The road map released by the Victorian government on Sunday finally charts a course out of COVID’s seemingly endless lockdowns to a more normal life, but the modelling commissioned by government suggests that path takes us through some of the pandemic’s darkest days and weeks.
As slow and careful as the road map is, it will allow the virus to spread, the Burnet Institute’s best guess says, and the toll we have avoided for so long of new cases, hospitalisations and deaths will come along with it.
It predicts a peak in average infections of between 1400 and 2900 per day in the last two weeks of October – and then a second, much larger peak of around 4000 cases per day at the end of December. It predicts a better than one-in-two chance of the healthcare system being overwhelmed.
Without vaccines the path would be considerably worse. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of serious illness and death will be among the unvaccinated, and for those people, particularly in older age groups, the outlook is grim.
Up until now, they have been protected from COVID-19 by the efforts of the community to limit the virus circulating. This, according to the modelling, will change rapidly in coming weeks.
Should you remain unvaccinated, you face a dramatically higher risk of catching COVID-19. At the same time you will be treated in a stretched healthcare system. Modellers expect mortality rates to jump when healthcare systems get overwhelmed.
How accurate are the Burnet Institute’s projections? Will we really have 120,000 new infections in December? It is hard to know at this stage. Given Victoria recorded just 507 cases on Sunday, future projections about the course of the pandemic are extremely uncertain.
Models are, ultimately, sophisticated guesses – the modern version of soothsayers reading the future in chicken entrails. Expect a week of scientific debate over this one’s underlying assumptions.