As vaccine uptake continues its climb in New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian is urging her residents to get some "perspective" and come to terms with a "confronting" truth as they propel toward a life that she has repeatedly vowed will soon feel "very much more normal".
Case numbers are now coming in at more than1000 each day — with 1288 new infections and seven deaths yesterday — and hospitalisations have jumped by 42 per cent in the past week. The 160 people currently being treated for Covid-19 in intensive care are now taking up roughly 18 per cent of the state's ICU beds.
Experts predict cases will peak about September 22, at between 2200 and 4500 cases a day.
All signs point to the situation continuing to worsen before it gets better — a fact that the NSW Premier has not denied in recent days and that has had her Queensland and West Australian counterparts clutching at their pearls and keeping their borders tightly shut.
"October will be the worst month for the number of people that lose their lives and also for the rate of people in hospital," Berejiklian again told reporters yesterday.
"If I can just briefly explain that — it's normally in the second week of illness that people get very sick.
"So there's always a lag between when people get diagnosed and when they're likely to need intensive care or hospitalisation, and obviously as the rate of vaccination increases, as more and more people are vaccinated and have that protection, we will see that come down.
"A number of people who unfortunately have lost their lives had not received any dose of vaccine and I hope that changes into the future, to make sure that everybody who has access to a vaccine chooses to take the vaccine to prevent ICU and hospitalisation."
And it's vaccines that will also, come mid-October, make life "much more normal" for the millions of locked-down residents across her state, even as deaths and hospitalisations potentially increase.
"I think that's the reality that most of the world has been confronting," chief health officer Kerry Chant said.
"What we're really pleased to say is we've got great vaccines, and I've indicated before that I think we will be getting vaccinated regularly. There will be new strains that emerge potentially and we'll have boosters, a bit like seasonal flu … That's where we're going to be."
Chasing the fantasy of Covid Zero, Berejiklian said, is "no way to live" — a notion she's calling on her fellow state and territory leaders to embrace as Greater Sydney's lockdown approaches the three-month mark.
"Perfection in a pandemic can never be achieved," Berejiklian declared yesterday.
"We have to accept we are in a pandemic, and of course reducing the mortality rate and increasing vaccination is key, [but] we also have to put things into perspective.
"The sad reality is outside of a pandemic, we lose between 600 and 800 people every year to the flu. We have to put things in perspective. Nobody likes to talk about this because it is confronting. But we have to get back to living life as normal as possible, knowing that Covid is among us."
She added that "normalising" living with Covid will be possible when states "have high rates of vaccination".
"When you have a lower rate of people going into hospital, the case numbers are less relevant, but you are going to have death," she said.
"You have [death] just from the flu. It is a tragedy … death is horrible. But we also need to put things into perspective, because at the moment there are eight million citizens who do not have a choice in how they spend their free time, who do not have a choice about what they can do when they leave their homes. That is no way to live."
She then pointed to Victoria — where Premier Daniel Andrews' messaging has also quietly changed to telling his state they're unlikely to reach Covid Zero again, and must instead introduce measures that allow them to live alongside the virus until a sufficient portion of the population is vaccinated.
"In just the last two days, the number of cases, the nature of those cases, the depth of the seeding of this outbreak has become clear and the chief health officer's advice to me and the government has changed, fundamentally changed," Andrews told reporters on Wednesday.
"None of us have the luxury of ignoring that, none of us have the luxury of shopping for the advice that we want. When we get advice we follow it and the data and the evidence and the experts are very clear with us. We will not see the case numbers go down. They are going to go up."
Making "wholesale changes" is not possible until Victoria hits the nationally agreed-upon targets of 70 per cent, and then 80 per cent, of eligible adults fully vaccinated, which "gives us the protection against infection and most importantly it gives us the protection against hospitalisation".
Berejiklian echoed a similar sentiment yesterday, assuring residents that "this is what will get us through".
"I know this is a very difficult conversation to have," she said.
"This is the light at the end of the tunnel — accepting Covid is part of our lives, accepting that unfortunately people will die, but they will be less likely to die if everybody is vaccinated, and this is the reality.
"That is why, as NSW is the largest state, we have often had to lead the debate on this. And often I have had to say something as a state leader, as difficult as it has been. It is to help all of us come together and manage the transition to living with Covid normal."