Lockdown-weary residents in New South Wales have been told for weeks now the embattled state will begin to loosen its restrictions once the target of vaccinating 70 to 80 per cent of the eligible population is met.

That’s been the key message from not only NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, but also from the Doherty Insitute, which has produced modelling to back up that goal.

But in a sobering interview on Network 10 last night, clinical epidemiologist Nancy Baxter said that would not be possible while NSW case numbers continue to surge.

“I think the Doherty model gives a pathway that’s quite reasonable if you’re at kind of levels of Covid that, you know, you’re able to do contact tracing,” she said. “And what we’ve seen is that contact tracing is a lot more challenging with Delta.

Baxter said “you’ve got to be a lot faster because Delta – you know, people that get infected with Delta, they infect someone and then the other people can pass it on within 24-36 hours, so you just have to be much faster with contact tracing … you can’t do that with 200, 300, 400 cases. You need to have a small number of cases to be able to do that.”

She explained that while opening up was reasonable in places with 70 per cent vaccination and low case numbers, NSW did not meet that criteria.

“This isn’t a place where NSW is so they don’t have those options,” she said. “70 per cent [of the eligible population] is really only 56 per cent of the population. So that’s important to note – you have almost half the people unprotected,” Baxter said.

Reaching the 70 per cent target would make it easier for contact tracers to manage outbreaks, she said, but NSW still would not be able to significantly relax restrictions at a time when new daily cases could be reaching up to 2000.

Victoria

Baxter also had a chilling warning for Victoria, hinting the state could easily follow in NSW’s footsteps.

“I think it’s important to look back a little bit and think about where NSW was five or six weeks ago. Five or six weeks ago, I have it down here in my notebook, NSW was at 78 cases,” she said.

“So it’s hard to think that it has grown that big but right now, what Melbourne needs to do is to stop it from becoming NSW and that is a very real possibility right now in terms of the fact that the outbreak has grown so quickly, and currently there are still so many mystery cases or chains of transmission that we don’t really understand the full pathway of.”

Victoria today recorded 76 new local cases of Covid-19, with 31 of those cases not linked to current outbreaks.

Health officials in the state have admitted they may not be able to get back to zero daily Covid cases if the current outbreak continues to grow.

The figure had previously been a target for officials when considering the lockdown’s end.

Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said on Monday it was impossible to know whether the state could again bring new cases down to zero.

“The aggressive suppression strategy is pretty explicit through national cabinet,” he said.

“It is doing their utmost to keep those numbers down to manage the health system to get to zero if you possibly can. But not with some absurd hope if numbers continue to increase despite everything we’re doing.”

The statewide lockdown, which was scheduled to end on Thursday, has now been extended indefinitely.

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