Elimination of COVID-19 in Australia is possible and certainly preferable to prolonged suppression measures, according to eminent University of Newcastle and HMRI researcher Laureate Professor Nick Talley.
He also believes that rigid lockdown restrictions, early in the disease cycle, are justified if the national economy and life in general are to regain normality.
“Elimination is possible, and should be our goal, as we came really close across the country,” Laureate Professor Talley argues. “If we hadn't had the leak into Victoria we probably wouldn't have had leakage into NSW or Queensland either and, actually, we'd be doing really well.
“That was without taking the strict lockdown that New Zealand had … we had a lockdown lite virtually, even though it didn't feel like it to any of us at the time.”
Currently the editor of the Medical Journal of Australia and a former NSW Scientist of the Year, Laureate Professor Talley says the suppression strategy has too many ongoing risks for vulnerable populations.
That’s because the virus can stay under the radar for long periods then have disastrous consequences when it re-emerges, in his opinion.
“When you try to play suppression, in other words taking the virus on when it pops up, that's very difficult – look at Victoria,” he says. “It’s better to toughen restrictions early and, once you eliminate the virus, you can open the economy right back up and people can be pretty normal.
“And that's what this is all about. It's a very tough measure, this lockdown approach, because none of us likes the idea, but basically that's why it can and will work, if people will allow it to do so.”
All community members have a personal responsibility to maintain a safe distance, use regular hand hygiene, and wear a mask when appropriate, Laureate Professor Talley adds.
“I would argue in Sydney, for example, everyone should be wearing a mask when they're out and about. The same goes for other hotspot areas.
“The whole goal of this virus is to get into someone else and replicate, and then get into someone else after that. If you don't have social contact, it can't do it, it can't jump from someone to someone else.”