Australia’s COVID exit plan, the need for a vaccine-plus pathway, the prospect of ongoing restrictions in Sydney, the potential impact of the Moderna vaccine, and lessons for Australia from the COVID crisis in Myanmar were among the topics addressed by Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC with host, Lisa Millar on ABC TV News Breakfast this morning.
Professor Crabb: There’s no doubt these are very tough days. Lisa, good morning to you and everybody. You know, there’s a lot of us in lockdown, me included. Those in Sydney, you know, have no obvious pathway, no immediate pathway out and they’ve been in their situation for nearly a couple of months now. So these are difficult days.
I do see an exit plan. We saw a bit of that with the Doherty modeling and the Prime Minister’s announcement of the roadmap. There is a vaccine-led, not a vaccine only, but a vaccine-led pathway out.
But you know, in the war on COVID, which is the biggest disruption since World War II, it’s 1943, not 1945 as much as we want it to be 1945. And so we have a significant way to go and we have to steel ourselves for that.
Lisa Millar: We all paused a bit yesterday when the Finance Minister Simon Birmingham suggested that Sydney may be shut off from, well, New South Wales, the borders may be shut until close to Christmas.
Professor Crabb: I actually think that’s pretty likely. There’s two options for New South Wales: continue as they’re going, which, for those in New South Wales, in Sydney especially, doing the hard yards, they should firstly know that they’re saving a lot of lives and a lot of cases by doing what they’re doing. They’re keeping a lid on it, but it is not going down. And it’s still a growing outbreak in Sydney.
And you know, with this, what I think is a piecemeal approach of, of stepping hard on LGAs where there’s a lot of COVID and not doing much outside of that, there’s just every likelihood that this is going to continue until the best part of Christmas in this sort of on-off lockdown, or lockdown for different regions at different levels. So unfortunately, that’s realistic.
And then if the rest of Australia stays with the national policy of zero COVID, that’s what the national policy is, zero COVID until it’s safe not to be, there’s no option but to shut themselves off as best they can.
So I think that that’s realistic, three-to-six months plus of this, that’s option one. Option two, is to give that a good go, as the chief medical officer said two days ago, to instigate a circuit breaker in Sydney, and to try to get back to zero. There is a good chance that that is possible. It would take, you know, a good for four to six weeks. But that’s a lot better than December or January and possibly beyond.
Lisa Millar: What do you mean by the circuit breaker? What would they have to do that they’re not doing now?
Professor Crabb: I think that the sorts of restrictions that are in the most worrying LGAs would need to be widespread, you know, a five-kilometre rule, masks outdoors, strict rules around retail and essential work, and a ring of steel around Sydney and around the most worrying areas, so the virus didn’t leak into the community into regional New South Wales, as we’re seeing is happening and of course, beyond. Those measures, maybe even the shock of a curfew for a couple of weeks to bed this down. I don’t think it’s realistic to have that for a long period of time. It did happen in Melbourne, and who knows what effect it had. But it was a part of the package that shutdown a much larger outbreak than this, albeit with an earlier variant. So no, there is more they can do. There is a circuit breaker. I don’t know exactly what Paul Kelly was referring to. But he certainly wasn’t referring to business as usual.
Lisa Millar: It was good news yesterday about Moderna being approved by the TGA. But there were questions at the press conference about why it had taken so long given that Moderna has been used successfully in other countries.
Professor Crabb: Yeah, well, I can’t answer that. All I can say is that it is fabulous news that it’s happened. You know, Australia’s had a pretty cautious approach to approving vaccines right from day one. I’m not surprised the TGA has approved it. This has been in literally tens of millions of people and saved a lot of lives as a very safe, extraordinarily effective vaccine. So it’s wonderful to add this to our already good arsenal.
Also, impressive about the Moderna vaccine is the likelihood of having new variants incorporated into that vaccine. By the time we get at least 15 million of those doses, a little bit down the track meaning we could potentially have boosters that that cover us for new variants better than the existing vaccines.
And even at an experimental stage, this is not approved yet, at a trial stage to trial Moderna in lower doses in children, so that younger kids could get vaccinated which we hope is … and we expect is the future.
Lisa Millar: Brendan, we rely so much on experts like you to put things into context, it’s a good reminder to know that there are so many personal things that you and your staff also face. I saw the tweet that you put out the other day that one of your staff members in Myanmar had lost both their parents. That must really take it home for you.
Professor Crabb: Both their parents in the same day, in fact. Myanmar is obviously going through struggles for other reasons, but they have an extraordinary, you know, Indonesia-style COVID outbreak at the moment and, and what that means is no one’s untouched. In the last 21 days, a third of our staff in Myanmar have COVID. Eight of them have very close relatives, usually parents who are critically ill. And a number of those critically ill have died. That’s a really, really serious situation. And that’s why when I say to the people of Sydney, into the people of Melbourne and the people of Brisbane who are in lockdown, you really are giving your community a gift, you are avoiding that.
We are not immune in some magical way in the way that I think sometimes we think we are, so we feel the effects of lockdown. We should also acknowledge that we have so much less disease as a result. We’re giving our community a chance that others just don’t have.
So you know, it’s a raging epidemic around the world still. Australia is doing their bit, we have to do more. And of course, the more we do internationally, the less we have to worry here as well. So look, it’s difficult days ahead.
I do see a rosy vaccine-led future. I am positive about that. But we’re six plus months away and we have to steel ourselves for that for those tough yards. And we also have to prepare ourselves for vaccines not being enough. They are brilliant, get vaccinated today. If you do get vaccinated, you are very likely not to die of COVID but it’s not the whole community solution.
Even the Doherty model says we are going to need more than just vaccines, we’re going to need our office places ventilated, our schools with filtered air we’re going to need rapid testing, we’re going to need masks and that’s going to be the way of life for a few years to come. And that’s a good thing because we can live with open borders and no lockdown. But we don’t have all our ducks in a row yet. We need another six months or so of COVID zero to get there.
Lisa Millar: Brendan Crabb thank you so much for your time.
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