News

Rising COVID-19 cases in NSW “a national emergency”

Burnet Institute

19 August, 2021

Public health experts have urged the New South Wales Government to implement tougher and more uniform COVID-19 restrictions, warning the state’s rapidly growing outbreak could soon overwhelm hospitals.

Burnet Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC, speaking on Nine Media’s Today program described NSW’s situation as a “national emergency.”

“We’re in a steam train that is heading towards a cliff, not heading towards a station, which is where we should be going,” Professor Crabb said.

He warned the state, which recorded 681 new cases today, could soon see its health system overwhelmed if cases continued to rise so quickly.

“This is when our health system is now straining, really straining. And that means health issues not related to COVID, are deeply affected as well as those related to COVID,” he said.

He said consistent high case numbers would compromise Australia’s strategy to vaccinate a large proportion of the population and exit lockdown by the end of 2020.

“It means that our vaccine exit strategy can’t function because it depends on cases being zero or being close to zero.”

Read the full transcript of Professor Crabb’s interview:

Brendan Crabb

Well, looking at your previous segments, it looks a lot like life is sort of normal out there. But of course it’s not, we’re in what is now a national emergency. We’re in a steam train that is heading towards a cliff, not heading towards a station, which is where we should be going.

Last time I spoke on this program, we had 97 cases 30 days ago, we’re now at 600 cases. If we speak again, 30 days, it’ll be 3000 to 4000 cases. That’s what we’re on track for at the moment. That’s a catastrophe from a health point of view.

This is when our health system is now straining, really straining. And that means health issues not related to COVID, are deeply affected as well as those related to COVID. It also means that our vaccine exit strategy can’t function because it depends on cases being being zero or being close to zero.

So unfortunately, we are in this emergency. What has been happening, this incremental, frankly, piecemeal approach hasn’t worked. And I think we need to draw a line and reset around a program of uniformity, where everything is the same for every person, of clarity, the simple set of rules, rules for every person and for every business, and of support where the support package for individuals and businesses, meets the scale of the restrictions.

Without this we face being like Italy was in March 2020, like the UK was through much of 2020. Like we’ve seen in places where hospital beds are overflowing and devastating a whole community. That can happen here. It’s spreading beyond Sydney into New South Wales regions, to other states, to other countries. This has to be nipped in the bud there is no alternative but to draw a line and to reset around a new set of rules.

Allison Langdon: New South Wales shouldn’t be eight weeks into a lockdown and still see numbers soaring like this. So what does a reset look like? In your mind, what would work?

Brendan Crabb

Well, the best chance of something working is to move away from strong restrictions where there’s a lot of COVID and light restrictions, where there’s less COVID. Because all that’s happening is the virus is moving to those other regions, you need a uniform approach. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, because the rules have crept in – we went from no lockdown for 10 days, to light lockdown, to medium lockdown, to heavier lockdown, scattered into different LGAs and then scattered into the regions – people are confused. And it’s actually still not clear enough. Five kilometres from home, mandate masks for every person in the state, a very strict set of rules around what an authorised worker is – much stricter than exists now – and a curfew to bed this down for the first few weeks, lets the seriousness of this sink in. Because disaster is around the corner if if we don’t do this.

All of that must be accompanied by a support package that is incredibly generous, that is community-centric and specific to the many different communities that make up the great state of New South Wales. And if we do those things, this has a very good chance of turning around.

Karl Stefanovic: So what happens then, if they continue on this path, where New South Wales people die by a thousand cuts? What happens in the next couple of weeks and months, if they don’t do what you’re saying?

Brendan Crabb

Well, the best outcome is lockdown till Christmas, keeping a lid on numbers like they are now. Now I don’t know how on earth, they would keep numbers as they are now because we’re doubling at the moment every 11 days. But let’s assume by some miracle, things turn around to at least keep them level, we’re still in lockdown till Christmas or so.

And then the vaccine-led exit, the modelling from the Doherty and other people, including ourselves, suggests you can move away from lockdown and you can open the borders up, albeit in an incremental way. But that depends on very low case numbers to start with. We’re in completely new territory, if we’ve literally got 10 to 20,000 people COVID positive in the community, and five or 600 or 1000 a day.

The worst-case scenario is that we have an Italy-style health catastrophe. And that is actually the trajectory at the moment. So we can’t continue. Let’s not be forced into that position. Let’s act now, when we see it happening before it happens.

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)

Telephone

+61392822174

Email

[email protected]

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