The decision Australia needs to make on how we end the coronavirus epidemic

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By: Charis Chang

Australia appears to have brought coronavirus infections under control but is now faced with a disturbing choice on how to end the epidemic.

While some have been reluctant to claim victory against COVID-19 just yet as the true extent of community transmissions is not known, University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely believes Australia does have the infection under control and has bought itself time to consider what the next steps should be.

In his opinion, Australia has three choices and each of these come with potentially serious consequences.

In order for Australian life to return to normal, there are only two ways that the virus can be defeated, either a vaccine is found or Australia develops “herd immunity” which means about 60 per cent of the population, or 15 million people, need to be infected.

So we can either wait it out for up to 18 months and hope the vaccine is developed quickly, or we can slowly infect Australians, knowing that some people will die.

“This is going to be brutal,” Prof Blakely said of the decision facing Australians.

While there are some “grey areas” between the options where hybrid solutions could be implemented, Prof Blakely believes there are only three main options and all of them could have serious implications for people’s lives.

“We need to be able to talk about this calmly and rationally,” he said.

“It’s a wicked choice we need to make. COVID-19 has the ‘dread factor’. It strikes older people down and they die, and occasionally it also strikes young people down.”

RELATED: Latest coronavirus updates

RELATED: Coronavirus death toll in Australia rises to 41

Prof Blakely believes it’s time for a public discussion on the path Australia should be taking and this should involve not just politicians but also epidemiologists, economists, philosophers and ethicists.

“Now that we have really good suppression of the virus, we have the opportunity for discussion and to work our way through which option we want to take,” Prof Blakely said.

While there has been little parliamentary oversight of the Morrison Government’s actions so far because of the speed at which it’s needed to act, Prof Blakely believes this should now be restored and over the next two to three weeks, the government should also engage the community through things like citizen juries, to make a decision.

Today, the Morrison Government will release its epidemic modelling and Prof Blakely believes this will also shed light on the options and the best way forward.

“Australia is truly the Lucky Country … we have created a window for discussion as we are actually now in control of the epidemic,” he said.

“Whatever we do, we should do it as a social collective, and make a decision on how we respond.

“This is the most important decision Australia’s had to make since World War II.”

OPTION 1: ELIMINATE THE VIRUS

Prof Blakely is sceptical about whether this can still be done, however, he doesn’t want to rule it out yet. Government modelling should shed light on whether it’s still possible.

The aim would be to eliminate the virus from Australia but this would involve even stricter lockdowns being enforced for between six weeks to three months.

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