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Roadmaps out of lockdown: why NSW and Victoria are taking different paths to Covid normal

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The two jurisdictions grappling with the most severe Covid outbreaks, New South Wales and Victoria, have revealed their plans for reopening, providing those living with lockdown with some sense of what the future may hold.

Both states will ease some restrictions once 70% of the eligible population age 16 and above are fully vaccinated, with further easing at 80%. But when will those targets be reached, and how and why do the plans differ?

When will each jurisdiction reach their targets?

The Victorian roadmap suggests the 70% target will be reached on Tuesday 26 October, and 80% by 5 November.

In NSW, the premier Glady Berejiklian said restrictions will ease on the Monday after the 70% target is reached. Deakin University chair of epidemiology, Prof Catherine Bennett, said she expects 70% to be reached by Sunday 10 October, which means restrictions could start to ease on Monday 11 October. The 80% target will be met about one week later, around 24 October, she said.

These projections do vary depending on the calculation and modelling used.

“But I think we’re talking less than two weeks difference between the states in terms of when they reach 80%,” Bennett said.

What informed each model

Victoria’s roadmap is based on modelling from the Burnet Institute, which used similar assumptions around Covid-19 thresholds and hospitalisation rates as the Doherty institute modelling [which informs the national plan].

Deputy director at the Burnet Institute Prof Margaret Hellard said Burnet is providing modelling to the Victorian and NSW governments. The Victorian government uses Burnet modelling more heavily than NSW.

Related: Daniel Andrews warns Victorians not to wait for Pfizer after uncertainty around arrival of 9m doses

“We’re not just the only people providing modelling to governments, and it is really important to understand that different models are just tools to help inform them about the likelihood of outcomes based on some of their decisions,” Hellard said. “But they’re not the only thing that goes into government decision-making, and I think it’s critically important to understand that.”

She said the Burnet modelling for the Victorian roadmap was “very granular,” looking at specifics unique to that state’s population and contact-tracing capacity.

“With Victoria, the government asked: ‘What’s the way forward where we can open up without overwhelming the health system too much?’” she said.

But all models, whether informing plans for a national or more local reopening, had led to similar overall approaches from the governments, she said.

“All of the models I’ve seen in Australia are pretty much saying the same thing; that we need to get a really high level of vaccination, and that even with a high level of vaccination of above 80% coverage, you may need to manage some outbreaks with some levels of restriction,” she said. “And both New South Wales and Victoria are taking that approach.”

What restrictions will ease at 70%?

Victoria

Visitors will still not be allowed in the home, aside from the current arrangements for intimate partners and caregiving. Gyms and stadiums will remain closed. So will indoor church services, dining and entertainment.

However, the 9pm curfew will be lifted, as will the five reasons for leaving home.

Related: NSW Covid update: cases drop to three-week low of 935, but deaths yet to peak

Changes will include an increase in numbers for public gatherings outdoors [of up to 10 people vaccinated, five unvaccinated]. Community sport can resume with limits of 50 people outdoors. Outdoor pools will reopen with a 50 person limit. Amusement parks and entertainment venues will also reopen with patron cap and density limits but only outdoors and to people who are fully vaccinated. Density limits of one person per 4 sq metre will be in place.

Hospitality will be outdoor only and seated, open to those who are fully vaccinated with a limit of 50 people, again with density limits. Retail will remain largely click and collect, though outdoor retail will resume. Hairdressers will open with a five-person limit, and only to the fully vaccinated.

Church services will be outdoors only and limited to 50 vaccinated people, or 20 unvaccinated. Outdoor auctions with density limits and up to 50 people will resume.

Masks will still be mandatory indoors and outdoors.

For regional Victoria, 30 vaccinated people will be allowed indoors at venues such as pubs and clubs, and indoors for weddings, funerals and religious services.

NSW

Only fully vaccinated people and those with medical exemptions will have access to eased restrictions. Up to five visitors will be allowed in a home where all adults are vaccinated, not including children 12 and under. Up to 20 people can gather outdoors.

Hospitality venues can reopen to the one person per 4 sq metre rule inside and one person per 2 sq metres outside. Retail stores will reopen to density limits, and unvaccinated people will only be able to access critical retail, such as grocery stories and pharmacies.

Personal services such as hairdressers and nail salons can open, capped at five clients. Gyms and indoor recreation facilities can open indoors with classes for up to 20 people. Sporting facilities including indoor swimming pools can reopen.

Major recreation outdoor facilities including stadiums, racecourses, theme parks and zoos can reopen, capped at 5,000 people. Indoor entertainment and information facilities including cinemas, theatres, music halls, museums and galleries can reopen with the one person per 4 sq metre density rule, or 75% fixed seated capacity. Up to 50 guests can attend weddings, funerals, and churches.

Masks will remain mandatory indoors.

What restrictions will ease at 80%?

NSW has not released modelling or a plan yet for what will occur when 80% vaccination is reached.

Victoria has released more comprehensive detail about its reopening plan. At 80%, interstate travel will resume, though this will also be contingent on border restrictions in other jurisdictions. Schools at all levels will reopen, with safety plans in place.

Related: The great Australian holiday gamble: can we Covid-proof our travel plans?

Ten people will be able to gather in homes and up to 30 outdoors, again contingent on vaccination status. Retail and hairdressers will reopen, and masks will only be required indoors. Up to 150 people will be allowed in pubs, clubs and entertainment venues. Indoor sport can resume, as can arcades and drive-in cinemas.

NSW has higher case numbers, so why is it lifting more measures sooner?

Health workers are saying the system is already overwhelmed, with paramedics taking hours to attend jobs, hospital wards being reallocated to Covid-19 patients, and non-respiratory specialists being called upon to help in intensive care.

However, Bennett believes the reproductive number has fallen to below one and that the number of new cases may continue to drop.

“NSW had 935 cases on Monday, and if this turns out to be the true number and we continue that downward trend, then in about 20 days’ time, when the state begins to lift restrictions, we can expect to be seeing about 550 cases, about where Victoria is today,” Bennett said.

“What NSW will be hoping is a smaller proportion of cases will need hospitalisation as vaccinations go up. However, NSW are already at a lower number of daily cases than many people said they would be going into restrictions easing. The question is, how much further can they pull that number down before easing starts? And when restrictions do ease, a lot will depend on how closely people follow the rules.

“Victoria will get to watch that, and see what happens.”

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