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Hospitals likely overwhelmed, road map modelling shows

Two more-optimistic scenarios are modelled: one in which people who are fully vaccinated continue to get tested at high rates if they have any symptoms (the modelling notes this may be “difficult to achieve”), and one in which a 15 per cent reduction in non-household transmission can be achieved.

“That needs a major effort on Victorians’ behalf. It needs them to wear masks. To not visit each other in homes over the next month,” said Professor Hellard.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Victorian Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton arrive at the daily press conference on Sunday.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Victorian Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton arrive at the daily press conference on Sunday.Credit:Darrian Traynor

Even under those optimistic scenarios, there was an 18 to 29 per cent chance of hospital capacity being exceeded.

These projections are very uncertain and subject to a lot of random chance as the epidemic is only in its earliest days. Importantly, Mr Andrews suggested the pace of reopening could change depending on the load on the healthcare system.

“[The modelling] makes assumptions, it assumes things that will happen and won’t happen over a period of time,” he said.

“I want to make it very clear to all Victorians, particularly to those working in our health system, as we deliver this road map, we will monitor every hour of every day, how many people are in hospital, how much pressure is there on our health system. Are we balancing that? Are we able to continue to provide the best care to everyone that needs it?”

Mr Andrews called the Burnet Institute’s modelling “sobering reading”. It was the cost of reopening, he said.

“We cannot permanently suppress this virus… we have got to open the place up because remaining closed forever has its own cost.

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“We are opening up, no doubt about that. There will be no turning back. We have to normalise this, we have to pass through this pandemic.

“We cannot have a perpetual suppression of this virus. There will be pain, it will be challenging.”

The other option the Premier had was to remain in lockdown past the 80 per cent double-dose vaccination milestone, said Dr Michael Lydeamore, a Monash University researcher who has contributed to the Doherty Institute’s reopening modelling. 

That would keep numbers lower – although still with a significant risk of overwhelming the healthcare system.

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“Public health is all about taking these trade-offs,” he said. “We’ve been in lockdown now for two years, basically. That’s OK for people like me. But think about six-year-old kids. They have missed two years of school. There comes a time when it’s a risk you end up willing to take”

Both Dr Lydeamore and Associate Professor James Trauer, head of epidemiological modelling at Monash, said the plan was a sensible, cautious and evidence-based move toward reopening.

“Overall, it’s a pretty good plan, and gets the balance about right,” said Professor Trauer. “It lands a little toward the cautious side.

“It recognises the importance of airborne transmission as being really critical to the spread of COVID. Clearly, airborne transmission is critical to the transmission of Delta.”

Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyses science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it each week.

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