As we are starting to see around the globe, getting the vaccine is our ticket to freedom.
We are so over lockdowns and watching the case numbers grow in Sydney is only stirring our collective nervousness.
It was this time last year that we started that tough 112-day lockdown. Winter is upon us again and we face another uncertain period of hoping our hotel quarantine system holds up and the vaccination program speeds up.
Yo-yo-ing in and out of lockdown plays havoc with businesses, workers and the community and destroys the certainty we all need.
The alternative is to get the vaccine to protect us from the devastating effects of the virus and gives governments the opportunity to take different approaches in response to outbreaks.
In a country as advanced as Australia, it’s baffling that only about 5 per cent is fully vaccinated while other countries such as Israel, Iceland, Chile, Hungary, the UK and US have fully vaccinated about half their populations. We need to quickly up our game, or risk being left behind as the shackles come off the rest of the world.
I spoke last week to several friends in the US, where life is returning to normal.
In New York and California, more than 70 per cent of adults have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced the fully vaccinated can live and work without restrictions.
Countries are opening up and removing restrictions. But they are still taking precautions that reward those who have been vaccinated.
For example, you could only go to the Foo Fighters concert with 15,000 fans at Maddison Square Gardens if you showed your vaccination certificate.
At the Bruce Springsteen show on Broadway, children under 16 were permitted too, as long as they had proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test if accompanied by a vaccinated adult.
Quite simply, it was no jab, no entry. It might sound tough, but it’s putting the choice squarely back to individuals. If you get the jab, then come in, if not, go do something else.
The story is similar in other countries where there is some tolerance around the use of rapid COVID-19 tests (typically 15 minutes) that determines whether you can enter. But, it’s still much simpler to get vaccinated. It is the way out of this COVID-19 battle.
As Victorians, our calendar revolves around events rather than seasons. Finals fever culminates in the AFL grand final in September, then we roll into the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup and the entire Spring Racing Carnival.
This year, the Formula One Grand Prix will arrive in November before hitting Christmas and then Victoria gears up to host one of the world’s sporting highlights, the Australian Open tennis against the backdrop of summer holidays.
Of course, these events are more than just symbolic; they’re part of what defines Victoria. They support our retail, hospitality and tourism sectors and countless jobs.
Accommodation books out months even years in advance and there are many corporate breakfasts, lunches and cocktail events riding on their coat tails.
If we are ambitious about reclaiming our events mantle, we need to adopt a system that allows international athletes and artists to enter the country without quarantining. We can do that with proof of vaccination.
The European parliament recently approved the use of a digital COVID-19 certificate via a smartphone app. Citizens can use the app to prove their vaccination status to travel freely across Europe without the need to quarantine or take COVID-19 tests.
We could use the same system to welcome back international students as well.
The international education sector generated $13.7 billion in revenue in 2019 and supported 79,000 jobs in 2018. We are already starting to lose students to overseas competitors, so we need to act if we want to preserve this industry.
I understand there is hesitancy and reluctance among some people to get vaccinated, and it is a personal choice. But the only way we get back to crowds en masse and open our international borders is to achieve majority vaccination.
Businesses are jumping on board too. Qantas and Virgin have announced incentives to get vaccinated, and companies are even rewarding staff with shopping vouchers once they get vaccinated.
For those who have had the vaccine, I say thanks. To everyone else, please, get it. As vaccination rates increase, so should our freedoms. To borrow a line from a fellow Victorian, “you know it makes sense”.
This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun on 28 June 2021.