Masks here to stay and major events a long way off, new research says

courtesy of ABC News

New scientific research has delivered a reality check for people hoping to be freed from their face masks when Australia reaches its 80 per cent vaccination target.

New research reveals what living with COVID-19 could look like into 2022 ABC Western Sydney / By Maryanne Taouk

Posted 08 September 2021

Masks are here to stay, according to a new paper by a leading epidemiologist. ( AAP: James Gourley)

A new scientific paper has delivered a reality check for people hoping to be freed from their face masks when Australia reaches its 80 per cent COVID-19 vaccination target. Key points:

  • New research suggests states should move away from a COVID-19 elimination strategy

  • Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says easing restrictions should not be used as a reward

  • She says some restrictions will be in place until the first half of 2022

Writing in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said face masks should remain mandatory indoors until at least the first half of 2022. She also said restrictions on major events would likely be the last ones to ease. "There will be some basic measures still in place well into 2022, like masks and density limits, but on the other hand there won't be any more lockdowns," she said. Professor Bennett argued variable COVID-19 vaccination rates across cities and regions means Australia’s public health measures can't be scrapped when 80 per cent of the population is immunised. In her paper, Professor Bennett, from Melbourne's Deakin University, says the new reality for Australia will be living with COVID-19, but not focusing on the disease. "It's a best-case scenario that it's a back-of-mind thing," she said. "It might pop up every now and then, but it won't be something that has a real impact on our lives. We won't have to care about it anymore." The Sax Institute is a not-for-profit, independent organisation that aims to improve health an wellbeing through research and services. It receives its core funding from NSW Health. LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic Catherine Bennett says states should not rush to ease restrictions as it may "make things worse".(Supplied)Until then, she said, masks, QR code check-ins, and vaccines were here to stay. "There's no way we can ever have a COVID-zero life. It's not possible. We have to come to terms with cases and even have a threshold for deaths much like the flu." Read more about the spread of COVID-19 in Australia:

  • Reality check: Can ivermectin be used to treat or prevent COVID-19?

  • Pizza store owner speaks out nine months after SA lockdown

  • Is there any hope of getting the family together this Christmas?

Stephen Duckett from the Grattan Institute said modelling like this needed to be considered across the whole country, as some states, like Western Australia, remain concentrated on eliminating the virus altogether. "Be careful of thinking Australia is homogeneous," he said. "There is nothing in the reopening plan about state borders, of course. The solution, as always, is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate." 'More likely to get blood clots from COVID than vaccine': AstraZeneca co-creator Sarah Gilbert, the co-creator of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot, says her biggest concern now is vaccine hesitancy because "we can't hide from the virus anymore". Read moreProfessor Bennett said even at 80 per cent vaccination coverage, total freedom from restrictions was unlikely. "That coverage doesn't just mean opening up," she said. "It does assume that Australia wants to focus on control rather than counting cases." She added that rushing to a goal of total freedoms would "make it worse". New modelling provided to the government from the Burnet Institute has revealed that without the lockdowns, and extra Pfizer vaccine doses from Poland, Sydney's hotspots would have seen 589,817 additional COVID-19 cases, and 6,062 deaths. Yesterday, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said while the benefits of the statewide lockdown and targeted vaccine rollout were being tallied, modelling had helped determine who to target in Sydney's worst-affected areas. What you need to know about coronavirus:

  • The symptoms

  • The number of cases in Australia

  • Tracking Australia's vaccine rollout

The Doherty Institute model, which NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said is being used to help guide the state, found that if restrictions were eased when 70 per cent of the population was vaccinated, 13 people would die from the disease within six months if testing and tracing were maintained at a high level. "The use of the doses to lift up the vaccination coverage in the highly mobile 16 to 50-year-old age group in south-western Sydney was a deliberate strategy," Dr Chant said. "It was shown to give us the greatest impact on transmission by getting a dose into people." Read more about the vaccine rollout:

  • Worried about getting AstraZeneca? The experts answer your questions

  • WA Premier calls for more Pfizer doses to catch up

  • Health Minister says extra COVID-19 vaccines delivered to NSW 'saved lives'

On the list of measures that will help our lives return to normal is the use of vaccine passports. NSW Health and Service NSW are developing a pilot app that will allow the vaccine passport to be linked with the QR code sign-in function, which is scheduled to be rolled out later this year. NSW, which recorded 1,220 locally transmitted cases yesterday, is easing some restrictions, including to allow fully vaccinated people to have picnics from September 13. Australia's vaccination rollout 39% fully vaccinated 63.8% at least one dose 70% 80% 20.6mpopulation aged 16+ At our current pace of 824,040 second doses a week, we can expect 70 per cent of Australia’s adult population to be fully vaccinated by early November 2021. Daily vaccinations First DosesSecond DosesBreakdown unknown 7-day moving average Feb 23Sep 7200k268.23k Dates refer to the reporting date (usually the day following vaccination), not the vaccination date. VIEW THE DATA FOR YOUR STATE OR TERRITORY "Easing restrictions aren't a reward," Professor Bennett said. "They are done when it is less risky." But a big celebratory open day like the United Kingdom's Freedom Day on July 19 is not on the cards. "It will be a gradual process, but our January is going to look a lot different to our March. We just need people to hang in there a bit longer," she said. Life until then, according to Professor Bennett, will remain centred on the virus that has seen 139 deaths since the outbreak began in June. "This isn’t a magic fix that will see this done by the end of this year. It's fine that most people won't have to think about it. But a lot of others will need to work overtime to get us to a point of control."

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