The spread of Delta in Australia has sparked “long overdue discussions about our tolerance for serious disease and the capacity of hospitals and intensive care units,” a leading epidemiologist said, adding that while vaccination “spotty” in cities and regions is a problem, control of the virus is expected to be achieved in early 2022.
Professor Catherine Bennett, president of epidemiology at Deakin University in Victoria, said that while the Doherty Institute’s modeling that informed Australia’s national plan to reopen was based on a low number of cases, it was “still relevant, even with an increase in the number of cases “due to Delta.
“All of the parameters that work together to produce downward pressure on the transmission potential still apply, regardless of the number of cases,” Bennett said. wrote in an article published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed medical journal Public Health Research and Practice.
âBut one crucial thing that changes if cases continue to escalate is the effectiveness of the testing, tracing and isolation models.
âAs we go into suppression mode with higher rates of fully vaccinated population, we will no longer need to find all cases. It’s one of the many shifts in approach that will shape our transition by early 2022 to living with – and controlling – disease. “
She said that while it was not yet clear what level of testing, contact tracing and isolation of cases might look like as part of a transition to life with Covid, “… strings of transmission downstream for those exposed and also upstream for a possible sourceâ¦ NSW Health could pave the way for all states as they shift focus under the sheer burden of number of cases.
The national plan says that once 70% of eligible people are fully vaccinated in Australia, blockages will be less likely although still possible. From 80% vaccination coverage, the plan says that blockages should only be highly targeted and that caps on the return of vaccinated Australians should be lifted. But there were already emerging challenges, with disagreements between states and territories around risk tolerance.
âThe publication of the transition plan should have signaled that it was time, if not well over, to discuss Australia’s tolerance for critical illness and the capacity of hospitals and intensive care units, and therefore should have been agreed. of limits to guide the details of the plan as it is deployed, âBennett wrote.
âInstead, some leaders have fallen back to a zero tolerance protectionist stance. Our confidence in emerging from our current predicament, in which more than half of Australia’s population is affected by blockages, is also not helped by the realization that we are transitioning to our transition from a very unheard of position. -Covid-zero.
âUncontrolled community transmission at dawn of spring was not in the plan. The Delta variant usurped an important decision that we thought was under our control – when we would let the virus in. “
Bennett wrote that it was the combination of high attack rates and shortened incubation that made Delta a “game changer.” But that meant states and territories had to move beyond “… these uncomfortable questions about how many Covid-19 deaths we are willing to tolerate, with zero Australia-wide cases being no longer an option, even for the most risk averse â.
âIn epidemic jurisdictions at least, we are now drawn into the most compelling global experience to find a viable, ethical and economically sustainable approach to controlling the incidence of disease and hospitalizations,â she wrote. .
Bennett wrote that Australia was on track to live with the virus, but control the disease, from the first quarter of 2022. Indoor masks would be the last precaution and large gatherings the last activity forbidden to return, she wrote.
“We no longer need to find out the hard way whether our public health response and vaccination rates under the plan will cope when the dike gates open and the virus arrives,” she said. writing.
âInstead, we test our airworthiness as we go. This is reassuring, both for those who are anxious to change and fear that we are too slow to get started, and for those who are anxious about a sudden opening. “
In an op-ed published in the same journal, Don Nutbeam, professor of public health at the University of Sydney, wrote that New South Wales had been “widely recognized for having successfully managed the pandemic” until Delta, who rejected the approach of the state “completely unbalanced by a metaphorical punch in the mouth”.
âIn 1997, Mike Tyson fought Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight boxing world championship,â Nutbeam wrote. When a reporter asked him if he was worried about Holyfield and his battle plan, he replied, ‘Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth. “
âThe transmission speed of the Delta variant has exceeded established approaches to testing, tracing, movement restrictions, isolation and quarantine that previously workedâ¦ our public health response must also be an ongoing adaptation to a fierce and unpredictable enemy. “