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  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Speaking as an expert in epidemiology, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly is candid about the prospects of a second-wave of coronavirus in a society that hasn’t developed herd immunity.

“There is a very large risk of a second wave. We need to do this very carefully,” he says, as Australia starts to roll back restrictions.

“We are potentially victims of our own success here because we have been so successful in minimising the first wave of infections, the vast majority of Australians have not actually been exposed to this virus in a way that could develop immunity in people or herd immunity in the population”.

“There is that sense that people want to just get back to doing what what they did before. But it’s going to be a new normal. We have to decide as a society, what does a COVID-safe society look like? And there will be changes…”

“This is a big change in the way we’re going to live. I think we’ve seen that in human history. The changes that pandemics have brought, back to [how] the 1918 flu changed the world. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has changed the world. And this one will change the world.”

Kelly, in his role as an adviser to the government, praises Australia’s response to the virus as one of the most effective in the world - comparable to the successes of Taiwan and New Zealand. But he also acknowledges the marked difference in policy between the Tasman neighbours.

“New Zealand very early on decided that they could and wanted to eliminate the virus altogether as a public health issue. And so they’ve gone very hard with their social isolation policies and so forth…they really are on a path to not having any virus in the country at all.”

“On our side of the Tasman, we went for a suppression approach, which meant that we didn’t go quite as hard with the lockdown measures that have been introduced, on the basis that the economic and social impacts of that were not proportionate to the threat of the virus.”

If, as both governments would like, a trans-Tasman “bubble” is established for travel, Kelly agrees that, in terms of risk, it would be the New Zealanders who’d have to be more careful about inviting Australians in rather than the other way around.

“But I think it’s definitely achievable. ”

Describing himself as a glass half-full person, Kelly says: “So with my glass half full, I will hope that sometime in 2021 we’ll be talking about vaccines. And then our challenge will be getting enough of them available to the people that need them, not only in Australia but throughout the world and particularly in the poorer nations of the world, so that we can have an equitable distribution of something that could change a lot of people’s lives.”

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.


Lukas Coch/AAP

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