Australians should embrace reopening – with confidence

An opinion piece from Professor Paul Kelly, the Australian Government's Chief Medical Officer, on embracing reopening with confidence.

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General public

I have been struck by the noticeable change in mood of people around me as COVID-19 restrictions have started to be relaxed. Mostly, people have been excited and optimistic, itching to get out and about again. But not always.

My message to Australians is to be confident and enjoy the hard-won freedoms as individual jurisdictions make decisions to lift most restrictions for all and even more for those who are fully protected by vaccination.

Yes, COVID-19 is in the Australian community, and it will remain here for the foreseeable future.

But 80 per cent of Australians aged 16 and over are now fully vaccinated, and our state and territory healthcare systems and our primary care systems are well prepared and have the capacity to cope with any increased demands that may occur from time to time as our country continues to reopen.

If you are feeling uneasy, support is available. Talk to your GP or specialist. Reach out for mental health support if you need it. Talk to your friends and family. Stay connected.

We have to accept we will continue to see cases of COVID-19 in Australia, and that some people with increased vulnerability may suffer significant illness or even death.  That happens every year with other infectious diseases like influenza.

However, we know that with our high vaccination rates, the number of people who will become seriously ill and potentially die from the virus will be relatively small.

None of this is to diminish the fact that every death to COVID-19 is a tragedy – and my heart goes out to everyone affected by such circumstances.

The Australian Government is about to start rolling out booster doses to people who have completed their two-dose primary vaccination course at least six months ago.

In the context of boosters, it is important people know that two doses of COVID-19 vaccine provide very good protection, especially against severe disease. A booster dose, six or more months after the second dose will make sure that the protection from the first doses is even stronger and longer lasting and should help prevent spread of the virus.

Just like we live with the flu, we have to live with COVID-19. And just like living with the flu, as we live with COVID-19 we need to maintain all of the healthy practices that have become such an important part of our response to the pandemic.

Remember to maintain good hand washing and cough and sneeze hygiene. Get tested if you have any symptoms, and stay at home until you know you don’t have COVID-19, or as required by your local authorities. And wear a mask if it makes you feel safe, even if it’s not compulsory.

Preventing serious illness is always better than treating it – and it’s for this reason, vaccination is so important. But, subject to the approval of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, treatments in the form of pills that can be taken at home will start to become available in early 2022 for COVID-19 infections. However, these are not a substitute for vaccination.

These treatments, that are already available in hospitals, will help to reduce the potentially serious effects of COVID-19 for those who have contracted it.

Australians have overwhelmingly embraced the need to get vaccinated against COVIID-19 – and to reach the 80 per cent double-dose mark across the country is an extraordinary achievement. It again reflects the fact Australia is a country that understands the significant protections provided by vaccines.

I encourage every eligible person who hasn’t yet done so to make an appointment to get vaccinated. If you haven’t been inclined to get vaccinated, I would encourage you to keep reviewing that decision, noting the high protection levels the vaccines being administered in Australia provide.

When every state and territory across the country has hit 80 per cent, we can expect, at worst, lockdowns to be imposed only in highly targeted ways.

As a Canberran, I have experienced the challenges of living in lockdowns these past few months. But like NSW and Victoria, restrictions in the ACT have recently been eased and I have again been able to enjoy some of my favourite pastimes that were off limits in the lockdown world.

I have been for a swim. And I have taken in a movie. I have also been up to Sydney to see my dad, and I hope to attend my niece’s long-awaited wedding in Western Australia when border restrictions allow.

Millions of Australians are similarly reconnecting with their favourite activities as a result of eased restrictions that have been made possible by our high vaccination rates. They should enjoy them with the confidence that comes from a highly vaccinated population, and well prepared state and territory healthcare systems supported by the Australian Government.

  • Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 551 800), Butterfly Foundation (1800 334 673)


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