This is a day to celebrate, but the pandemic is far from over

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This is a moment to celebrate. As of Friday, much of your life if you are fully vaccinated will look as it did before the pandemic. Density limits on home visits, sporting events, concerts, pubs, restaurants? All gone. Masks are required only in limited high-risk settings. Most quarantine requirements are also gone.

It was 20 months ago that the first state of emergency was announced in Victoria. The powers were initially used to limit crowd sizes to 500 and force those arriving in the country to quarantine. It has been a roller coaster ride of restrictions ever since.

Premier Daniel Andrews announces greater freedoms as Victoria closes in on having 90 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated. Credit:Luis Ascui

While outwardly our lives will return to relative normality, there is no getting around the enormous impact the pandemic has had on every one of us. The long months of lockdown will not be forgotten easily, whether it be the scars of financial hardship or the effect on our mental health. It will also take some time for pre-pandemic routines to return. Most city offices sit largely free of workers, travel outside the state is still precarious and many are wary of public transport.

Premier Daniel Andrews was keen to emphasise the collective effort that got us to this point. For all the early concerns about vaccine hesitancy – in May nearly 30 per cent of Australians said they were not likely to get vaccinated – close to 90 per cent of eligible Victorians have twice rolled up their sleeves, whether voluntarily or through the pressure of a vaccine mandate.

For those who are unvaccinated, the days ahead are going to test their resolve. The list of no-go zones is extensive, from the local pub and cinema to getting a haircut or even visiting the zoo. All non-essential retail stores are also out of bounds. Given the high rates of vaccination, we need a timeline as to when the unvaccinated can rejoin normal life – shutting the unvaccinated out cannot and should not last forever.

That is not to say that even the vaccinated will have a free ticket in perpetuity. According to a recent interview with Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, there is growing evidence from Israel, which was one of the first nations to roll out the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, that over time there is a “waning of immunity, not only against infection, but against hospitalisations and to some extent, death”. For that reason, Dr Fauci says, “boosting is going to be an absolutely essential component of our response. Not a bonus, not a luxury, but an absolute essential part of the program”.

While some in the scientific community are not as definitive as Dr Fauci on the need for booster shots, what is unequivocal is the steep learning curve still in play in regard to how COVID-19 will affect the world in coming years. Despite more than 50 per cent of the global population having had at least one dose of vaccine (amounting to more than 7.5 billion vaccinations), the number of new infections in some regions, most notably Europe, is on the rise.

What does that mean for Victoria?

Today is a day to celebrate the substantial easing of restrictions for most of us. It is hard-earned and well deserved. There is, however, good reason to be wary of calling it a day of victory over a virus that will be with us, in some form, for a long time to come.

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