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What will Australia look like at Christmas? An infectious disease expert answers.

With 17 weeks until Christmas,  many are wondering: what does Christmas look like in the middle of a pandemic? 

With Melbourne still in stage four lockdown until at least September 13, and NSW is still on high alert over several coronavirus clusters, the uncertainty of the pandemic remains rife.  

However, last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison provided an update on what we can expect by Christmas

Mamamia also spoke to Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, Professor of Medicine at Canberra’s Australian National University, who answered our questions on what Christmas may look like.  

Here's what we know. 

Will border restrictions still be in place at Christmas?

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said seven of eight states and territories will aspire to open their borders to interstate travellers by Christmas. The Western Australia government is the only state to not agree to this roadmap to easing border restrictions. 

"The New South Wales and Victorian premiers are very keen to get their border down as soon as it's safe to do so," Morrison said.

"Western Australia has set out some very specific circumstances in their state as to why they won't be joining that aspiration at this time."

WA Premier Mark McGowan confirmed he won't lift border restrictions based on an arbitrary date, telling reporters: "Prematurely reopening the states borders will risk both the state and national economies."

So what does this mean for people wanting to travel interstate to visit family at Christmas?

Dr Senanayake says there is hope that family members from different states and territories will be sitting around the family table on Christmas day. 

"If you look around Australia at the moment, most states and territories have eliminated the virus, in the sense that they've achieved 28 days without a case of community transmission where there's an unknown source. 

"There are quite a lot of areas in Australia which are very low risk and therefore travel from that state or territory to another low risk state or territory would certainly be on the cards. If every state and territory has eliminated it, then people should be able to move freely during Christmas.

"However, I don't think people from high risk regions of Australia should be travelling to low risk regions of Australia for Christmas."

Watch: How to have a conversation with an anti-vaxxer. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

Will people be able to visit the elderly at Christmas?

The elderly are among the vulnerable group of people who are at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.  

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"If everyone's coming from an area that has eliminated COVID-19, then the risk would be very low, and so it would potentially be okay for grandparents to turn up to that lunch," Dr Senanayake explained.

"But if you're in an area which has not eliminated COVID and there are small numbers of cases, then I'd definitely have a lower threshold for that older person not turning up."

The infectious disease specialist added that because "we almost certainly won't have a vaccine by December," people who have respiratory symptoms must not turn up during those family gatherings, where risk of transmission is typically high. 

Dr Senanayake continues: "People should, where possible, physically distance. This may not be possible for the whole Christmas lunch, but where possible, try and keep as far apart as you can and make sure that hand hygiene is being used regularly."

How will the warmer weather at Christmas impact the spread of COVID-19?

The question of the correlation between coronavirus and the seasons has been widely discussed for months.  

Whilst Melbourne has experienced their second wave during winter, experts say outbreaks of COVID-19 have been caused by human behaviour and not the weather.

"There is limited evidence to suggest COVID-19 has worsened during winter," Dr Senanayake says. 

"A number of warm countries around the world are having extensive COVID outbreaks. Singapore, who has a population of about five million, has had 40,000 cases. So the warm weather seems to be just as efficient for transmission of COVID-19. 

"I don't think we should be more worried or less worried with whatever the weather is like in regards to coronavirus."

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So, how will COVID-19 end?

New York Times reporter Gina Kolata wrote in May: "According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes."

So is it possible for COVID-19 to end socially before it does medically? Dr Senanayake doesn't think so.

"I'm optimistic that we will have a vaccine for COVID-19," he says. 

"I think it's very likely that we'll have at least a couple of vaccines which will work and should be able to bring COVID-19 to an end. But, of course, I don't think you and I will start getting jabs in our shoulders until well into 2021."

So what about the possibility of people growing so tired of restrictions that they stop physically distancing?

Dr Senanayake says this would be unlikely, unless the coronavirus mutated into a less dangerous disease that won't overwhelm the healthcare system.

"For it to socially end, the virus would have to become less aggressive.

"I'd pin our hopes more on it medically ending, with a vaccine, than socially ending."

Feature Image: Getty.


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