Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted at an end to the country’s zero Covid-19 infections strategy in an opinion piece published Sunday, warning Australians to expect a rise in infections as restrictions relax.
Morrison’s article comes as Sydney, Australia’s largest city, recorded 830 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, its highest number of daily new infections yet, despite being in a strict lockdown since late June.
Australia has been one of a number of countries, including China and New Zealand, which have attempted to completely eradicate Covid-19 inside their borders, and until recently the strategy had been largely successful. To date, Australia has seen just 44,026 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 981 deaths.
But several major Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne and the capital Canberra, are under lockdown as authorities struggle to contain an outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant.
On Saturday, thousands of Australians took to the streets of Melbourne and Sydney to protest against the long lockdowns, leading to hundreds of arrests. At least seven police officers were injured during violent clashes.
In his opinion piece published by news.com.au on Sunday, Morrison said he recognized the “heavy toll” that the strict coronavirus prevention measures had inflicted on Australian citizens and businesses, but said it was “darkest before the dawn.”
“(The lockdowns) are sadly necessary for now, and we will keep providing health and income support to get people through, but they won’t be necessary for too much longer,” he said.
Morrison said the Australian government intended to shift its focus from reducing case numbers to examining how many people were getting seriously ill from Covid-19 and requiring hospitalization.
“After all, this is how we manage all other infectious diseases,” the Australian leader said, adding the country’s public health system was strong enough now to cope with an increase in coronavirus cases.
While Morrison didn’t give a strict timeline of when the new strategy would be implemented, he said once Australia reached its national vaccination targets of 70% and 80% “we can start claiming back what Covid has been taking away from us.”
“This is what living with Covid is all about. The case numbers will likely rise when we soon begin to open up. That is inevitable,” he said.
Morrison’s approach stands in stark contrast to neighboring New Zealand. On August 12, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a plan to tentatively re-open to vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries from early 2022 but said she did not want to see large outbreaks of the virus inside New Zealand.
“Principle number one will remain … maintaining our elimination strategy to stamp out the virus, so we can maintain our hard won gains and keep our options open,” she said at the time.