Two months ago, Taiwan's coronavirus record was far better than ours. By March 11 it had only reported 998 cases and one death out of a population of about 24 million people. Australia was way behind with 29,166 cases and 909 deaths. That changed quickly when, following quarantine breaches by airline staff, COVID-19 leaked into the community and festered undetected for almost a month.
Cumulative case numbers jumped from 1256 on May 13 to 2533 on May 20. While the number of deaths is still low - up to 14 from seven on January 7 - it will rise further given there are now 1386 active cases. The entire country is in hard lockdown as a result.
Taiwan is a lesson in how a government can go from being "best in show" to having a major coronavirus crisis in under a week. This is why the Australian government should talk less about how well it has done so far and focus a lot more attention on getting vaccines into people's arms. One reason Taiwanese are so concerned is their vaccine uptake is even worse than ours, at around 1 per cent of the population.
While we are now ahead of them, and are picking up the pace a little every day, this country is highly vulnerable to a major community outbreak of one of the newer and more infectious COVID-19 variants.
Instead of boasting about the 3,278,000 vaccines administered so far, the Prime Minister and Health Minister should pay more attention to the fact well over 20 million Australians are yet to receive their first jab, and about one-third of those don't want it.
That is a terrifying statistic. If it holds true, then come March or April when every Australian who wants the vaccine has been inoculated there will still be millions of people who have not. To even consider opening the borders under those circumstances would be reckless and dangerous.
These are the concerns that have driven the Australian Medical Association and the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges to put out a statement urging people to get vaccinated. It is not helpful when, while telling Australians they should get vaccinated as quickly as possible, the Health Minister suggests to over-50s that if they wait until later in the year they can probably have Pfizer or Moderna rather than AstraZeneca.
One issue that needs to be addressed urgently is the almost invisibly low-key government advertising pushing the vaccine rollout. When one-third of the potential customers for a free product that could save their lives don't want it, you need to change your marketing.
Winter is coming, new and ever more sinister variants of the virus are abroad, Australia still has almost a year to go to get about 70 per cent of the population vaccinated, and our first line of defence remains the demonstrably flawed hotel quarantine system. Rather than telling us all is well and we may be able to be vaccinated at the local chemist some months from now, the government needs to demonstrate a sense of urgency.
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