Governments across Australia are getting ready to start winding back the COVID measures that have become commonplace in our lives over the past 18 months.
High vaccination rates in Australia will mean that we need to spend less time counting cases and trying to get the figures back to zero and more around trying to stem major outbreaks and limit that possibilities for them.
Professor Jodie McVernon is currently leading the Doherty Institute’s epidemiological modelling of COVID cases which make up the basis for government decisions in mapping our way out of the pandemic.
Speaking to The Guardian, McVernon has argued that as the rates of vaccinations increase, Australians will need to start taking more responsibility for their own COVID safety and not relying as heavily on the government to keep them safe and tell them what to do.
“We’ve been turning everything up to 11 for a very long time. We can actually start to turn the volume down because of the vaccine,” she said.
Governments are looking to shift away from total control and elimination of the virus and more towards a ‘living-with’ phase. This is partly due to the fact they know so much more about how the virus spreads and where the key danger zones are for high rates of transmission.
Being able to monitor and keep on top of those – through the continuation of mask-wearing in certain places, for example – will be part of the government’s ongoing health strategy.
McVernon said those strategies remained critically important but that the interventions needed to become more focused.
“We are still working this out. This is going to be different states and territories in different positions,” she said.
“If you’ve got an area of low vaccine coverage, you’ll be more worried the vaccine won’t do as much of the heavy lifting so we are going to have to have more proactive public health responses there.”
New policies will be focusing on how public health can have the biggest impact in limiting the disease while enabling life to return to some semblance of normality.
This can only be achieved with the high vaccination rates that we’ve so far seen, but these will need to be sustained if we are to have a chance at keeping the virus down.
The shift away from the current heavy restrictions and towards a mixed approach while cases are still circulating is going to be a tough one to get our heads around, McVernon says, but that Aussies will quickly learn to adapt to it.
“Look where we were 18 months ago, what we thought was normal, and what we think is normal now,” she said.
“We’ve adapted and adapted and adapted and adapted – when you think about testing, tracking, isolating and quarantining, the idea that somebody who walked past you in a supermarket when you were there for half an hour would ever be called a contact – that was never in our minds.
“It’s the frog in the kettle. We lose sight of how much everything escalated as we moved more into the position of zero community transmission and had to deal with Delta and all these other things that have been heightening risks over time.”