Expert slams decision to 'let Covid rip' across Australia: 'MADNESS'

·5-min read

For the first time since the Covid pandemic began, Australia has turned its back on lockdowns. 

With an admirable vaccine rate, many state and territory leaders saw fit to open up, even as Omicron emerged in November.

In the past few weeks, the country has recorded tens of thousands of new infections a day as the Covid variant overruns hospitals and testing clinics.

While some restrictions like mask-wearing and capacity limits have been reimposed, the number of daily cases are expected to continue to soar over the next month as people begin reporting their positive rapid tests.

Health experts have heavily criticised the decision to "let it rip", including head of the Burnet Institute Professor Brendan Crabb.

People line up for hours at Covid testing site.
Omicron and the roll back of restrictions have caused Covid cases in Australia to skyrocket. Source: AAP

"Letting COVID go, esp. in countries that normally lead on global health, was foolish from the beginning," he said on Twitter on Saturday. 

"A mistake never corrected. You just don’t do this with zoonoses, never. The result is years of world-changing devastation, with unpredictable evolution rampant. Madness."

He also retweeted an ABC interview with Clinical epidemiologist Nancy Baxter, which aired in mid-December, to highlight the "obvious" outcome.

"The extraordinary thing about the crisis we're in was just how obvious the outcome was going to be," he wrote. 

"Hard to describe the degree of frustration."

In the ABC interview, Prof Baxter pointed out that in parts of Europe and Canada, restrictions were tightening in the wake of Omicron — just as Australia was relaxing theirs.

"To think that we're going to be able to relax all our restrictions, and so get away with it with this new variant. You know, that's not reality based," she said.

At the end of last year, experts predicted that NSW could see more than 25,000 cases in January. 

On Saturday, the state recorded 45,098 cases and 30,062 on Sunday — also the state's deadliest day of the pandemic with 16 deaths.

The entire country saw 99,651 new Covid cases on Sunday: 44,155 in Victoria, 18,000 in Queensland, 4,506 in South Australia, 1,406 in Tasmania, 1,039 in the ACT, 481 in the Northern Territory and two in Western Australia. 

Hospitalisations are on the rise in NSW and Victoria and Queensland has decided to postpone the start of the school year

The Northern Territory has introduced a territory-wide lockout for the unvaccinated.

Covid: How to flatten the curve amid the surge

Professor of Global Biosecurity Raina MacIntyre previously told Channel 7's Sunrise it was "irresponsible" to just let Omicron rip.

"No infection in human history has ever controlled itself through letting it rip. Never. Not smallpox, not measles, not SARS-cov-2," she said.

In an article published on The Conversation last week, Professor MacIntyre explained the situation in Australia could now go one of two ways.

"If there’s no change in policy, there will be a higher, faster peak that far exceeds available health care, which may then force a lockdown," she said. 

Health worker conducts PCR test.
PCR testing has struggled to keep up with the demand, while rapid tests have been hard to come by. Source: AAP

"If people who need simple measures like oxygen cannot get a hospital bed, the death rate will start rising."

However, with additional measures and vaccinations, the curve could be flattened, she said.

The measures would include expanding PCR capacity and offering free rapid antigen tests, which is being done in several countries around the world, and building on the QR code infrastructure.

Masks would need to be mandated in indoor settings and high air quality options would need to be subsidised, ensuring there is safe "indoor air", including in schools.

There also needs to be sufficient supply for booster doses and enough for a fourth dose if required. Children aged five to 11 also need to be vaccinated quickly, the professor said. That age group will be eligible for the jab from Monday. 

Scott Morrison
The only part of Australia not seeing a rapid rise in Covid cases is Western Australia. Source: AAP

While it has been widely acknowledged that Omicron is somewhat milder than previous variants, Prof MacIntyre says it is still worth doing everything possible to prevent getting Covid because the disease can have long-term effects.

"In addition to long Covid, SARS-CoV-2 lingers in the heart, brain and many other organs long after the acute infection, and we don’t know the long term impacts of this," she wrote.

“Long Covid”, where symptoms of the virus persist for months after an initial infection, could be emerging as a chronic disease in Finland, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru said on Friday.

Speaking at a news conference, she referred to a Finnish expert panel’s summary of more than 4,000 international studies, which showed one in two adults and around 2 per cent of children may experience prolonged symptoms connected to Covid-19.

“There is a threat that Finland will see the emergence of the largest, or one of the largest, new groups of chronic diseases, and that not only too many adults will suffer from a long-term Covid-19, but at worst also children,” Kiuru said.

The Finnish institute of health and welfare considers an illness chronic when it has a major impact on public health and the national economy through lowered working capacity and strains on healthcare.

With Reuters and Associated Press

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