National Cabinet can use vaccine roll-out to unlock Australia

Business Council of Australia

A plan to ease restrictions tied to the vaccine roll-out will help Australia avoid another $170 billion economic hit, according to the Business Council’s report Shifting gear: three steps to safely, quickly and permanently reopen Australia in 2021.

The report, based on research and data produced by Accenture, lays out three clear steps to safely, quickly and permanently reopen the country.

“Now that we know much more about the virus and have a clear vaccination roll-out plan, there should be no excuse for knee-jerk reactions,” Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“Domestic border closures cost Australia $2.1 billion a month and over 52 per cent of Australians say they won’t travel, not because of fear of the virus, but because they fear snap border closures.

“The social and economic costs have been monumental, but Australians don’t have to pay twice. The Morrison government’s comprehensive plan to roll-out the vaccine is our best opportunity to open key sectors of the economy and keep them open as more people are protected.

“Instead of another year of stop-starts and uncertainty, we’re calling on National Cabinet to use the vaccine roll-out to give people the ability to plan and get on with opening the country back up.

“As more Australians are vaccinated we can build confidence by unwinding the confusing patchwork of restrictions across the country in line with the reduced risk.”

“National Cabinet must adopt a risk based approach to opening the economy in line with the vaccine roll-out, monitoring vaccine take up and effectiveness as we go.

“As we roll-out the vaccine we need a refreshed public health message, focussed on number of people vaccinated and the levels of critical illness, not just the case numbers.”

Accenture Australia Managing Director Dr Andrew Charlton said that a vaccine roll-out coupled with a clear path to unlocking the economy would pay dividends for Australia’s recovery.

“Shifting to more targeted and lower-cost restrictions will give the community increased confidence as the vaccine rolls-out and the economy safely reopens.”

“Cost-benefit analysis should ensure that the lower-cost restrictions are implemented, so that we continue to deliver strong health outcomes with a lower economic impact,” Dr Charlton said.

Step one: safely reopen Australia with a nationally consistent easing of restrictions in line with the vaccine roll-out

“It’s time to put the lessons we’ve learnt into action,” Ms Westacott said.

“Every time a vaccine is administered, the risks diminish, so it makes sense to phase out restrictions as our vaccinated population grows.

“Once and for all, it’s time to end arbitrary border closures, patchwork restrictions that aren’t based on risk and get serious about giving Australians the certainty to plan no matter where they are in the county.”

Recommendations for easing restrictions at key phases of the vaccine roll-out:

At phase 1b – at which stage a total of 6.8 million vulnerable Australians and high-risk workers will be vaccinated

  • Open domestic borders and keep them open permanently.
  • Lift all capacity caps for venues and workplaces.

At phase 2a – at which stage a total of 13.3 million Australians will be vaccinated

  • Use best practice hotel quarantine to open international borders to key groups including returning Australians, skilled and in-demand workers, and international students.

At phase 2b – at which stage a total of 20 million Australians will be vaccinated

  • Open vaccine corridors with similarly low-risk countries.
  • At completion of phase 2b, open international borders according to global vaccination roll-out and proof of vaccination for international travellers.

Step two: gradually change the public health narrative

“The vaccine will protect millions of Australians from death and serious illness, so the way we talk about the virus should reflect this,” Ms Westacott said.

“To build confidence we will need to shift from reports about case numbers to numbers of people vaccinated, numbers of hospitalisations, numbers of critically ill patients and the demand on health services.”

Step three: continue targeted support for businesses that remain affected by government restrictions and international border closures

“Sectors like tourism, where employment has halved since the pandemic began, will continue to be hard hit while international borders are closed,” Ms Westacott said.

“With carefully targeted support we can position these businesses to ramp back up and re-create jobs once it is safe to do so.

“Throughout the pandemic the government has listened and adapted to changing circumstances, so we expect they’ll continue that approach to target support to industries that will continue to need it.

“By following these three steps, Australia will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic healthier and with a strong economy.

“Business stands ready to work with governments at all levels to ensure that we can be part of the solution to safely reopen Australia.”

Read the Shifting gear: three steps to safely, quickly and permanently reopen Australia in 2021 here

See the BCA’s proposed framework for easing restrictions based on the vaccine roll-out timetable

Read Accenture’s supporting Managing COVID in 2021 and Beyond report

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