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The forever bug: Now Victoria dumps COVID zero strategy to beat pandemic

Australia’s two largest states have abandoned hope of crushing the COVID pandemic through lockdowns and are redoubling efforts to reach vaccination targets that will ensure the nation can live with the virus still active in the community.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews admitted his state would see growing numbers of cases in coming weeks even while hard lockdown measures remain in place and talked up the importance of reaching a 70 per cent vaccination rate before the community could begin to open up.

Victoria’s first triple-figure case increase for a year prompted the state government to retain almost all of Melbourne’s harsh lockdown measures.

Instead, Melburnians will have to wait until 70 per cent first-dose vaccine coverage is achieved – expected on September 23 – for more freedom.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged all states and territories to reopen together, as premiers and chief ministers continue to signal they will forge individual paths out of the pandemic.

The fracturing national reopening plan is being interpreted differently across Australia with states split on what restrictions will lift at 70 and 80 per cent vaccine coverage.

Frydenberg said jobs would be lost and businesses fail if lockdowns continued after the thresholds were met.

“Australia should open up as one,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“That is why it is really important whether you’re in Western Australia, whether you’re in Queensland or whether you’re in the southern states you should follow the plan.”

Frydenberg believes the Victorian government has acknowledged eradicating the virus is no longer possible.

“It can’t be done. No other country has done it and based on the best medical advice we have we can’t do it,” the treasurer said.

“So we have to learn to live with the virus.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared eliminating the Delta strain was impossible.

Despite her state recording another 1116 local cases on Wednesday, she is anticipating international travel will restart in mid-November.

Two deaths in Victoria and three in NSW lifted the national toll to 1012.

Thousands of Australians stranded overseas could be welcomed into NSW when the 80 per cent vaccine coverage target is met.

More than 40,000 people are registered to come home with the number increasing because of slashed arrival caps put in place because of Delta strain outbreaks.

“New South Wales looks forward to stepping up and welcoming thousands of Australians home who have been waiting to come home for a long time,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

Western Australia and Queensland appear determined to protect their COVID-free status even if it delays the reopening plan.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would stand strong on borders until children were vaccinated as she called for more research on immunising under-12s.

“You open up this state and you let the virus in here and every child under 12 is vulnerable. Every single child,” she told parliament.

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No country in the world has approved coronavirus vaccines for children under 12.

The premier has also indicated Queensland may not start easing restrictions once vaccination coverage hits 80 per cent.

Palaszczuk says she wants to see more Doherty Institute modelling on immunising people under the age to 12 before committing to any reopening plan.

“Unless there is an answer on how these young people are going to be vaccinated, you are putting this most vulnerable population at risk,” she told parliament.

“So anyone who has grandchildren, or young children, or nephews or nieces, knows how that plays on people’s minds.”

Frydenberg said the Doherty Institute modelling indicated more children would get COVID-19, but he said the federal government would follow scientific advice and reopening “remains the plan”.

“As a father, I am like you, I care about the health of my children, and that is why we should continue to take the medical advice,” he told reporters.

“But if you look around the rest of the world … countries have opened up safely with COVID and kids have got back to school.”

WA Premier Mark McGowan has signalled he won’t abandon his hardline stance towards states with high virus cases.

Berejiklian is raising hopes life will be closer to normal at 70 per cent but other state and territory leaders are tempering expectations.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr believes 70 per cent will be a minor step and urged a focus on the 80 per cent target to ease restrictions.

There were 23 new cases in Canberra.

Australia has fully vaccinated 35 per cent of its population aged 16 and over, while 58.7 have received one dose.

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