Don’t rush to relax

social distancing covid coronavirus

Doctors have warned the National Cabinet not to rush to lift COVID-19 restrictions for safety’s sake

AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said today that the National Cabinet should plan for cautious, phased, and gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions when it meets this Friday.

“The National Cabinet must not feel pressured to rush lifting restrictions,” Dr Bartone said.

“Australia’s success in avoiding the worst of COVID-19 is because health concerns have been prioritised by National Cabinet, and decisions have been based on expert medical advice.

“Friday’s meeting should continue to apply medical evidence when putting the health of all Australians first.

“If restrictions are lifted too fast and a second wave occurs, infecting more Australians, the process of re-imposing isolation would be far worse for the health of the population and for the economy than a cautious relaxation of restrictions.

“People should not get their hopes up too high at this stage, because rushing to get things back to normal, without caution and safeguards, risks a huge setback for everyone.

“Fatigue starting to appear in parts of larger cities regarding stay at home messages must not be used as an excuse to relax restrictions.”

He warned that the NRL’s planned return to play at the end of this month is a “significant” risk for players and their contacts, and said a later and more gradual resumption would be more sensible.

“The AMA’s COVID-19 medical advice stays the same until a vaccine arrives – social distancing, personal hygiene, use of the COVID-Safe app, expanded testing, and self-isolation must remain a part of everyday life.

“A second spike or local outbreaks are likely, and business and community groups need risk mitigation plans in place to respond.”

Pharmacy Guild NSW branch president David Heffernan told the AJP that the Guild, like the AMA, is following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer when it comes to measures such as social distancing, and encourages members to continue to implement them.

“We follow the advice, and without evidence to the contrary, that’ll continue,” he said.

“We’ve been working at State, Territory and national levels in helping assist the health agencies in that task.”

Meanwhile a paper published in the British Medical Journal has proposed the use of an “odds and evens” approach to allowing people to go to work and other activities as the lockdown eases.

Co-authored by Professor Adrian Barnett, a statistician with QUT’s School of Public Health and Social Work, the paper suggests using house numbers to slowly relax restrictions.

Governments in Australia and elsewhere are seeking to balance competing priorities. Social distancing has certainly been proven to reduce the rate of transmission of COVID-19 but has had a negative impact on the economy and created other health issues,” said Professor Barnett.

“A major problem with relaxing restrictions too quickly is the limited evidence on how this will affect transmission of the virus and no-one wants to see another wave of infection and deaths which would lead to a return to lockdown.

“We propose an interim solution in which allowing people to return to a less-restricted life should be based on odd or even house numbers. For example, people in odd numbered houses have relaxed restrictions on odd days in the month (1st, 3rd, etc) and people in even number houses on even days (2nd, 4th, etc).

“This halves the population mixing, which reduces the risk of a new wave occurring, and it creates useful data for judging whether restrictions can be further relaxed or should be tightened.”

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