National vaccination and economic transition planning

Content Summary

Australians currently manage COVID-19 by following public health advice to suppress the virus and reduce case numbers. Local outbreaks are managed with staged restrictions that aim to stop community transmission. The Australian Government has developed plans to transition to economic re-opening once certain vaccination targets are reached. 

The vaccination targets propose:

  • once Australia reaches a 70 per cent vaccination rate, strict lockdowns will be unlikely.
  • once Australia reaches an 80 per cent vaccination rate, international travel will resume.

The plan aims to reach these targets towards the end of 2021, however, if unsuccessful further restrictions may extend into 2022.

National vaccination and economic transition plans

The National Cabinet has agreed on a National Plan to Transition Australia’s COVID-19 Response (the Plan) from pre-vaccination settings to post vaccination settings. The National COVID Vaccine Campaign Plan, Operation COVID Shield, details recommended steps for achieving the vaccination targets in the Plan.

Phases and timing

The Plan sets out four phases:

  1. Current phase – vaccinate, prepare and pilot, with a continuing focus on strongly suppressing the virus, including through the use of early and strict short lockdowns
  2. Post vaccination phase – focused on minimisation of serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of COVID-19 through a combination of vaccination and some ongoing degree of light social restrictions, with lockdowns deemed unlikely
  3. Consolidation phase – public health management of COVID-19 consistent with other infections, but no lockdown requirement
  4. Final phase – removal of all border restrictions.

Australia will move to Phase B when we reach a 70 per cent vaccination rate (two doses). We will move to Phase C when we reach 80 percent (two doses). Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated that “when we hit eighty percent, lockdowns should become a thing of the past.

The Plan anticipates the normalising of COVID-19 management from 2022; “The Nation will be minimally disrupted by outbreaks, and we will be able to progressively reopen our borders and continue to revitalise our economy” (p. 18).

Vaccination modelling

To define a target level of vaccine coverage for transition to Phase B, the government has relied on modelling by the Doherty Institute. This modelling assesses the impact of different levels of community vaccination on the transmission of the Delta variant.

The modelling estimates completion dates for reaching 70 and 80 per cent vaccination coverage around November 2021. The precise timeframe is uncertain, due to factors including; population acceptance, rate of delivery and demand, and possible emergence of new (more transmissible) variants.

Economic modelling

Treasury has undertaken an Economic Impact Analysis of the COVID management strategies modelled by the Doherty Institute.

Treasury’s main conclusions are:

  1. It is significantly more cost effective to manage the COVID-19 Delta variant by maintaining a strategy to minimise cases, rather than allowing higher levels of community transmission.
  2. Applying strict localised lockdowns – for shorter durations – is more cost effective than more moderate lockdowns for longer periods.
  3. The direct economic costs of managing the virus decline sharply as the vaccine is rolled out, regardless of the strategy adopted.
  4. Under a strategy to minimise cases, once vaccination rates reach 70 per cent lockdowns are unlikely to be required, significantly reducing the economic cost of managing COVID-19.