ANALYSIS

Scott Morrison policy of 'pushing through' pandemic gets support from experts

There is hope - sort of.

As the Prime Minister suggests we need to "push through" the pandemic, two of the country's most authoritative experts say the worst may well be over in less than three months.

One used the word "optimism". Another said she was "cautiously optimistic".

The pandemic may be burning itself out.

Ten-year-old June Tattam gets a COVID vaccine. Picture: Karleen Minney

Ten-year-old June Tattam gets a COVID vaccine. Picture: Karleen Minney

But there will still be pain and anxiety on the way, not to mention intense pressure on the health system.

One-third to half of the population of the ACT, NSW and Victoria may well be infected, according to Professor Tony Blakely, director of the population interventions unit at the University of Melbourne.

But he thinks the levels of immunity from those infections plus the vaccines should see the Omicron and Delta variants fade away.

And the coronavirus may be running out of new combinations to hit us hard with worse new variants.

"This thing is going to pass quickly," he told this paper.

On this reading, the prime minister's policy of "pushing through" may well come to be seen as the right course.

I'm hopeful that 2022 will be the year of the decline of the pandemic.

Professor Robert Booy, University of Sydney

Governments had a fork in the road, according to Professor Blakely. They could either go the Western Australia and New Zealand route of trying to shut the pandemic out and then waiting for vaccines to ride to the rescue, or they could open up and build immunity from infection as well.

Scott Morrison has taken the second route, and the governments of the ACT, Victoria and NSW are going with him.

But what comes next?

There are no certainties. There may well be a new variant.

But the experts say that there are hopeful factors: firstly, immunity derived from Delta and Omicron may also be effective against their successors, and, secondly, the devious coronavirus may be running out of variants to get past our defences.

No pandemic has lasted more than two or three years, according to Professor Robert Booy of the University of Sydney. "We've had a new variant every six months but the virus has only so many mutations that it can go through, and that would suggest it would have few left to explore," Professor Booy said.

On top of that, this pandemic may run its course even faster than previous ones because fast travel means viruses spread more quickly than they used to.

In 1919, it took six weeks to get from Europe to Australia by steam ship - so the flu virus took six weeks to cover the distance. Contrast that with today's 24-hour flight.

Professor Booy thinks that Delta is already on the way out and Omicron is past its peak.

"I'm hopeful that 2022 will be the year of the decline of the pandemic," he said.

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But pressures remain

Hospitalisations and deaths lag behind the number of infections by two to three weeks, according to Professor Booy, so what may well be the current (or imminent) peak in daily cases won't see an easing of pressure on hospitals immediately.

And the experts think the new "normality" will still involve masks and social distancing and ventilating buildings, plus vaccinations, rapid testing and boosters

But they are hopeful that the worst is behind us. More than hopeful - optimistic, even.

"We probably are in a good position to say that we are through this transition towards having a 'normal' life," Professor Catherine Bennett of Deakin University said.

She said she was "cautiously optimistic".

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This story Is the pandemic burning itself out? Experts suggest it could be first appeared on The Canberra Times.