Australia’s Path Out of the Pandemic: Will it Make You Scream With Anger or Joy?

The prime minister has finally acknowledged that Australia will eventually have to learn to live with Covid.

By Damien Cave

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally outlined a Covid exit plan, which will include the end of lockdowns and travel restrictions for vaccinated Australians — but it’s not clear when.

Perhaps the mix of a road map and uncertainty about the timing of our journey was always inevitable, but I’m still wondering whether the glimmer of a future without lockdowns and travel restrictions is enough to make most Australians want to celebrate or scream.

The costs of where we are now, stuck in phase one, are increasingly clear. Many of us are locked at home lamenting the canceled vacations or the missed weddings and funerals, while businesses have once again been thrown into uncertainty and deeper debt.

What’s worse, the transition plan that suddenly appeared today after weeks of intense public pressure was late on arrival, and it will be slow going for a painfully obvious reason — because vaccination rollout continues to be constrained and slow. I keep thinking of something Richard Holden, an economist at the University of New South Wales, told me this week while I was reporting on Australia’s relentless pursuit of “Covid zero.”

“The vaccine rollout is 9 to 12 months behind,” he said. “The costs we’re seeing now — if we hadn’t been too slow, we could have avoided all of them.”

That’s what seems to be so frustrating. Even as we follow the daily news conferences and numbers of new Covid cases; even as we call and call again to schedule a vaccination, if we are even eligible, we can’t help but think: It didn’t need to be like this.

With a different bet on a different vaccines a few months ago by the federal government, with more diversification of options, more people would be vaccinated by now and the Delta variant would not be moving as quickly through the population, nor would it be as frightening.

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