Top Australian officials are reportedly considering easing coronavirus restrictions to see out the pandemic with an increased but manageable number of COVID-19 cases.
According to The Australian, current measures could be eased in a staggered effect to further expose the country to coronavirus, in turn boosting immunity rates.
The government’s goal of having more than 7000 ICU beds would hopefully ensure hospitals wouldn’t become overwhelmed by the increase.
“A loosening up of social distancing if rates are still low [would] generate sustainable daily caseloads to ride this epidemic out,” Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist from the University of Melbourne, explained.
“This means flattening the curve towards herd immunity – with our health services better stocked with equipment and hopefully more evidence on effective treatments.”
NSW restrictions to be reviewed monthly
In NSW, which has nearly half of the near 6000 cases in Australia, health officials have been deliberating over restrictions, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying on Wednesday the restrictions will be reviewed monthly based on advice from health experts.
That could be as soon as May 1, a report in The Daily Telegraph has suggested, and could involve relaxing restrictions on the hospitality industry, churches and gyms.
But Ms Berejiklian also warned of the danger of lifting restrictions.
“When you do lift any of the restrictions, it does mean that more people will be admitted to our hospitals and more people who will succumb to the virus ... and unfortunately, more people dying,” she said on Wednesday.
Ms Berejiklian stressed “social distancing is a way of life now” and regardless of what restrictions are eased, we have to “live with the virus” until ultimately a vaccine is found.
“Until there's a cure, we'll definitely all need to keep the 1.5 metre distance from one another,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the Today show Ms Berejiklian “can have her own views”, however current restrictions must be enforced for the foreseeable future.
“At this stage, we're very clear, the social distancing and the other measures that have been introduced are absolutely vital to continue at this point,” he said.
“We are not yet out of this epidemic, and so whilst of course we need to plan for the future at the moment, nothing changes.”
Several NSW MPs spoke with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant last week where there was concern continuing with strict restrictions to try and suppress the virus would leave millions “susceptible with no immunity”, one MP said.
Switching to herd immunity means more deaths
One senior MP told The Australian that exposure to the virus could provide an easier route back to normality.
“People have to get sick for this to pass... we do need it to go through the community at a gentle pace,” they said.
Yet pushing towards herd immunity would mean further deaths, at a rate yet unknown and dependent on how lenient restrictions become and whether the nation’s ICU capacity proves to be sufficient.
Prof Kelly insisted on Wednesday herd immunity is “not on our radar at the moment”.
Ms Berejkilian is understood to be leaning to loosening over fears of further economic collapse, however weakened measures could be further tightened on a month-to-month basis.
While the economy is being bailed out by a series of multi-billion packages from the government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed such support was not indefinite.
“The economic lifeline that has been provided through the many things done at federal and state level have a finite life,” he said addressing media on Tuesday.
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