The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges in relation to how we live our lives.
Australians can be proud of the very significant role they have played in supporting our successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the current outbreak in Victoria demonstrates, our task is not over.
Australians have taken individual and collective responsibility to follow all the health advice on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 – and have adhered to the restrictions imposed to stop the virus from spreading when we have outbreaks.
This is hard and sometimes distressing for many people; staying home instead of visiting family, overseeing remote learning by children – even delaying weddings and missing funerals.
Today, we only need to look to Victoria, where residents are living through another lockdown – at this stage, a seven-day “circuit-breaker” to hopefully enable contact tracers and public health officials to get on top of what is a potentially serious outbreak of the coronavirus.
In Victoria, beyond the increasing number of cases, genomic testing has confirmed some people have contracted a variant of the virus linked to the outbreak in India that is highly transmissible. This was a factor in my decision on Thursday to declare Greater Melbourne a COVID-19 hotspot for an initial period of seven days.
My heart goes out to the people of Victoria, who of course, lived through a lockdown in 2020 that lasted almost four months. Hard though it is, this hopefully brief lockdown is the right thing to do.
The situation in Victoria is a stark reminder that there is absolutely no room for complacency – not just in that state, but across Australia. Globally, COVID-19 is not going away, and its ability to spread quickly is extraordinary. It’s also deadly – and we only need to look overseas to see the absolute horror it can cause when out of control.
Victoria’s lockdown is a wakeup call for all Australians. If you are eligible to be vaccinated, don’t wait, get the jab. The COVID-19 vaccines now available in Australia are both extremely effective at protecting you from serious illness – or even death – if you were to contract COVID-19.
We have all learnt to hand sanitise, keep our distance and wear masks. Now we need everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated.
Australians living outside of Victoria might think there is little community transmission of COVID-19 where they live – and so question why they need to vaccinate now. The answer is that it is inevitable at some point there will be sustained outbreaks in our community – and not just in Victoria. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.
Hotel quarantine has been incredibly effective as a ring of containment, but no system is 100 per cent secure.
And at some stage, our international borders need to open – to allow Australians to travel again and reunite with families and friends and to support education, tourism and trade.
This is something to look forward to – and is an important step in Australians being able to return to a more normal way of life. A life with more certainty.
That is why vaccination is essential. Vaccination will protect all Australians, especially older Australians, who are at most risk of severe illness and possibly death from COVID-19.
We now know that vaccines give very strong, and sustained, protection against the severe forms of COVID-19. They also give some protection against mild illness and reduce the transmission of the virus to others.
Widespread vaccination will give us the confidence to live with fewer restrictions, knowing our population will be protected against the worst effects of COVID-19. We see the evidence of this in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
Widespread vaccination will give businesses more confidence and provide us with more certainty to plan important events – for instance family reunions and much-needed holidays – with less likelihood of them having to be cancelled or disrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Widespread vaccination will give Australians more certainty we won’t have to impose snap lockdowns or close domestic borders.
And importantly, every person who is vaccinated will be helping to protect the health of their family, friends and community.
So while it might not seem urgent in many parts of Australia, we have a window – now – when we don’t have sustained community transmission of the virus to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to the Australian population.
We started by targeting our most vulnerable population groups, before progressively expanding the roll out of vaccines and moving finally to the entire population.
Our access to COVID-19 vaccines will increase in 2021 as greater supply becomes available and more than 4600 primary care vaccination sites are part of the rollout – including approximately 4400 general practices.
I encourage everyone to follow the medical advice. And the advice is clear: vaccines save lives and will prevent you from becoming seriously ill – and this is the case for both of our COVID-19 vaccines.