What it might mean to be COVID-normal

Burnet Institute

25 January, 2022

After recovering from the “desperate Omicron outbreak,” Australia should move to a ‘Covid-normal’ existence, but be “air-raid ready” for the next variant.

That’s the message Burnet Institute Director, Professor Brendan Crabb delivered, speaking on ABC’s Health Report.

Professor Crabb said while the high vaccination rate means Australia is in a strong position compared to many other nations, Omicron has shown the negative consequences, if we don’t act nimbly with a broader suite of interventions.

While Professor Crabb hopes lockdowns and border closures are now behind us, he said we need to deploy a “vaccines-plus” strategy.

“We’ve had a very vaccine centric mindset. The brilliance of vaccines have blinded us to what else we can do.” - Professor Brendan Crabb

“We haven’t been ready with rapid antigen tests. We haven’t been as advanced with our airborne readiness. It’s an airborne disease, but we have had great trouble recognising that in Australia. Therefore we need a souped up mask policy and great ventilation filtration strategies. I think in the vaccines-plus COVID normal time these are at a base level. ”

“And then you’re communicating with the Australian population to say, when there’s a new variant, we’re going to hit a button to say, here’s your packages of masks, here’s your packages of rapid antigen tests, here’s your support packages for those who are going to suffer from having limits on restaurants or whatever the strategy might be,” Professor Crabb said.

“I think the community can cope with that. I think they’ll cope with that much better than being hammered with an unexpected wave that causes devastation in the community as the current one is.”

Professor Crabb said the Australian community also needs to have a conversation around COVID-19 death rates.

“At the moment, we’re going along at about 60 deaths a day. That’s a very large number for Australia,” Professor Crabb said.

“The UK and the US have been going along at the Australian equivalent of 40 to 80 deaths a day in their quiet times.

“That translates to around 14,000 to 28,000 deaths a year - a bad flu year for Australia is 1000 deaths. So in my view that’s completely not tolerable for Australia and I think most Australians would agree with that.

“So what is the number? If it’s not going to be zero deaths, what is it going to be? And can we dictate our policy around that?”

“We’re in the midst of this awful, awful circumstance, where deaths are hardly rating a mention. And yet it’s devastating so much of our community.” - Professor Brendan Crabb

“The Omicron wave will pass. I think what the UK and the US have shown us is that if we have policies like we have, we will have a baseline that’s unacceptably high. And that should drive us to be more vaccines-plus in our mindset.”

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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