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  • Health leaders support call for COVID strategy rethink
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 25, 2023 at 9:00 下午

    Australian public health leaders have supported calls from Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC for a reset on COVID-19 management policy and the adoption of an ‘anti-transmission strategy’ by the Australian government. In an interview with Croakey Health Media, Professor Crabb emphasised the need to implement a “sustainable, elevated level of action” due to the ongoing and constant impact of the pandemic. He said a shift in government messaging would enable reductions in community transmission and suggested that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese “could change the practice of millions of Australians” by changing the narrative and mindset of people. Professor Crabb said it would make a difference for the Prime Minister to acknowledge that COVID-19 is still a concern and increase messages about the importance of booster vaccinations and air ventilation. On the ABC’s 7.30 program earlier in the week, Professor Crabb highlighted the impact of “unfettered transmission” in the community on the elderly and immunocompromised, as well as the prevalence of Long COVID – estimated in a recent Nature article to be approximately 10 percent of COVID cases. “The only way to prevent long COVID is to not get COVID, and … every time you get reinfected, you increase your chances of Long COVID, so it’s another reason to change our strategy to be anti-transmission,” Professor Crabb said. COVID-19 continues to run rampant, making a lot of Australians sick & killing many, even if we don't seem to be talking about it publicly as much. To discuss the nation's COVID strategy, @latingle talks to @CrabbBrendan, @nadahamad & @RDNS_TAI. #abc730 https://t.co/RRjN0bvYDq— abc730 (@abc730) January 24, 2023 Senior health experts canvassed by Croakey from a broad range of sectors including health promotion, aged care, aboriginal health, public health and emergency clinicians were strongly supportive of a COVID prevention strategy. President of the Public Health Association of Australia, Adjunct Professor Tarun Weeramanthri said the increase in overall mortality “should trigger a rethink” of Australia’s COVID-19 management policy. Chair of Disability and Health, in the Disability and Health Unit at The University of Melbourne, Professor Anne Kavanagh said, “because we don’t have mitigation strategies in place to reduce transmission – including safe indoor air, isolation of positive cases and masking indoors – people who are at risk are forced to isolate themselves from community”. And Australian Health Promotion Association President, Dr Gemma Crawford told Croakey that “prevention and effective health promotion should be a public health cornerstone for COVID-19”. Click here to read the Croakey article in full. Experts are at odds. Some say we are clearly moving out of the pandemic. Others say the high death rates show us that we are still in a national crisis. https://t.co/hQy4W9fotz— Financial Review (@FinancialReview) January 24, 2023

  • Australia Day Honour for Dame Carol Kidu
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 25, 2023 at 7:00 下午

    Burnet Institute Patron, Dame Carol Kidu DBE, and former honorary staff member, the late Professor George Patton are among eminent Australians acknowledged for their outstanding community service in the 2023 Australia Day Honours. And we offer our warmest congratulations to associates and collaborators with close ties to Burnet who were also recognised, including: Former CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Warwick Anderson AO, for distinguished service to health and medical research organisations, and to professional associations; Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Sonya Bennett AM, for significant service to public health in leadership roles; Health economist and Health and Aged Care Director at the Grattan Institute, Stephen Duckett AM, for significant service to public health policy and management, and to tertiary education; President of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Jane Hemstrich AO, for distinguished service to the community through medical research administration, the arts, and business roles; Head of Research and Molecular Development at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, Professor Stephen Locarnini AM, for significant service to medicine as a virologist, and to medical research; and ABC broadcaster Dr Norman Swan AM, for significant service to the broadcast media as a science and health commentator. The Patron-in-Chief of Burnet’s Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies (HMHB) Program, Dame Carol Kidu was appointed an Officer in the General Division (AO) for distinguished service to human rights, to community development, and to international relations. One of Burnet’s flagship programs, HMHB aims to arrest a maternal mortality rate in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that’s one of the highest in the world and 80 times worse than Australia’s. Dame Carol is a former PNG Member of Parliament and served as Minister for Community Development in the Government of Sir Michael Somare from 2002-2011. She also founded the Safe Motherhood Alliance of PNG with the aim to build sustainable solutions to the problems of child and maternal health. Born and now having returned to live in Queensland, Dame Carol became a naturalised PNG citizen after marrying Buri Kidu, who was knighted upon his appointment as PNG’s first indigenous Chief Justice. Dame Carol was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005. Professor Patton was appointed an Officer in the General Division (AO) for distinguished service to psychiatry and developmental epidemiology, to youth health and wellbeing, and to mental health research. As an adolescent psychiatrist and psychiatric epidemiologist, Professor Patton’s outstanding research career focused on improving the health of adolescents in Australia and across the globe. He was an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow, and Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health from 1997 to 2003 before transitioning to Director of Adolescent Health Research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne. He’d been a friend, colleague, and collaborating partner of many at Burnet well before his appointment as an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute in September 2020. He passed away in December 2022.

  • Professor Caroline Homer a research world leader
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 24, 2023 at 1:00 下午

    Burnet Institute’s Professor Caroline Homer AO has been acknowledged for her global leadership in the field of pregnancy and childbirth by The Australian newspaper. In a special report on the nation’s top 250 researchers, Professor Homer, Burnet’s Co-Program Director for Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health, is named as one of nine researchers who are world leaders in their particular fields. Data commissioned by The Australian shows Professor Homer has the highest number of citations globally from papers published in the past five years in the top 20 journals in the field of pregnancy and childbirth. Professor Homer was recognised by The Australian as the world’s leading researcher in pregnancy and childbirth once previously, in 2020. “It is an honour to receive this recognition again,” Professor Homer said. “I think it highlights the value of working with great teams, both here in Australia and globally. “Many of the papers that have been well cited are with teams of great colleagues and increasingly, with PhD and Honours students leading the projects. “At this stage of my career it is wonderful to be able to support early and mid career researchers to publish great work in good journals that clearly get well used and well cited. “Of course, citations that give recognition like this is wonderful, but I have been around long enough to see real impact of the research I have been part of over the last 20 years, and this is exciting. “I am especially delighted to see the impact of our papers showing the impact of midwifery on improving outcomes – this is now used globally and leading to real changes and innovations.” Professor Homer is Emeritus Professor of Midwifery at the University of Technology Sydney, an elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, and in 2021 was appointed Chair of the Council of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) through to June 2024. Altogether Australian researchers are the world leaders in 11 of the 250 (just over 4 per cent) fields of research analysed for The Australian’s 2023 Research magazine. The data also shows that Australian universities are the world-leading research institutions in 19 (nearly 8 per cent) of the 250 research fields. Read the feature in full in The Australian and find out more about Burnet’s work in maternal, child and adolescent health. Listen to Professor Homer on Episode 6 of Burnet’s How Science Matters podcast

  • Pregnancies don’t stop during a pandemic: how a lack of information about COVID-19 impacted pregnant Australians
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 19, 2023 at 4:10 上午

    Pregnant women wanted more timely information during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, new research has found. Health services were quickly trying to reorientate care and services to deal with the pandemic, but communication about the impact of COVID-19 on the maternity sector needed to be more proactive as pregnancies don’t stop during a pandemic. “We found that women wanted timely and targeted information about the impact of COVID-19 on their pregnancy and babies,” said Ms Cassandra Caddy, lead author on the paper published in the journal PLOS ONE last week. “A lack of information left some people feeling stressed, anxious and frustrated, and could contribute to more negative experiences during pregnancy and birth.” Using data from the TIGER C19 project – which tracks public opinion about COVID-19 in Australia on Reddit and Twitter – and interviews with 21 women across Australia who were pregnant during the period March 2020 to July 2021, the researchers found without timely information from formal sources like health services, pregnant women turned instead to informal sources like social media. Study participants described how pregnancy and parenting groups on social media platforms gave them a broader space in which to ask questions about COVID-19 and their pregnancy, and see that they weren’t alone. But it also risked exposing them to misinformation, particularly myths around the safety and potential side effects of COVID-19 vaccines. This reiterates the importance of health services being available to provide timely, clear, consistent and accurate advice, said Dr Alyce Wilson, Burnet Honorary Senior Research Fellow and senior author on the paper. “During a public health crisis, health services need to be proactive in providing targeted and accessible information,” Dr Wilson said. The study found that holding statements can be helpful in situations when things are changing very quickly, rather than a delayed message or not saying anything at all. “For example, when we were going into another lockdown, a health service saying, ‘we are going to let you know ASAP about how this will impact antenatal care’,” Dr Wilson said. “Or, ‘we are concerned about these things too, and we’re trying to find out the latest information for you’ instead of waiting to say anything until a plan was in place.” The researchers acknowledged that health services were under immense pressure in very unpredictable times, but felt there was a lot that could be learnt from the pandemic to improve communication strategies in future emergency situations. As well as information about the risks posed by COVID-19 for pregnant women and their babies, women described the need for practical information too, like where to find the maternity ward, through to where their partner could park the car when they were in labour. Opportunities to gather this practical information were limited by a decrease in face-to-face visits. “There was sort of that disconnect of like, ‘I’m still having a baby in the hospital and I actually have no idea where the labour ward is’,” Ms Caddy said. A lot of participants also wanted more opportunities for interactive and real-time discussions, rather than just watching pre-recorded videos in lieu of in-person antenatal classes. For example, participants described how it may be helpful to have one of the hospital’s midwives online for an hour a day so that people could jump on and ask them questions. Or a hospital staff member taking parents-to-be on a virtual tour of the hospital so they could be prepared mentally for where they were going to give birth. “We found that information is powerful in terms of making women feel more in control, less anxious, and more empowered,” Ms Caddy said. “This research provides practical suggestions from pregnant women themselves, about how we can best provide this information during public health crises like pandemics.”

  • China’s COVID cases may have hit 900 million. What’s headed our way?
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 17, 2023 at 1:00 下午

    With international travel to and from China resuming, it’s inevitable the virus will spread to other countries, Professor Mike Toole writes for The Conversation. Over the weekend, Peking University released a study that estimated 900 million Chinese had been infected with COVID up until January 11, representing 64 percent of the population. This compares with 43 percent of Australians testing positive, although antibody studies indicate a much higher proportion is likely. With Lunar New Year approaching, what will this massive wave mean for China and the rest of the world, including Australia? Numbers are not the whole story The Chinese government says there have been almost 60,000 deaths of people with COVID in hospitals in the past five weeks. However, under China’s narrow definition of COVID deaths, the government claims COVID caused only 5,500 of these deaths because they died of respiratory failure. Since early December, media reports have revealed a major surge of cases is overwhelming hospitals, funeral homes and crematoriums. Yet throughout December the government reported fewer than 10,000 daily cases and single-digit daily deaths. There have been no official reports since January 12. This lack of transparency led the director-general of the World Health Organization to plead for more timely information in order to make a thorough risk assessment of the situation on the ground. Do these new data help us understand the situation? Not really. The figure of 900 million cases compares to the official tally of 503,000 – a huge gap that could only be resolved by a systematic collection of COVID infection data from all provinces. The reported deaths all occurred in hospitals. There is no indication of how many people have died at home or in aged care facilities. Most cities and counties in China have a routine death certification system and this information should be available to the National Health Commission. If we accept both the Peking University case data and the government report on deaths (adding the previous 5,300 reported deaths), the cumulative case fatality ratio is 0.07 per 1,000 cases. This compares with 1.5 per 1,000 in Australia, which arguably has a better hospital system. So, the Chinese figure is not plausible; either cases have been overestimated or deaths have been underestimated. Even if China has not yet reached 900 million cases, lessons from other countries with similarly abandoned public health measures say it soon will. Covid cases in China touch 900 million - study - BBC News https://t.co/h8ZNyQiszJ— Equity & Health (@equitylist) January 15, 2023 Why has this surge happened? The surge has coincided with the abandonment of China’s Zero COVID policy and the removal of almost all preventive measures. But the underlying reason is low population immunity due to both a previous low rate of infections and a relatively low vaccination rate. While around 90 percent of the population has received two doses of the vaccine, only 58 percent have received a third dose booster. Vaccination rates among elderly Chinese are much lower. The government recently announced that around 30 percent of people aged 60 and over – roughly 80 million people – were not vaccinated and boosted. Among those 80 or older, it was closer to 60 percent. Vaccine hesitancy is very common among the elderly in China and Hong Kong. While two doses of the main Chinese vaccines – Sinopharm and Sinovac – have proved effective, they are far less effective as boosters than mRNA vaccines, which China refuses to import. Shortage of antivirals may increase death toll Given the vaccination rate is so low among the elderly, ready access to antiviral drugs is essential. However, the government did not stock up on these drugs and they are almost impossible to get except on the black market where a five-day course of Paxlovid costs at least US$2,300 (A$3,300). Negotiations with Pfizer, the manufacturer of Paxlovid, and Merck, which makes Lagevrio, have broken down because of China’s insistence on a lower price. Implications for the rest of the world, including Australia With international travel to and from China resuming, it’s inevitable the virus will spread to other countries. Many countries, including Australia, insist on travellers having a negative COVID test within 48 hours of departure. Others like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Italy also require tests on arrival. South Korea has reported 23 percent of travellers from China tested COVID-positive. In Taiwan it was 21 percent. The world may not see the full impact of the surge in China for another month or so. During the Lunar New Year period, an expected 2 billion trips will be made within China. This will transmit the virus to remote rural villages where there is minimal health care and no genomic sequencing facilities. So, the virus could infect an immunocompromised individual who may harbour the virus for months. This could result in a mutation that emerges as a more transmissible variant. So, the Australian policy of pre-departure testing makes sense but should also include the routine testing of wastewater from planes arriving from China. That said, a new variant originating in China may not arrive directly but via countries, such as Indonesia, that do not require pre-departure testing. Random testing of wastewater on all arriving international flights would be helpful. Most importantly, Australia needs to be prepared for a change in the dynamics of the pandemic either due to a new variant from China or the XBB.1.5 subvariant raging through the United States. And we are not coping well as it is. We need to improve our vaccination booster rate, make a serious investment in clean indoor air, use high-quality masks in poorly ventilated settings and provide easy access to COVID testing. Currently, because of our misplaced comfort with widespread transmission, these measures are flagging or absent. That’s at our peril.

  • Optimise Study deemed success in directly informing Victoria’s COVID-19 response
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 17, 2023 at 1:50 上午

    The success of the Optimise Study in shaping Victoria’s and Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic paves the way for similarly ambitious research projects in the future, a webinar wrapping up the project was told. Optimise was a large, multidisciplinary and multi-platform study, looking at what was happening with COVID-19, how it was directly and indirectly impacting Victorians, and rapidly reporting this back to government and the broader community, said Professor Margaret Hellard AM, Burnet Deputy Director and one of the principal investigators and co-chairs of the study. The study was led by Burnet Institute and Doherty Institute in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, Swinburne University, La Trobe University, Monash University and other community partners. The formal part of the study finished in September 2022 after two years’ of data collection focussing on priority populations impacted by COVID-19, including healthcare and aged care workers, regional Victorians, young people, people with pre-existing chronic illnesses, people working in other high risk environments such as factories and warehouses, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. To ensure the study was hearing voices from communities impacted by COVID-19, they recruited and trained bilingual data collectors from Arabic, Mandarin and Dinka-speaking communities to support recruitment and data collection in participants’ preferred languages. Through surveys, diaries and other qualitative research conducted by Optimise, the team was able to report on how the community was responding to the pandemic and the directions from government, and what people were saying about it. Optimise directly informed Victoria’s response to the pandemic, Professor Hellard said. “A critical component of what we were really doing is saying, well, what’s the evidence base to inform decisions? And how can we, on a certain level, keep things calm and reduce outrage?” For example, through collecting contact data over time – asking people to share sensitive information about who they were seeing on given days and what types of interactions they were having – the team was able to demonstrate the impact of lockdowns on people’s social contacts and movements. Image: Graph mapping contact data over time, with lockdowns shaded pink. People’s contacts declined dramatically during lockdowns, said Dr Alisa Pedrana, a chief investigator and working group lead for the study at Burnet. “We were able to show that people were really good at adopting policies and government directions, and using them to mitigate and reduce the impact of COVID-19,” Dr Pedrana said. The study also identified early on the potential of COVID fatigue among communities and how this might limit governments’ social licence to enact COVID-19 restrictions, Professor Hellard said. “The vast majority of people were wanting governments to provide support, leadership, guidance, to have some level of protection to themselves and their families. It wasn’t like they wanted everything to stop, but they recognised there needs to be a balance.” Just before Australia’s National Cabinet announced on 30 September 2022 that people would no longer need to isolate following a positive COVID-19 result, an Optimise report showed the vast majority of people surveyed were supportive of ongoing initiatives like this. “The middle, possibly more silent group of people, were actually still very interested in the government playing a role in the response, even though governments of all persuasions have sort of stepped back on this,” Professor Hellard said. “At this point of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re in this really interesting place of governments making decisions that are not fully driven by public health and scientific evidence, or are only when it suits them.” Over the two years, Optimise produced over 30 reports for the government and a key message throughout was that it’s important to consider how public health measures can be made more sustainable and acceptable to communities. For example, how we can have a cultural change around the wearing of masks as a COVID-19 prevention measure to protect our community, in the same way we’ve had a cultural change around the benefits of not smoking, she said. “When people say these things can’t happen, I look at big changes in public health over the year and say ‘yes, they can’. “While the Optimise study has come to a close, it’s critically important to think about how do we continue to do work like this, which is multi-platform, multidisciplinary, collaborative and across multiple institutes to answer complex problems.”

  • Lack of quality data an obstacle to reducing stillbirths in the Pacific, UN report reveals
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 16, 2023 at 11:20 下午

    A United Nations (UN) report has revealed 86 per cent of Pacific Island countries and territories have no quality data on stillbirths, complicating efforts to reduce the burden of stillbirth in the region. Never Forgotten: The situation of stillbirth around the globe, the second report on stillbirth by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME), was released last week. While the small island nations in the South Pacific region collectively contribute less than one per cent to the global burden of stillbirth, it’s important they don’t get forgotten, said Professor Caroline Homer AO, Burnet’s Co-Program Director for Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health. Many of these countries are able to count the number of deaths from stillbirth, Professor Homer said, but there is a lack of further inquiry into why the deaths occurred. “The inquiry’s important because then you can start unravelling, well, why did this baby die? And could this death have been prevented?” she said. Professor Homer is the senior author on a paper published in The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific last month, highlighting some of the issues around the health of mothers and newborns across these countries. She said another challenge was that the definition of stillbirth varies across the region, which makes comparing rates of stillbirth between different countries difficult even when data are available. “We’re not saying they all have to be defined the same, but we are highlighting that when you measure and record stillbirths, you may not be counting the same thing,” Professor Homer said. “And importantly, you don’t then know what interventions need to be put in place to try and reduce stillbirth.” For example, we know that stillbirths that occur earlier in pregnancy are often to do with the health of the mother or the baby and may not be preventable, whereas stillbirths that occur during labour are invariably related to poor care in labour – which we can do something about. “If you have really high rates of stillbirth actually occurring during labour, you know your quality of care is really problematic,” Professor Homer said. The UN report found in 2021, 53 per cent of stillbirths in the Pacific occurred during labour. In her recent paper, Professor Homer and colleagues looked at some of the ways different countries in the region are addressing these challenges. For example, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Kiribati are part of a project with Burnet to strengthen their midwifery education through reviewing and updating the curriculums, and working with these countries to implement them. “We know that midwives save lives,” Professor Homer said. “If you’ve got well-educated, well-supported midwives you’ll make a difference.” In Papua New Guinea where there are not enough midwives, the Safe Delivery App has been introduced to support the nurses and community healthcare workers who provide the majority of maternal and newborn care. Solomon Islands are doing some really good work around trying to investigate perinatal deaths better because they know that’s not routinely happening, Professor Homer said. “Understanding why mothers and babies have died means you can then put interventions in place and you can monitor whether those interventions make a difference,” she said. In Fiji, the focus has been on strengthening health services, bringing back community health workers and retired midwives after the disruptions caused by COVID-19, and trying to support their health workforce. “There are unique challenges across the region, and countries need to find their own solutions because they’re all different,” Professor Homer said. “But there are also lessons that different countries can learn from each other.” And better sharing of knowledge across the region can only help to turn this situation around, she said.

  • Access to DAAs linked to fall in hep C incidence
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 15, 2023 at 1:00 下午

    The importance of access to highly effective direct acting antiviral (DAA) treatments to help eliminate hepatitis C (HCV) among people living with HIV (PLHIV) has been demonstrated in new research led by Burnet Institute, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine. Subsidised in Australia through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, DAAs that cure up to 95 percent of patients have been available since 2013, prompting the World Health Organization to set ambitious targets to eliminate HCV as a public health threat. The collaborative multinational longitudinal study is the first formal evaluation of the impact of DAAs on HCV in more than 45,000 PLHIV and 250,000 person-years of follow-up in five countries, including Australia, between 2010 and 2019. It found that broad DAA access was associated with an approximate 50 percent reduction in HCV incidence, and that DAAs have a ‘treatment as prevention’ effect on primary HCV incidence. Treatment as prevention entails treating as many individuals as possible for their hepatitis C infection to prevent further transmission and reduce the number of new infections in the population. Study co-lead author, Burnet Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Daniela Van Santen said PLHIV are a key population for HCV elimination because they experience much higher rates of HCV infection and HCV-related mortality than HIV-negative individuals. “Our findings suggest that limited access to direct-acting antivirals is unlikely to substantially reduce hepatitis C incidence where HCV transmission is ongoing, even at low levels,” Dr van Santen said. “Broad access to direct acting antivirals, on the other hand, has an immediate and lasting ‘treatment as prevention’ effect on hepatitis C incidence among people living with HIV in the first years of broad DAA availability.” Co-lead author, Burnet Senior Research Officer, Dr Rachel Sacks-Davis said the new study is significant for filling a gap in empirical data on progress towards elimination and the role of DAAs in reducing the incidence of hepatitis C. “Continued monitoring is warranted, however, because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on incidence trends, and whether DAAs will continue to drive incidence reductions after 2019 is largely unknown,” Dr Sacks-Davis said. While modelling studies suggest global HCV elimination targets for 2030 are unlikely to be met, the new study shows that countries in the International Collaboration on Hepatitis C Elimination in HIV Cohorts – Australia, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland – are on track to meet WHO’s target to reduce the incidence of hepatitis C by 80 percent by 2030 compared to 2015 among people with HIV, based on surpassing the 30 percent incidence reduction progress target set by WHO in 2019. Around 58 million people are living with the hepatitis C virus globally, with an estimated 290,000 annual deaths.

  • COVID exploits our year of living dangerously
    by Burnet Institute on 1月 1, 2023 at 1:00 下午

    Professor Brendan Crabb and Professor Mike Toole outline the need for Australia to adopt an anti-transmission strategy to control COVID-19 in 2023, in an editorial commissioned by Nine Media. The arrival just over a year ago of the new and different-looking Omicron variant of COVID-19 brought much hope that this would usher in the end of the pandemic. That hope was based on two assumptions: that Omicron led to milder disease than earlier variants, and that its extraordinary capacity to spread fast would mean that the wider population would rapidly be exposed to this “milder” virus and further boost the immunity that 95 per cent of Australian adults already had through two doses of the vaccine. And so the “hybrid-immunity” strategy was born. The idea was that we could ease off public health measures that were perceived as restricting so much of society, and let widespread infection do most of the work. The prime minister at the time, Scott Morrison, encouraged us to “push through” the first Omicron wave, and Queensland’s chief health officer went as far as to say it was probably “necessary” for us to be infected. What followed was by far the worst public health disaster in Australia since World War II. There are no flags at half-mast, however, for the approximately 15,000 lives lost in 2022 (compared with just over 2000 in the previous two years), no national day of mourning, little empathising at the deep daily impact COVID-19 has had on millions of more “vulnerable” Australians, little concern over what chronic COVID-19 disease might do and is doing to the wider population. Since the election, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his advisers have simply said COVID-19 is no longer exceptional and should be treated like other respiratory infections. But a conservative estimate is that 500,000 Australians will suffer from long COVID, for which there is no specific treatment. A still uncertain yet clearly major chronic disease burden will cause severe hospital and healthcare disruption and have an impact on the workforce and school attendance. The gulf between COVID reality and the narrative from our leaders could hardly be wider. The current wave is almost as severe as any of the other three waves we faced last year, with more than 100,000 reported cases a week. While case numbers mean much less now that testing and reporting have dropped off so significantly, hospitalisation rates remain a reasonably reliable guide to the scale of the problem. Almost 4000 people are hospitalised with COVID-19, close to the peak of 5500 in the July-August wave. Emergency departments across the country are under strain. Why the disconnect between COVID reality and the message Australians receive from our leaders? Almost every Australian has been infected, many two or three times, and more than 17,000 lives have been lost to the pandemic. That number grows when so-called “excess deaths” - deaths more than expected based on the average in pre-pandemic years - are calculated. These are people who would have otherwise lived. In the blink of an eye, COVID has become one of the nation’s biggest killers, and because it is “additional”, life expectancy will start to decline, something that has not occurred for more than five decades. There may be no reprieve in 2023. The uncontrolled spread of the virus among China’s 1.4 billion people, with their poor vaccination rates and low natural immunity, creates the perfect setting for the emergence of new variants of unknown severity. Their arrival in Australia will be slowed by the government’s new testing measures for travellers from China, but they will reach Australia. And new variants, of course, can arise anywhere. The XBB.1.5 variant surging in the United States looks particularly concerning. Put simply, the virus is winning. So why the disconnect between COVID reality and the message Australians receive from our leaders? Perhaps it relates to the biggest myth of all, the freedom fallacy. This is the idea that to have an open, free society we can’t address COVID because we don’t want the “restrictions” that come with it. Equating controlling COVID to “lockdowns”, travel restrictions and school and business impositions continues to be a huge hurdle. But none of it is true. It is much clearer now what can be done to control COVID, and it is not restrictive. Higher booster vaccination coverage, investment in clean air, judicious high-quality mask wearing and widely available and encouraged testing are the tools we have available. The latter is especially important, not just so those who are positive know to stay away from others, but so they can get treated if they are eligible. Countries, such as Singapore, that apply these tools more effectively do better than Australia. So, what’s next? It is our view that the most important change Australia needs to make is a strategic one. One that is explicitly anti-transmission. But we realise that, as things stand, Australia is very unlikely to face COVID reality and to change tack. What will it take for us to see that our strategy, one that promotes infection, is wrong? A major new discovery about long COVID? Severe illness in a senior official or someone they love? A new variant of concern? Is there anything? Or are we consigned to acceptance of this toll, to living with COVID and all its consequences no matter what? We hope not. It doesn’t need to be this way.

  • Have a happy and healthy new year
    by Burnet Institute on 12月 22, 2022 at 1:00 上午

    We wish everyone a happy and healthy new year. With your help, we can continue improving the lives of people and communities in Australia and around the world. Burnet Melbourne’s office re-opens on 9 January 2023. This year, Burnet Institute has taken significant steps in support of First Nations People’s self-determination. We have launched our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and made a commitment in our 2030 strategy to help grow the next generation of research leaders in Indigenous health in Australia. All the best from everyone at Burnet.

 

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