Australia is in the midst of its worst ever COVID-19 outbreak. Our hospital system is under stress. Vulnerable communities are being hit hard. And more than half the country is locked down.
There is an understandable desire to know when we can reopen. But even more important need to know How We can reopen.
A national plan endorsed by the prime minister and state and region leaders is part of the way to answer this question.
It sets a threshold for the proportion of the population over 16 to be vaccinated, beyond which it says some restrictions may become less common.
But it doesn’t talk much about the other things we’ll have to do.
How we reopen is as important as when
This is a big difference in the national approach. And it needs to be filled. Now.
That is what OzSAGE aims for. OzSAGE is an additional specialist resource for governments and business, health, education, community and non-governmental agencies in Australia.
Inspired by the UK Independent SAGE (Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), OzSAGE members specialize in public health, infectious diseases, epidemiology, tribal health, engineering, the built environment, occupational hygiene, behavioral and social sciences, multicultural engagement, communication received. Law, data science, public policy and economics.
Ventilation will become a priority
Our first piece of advice on how to live better with occasional outbreak centers and what we call Vaccines-Plus.
airy (and filtration) is about providing safe air and limited transmission in shared spaces. These include the workplace, health and aged care, schools, prisons, social places and homes, especially where overcrowding exists. COVID is airborne, which means that containment requires safe air.
Vaccines are essential to our pandemic exit strategy, but foreign experience shows that current vaccines alone are not sufficient to fight the delta variant.
“plus” Testing refers to contact tracing, masks and other non-pharmaceutical strategies that will continue to be essential in the medium term to fight the delta, and may need to be scaled up or down depending on the severity of the pandemic.
Our first recommendations are with politicians for a week.
He was publicly released this morning.
One of the things that made Australia’s 2020 pandemic response world-leading was that we acted quickly to keep the virus under control. It gave us options that other countries did not have.
As we reopen, we must make sure we do so safely with what economists call “option value” — the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Our approach should include the following elements.
1. Living with occasional outbreaks rather than widespread disease
COVID-19 is here to stay, but we don’t have to resign ourselves to losing all the gains we won in 2020. We should aim to control COVID-19 in the same way we control measles, which is even more contagious.
Right now it needs ventilation and “vaccine-plus” to manage the outbreak. But the level of innovation in vaccines is extraordinary.
When boosters or vaccines matching the variant are available, herd immunity should be possible using a smart and agile vaccine strategy.
2. Leave no one behind
Vaccine goals must be met for all, not only for the population as a whole but also for subgroups, recognizing structural and social disadvantages.
These include all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, residents of remote and regional Australia, and other vulnerable high-risk and disadvantaged groups.
While vaccination is not yet available for all children, we recommend additional steps to protect them and make schools safer.
3. Protecting the Health System
Australia has one of the best health systems in the world. Despite this, urgent non-Covid care is already suffering in NSW.
We plan to outline a number of strategies needed to prevent the loss of health workers in cities and regional areas and to protect hospitals and their patients.
Read more: From vaccination to ventilation: 5 ways to keep kids safe from COVID when schools reopen
The best plan to reopen will be disrupted if the capacity of the health system to deal with COVID and non-COVID care is exceeded.
I am proud to be part of an expert group that will provide independent, cross-disciplinary advice on how to open safely.
What will happen next?
Our advice will be informed by best evidence, but will be practical. It will provide government, business and community organizations with a range of concrete measures that can be taken to ensure that we can reopen safely.
No one knows what 2022 will be. But we need to ensure that Australia is in a position to consolidate its successes and avoid repeating its recent mistakes.
Proper ventilation is a start. We’ll have more to say in the coming weeks.