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29 July 2020
BY DYLAN DE JONG
A doctor leading an Australian effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19 from a base in Natimuk believes a suppression strategy is still the best way forward in managing the contagious disease.
CSIRO health and biosecurity director Dr Robert Grenfell, originally from Horsham and a former Natimuk doctor, said there was little evidence to suggest a prolonged harder statewide lockdown would eliminate transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria.
Dr Grenfell said physical distancing remained the best protection against the virus while Victorian leaders continued to find a way to control outbreaks.
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“The question would be if we went really hard with lockdowns like New Zealand, would that actually achieve anything? We don’t know,” he said.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with this virus – that’s really the point. That’s the journey we’ve got over the next 12 months or so.
“The decisions being made are being made with the best information available at the time – it’s been an evolving feast of new information as time has gone on.”
Dr Grenfell said suppression was still likely the best way to control the virus, particularly while cases were presenting from unknown sources across the state.
“Elimination is extremely hard to achieve, especially because we have the virus in the community and it’s spreading in multiple sites,” he said.
“Yes, we have managed to do so in some of our states such as Western Australia, but they had very small numbers in the first instance.
“What we’re doing has bucked the trend of rising cases – if we didn’t do those measures in metro Melbourne, it’s almost certain we’d be in the thousands-plus case numbers.”
Dr Grenfell made his comments after Victoria recorded its highest daily total of active cases with 532 on Monday and 384 at the time The Weekly Advertiser went to print yesterday.
Active cases were also present in Wimmera communities.
“What people really need to do at the moment is exercise caution with what they’re doing with their behaviours,” Dr Grenfell said.
“This means washing hands, sanitising, wearing a mask in tight closed spaces.
“Certainly if you’re sick get tested and while waiting for the result, isolate and take orders after you get your test results.”
New Zealand and some Australian states and territories have had success suppressing the virus, resuming business and public events, albeit under new rules to keep people safe.
At the same time leaders across the country are watching cases rise in Victoria and preparing for a return of COVID-19.
Australia’s National Cabinet is maintaining that an ‘aggressive suppression strategy’ is the best way to deal with the pandemic.
Member for Mallee Anne Webster agreed the direction was the most viable until a vaccination was available.
“I do not believe an eradication approach is the appropriate one,” she said.
“The reality is if we want our economies to remain global – we need to be able to manage COVID-19 until we get a vaccination, which might take a couple of years.
“You only eliminate it for short periods of time. There is no elimination unless we shut down our economy altogether – that is not something the Federal Government will consider in any way, shape or form.”
Dr Webster said she was lobbying the New South Wales government to reconsider hard border closures to Victorians.
“I personally believe the lockdown approach is appropriate for isolated geographical locations where there is community spread – but what we’ve done with closing our borders is very unwise,” she said.
“It’s certainly something at a federal level we have not supported – I’m lobbying strongly that be severely pulled back.
“For there to be an arbitrary divider between one state and the other is extremely unhelpful and is not sustainable in the long term.”
Dr Webster said she was also monitoring developments on the Victoria-South Australia border.
Wimmera Health Care Group chief executive Catherine Morley reminded everyone to continue following COVID-19 public health advice to ensure the community can stay safe.
“It only takes one person to not do the right thing and spread it to everyone else,” she said.
“The approach from the beginning has always been about flattening the curve and we all need to keep working on that.”
The entire July 29, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
The entire July 29, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!