Focus on elimination, community empowerment

Burnet Institute

17 July, 2020

Australia should be aiming for the elimination, rather than suppression, of COVID-19, and focus on community empowerment to address the pandemic, according to Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC.

Interviewed by Hamish McDonald on ABC Radio RN Breakfast, Professor Crabb;

  • Said overseas experience shows decisive early action can turn things around
  • Forecast a 12-month wait at best for a vaccine, which may not be ‘perfect’
  • Advocated for the use of masks as a good addition to the toolkit
  • Stressed the importance of ‘practical elimination’ in Vic and NSW
  • Described the spike in community transmission in Victoria as a wake-up call, but
  • Expressed his optimism that Victoria will ‘turn it around’
  • Highlighted the need for community-centric responses to help inform and motivate over the long haul

Asked about the debate in Australia around suppression versus elimination, Professor Crabb said: “My view is that elimination as I understand it to be, which is no more community transmission – the threat of the virus is still there from coming in from overseas, but no more community transmission – is both achievable and desirable.”

“With six of Australia’s state and territories already having eliminated, you know to a degree by accident, tells you that it absolutely can happen, but it must happen, otherwise Australia won’t function as a nation, it will be more the sort of patchwork quilt it is now.”

Professor Crabb said he regarded the Prime Minister’s position that elimination in Australia is not possible as ‘a matter of definition’.

“I’m not saying you need to do anything different than aggressive suppression, maybe up the ante a bit and perhaps not be driven quite so much by dates, more like epidemiological endpoints,” Professor Crabb said.

“You can’t realistically have low levels of virus in the community. Our communities are not perfect, our systems are not perfect and all you will end up doing is having outbreaks pop up and you’ll be whacking the mole down wherever the latest outbreak comes if you have just a trickle of community spread.

“So the idea is to get that to zero in a practical way. Whether it meets some incredibly tight formal definition, I mean, I understand and support the Prime Minister’s view, but I do think it’s a matter of definition.”

Professor Crabb said it will be important in the long term to empower communities to help guide and inform the development of policies and approaches to address the pandemic.

“What is it that is going to have our community, all the many and varied subsections of our community informed and motivated over the long term?

“If we have one gap in our response … have we been sufficiently community-centric?”

“We have a very top-down, vertical approach to this which I totally understand and support.

“We now have to empower people at a local level, people who know and understand all the many and varied subsections of their society to find ways that are going to keep them motivated and keep them informed, because there’s a long way to go yet.”

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)




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