‘Vaccines are not the only answer’: Experts call for more public health measures to curb Omicron | Health

The epidemiologist, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, spent the last week attending meetings of the World Health Organization. [WHO] infection prevention and control group, and said: “I don’t know of any epidemic leader who would not support wearing masks at a minimum” in cities where Covid-19 cases are on the rise.

“WHO keeps reminding the world that vaccines are not the only answer because this virus keeps changing,” McLaws said. “Vaccines certainly reduce the risk of death and serious infection. But you need other measures, like physical distancing and masks. “

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet continued to resist further measures to mitigate the spread of Omicron on Monday, saying; “The pandemic is not going to go away. We have to learn to live by his side, ”while excluding mask warrants and additional restrictions for the time being. “The government cannot do everything,” he said. Like Perrottet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said booster vaccines are essential for living with the virus, a view echoed by Dr Nick Coatsworth, one of Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officers, on Twitter.

But most experts in virology, infectious diseases and epidemiology agree that it’s clear that public health measures beyond vaccines are needed, especially as Omicron is spreading rapidly. There is, however, some disagreement as to whether governments should impose these additional measures and which measures would be most useful to impose.

In a common comment, experts from Australia’s leading infectious disease research institutions including John Kaldor, Professor of Epidemiology at the Kirby Institute in New South Wales, the Director of the Doherty Institute, Professor Sharon Lewin and Professor Greg Dore, Medical Specialist infectious disease and epidemiologist, all agreed that while booster vaccinations will be essential, some restrictions are necessary.

They called for the return of indoor mask mandates in New South Wales (Victoria already requires masks for indoor retail) and the reintroduction of density limits for indoor sites at Christmas. These measures are expected to last for at least a few weeks, they wrote, until more information about the severity of Omicron and its ability to evade vaccines is gathered.

Kaldor said that throughout the pandemic to date, he has broadly supported the public health measures implemented by the NSW government.

“This is the first time that I have felt that there is a discrepancy between my perception of what is needed to manage public health and clinical resources in the coming weeks, and what seems to be actually happening.

“This discrepancy is because we have this new variant and there are potential gaps in knowledge about it. We understand people want to wait until we have more data on Omicron. But we can put up barriers now to make sure we don’t lose the game in the meantime. “

“To demand things is not only to say; “You will be fined if you don’t.” It is about saying: “As a government, we have listened to the experts and have come to the conclusion that we must do it together,” “he said.

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McLaws agreed, saying; “There should be a partnership between the public and the government to prevent the pandemic from continuing.”

“And by asking people to make up their own minds about what they’re doing, they could make up their own minds from an unscientific point of view.”

Infectious disease physician and microbiologist Professor Peter Collignon said it would be more helpful for governments to impose density limits rather than masks. It might be worth setting up limits at crowded indoor venues given the spread of close contact workouts, otherwise restrictions can be implemented and then revoked periodically for months, especially if other variations emerge.

“My point is that until we really know about this, which may take another year or two, we should just implement density limits, and those should probably still be in effect. up until the end of our next winter. “

Professor Catherine Bennett, president of epidemiology at Deakin University, said she believes people should wear masks indoors. But she is less certain whether the mandate will be effective. “We need people to wear masks, but if compliance is already high without a warrant and masks are already highly recommended, I’m not sure there is enough evidence that a warrant will make a difference.” , she said. “I know that here in Melbourne not everyone wears a mask, even with a warrant. Maybe we need to look at the overall public health messages, if the mandates don’t always work anyway. “

Bennett also believes QR code check-in should be maintained at stores and other locations in NSW, even if they are not used by contact tracers, as they remind people where they’ve been.

“People may not have to use them because the health service no longer tracks casual contact unless it is an extreme situation, in which case they use other means of contact tracing,” Bennett said.

On Twitter, the president of the Australian Medical Association [AMA]Dr Omar Khorshid said that “Even IF Omicron turns out mild in those vaccinated, an explosion of cases will have a devastating effect on health care.” This includes general practitioners who handle community cases, discharge of exposed workers and an unknown proportion of cases that will need to be treated in hospital, Khorshid wrote.

Coatsworth responded to Khorshid by saying; “This embraces the ‘a small percentage of a huge number is still a large number’ fallacy that has swept through # covid19aus and #auspol since the emergence of #omicron.

“Adapt the policies,” he wrote. “Don’t put as many staff on leave as we did before the vaccination.” He said masks should only be mandatory if hospital cases increase, and booster vaccines will be essential. “Recognizing that control measures are less effective for Omicron, it is now about strengthening the health system. “

Kaldor said he agreed with Coatsworth that boosters are essential, but that “we don’t know what the small percentage of that large number is at this point.”

“If this variant escapes vaccines and even if it has a slightly reduced effectiveness in preventing serious disease, and the overall number of cases is high, this potentially results in a very great pressure on our health systems.”

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