Why a top World Health Organisation advisor wants Australians to keep wearing masks – as she issues a grim warning to the country about the pandemic
- Up to 15,000 Australians are expected to die of COVID-19 this year, prof warns
- She says authorities still needed to pursue measures to minimise virus cases
- Those measures could be things such as introducing masks in enclosed spaces
Up to 15,000 Australians are expected to die of COVID-19 this year, and an infectious diseases expert says that is ‘way too high’.
Professor Margaret Hellard, of the Burnet Institute, has helped advise the Victorian and federal governments through the pandemic, and also advised the World Health Organisation on Hepatitis C surveillance and screening.
On Thursday she warned the country was about to see 10,000 to 15,000 COVID-19 deaths this year, which is way too high in her view.
‘This kind of notion going around … that there’s nothing that we’ve got to add or to offer, and that really things can’t be done is actually incorrect,’ Prof Hellard told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the state’s pandemic orders.
‘The current level of vaccination is not high enough.’
She said if Australia reduced COVID-19 transmission by 20 per cent, more than 2000 lives could be saved.
Prof Hellard said rather than society accepting the new ‘COVID normal’, authorities still needed to pursue measures to minimise virus cases and deaths.
Those measures could be things such as introducing masks in enclosed spaces, ensuring air quality, making ongoing and concerted efforts to boost vaccination coverage, and maintaining virus testing and isolation.
‘Modelling clearly shows that ongoing testing and isolation is important,’ Prof Hellard said.
‘(Our) optimised study shows the public … are clearly happy to have ongoing regulation of the fact that if you have COVID, (you) need to stay at home, and if you’re a contact, to have measures of testing and the like.’She said Australia needed a clear definition of success in the context of pandemic control. That would be initially based on case numbers, health service capacity, COVID-related deaths, and the level of social and economic disruption because of the virus.
‘We need to consider whether we should have trigger thresholds,” Prof Hellard said.
“They might be nationally agreed trigger thresholds that require jurisdictions to implement public health measures that acutely reduce transmission and case numbers, and this has been effective in a number of countries.”
Meanwhile, research shows about 20,000 fewer Australians were admitted to hospital with injuries during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic as restrictions curbed movement.
A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed injury-related hospitalisations fell by 14.3 per cent between March and May 2020, compared with the previous year.
In total, there were 120,850 injury hospitalisations in Australia over the three-month span amid nationwide lockdowns – 20,090 fewer than the corresponding period in 2019.
The number of injuries caused by drownings (35.3 per cent), electricity and air pressure (33.8 per cent), contact with living things (28.2 per cent), forces of nature (46 per cent) including natural disasters, and overexertion (30.1 per cent) fell sharply.
Also dropping were injury types such as fractures (16.2 per cent), dislocations (21.8 per cent), soft tissue (22.7 per cent) and intracranial (23.1 per cent), as people spent more time at home.
In addition, COVID-19 restrictions changed the locations of injuries, with fewer instances of people hurt at schools (49.6 per cent), sporting areas (72.7 per cent) and industrial or construction sites (12.7 per cent).
As expected, the number of home injuries rose by 8.5 per cent over the same span, or 3350 cases.
Meanwhile, authorities in South Australia on Thursday confirmed the death of a three-year-old child who had tested positive for COVID-19.
SA Health said the cause of death was being investigated with the case referred to the state coroner.