‘Can’t have business as usual’ with Omicron curveball‘

Burnet Institute

19 December, 2021

Photo: Getty. Published in The New Daily.

Leading epidemiologists have urged Australian leaders to hit the pause button on winding back basic COVID restrictions like masks and QR check-ins, warning the Omicron variant is a “curveball” to reopening plans formulated when dealing with less virulent virus strains.

The article by The New Daily Political Editor’s Josh Butler, comes as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) was asked to consider bringing vaccine booster shots even earlier, than five months since a person’s second COVID-19 vaccination.

Burnet Institute Director and a microbiologist, Professor Brendan Crabb AC was among the experts who spoke to The New Daily; including Alexandra Martiniuk, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Sydney and University of Melbourne epidemiologist, Professor Nancy Baxter.

“We know enough to know the situation in the next month or three is going to be worse with Omicron than it was with Delta,” warned Professor Crabb. “That’s not reason to panic, but it’s reason to respond. It’s not reason to fear, but reason to wise up.”

Professor Crabb said it was “understandable” that, considering Australia’s world-leading vaccination rates and the summer holidays following months of lockdown, that people would be keen to see rules relax.

However, he cautioned the modelling and medical advice that underpinned the national reopening plan was based on the Delta strain; whereas Omicron, while being less deadly, was “phenomenally” more infectious.

“Let’s hope it is less severe. But it would have to be a lot, lot less severe than Delta to counteract the increased transmissibility of Omicron,” he said.

“We had plans for Delta. Those are no longer relevant, because we have Delta plus Omicron."

“We have to ask, ‘What needs to change to combat that extra challenge?’ The earlier and faster we act gives us the best chance of not overwhelming the healthcare system, and leading to lockdowns.”

Professor Crabb said lockdowns and severe restrictions were not needed now.

However, he recommended “non-restrictive” interventions like maintaining mask wearing, QR code check-ins and social distancing be kept, until further data showed how much more mild Omicron really was, compared to its transmissibility.

“In the end you worry about how many people get really sick. If it’s a small percentage of a much larger number, it can still be a much larger total number in hospital,” Professor Crabb said.

“It’s not catastrophising to say we’ve got a new, worrying, unpredictable virus in the world.

“It’s a fact that needs to be met head on with different policy settings. You can’t have business as usual when faced with such a sudden curveball.”

Read the entire article at The New Daily.

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