At the beginning of last year, the world as we knew it began to change irrevocably as states and territories - including Tasmania - started implementing social restrictions in response to the then-unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. We are now less than four weeks away from another abrupt change to Tasmania's social landscape taking place, with the state border set to reopen on December 15.
Tasmania has managed to stay relatively COVID-free thanks to a combination of geographic isolation, the state government's well-considered public health response and good luck. But geographic isolation and good luck won't be enough to stop the spread once the border reopens to interstate visitors, and the only tool in our collective arsenal to slow the spread of COVID and reduce the severity of symptoms for those who do become infected is vaccination.
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Tasmania couldn't keep its borders closed forever and rather than throw caution to the wind, last month, Premier Peter Gutwein made the sensible and cautious decision not to reopen borders until December 15, with modelling at the time showing that well over 90 per cent of the eligible population were expected to be fully vaccinated by then.
Unfortunately, the vaccination rate has since slowed to such an extent that Tasmania is now forecast to barely limp past the 90 per cent threshold by mid-December, which greatly increases the chances of infection spreading. As of Friday, more than 37,000 people in the state were yet to receive their second dose, and concerningly, the number of eligible children and teenagers yet to be vaccinated numbering about 8000.
That said, although no one should need to be bribed to receive a potentially life-saving vaccine, the government is taking the right approach by employing a carrot-and-stick approach in a bid to lift vaccination rates for younger Tasmanians. If offering prizes including iPhones and iPads for 12-to-18-year-olds who get the vaccine at state clinics lifts the rate, it will be a cost-effective motivation strategy.
Conversely, lifting restrictions on dancing at pubs and clubs, and raising caps on drinking while standing up for those who are fully vaccinated should also encourage younger people to get the jab.
Ill health and fewer social opportunities aren't the only things people are risking by failing to get jabbed, with jobs potentially on the line as businesses look increasingly likely to apply mandates for their employees.
As Mr Gutwein said last month: "We know that once our borders are relaxed, COVID will come to Tasmania, make no mistake about that.
"However, we also know that if you are fully vaccinated, you are 90 per cent less likely to suffer severe symptoms, be hospitalised or die from the disease."