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How Australia could come out of lockdown before a COVID-19 vaccine.

“What we have seen is a sustained and consolidated and now extended flattening of the curve,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday.

They are encouraging words about the way Australia has so far responded to the coronavirus pandemic, and signifies that our “suppression” phase has successfully worked.

And while we’re not out of it yet – not even close – there are positive signs that the road back to normality is within the foreseeable future.

But with the likely timeframe for a COVID-19 vaccine still 12 to 18 months away, how will Australia lift lockdown laws?

A report published by the Actuaries Institute this past week, put together by authors Michael Rice, Alun Stevens, and Michael Berg, outlines the ways in which the government could practically implement an exit strategy without compromising the health of Australians due to the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19.

“The approach needs a careful balance between expanding economic activity and preventing the virus spreading exponentially,” the report states.

Mamamia breaks down your most common questions about COVID-19. Post continues below video. 

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Australia is in an advantageous position compared to other countries, the report says, not only because we have successfully flattened the curve so far, but also because we are an island, meaning we “can test anyone arriving into the country and keep out any future transmissions.”

Hence, we could get ‘back to normal’ quicker than other countries. Here’s what we know about how Australia could come out of lockdown before a COVID-19 vaccine.

The path back to normality, without a vaccine.

To ensure our path back to normality is as safe as possible, there are a few things we need to do, the experts say. And importantly, we must recognise that there are “no risk-free options”.

Firstly, the report says we must trust the hypothesis if healthy lives contract the virus, they will most likely recover without hospital treatment. Hence, we should isolate high-risk Australians and allow low-risk Australians to “return to the economy”.

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The return however needs to be a phased approach whereby social restrictions are gradually eased. The report suggests to start with schools because they are low-risk environments. Kids returning to school will also stop the disruption of home-schooling for working parents.

Next, there needs to be a plan to effectively and swiftly respond to localised outbreaks of COVID-19. Minister for Health Greg Hunt said on Sunday that we have already proven our rapid response capability via the cluster that occurred in north-west Tasmania. “They had an outbreak and they responded and they have contained,” Hunt said.

We also must have a plan to revert to lockdown, should we need to, if the easing of social distancing leads to an increased growth rate of coronavirus cases.

In the meantime, our borders must remain closed, perhaps with the exception of “cleared countries” such as New Zealand. There should also be “limited travel between regions until they are all clear or reliable tests can be carried out before travel and at points of entry”.

The report adds that “the risk of going early is still large but it could be managed progressively – but the risk of staying out longer will be crippling for the economy.”

Listen: When will we travel again? Flying, Australia & COVID 19. Post continues below. 

The government’s easing of restrictions.

On Sunday, the federal government released their app, COVIDSafe, which will help trace people who come into contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus and aid in responding to local outbreaks. If enough Australians download the app, it could fast-track our path back to normality.

This assists in one of Scott Morrison’s three criteria – broader testing regime, better contact tracing and greater capacity to respond to local outbreaks – which needs to be fulfilled before the extreme restrictions are lifted.

how will coronavirus end australia
On Sunday, the federal government released their app, COVIDSafe. Image: Getty.
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Some Australian states are also already slowly lifting some of their lockdown restrictions.

On Sunday, Western Australian premier Mark McGowan announced the state government will ease social distancing restrictions by increasing the gathering rule to 10 people inside and outside the home.

McGowan added that non-contact recreational activities can resume, such as “activities like private picnics in the park, fishing, boating, hiking or camping”.

It came after Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also announced she will lift some of the stay-at-home restrictions from next Saturday, May 2.

"Because we have done such a terrific job of flattening the curve, in discussions with the chief health officer, from next Friday we will be able to lift some of the stay-at-home restrictions and can I say, this is a small step and one that we really need the public to 100 per cent cooperate with," she said in a press conference on Sunday morning.

Hence, the possibility that we could come out of lockdown before a COVID-19 vaccine is made freely available for everyone worldwide remains a likely option.

You can read the full report published by the Actuaries Institute here

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature Image: Getty.


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