It was probably inevitable at some point that the defences would crack.
The Delta variant was just too virulent. What wasn't inescapable, however, was that it would evade detection through slipshod control. The NSW government failed to mandate basic personal protection measures, such as masks, vaccinations, and distancing for workers driving potentially infected aircrew. Empty attempts at lockdown followed, but pretending that visiting Bunnings and Harvey Norman was somehow OK (even though directly at odds with the requirement to stay at home) simply added to the confused messaging that further seeded the outbreak.
Delta easily breached the first pillar of public health.
The second is TTIQ - test, trace, isolate and quarantine. You can do this in the outbreak stage (under 100 cases a day) but not once the virus becomes endemic (as it is now).
The third redoubt is, of course, mass vaccination, and we're not even close to achieving this yet. Scott Morrison's magic numbers ignore children, so his 70 and 80 per cent thresholds actually represent 55 and 65 percent of the population.
That's the second and third pillars knocked over, like so many bowling pins tumbling together after a strike. That's why it's becoming obvious that the Doherthy model is - to use a precise, technical term - screwed.
A tough research paper just published by University of WA epidemiologist Zoë Hyde and ANU economics professors Quentin Grafton and Tom Kompas charts the impending danger. Grafton points out that the R (reproduction) number of the virus has to be pushed below 1.0 to stay under control. It's currently at 1.3, which sounds OK - until you realise this means the number of new infections will double every three weeks.
Relaxing controls will inevitably mean more leakages, particularly as the second pillar in the triad, TTIQ, is already overwhelmed. The effective reproduction (Reff) number will explode. Grafton warns that instead of infection rates just over 1000, as was the case in NSW on Thursday, the danger is that if nothing is done we might be hitting closer to 40,000 infections a day by October. Hospitals will be overwhelmed.
Even if deaths are reduced by vaccines, occasionally the virus will, for reasons we don't yet understand, overcome individuals' defences and carry them off. Others will recover but suffer from so-called "long Covid", which can be anything from an absence of taste and smell to lingering post-viral fatigue lasting years. We simply don't know the potential effect of the virus on younger people. Many may simply shrug it off, demonstrating no symptoms; others may be severely affected. Some have already died.
This is the environment in which Gladys Berejiklian wants to further relax controls and begin opening up. She waffles, shrugging her shoulders and wringing her hands as she looks at us helplessly, as if to say, "What do you expect me to do?"
To which the immediate response is, of course, "Your job" - but given there's no hope of that, what we need is to recognise that simple choices are now being made by politicians across the country. People will die as a result.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.