Epidemiologist says “zero Covid” countries risk isolation unless vaccination is ramped up

PHOTO: April Pethybridge on Unsplash

A leading infectious diseases specialist in Australia says countries using tight border control measures to maintain their “zero Covid” status risk being left in limbo unless vaccination is accelerated. According to a Bloomberg report, Greg Dore from the University of New South Wales in Sydney says border restrictions that have kept Covid-19 deaths below 1,000 in Australia are not sustainable. He says the country now needs to ramp up vaccination with disease immunity in mind, which would mean Covid-19 is no longer a major threat.

“Once we get a higher proportion of the adult population vaccinated, we will provide that disease immunity and then we’ll be able to open up. The virus will come in. There’ll be some cases. There may be some people who get reasonably sort of sick, but the numbers of cases with severe illness and the numbers of deaths will be very small.”

Dore was speaking as the south-eastern state of Victoria endures a 2-week lockdown in an effort to eliminate the virus in Melbourne – for the fourth time. State health officials have reported 69 active infections. According to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, Australia has recorded over 30,000 Covid-19 cases since January 2020 and has administered only 4.5 million vaccine doses for a population of 26 million people.

Meanwhile, risk communications consultant Jody Lanard says places like Singapore and Hong Kong, where transmission has been controlled through strict public health measures, also need to improve the take-up of vaccines.

“I’m worried that the ‘Covid zero’ countries are kind of like sitting ducks waiting for Covid to come in. I’m very worried that ‘Covid zero’ is really ‘Covid limbo.’ You’re just waiting for something terrible to happen.”

Lanard’s colleague, Peter Sandman, says countries that bet on “Covid zero” by implementing tough policies now need to move to a policy of vaccinating and re-opening.

“Having won the gamble, you have to convince people to collect their winnings. The only way they get to collect the winnings is to be willing to get vaccinated and open up. No country wants to be the hermit kingdom of the 21st century.”

SOURCE: Bloomberg

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Maya Taylor

A seasoned writer, with a degree in Creative Writing. Over ten years' experience in producing blog and magazine articles, news reports and website content.


  1. A bit like saying water is wet – you hardly need to be an epidemiologist to realise that just closing the borders isn’t a long term solution, nor is anyone suggesting it is.

  2. There are three factors mainly that have made uptake of vaccines slow in Australia. First was the blood clotting issue with Astra Zeneca. Extremely rare, but seeing Australia had approved it and bought the license to produce 50 million doses of it, people became worried. Second, the Australian Prime Minister told the public that borders wouldn’t open till mid next year 2022. Those who had believed borders would open in October/November this year and had held off getting vaccinated until closer to the time of travel (so the vaccine would be at it’s most protective for travel) had their motivation to take the vaccine, taken away. Thirdly, the Australian Federal Health Minister, informed the public that more than 40 million Pfizer vaccines would be delivered in November 2021. So anyone who would have taken Astra Zeneca, now wants to wait for Pfizer. The Australian Government also began with targets for vaccination. The targets then changed 11 times in a few months and now the Federal Government won’t commit to any target. The current government is approaching another election next year. They are prone to keep the borders closed for the same reason Thailand did. To try and achieve elimination of the virus. This worked in two state elections where the leaders kept state borders closed. But the mood is slowly changing and has had a major motivator to get vaccinated. The outbreak and complete lockdown of the State of Victoria. People hate lockdowns and people are turning up in bigger and bigger numbers to be vaccinate. It is Australia and Thailand’s only real way out.

  3. instead of “needs to ramp up” this should read “should have ramped up long ago”! There is no reason for vaccination to be mutually exclusive to a closed border policy. It’s not because you are safe behind closed borders that you shouldn’t make vaccination a priority which clearly they haven’t done in this case.
    The Aussie government became lazy and complacent even when it became obvious that their chosen vaccination strategy was not tenable (failed Queensland university vaccine, issues with Pfizer supply, issue with AZ vaccine, however negligible). At no point did they try to redirect the course.
    They hide behind the safety of the closed borders and they hide behind the reassurance of re-election since the majority of true blue bogan Aussies don’t even know what life outside of Austrlia looks like, couldn’t care less about anybody but themselves and are therefore in full support of the closed border.
    They do not care about the lives it adversly affects, whether that is through loss of livelihood as a result of the border closures or the mental impacts of separations of partners or families. They are too narrow-minded and short sighted to realise how this will affect them in the long run as a result of an economy that will start to lag behind the rest of the world and the fact that high-earning (and therefore high tax paying) skilled workers are starting to exit the country.
    They’ll only start complaining months/years after the fact when things have turned sour when they don’t understand why they can’t afford their cans of VB beer anymore due to inflation or why they’re not getting any or getting far reduced JobSeeker handouts. Of course they will lack the ability to correlate this back to their current isolationist mentality.

    Australia could have been an amazing success story with a best of both worlds approach had they efficiently run a vaccination campaign in parallel to a an initially fully locked but then gradually reopened border strategy. They could have been the first in the world to truly emerge from the other side of this Covid nightmare. Instead, they will fast become the last student in the class…

  4. Another zero-covid fantasy is that the entire adult population needs to be vaccinated. We really only need to vaccinate the at-risk population, which is 10%, maybe less. By the time they vaccinate the whole population, covid will have already naturally weakened into a new cold virus and the obsession will be irrelevant.

Leave a Reply