Handling COVID-19 as we move into 2021

High levels of testing, efficient vaccine distribution and addressing mental health issues will be critical if Australia is to maintain control over COVID-19, according to the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS).

The independent body of more than 400 senior researchers has released a report spelling out what it sees as the necessary next steps for an ongoing response in the new year.

It says the course of the pandemic will be changed over coming months by developments and interventions in five key areas, and identifies 15 actions to be taken.

You can access the report here and an associated background briefing here.

“By any global measure the Australian approach has been a spectacular success, but this has come at significant cost and, as the second wave in Victoria showed, success can be very fragile,” says Tania Sorrell from University of Sydney, who chaired the report committee.

The AAHMS says maintaining control – and avoiding the huge health and economic costs that would accompany a resurgence of the virus – will require a suite of strong public health and policy measures.

Its review concludes that Australia’s best strategy must combine:

  • ongoing implementation of comprehensive public health measures, including high levels of testing combined with contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, social distancing and mask- wearing
  • optimal roll-out of vaccines and other interventions as they become available
  • effective prevention and treatment of long-term health issues arising from the pandemic, including mental health and “long” COVID
  • support to other countries in the region
  • sustained and enhanced backing for research and innovation to develop the tools required to tackle the pandemic.

“It is likely that a safe and effective vaccine, able to prevent at least 50% of symptomatic COVID-19 episodes, will be approved and available for use in Australia within the next year, and that new treatments will be found,” the report says.

“However, many uncertainties remain about the precise timelines, as information continues to emerge about the safety and efficacy of vaccine candidates as well as the speed with which manufacturing and distribution can be scaled up.

“Australia must therefore continue to manage the pandemic in a manner that recognises this reality. It is crucial that we regard lockdowns as a measure of last resort, given their considerable impacts on individuals, communities and our economy.”

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