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20 Jun 2021 1:16
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  •   Home > News > International

    As vaccination efforts see other countries return to 'normalcy', the envy for Australia dissipates

    Some countries have vaccinated half of their population, or more. And while the Swedes, Brits and Canadians enjoy the perks of their efforts, the World Health Organization is telling Australia to "step up".


    Hana Mae Nassar felt a twang of envy seeing her Australian friends and relatives leading a fairly undisturbed life during the global pandemic.

    But that was months ago, before vaccines against the deadly virus were rolled out, or even approved.

    As many countries race towards having their population fully vaccinated, Australia is lagging behind.

    According to have received at least one dose of a vaccine — that's less than in Mexico, Turkey or Morocco.

    What's more, with 2.5 per cent of people fully vaccinated, Australia's efforts are below global average, the 

    And as the rest of the world shows signs of opening its borders, Australia's once-enviable position is losing its shine.

    "We've seen you guys kind of return to normal life in a sense. I think I was really envious at first but now...," Nassar, the 30-year-old journalist from Canada, said.

    "I can't imagine being in that situation, where it was, oh, we were so far ahead before and now we're seeing everyone else taking leaps instead of steps ahead."

    Within six moths, her own country has gone from having a "very serious" third wave of infections to becoming one of the world leaders in terms of its speedy vaccination rate, which is now seeing 12-year-olds qualifying for the jab.

    Nassar is among the 63 per cent of Canadians who've had at least one dose of the vaccine.

    "I was able to get mine way sooner than I expected. I was ecstatic," she said.

    "Not to sound too optimistic, but it really did feel like it. We've started to see our cases go down significantly."

    The Canadian government is ramping up even more, aiming to have the whole country vaccinated by September.

    "Assuming the continued supply of safe and effective vaccines, it's expected there will be enough vaccines to immunise everyone for whom vaccines are approved and recommended," a Health Canada spokesperson told the ABC.

    Toronto General Hospital's infectious diseases specialist Dr Isaac Bogoch said the September deadline was wholly achievable.

    "Just watch what happens through the month of June — our rate of fully-vaccinated people is going to climb rapidly. We have secured a lot of vaccine and it is coming into the country with regularity," he said.

    'Back to a sense of normalcy' in the US

    Canada's southern neighbour, the United States, is also performing well — with 51 per cent of its population given at least one dose.

    Subsequently, the daily death count has declined drastically, from around 3,000 in January to less than 500 in June, according to Our World in Data.

    Account manager Aubrey McMillon, from the county of Sonoma in northern California, said since getting his second dose of the vaccine in April, his life has changed significantly. 

    "I can now not wear my mask, when I walk in public. The first week of doing this, people would look at you hesitantly, maybe cross the street," the 43-year-old said.

    "I'm finding now that [as] more and more people have been vaccinated here in my county, we've gotten rid of that. We're less hesitant to walk up to people, saying 'good morning.'"

    His own newly-acquired freedom culminated in a recent trip to San Francisco.

    "It did feel like back to a sense of normalcy. People are out, the stores are open again, food vendors were out and we got to go on a ferry ride. Everything just reminded us of what used to be," he said.

    [graph]

    In the UK, vaccination program is 'aggressive'

    Across the Atlantic Ocean, 35-year-old Londoner Julia Mucenieks is enjoying life again.

    "Definitely London has come back to life, compared to what it was even a couple of months ago," the graphic designer said. 

    More than 128,000 Britons have died from the virus. Determined to radically slow that death rate, the UK Government has now vaccinated 60 per cent of its people.

    But the UK Government has been determined to bounce back from the brink of disaster, vaccinating 60 per cent of its people to date.

    "Our vaccination program is, when I say aggressive, I mean in a good way. They're very proactive," Ms Mucenieks said.

    "Our government, because of the criticism from all over the world and the public here, that's why they became so 'on it' and are trying to make things right."

    With her first jab already administered and second one scheduled for August, Ms Mucenieks can't wait for the perks to start showing up. 

    "At least travelling will be more available. My family lives in France and I haven't seen them for a year," she said.

    Some European countries have already taken steps to revive travel, signing up to the European Union's Digital COVID Certificate, which shows when a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus, recovered from it or returned a negative test.

    In relaxed Sweden, not much has changed

    While residents in some countries are enjoying some normalcy again, for the Swedes not much has changed at all.

    "In general, it's not that much different. In Sweden, it's [always] been very open," said Tobias Andersson from Ödeshög, three hours from Stockholm.

    The 33-year-old chef, who last month got his first shot, said the Swedish government from the get-go took a more relaxed approach, giving people recommendations rather than restrictions — or worse, reprimands.

    "Some friends in June last year, they went to Spain and they went to Greece," he said.

    "[The government] didn't tell us that we couldn't go to a different county. They just strongly advised that we shouldn't."

    Sweden's response to the pandemic stuck out like a sore thumb among other Western countries, attracting criticism domestically, and globally.

    More than 14,000 people have died in Sweden of COVID-19 — almost 18 times as many as in neighbouring Norway, and six times as many as in Denmark.

    Molecular epidemiology professor at Uppsala University Tove Fall said a government-commissioned committee of inquiry was now evaluating the Swedish strategy and how it affected the outcomes.

    "They have already delivered one report about aged care homes and elderly. There was quite a lot of criticism there about how the government acted and the Public Health Agency," she said.

    "And they said it's impossible to shield people in aged care homes if you have high transmission in the society."

    But Professor Fall said Sweden's 39-per-cent vaccination rate had significantly cut down the infection rate, particularly among the elderly.

    A Swedish Health Department spokesperson told the ABC "everyone living in Sweden should have been offered to get vaccine before September 5".

    Time for Australia to 'step up', WHO says

    Many countries are now down to the younger, low-risk groups in their vaccination program.

    While the World Health Organisation (WHO) said its priority was making sure vulnerable groups had access to vaccines — rather than looking at "the good, the bad and the ugly" of each country's vaccine rollout — its representative Dr Margaret Harris said now was the time for Australia to pick up the pace.

    "Certainly, vaccination is like fire-break — and Australians know bushfires very well. When you're in a phase where your fire isn't burning, it's very good to build up your immune-wall," she said.

    "The advantage Australia has is your authorities have set up a very good track and trace system, your community is very good at acting and understanding where they have been in contact and dealing with it.

    "So, now is certainly the time to step up the vaccination."

    [Zendesk COVID form embed]

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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