A leading infectious disease expert has warned Australians will be facing coronavirus restrictions heading into 2022 despite the rollout of a vaccine.
Professor Peter Collignon, from the Australian National University Medical School, also dashed the hopes of those looking to head overseas towards the end of this year, warning a period of quarantine will likely be expected on their return.
“Even with vaccination, none are 100 per cent effective [so] if you go to a high prevalence area, you still have a reasonable chance of coming back with the virus [and] you will still need to isolate,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
Prof Collignon said it was dangerous for Australian states to pursue an elimination strategy, which he believed lulled the public into a false sense of security.
He pointed to the reemergence of the virus in NSW, South Australia and Queensland in recent weeks following leaks from hotel quarantine.
“The reality is we will continue, unfortunately, to have leaks,” he said.
“The trouble with the elimination strategy is people think it is eliminated [and] we can go back to normal [and] not take any precautions at all.
“We have got problems with this virus until the end of the year and maybe longer because there is so much around the world.”
Herd immunity more than a year away, WHO warns
The World Health Organisation warned on Monday despite the roll out of the vaccine in some countries, herd immunity is not likely to happen in 2021.
At a media briefing, chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said it was critical countries and their populations maintain strict social distancing and other outbreak control measures for the foreseeable future.
Prof Collignon reiterated that advice, warning mask wearing will likely become commonplace in Australia after federal and state governments were reluctant to enforce or advise mask wearing early in the pandemic.
“We still need to keep crowds down indoors, wear masks when there is transmission occurring in the community of any note,” he said.
“More importantly, keeping away from others and when we are sick getting tested. That will have to continue for the next year.
“If people think they have eliminated [the virus] and say we can go back to normal, crowded bars and don't worry about spacing, that is when it comes back into one of those places and it will spread widely with much more problems.”
Covid vaccines ‘won’t protect everyone’
In recent weeks, Britain, the US, France, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and others have begun vaccinating millions of their citizens against the coronavirus.
"Even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we're not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021," Swaminathan said.
"Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it's not going to protect people across the world."
Scientists typically estimate that a vaccination rate of about 70 per cent is needed for herd immunity, where entire populations are protected against a disease. But some fear the extremely infectious nature of COVID-19 could require a significantly higher threshold.
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Tuesday Australia was on track to roll out the vaccine next month.
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