting a way out from "generalised lockdowns".

"Once we reach 70 per cent vaccine coverage, opening up at tens or hundreds of cases nationally per day is possible, however, we will need vigilant public health interventions with higher case loads," the institute said.

READ MORE: 'We will live with this virus': PM sets wheels in motion to open up

A closed playground in Melbourne.

"We will need to keep some public health measures in place – test, trace, isolate and quarantine – to keep the reproduction number below 1, but as vaccination rates increase, we'll be able to ease up further and it is unlikely that we will need generalised lockdowns."

The statement comes after vigorous community debate about the sustainability of widespread lockdowns as a measure to fight COVID-19 and questions over how high case numbers might affect the modelling used by National Cabinet to set vaccination targets.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly backed the recommendations made by the Doherty Institute, telling Australians today that a change of "mindset" must be made for the nation to move forward.

READ MORE: Some COVID-19 measures part of our future: PM

There are fears some states, like Western Australia, will resist opening borders once the country has hit 70 per cent vaccination coverage if daily case numbers are too high.

In its statement the Doherty Institute compared COVID-19 to influenza, presenting a "best case" scenario in which an open Australia would result in just 13 deaths.

"In an average year of influenza, we would roughly have 600 deaths and 200,000 cases in Australia. Any death is a tragedy, but our health system can cope with this," the statement reads.

"In the COVID-19 modelling, opening up at 70 per cent vaccine coverage of the adult population with partial public health measures, we predict 385,983 symptomatic cases and 1,457 deaths over six months.

"With optimal public health measures (and no lockdowns), this can be significantly reduced to 2,737 infections and 13 deaths."

READ MORE: Explainer: What Australian parents need to know about COVID-19 and children

People exercising in the early morning at Rushcutters Bay  in Sydney.

The Institute argues that there will never be a single "freedom day" in which all restrictions are eased, but rather a gradual relaxing or rules as vaccination rates grow.

"This level of vaccination will make it easier to live with the virus, as we do with other viruses such as the flu. However, it won't be possible to maintain a situation where there are no cases at all," the statement reads.

"The focus will shift to keeping the number of people going to hospital and dying at a minimum."

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