More than 100 researchers from Australia's Group of Eight (Go8) Universities have prepared a report outlining two possible approaches to recovery from COVID-19.
The two options proposed are elimination or controlled adaption, both of which have been assessed by the taskforce in their "Roadmap to Recovery" report that has was presented to the Federal Government on 27 April.
Taskforce co-chair Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean of Medicine at the University of Melbourne, says the report makes recommendations not just for social distancing options, but for the ethical framework, the pre-requisites for long-term success and the imperatives in implementation
"The report differs from the hundreds of articles and opinion pieces on COVID-19 because it specifies the evidence on which it is based, and it was produced by researchers who are experts and leaders in their area, and it engaged the broadest range of disciplines from mathematicians, to virologists, to philosophers," says Professor Kapur.
The taskforce was also co-chaired by Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson, who says the report's focus is vitally dual, focusing both on the nation's health and the economy.
"Understanding that the Government had already ruled out the so-called 'let it rip' herd immunity option, our researchers concluded, and clearly set out, that there were two viable options to move Australia forward," says Thomson.
"We hope that what we have provided will now greatly assist the Government as it wrestles to work through how best to take Australia forward with this decision due in mid-May.
"It is not the Go8's job to set policy. Our role is to ensure Government receives the best advice available. The complex and difficult role of setting policy belongs to Government."
The two different strategies put forward call for different levels of community acceptance and understanding, and can be summarised by the following points:
- Continuation of the lock-down further than mid-May in certain jurisdictions, likely by another 30 days while waiting for cases from local sources to fall to zero and remain at that level for a few weeks;
- More extensive testing and contract tracing;
- Advantage of this approach is there are likely to be fewer infections, hospitalisations and deaths; and
It is likely to create a higher psychological sense of safety allowing for more vigorous economic
- Gradual relaxation of restrictions and adaptive relaxation of social distancing as early as mid-May;
- Minimal level of ongoing infections that can be managed within the health system;
- There is a risk infection could spike and lead to surges, requiring the re-imposition of strict social distancing measures as has occurred in Singapore; and
- The difficulty of predicting how confident the public will feel when restrictions are lifted may impact the resumption of economic and social life.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says he is pleased so many Go8 experts have worked on the report, which he notes will help and guide inform decision-making.
"I realise that many of you are giving up weekends and holidays to make this happen. Australia needs its best minds to work together for the benefit of all Australians now," says Hunt.
"I look forward to your outputs in the next two weeks. As you would imagine the Government is also doing deep thinking and policy work on not just the process of flattening the curve of infections but also the road out.
"Your work will both help inform, guide and where necessary challenge our ongoing work, and for that I am deeply thankful."
Updated at 10:10am AEST on 29 April 2020.
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