Staying informed is more important than ever as the situation unfolds with Covid-19. Stay tuned here for our live updates, and be sure to let us know what your business is doing to face this unprecedented challenge.

Covid-19 News Updates

Victorian Government lifts work from home recommendations

Victorian Government lifts work from home recommendations

With fourth dose vaccinations now available, more antiviral options and active COVID case numbers dropping to 14,802 in Victoria from a peak of 71,428 in July, the state's government has announced a lifting of work from home recommendations.

The announcement yesterday came hard on the heels of a relaxation of COVID isolation periods nationally from seven to five days if a person tests negative to the virus on the fifth day - a policy that will be in place from 9 September.

Victorian Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas made the announcement encouraging more Victorians to safely return to the office, in a bid to deliver a boost to economies like the Melbourne CBD.

The work from home recommendations were in place to help reduce transmission and protect Victoria's health system during the winter, but now the advice from the Department of Health is that this pressure and transmission risk has reduced. 

However, employers and staff may still consider remote working arrangements that are most appropriate for their workplace and employees based on individual requirements. Businesses or organisations with on-site operations, including home-based businesses, need to have a COVIDSafe Plan which is regularly reviewed to ensure it’s as up to date as possible.

Following the winter peak, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has also requested and received public health advice to confirm that the pandemic declaration should remain until at least the existing date of 12 October, prior to which new advice will be requested.

All Victorians, no matter where they work, are also encouraged to make sure they are up to date with vaccinations, to wear a good quality face mask when in an indoor space and unable to socially distance and maintain good ventilation indoors.

"With spring now here and case numbers and hospitalisations declining significantly, more people may want to get back into the office – and back out to the cafes, shops and bars in busy professional precincts across the state," Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas said.

"Lifting the work from home recommendation is in line with current public health advice – we encourage employers and employees to have a conversation about what’s right for their individual needs."

The Property Council announced its "delight" at the decision and applauded the state government for acting to help small business recover in the Melbourne CBD, noting August office occupancy data had barely moved from the 38 per cent mark in July, which was the lowest in the country and represented a significant slump from the month before.

"Melbourne’s CBD has suffered more than any other, with last month’s occupancy figure of 38 per cent a massive 14 points behind Sydney which was the next highest. On our lowest occupancy days, we are seeing only 19 per cent of workers coming into the CBD on Mondays and Fridays," the council reported in a statement.

"The updated advice sends a much-needed signal of confidence to workers and businesses and will support increased CBD activity that will flow through to thousands of small businesses and their families. Victorian employers have a strong record of CovidSafe conduct and will do everything required to warmly welcome back workers to the office.

"We know that our office occupancy since COVID is the worst in the country, and the small businesses in our city now have some hope that Spring has sprung and this change in advice is the absolutely well timed."

This morning Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported 2,393 new cases of the virus and 17 lives lost, while there are currently 295 people hospitalised of whom five are on ventilators

COVID isolation time will be cut to five days, mask rules to be removed for domestic flights

COVID isolation time will be cut to five days, mask rules to be removed for domestic flights

National Cabinet has agreed to reduce isolation periods for COVID-positive cases from seven to five days following a positive test, while also doing away with the mandatory wearing of masks on domestic flights.

The new rules will come into effect on 9 September, with the condition that the reduced isolation times will only apply to people with no symptoms at the five-day mark.

It was a decision that also came with a caveat that seven-day isolation would remain for workers in high risk setting including aged care, disability care, and those providing care in the home.

Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment (PLDP) eligibility will be adjusted as well to reflect the changed isolation periods, effective on the same date.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the changes as a proportionate response at this point in the pandemic.

The National Cabinet met in Sydney yesterday to discuss these matters ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit, and heard from Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd with an update on the pandemic and strategies for combating potential COVID-19 waves.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) cautioned the reduced isolation periods would mean extra vigilance is now required from governments and the community to prevent infection from COVID-19, and called for the release of medical and health advice that guided the decision.

AMA President, Professor Steve Robson said the health advice needed to be made public as the decision would mean many people re-entering the community after five days’ isolation would potentially still be infectious and pass the virus on. 

“Throughout this pandemic the AMA has continuously said governments must base their decision-making on the health and medical advice and we need to see that advice and whether it supports today’s decision. If it doesn’t, the politicians need to explain themselves,” Professor Robson said.

"As many as 30 per cent of people are likely to still be infectious on days six and seven - even longer. When isolation rules change we need clear plans for protecting the vulnerable and careful monitoring, and if case numbers climb then the isolation rules should be re-evaluated."

He said it was now increasingly important that people take protective measures including getting tested if they develop COVID symptoms and remain in isolation while awaiting the results. 

"Additionally, everyone should be taking up the vaccine booster shots they’re eligible for and wear a mask wherever possible indoors when around other people," Robson said.

"We also need to keep appropriate distances from people in indoor settings and continue hand sanitising and good hygiene practices.

"The move from seven to five days isolation will mean it is more important than ever for governments to ensure plans are in place to monitor and respond to outbreaks to protect Australians in vulnerable settings – such as those in aged care facilities."

Robson urged all governments to take immediate and ongoing action to address the logjam in public hospitals, which are suffering under extreme demand and staff shortages, further exacerbated by the number of COVID positive cases presenting.

"Governments should also continue public health messaging on the importance of community vigilance around COVID testing and isolation requirements, community spread and vaccine uptake," he said.

There were 12,061 known new COVID-19 cases reported for Australia yesterday, making the country the ninth-highest in the world for new infections. There were 75 people who passed away due to the virus in Australia yesterday, which gives our country the sixth-highest daily COVID-19 death rate globally at present. 

There are currently more than 107,000 active cases of the virus in Australia.

Fourth COVID-19 shot approved for over-30s

Fourth COVID-19 shot approved for over-30s

An additional 7.4 million Australians will be entitled to receive another COVID-19 booster from next week after the Federal Government accepted recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to expand the eligibility for a fourth shot to over 30s.

The updated guidance follows an increase in the number of people falling ill from respiratory virus infections, including COVID-19, over the past few months, placing an increased strain on the Australian healthcare system, particularly hospitals.

A contributing factor to the upsurge of COVID-19 cases comes from the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which ATAGI says can partly escape the immune response generated by both prior vaccination and infection, with numbers expected to worsen over the coming months.

A first booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to increase the immune response to these new subvariants but wanes over several weeks; however, a winter dose (the second booster dose) is anticipated to boost this immune response.

“We are in the early stages of a third Omicron wave, and our Government is absolutely committed to making sure as many people as possible are protected with the vaccine,” the Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said.

“My message to everyone living in Australia aged 50 and over is to make sure you have the greatest protection against COVID-19 by having a fourth dose as soon as possible. If you are aged 30 to 49, and you want that extra protection, you can choose to get a fourth dose.

“The vaccine experts on the Australian Technical Advisory Group on immunisation have recommended it – and the Government has accepted this advice.”

ATAGI emphasised that people previously eligible for a winter booster dose remain at higher risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 and should look to receive the booster dose as soon as possible; these include:

  • all adults aged 65 years or older
  • residents of aged care or disability care facilities
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years or older
  • people who are severely immunocompromised (this will be their fifth dose)
  • people aged 16 years or older with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • people aged 16 years or older with a disability, significant or complex health needs, or multiple comorbidities, which increase the risk of a poor outcome.

Adults aged between 50 to 64 years old are now recommended to receive a COVID-19 winter booster dose. Those aged between 30 to 49 are also now eligible, although the benefit for people in this group is less certain.

There was no support for making the fourth dose available to healthy adults under the age of 30 as it was not clear whether the benefits outweighed the risks in this population group.

ATAGI has also recommended that the interval between vaccine doses, or prior infection (whichever comes later), be reduced from four months to three months to provide earlier additional protection.

Individuals who have previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2, irrespective of which variant it may have been, should continue to receive recommended vaccine doses after three months, as prior infection alone will not provide sufficient protection against severe disease.

Vaccination, in addition to infection, as compared with prior infection alone, currently offers the best available protection against reinfection.

ATAGI acknowledges that increasing the uptake of fourth doses in the most at-risk population groups is anticipated to play a limited but important role in taking pressure off Australia’s health care system by reducing the risk of severe outcomes in individuals.

The group advises that other public health and social measures, in addition to vaccination, will have the most significant impact against the surge in Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 infections.  

This includes increased use of masks and expanding the use of antiviral treatment in people diagnosed with COVID-19, including those aged 50 years and above.

“My other message is that oral antiviral treatments can be life-saving for older people or people with chronic health conditions who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Butler added.

“It is vital a person starts the five-day oral treatment course as soon as possible after symptoms first appear.

“If you are at higher risk of severe illness, plan ahead. Speak to your doctor now about oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.”

Almost 14 million people in Australia aged 16 and over have received three or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, take-up of the vaccine's first and winter booster doses are considered suboptimal according to ATAGI, with only 70.6 per cent and 59.5 per cent of the respective eligible populations having completed initial doses.

New Zealand scraps pre-departure COVID-19 tests

New Zealand scraps pre-departure COVID-19 tests

Business travel and holidays to New Zealand are set to become less of a hassle with the announcement passengers will no longer need a COVID-19 pre-departure test to enter the country as of Tuesday, 21 June. 

In the hope of enticing more tourists into the nation as the ski season kicks off, unvaccinated travellers will also be allowed to enter without quarantining. 

New Zealand COVID-19 Minister Ayesha Verrall confirmed the availability and cost of getting a test had increasingly become a barrier for people travelling to the nation.

"I'm advised the challenges pre-departure tests pose to visitors are now no longer outweighed by the public health benefits," she said. 

"Around 90 per cent of international arrivals undertake their required testing once they are in the country, with only a 2-3 per cent positivity rate. So we don't anticipate a significant increase in border cases once the requirement is lifted."

While more than 387,000 travellers arrived since the nation reopened its borders in February, the number of COVID-19 cases has slowly declined in New Zealand. 

However, the government is keeping a set of surveillance measures in place to detect new variants of COVID-19.

Travellers will still be required to self-test using a rapid antigen test (RAT) within the first 24 hours of arrival and again on day five or six. If the result of either test is positive, the person must get a PCR test.

Additionally, any traveller with COVID-19-like symptoms (e.g. hayfever) could be asked to provide a negative COVID test or a certificate from a health professional before boarding a flight.

The maximum penalty for breaching the Air Border Order’s vaccination requirements will be reduced from $4,000 to $1,000.

Dr Verrall said New Zealand was ready to relax the pre-departure testing requirement ahead of the planned 31 July reopening to all visa categories.

"We've taken a careful and staged approach to reopening our borders to ensure we aren't overwhelmed with an influx of COVID-19 cases," she said.

"Our strategy has worked, and as a result, it's safe to lift pre-departure test requirements much sooner than planned."

More than 95 per cent of eligible New Zealanders aged 12 or over are double-vaccinated. The nation's COVID-19 death toll currently stands at 1,359.

Two Melbourne-made COVID-19 vaccines to launch Phase 1 trials

Two Melbourne-made COVID-19 vaccines to launch Phase 1 trials

Two COVID-19 vaccine candidates created by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences are moving into the Phase 1 clinical trial stage, with both projects looking for healthy volunteers.

The new vaccine candidates are distinct from existing vaccines in use globally because they focus on the immune response on the tip of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, called the receptor binding domain (RBD).

The RBD enables the virus to enter and infect cells in the body, eliciting more than 90 per cent of neutralising antibodies which can block the virus following SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The two candidates are:

  • RBD protein vaccine – it uses part of the virus protein, rather than genetic material or another virus, to elicit an immune response.
  • RBD mRNA vaccine – represents the virus genetic sequence that codes for the tip of the spike, which will lead to the production of the RBD protein.

According to the Doherty Institute, both candidates are ‘proof-of-principle’ variant vaccines that present the Beta variant to the immune system - the variant of concern back when the vaccines were being designed.

This is important at this point in the pandemic, as the Beta variant has two of the same key RBD mutations as the Omicron variants currently spreading through Australia (BA.1 and BA.2), so the scientists behind the candidates hope they may also improve immunity to Omicron.

University of Melbourne Professor Terry Nolan, head of the Vaccine and Immunisation Research Group at the Doherty Institute, will lead the Phase 1 trial and is recruiting 114 volunteers to participate.

“This trial will assess the safety and efficacy of a single dose of these vaccines as a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, therefore participants must have had their third dose at least three months prior to the study commencing,” Professor Nolan said.

“People who have been infected with COVID-19 are also eligible provided they had their infection at least three months prior, and have had their third vaccine dose.

“What’s also unique about this gold standard, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial is that it will be the first time a side-by-side comparison will be undertaken of two new COVID-19 vaccine platforms.”

Dr Georgia Deliyannis from the University of Melbourne performed most of the RBD protein vaccine experiments at the Doherty Institute, and said in pre-clinical trials the vaccine induced high levels of RBD-specific antibodies, including high neutralising antibodies following two doses.

“Immunity induced by the RBD protein vaccine protects against virus challenge in a mouse model of SARS-CoV-2 infection, even 100 days following the boost,” Dr Deliyannis said.

“As well as inducing strong neutralising antibody immunity to the Beta variant in mice, it also retains its potential to neutralise the original ancestral strain, and preliminary in-lab studies have demonstrated neutralising activity against other variants including Delta and Omicron.”

Doherty Institute director Professor Sharon Lewin said the need for next generation vaccines using innovative technology remains high, especially as new variants continue to emerge.

“Both vaccines are efficient to produce and can be rapidly modified to incorporate distinct or multiple RBD mutations arising in future variants,” said Professor Lewin.

“In addition, Australia needs the ability to manufacture its own vaccines to ensure our own supply should future global shortages occur, and to contribute to the global need for COVID-19 vaccines.”

Updated at 11.24am AEDT on 25 March 2022.

WA to ease COVID restrictions as ICU numbers remain lower than predicted

WA to ease COVID restrictions as ICU numbers remain lower than predicted

The Western Australian government will ease its Level 2 restrictions from next Thursday, 31 March, with the announcement coinciding with a record 8,616 new COVID-19 cases across the state.

The Level 2 public health and social measures, which were introduced on 3 March, will be relaxed to allow up to 30 people to gather indoors at home, the size of private outdoor gatherings to increased to 200, and Optus Stadium’s capacity to increase from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.  

Masks will remain mandatory indoors for all adults and schoolchildren in years three and above. However, mandatory check-ins will be abolished except for venues that carry proof of vaccination requirements.

"Western Australia's soft landing through the Omicron wave is on track - with COVID-19 hospitalisations and ICU admissions lower than expected thanks to our world-leading vaccination rate,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

"Given this, we can now ease most Level 2 measures back to modified Level 1 measures after only four weeks - just as we had planned.

"WA has been fortunate enough to mitigate the need to move towards more severe and sustained long-term restrictions seen elsewhere in the country - like working from home mandates and implementing a broader four square metre rule, which would have been far worse for WA jobs and businesses.”

COVID-safe settings in workplaces remain, and the two square-metre capacity rule will stay in place for venues such as hospitality, galleries, museums, places of worship, hairdressers and beauty salons.

However, WA businesses can look forward to capacity limits at nightclubs and hospitality venues increasing to 500 and will rejoice at their removal from 14 April.  

“There is no doubt that some businesses have done it tough while Level 2 measures have been in place,” McGowan said.

"My Government is supporting those businesses most impacted through our recent support packages worth more than $420 million, with more than $1.7 billion committed to businesses since the beginning of the pandemic.

"I thank all Western Australians for doing the right thing. We have only got to this position by doing what is required, when required, and now we can all benefit. As we continue through the Omicron wave, we will continue to review and adapt measures as necessary."

The relaxing of the restrictions is based on the latest health advice, but some rules remain unchanged. A limit of two visitors per day to residential aged care and disability facilities will be kept. There will also be no change to essential visitors only being allowed into hospitals.

Other changes include increased capacity for venues like cinemas and theatres to 75 per cent, check-ins will be scrapped for lower-risk sites like supermarkets and retail outlets, and the Crown casino will move to a two square metre rule.

"These new Level 1 measures strike the right balance between reducing the spread of Omicron and minimising the impact on businesses. Importantly, we are retaining stronger PHSMs for higher-risk settings, including hospitals and residential aged and disability care, to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are appropriately protected,” WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said.

"Thank you to all those who continue to get tested and vaccinated, including a third dose when eligible - you are doing your bit to protect those in the community who might become more seriously unwell from COVID-19.

"Our very high vaccination rates have kept hospitalisations and ICU admissions down and enabled us to keep our restrictions modest and short-term."

WA announced 3,848 positive PCR tests and 4,768 RAT tests on 24 March, which brings the total number of active cases to 42,988 across the state. There are 209 people in hospital with COVID, with nine of those people currently in ICU.

There were seven deaths recorded across WA yesterday, but six died earlier this year. Almost three-quarters of the WA population over the age of 16 have received their third vaccine.

Updated at 7:30 am AWST on 25 March 2022.

100 million doses per year: Moderna to construct mRNA manufacturing facility in Melbourne

100 million doses per year: Moderna to construct mRNA manufacturing facility in Melbourne

Up to 100 million Australian-made mRNA vaccines will be produced in Melbourne from 2024 once Moderna’s new manufacturing centre is constructed.

Announced today, the multi-billion dollar landmark agreement between the Federal Government, Moderna and the Victorian Government means the biotech will give Australia the sovereign manufacturing capability to produce COVID-19 vaccines, and any other new and innovative respiratory mRNA inoculations.

The Federal Government also hopes the partnership will make Australia a regional hub for mRNA technology development and production, bolstering the local biotechnology sector in the process.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the agreement, which is expected to create “hundreds” of manufacturing jobs too, was an important milestone in securing Australia’s future pandemic preparedness.

“This is an Australian made shot in the arm that will protect Australians from future pandemics and secure a new manufacturing capability right here on our shores,” the Prime Minister said.

“This landmark agreement means that Australia can make up to 100 million world-leading mRNA doses every year, which can protect against evolving strains of COVID-19 or new respiratory diseases that emerge into the future.

“This will be the first mRNA production facility in the Southern Hemisphere, and will ensure Australians have quick and easy access to these lifesaving vaccines.”

The Moderna facility is expected to support about 500 jobs during construction, plus hundreds of indirect jobs, with up to 200 highly skilled staff to work at the facility once it's up and running in 2024.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said securing a sovereign on-shore mRNA technology was critical and would soon be a reality.

“This agreement and strategic partnership with Moderna and the Victorian Government is crucial insurance for the health of the Australian population,” Minister Hunt said.

“It means Australians will have access to the most cutting-edge vaccination technology available both now and into the future.”

Updated at 10.30am AEDT on 24 March 2022.

“We're ready to welcome the world back”: NZ reopening to vaccinated Aussies on 12 April

“We're ready to welcome the world back”: NZ reopening to vaccinated Aussies on 12 April

Australian tourists will be welcomed into New Zealand without having to undergo any period of isolation from 11.59pm on 12 April, 2022 as our neighbouring nation brings forward the easing of border restrictions.

Initially pencilled in for July, the eased restrictions will allow all vaccinated Australians to enter New Zealand as long as they complete a pre-departure COVID-19 test (be it a PCR or RAT), as well as another test on arrival and a third on day five.

“We’re ready to welcome the world back,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“We are a safe place to visit and New Zealand will be ready with open arms.”

The PM also announced that from 11.59pm on 1 May, 2022 travellers from visa waiver countries and those with valid visitor visas will also be permitted to enter New Zealand.

Ardern noted the eased border restrictions will be a boon for the local tourism industry, especially once Australians are allowed in, considering they historically made up 40 per cent of all international arrivals.

“They will be able to arrive in time for the Australian school holidays and provide a particular boost for the upcoming winter ski season,” Ardern said.

“Obviously we know that travel numbers will be below 2019 - it will take time to rebuild.”

The announcement comes after New Zealand already opened its borders to returning nationals earlier this year and those on critical worker visas without isolation earlier this week.

It was also made in the midst of a major spike in COVID-19 numbers for New Zealand, with the country reporting more than 21,000 new daily cases as of its last update, and no deaths reported yesterday.

“Ultimately, the most poignant moments of reopening to the world so far has surely been those when family and friends are reunited,” the PM said.

“I’m proud that New Zealand is a country able in this moment of time to provide a safe place for our tourists to return to.”

Updated at 10.38am AEDT on 16 March 2022.

COVID pandemic 2nd anniversary: 3 things we got wrong, and 3 things to watch out for

COVID pandemic 2nd anniversary: 3 things we got wrong, and 3 things to watch out for

Exactly two years ago, on March 11 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

This was two months after there were reports of a mystery virus infecting people in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China. Early reports said the virus didn’t appear to be readily spread by humans.

Well, the SARS-CoV-2 virus could indeed be spread by humans. It quickly travelled around the world, and has so far infected more than 450 million people.

COVID-19, the disease it causes, has to date caused more than six million deaths, making it one of the most deadly pandemics in history.

In those early days we knew very little about the virus and COVID.

Here are three things we realised were wrong as the pandemic wore on, and three things we need to keep a close eye on as we approach the endemic phase, where the virus continues to circulate in the population at relatively stable levels.

1. Many were worried we wouldn’t get a vaccine

In early 2020 we didn’t know whether a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 was possible.

There had been previous attempts to develop vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), two similar coronaviruses that also caused outbreaks this century. A few of these vaccines entered clinical trials, but none were approved.

Before COVID, the fastest developed vaccine was for mumps which took four years.

But in under 12 months, Pfizer/BioNTech developed a successful vaccine. Now we have 12 vaccines approved for full use in different parts of the world, 19 for emergency use, and more than 100 still in the clinical trial stages.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have also commenced clinical trials of an Omicron-specific vaccine.

There are also several research groups around the world developing vaccines aiming to work against all SARS-CoV-2 variants.

2. Some thought we didn’t need face masks

In the early days, without a vaccine, to reduce transmission we had to rely on individual preventative measures such as hand hygiene, social distancing and face masks.

Although there was widespread acceptance hand washing and social distancing protected against infection, face masks were much more controversial.

Before April 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised against the wearing of face masks by the public. There were apparently two reasons for this.

First, the CDC was afraid there wasn’t a sufficient supply of surgical and N95 masks, which were essential in high-risk settings.

Second, it was thought at the time asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people could not transmit the virus (we now know they can).

However, on April 3 2020, the CDC changed its advice and recommended the general public wear multi-layered cloth face masks.

This has now been updated to wearing a well-fitting mask that is consistently worn.

With the advent of Omicron, some experts say cloth face masks aren’t up to the task and people should at least wear surgical masks, or even better respirator masks like a P2, KN95 or N95.

3. We worried a lot about surface transmission

In the early days of the pandemic, it was thought contaminated surfaces were a major means of COVID transmission.

People wore gloves when going to the supermarket (some still do), and washed food packages once they got home.

However, we now know the virus is spread primarily through aerosol and droplet transmission.

When a person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing mucous, saliva, water and virus particles can land on other people or drop onto surfaces.

Larger droplets tend not to travel very far and fall quickly.

Smaller droplets called aerosols, can stay airborne for an extended period of time before settling.

Scientists now believe transmission through touching contaminated surfaces is quite rare.

3 things to watch out for

There are three key issues we need to be aware of as COVID slowly becomes endemic.

1. New variants

There’s still the potential for new and more severe variants to hit us. One of the main reasons for this is the low rates of vaccination in many developing countries. The more the virus replicates in unvaccinated populations, the greater the chance of mutations and variants.

Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna either manufacture the vaccine in their own facilities, or licence the right to produce the vaccine in other countries.

This puts it out of reach financially for most developing countries, who then have to rely on the COVAX initiative for supplies. COVAX is a worldwide facility funded by developed countries and donor organisations to purchase vaccines to be distributed to developing countries.

Researchers at the Texas Children’s Hospital’s Center for Vaccine Development have unveiled a protein-based vaccine called Corbevax. It uses established and easy-to-manufacture technology, and is being provided patent-free to developing countries. It has now received emergency use authorisation in India.

It has over 80% efficacy against symptomatic disease, though this is against the no-longer dominant Delta variant. Trials are currently under way to determine its efficacy against Omicron.

If approved, this should greatly help lift vaccination rates in many developing countries.

2. Waning immunity

Many older and vulnerable people had their third dose in November or December last year, with their immunity now waning fast.

We need to provide a fourth vaccine dose as soon as possible to the elderly and vulnerable.

3. Long COVID

Politicians are ignoring long COVID.

With thousands of cases a day in Australia, over the next year we will be getting a tsunami of people suffering from long-term health problems.

So, we simply cannot ignore high case numbers and would be wise to retain at least some public health measures (for example, face mask mandates) in order to bring case numbers down.

Some good news is that Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund will be funding research into long COVID this year.

The beginning of the end

State and territory governments are now dismantling public health measures such as the use of QR codes, social distancing measures and face mask mandates.

Their thinking is that although case numbers are still quite high, hospitalisations are going down – and of course, elections are in sight. Chief public health officers, who used to give daily briefings, are now rarely seen.

“Give us our freedom back” is now a commonly heard cry, even if the inevitable consequence means this is at the expense of elderly and vulnerable people.

In a nutshell, many believe we have moved already from epidemic to endemic status.

As much as we all wish for this to be over and life to get back to normal, we aren’t quite there yet.

But I think with better vaccines and improved treatments on the way, it’s at least the beginning of the end.The Conversation

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SA scraps rules on dancing, density requirements

SA scraps rules on dancing, density requirements

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has announced South Australians will be able to dance and sing freely this weekend, in addition to seeing all density restrictions scrapped.

The current 50-person cap on home gathering will also be removed when restrictions ease on 12:01am, 12 March.

“It is good to be able to stand here and provide this much sought-after relief to a wide range of activities right across SA - including hospitality – and we certainly understand the pressures sectors have been under because of the restrictions,” Stevens said.

QR codes will also no longer be required for recreational transport, auctions and inspections, public transport, taxis, rideshare and education facilities.

Some people with COVID-19 will be directed to isolate for seven days instead of 10, with SA Health to make “direct contact” with positive cases to advise them of their quarantine requirements over the coming days.

The easing of restrictions comes despite SA recording 2,590 cases and four deaths in the latest 24-hour reporting period.  

There are currently 91 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 11 in ICU and two requiring a ventilator.

There were 21,514 active cases in the state as of yesterday – the highest number reported since 29 January.

“We’ve always expected we’d see fluctuations in the daily case numbers,” Stevens said.

"The critical indicator for us is the number of people being hospitalised on a daily basis and that has reduced substantially and remains low and consistent.

"That tells us that while people may be contracting COVID-19 they are not becoming terribly sick with the virus, requiring that intensive medical support.

The state’s COVID-Ready committee will meet next week to determine whether any changes will be made for close contacts in quarantine or the mask-wearing mandate for indoor public settings.   

Updated at 10.15am AEDT on 11 March 2022.