Maintain the defences, COVID fight is far from over

woman scanning qr code in cafe

This article was written by Professor Cassandra Berry and originally published in The West Australian.

In Australia, we are blessed living in the Great Southern Land. Together we have suppressed COVID-19 virus transmission and vaccination is now underway. Control of COVID is an extraordinary success - admired by the rest of the world. 

We have obeyed regulations for hand sanitising, coughing etiquette, social distancing and used the COVIDSafe app. We are even starting to get our flu shots to help prevent hospital surges. Our COVID clinics remain open. The virus has been at the top of our watchlist.

So, do we need to continue scanning those prolific QR codes?

Dropping any one of the above infection control measures increases the overall risk of virus escape. Having all in place in combination, lowers the risk. 

Out of sight - out of mind is a normal human behaviour. Wide-spread complacency with perceived safety is a catalyst for a crisis. With fewer people scanning QR codes, our ability to trace the virus and save lives is impeded.

Staying compliant requires energy and mindfulness. But in the event of a virus outbreak, it helps track historic spread, persons exposed and patients under investigation to interrupt human-to-human transmission of an invisible virus. 

Without QR scans, contact tracing is slow and difficult. 

The priority to identify, isolate and treat cases early is compromised.

Restricted travel, controlled borders and regional lockdowns are options- but the virus can still be imported. About 2,000 new people enter our state every week and are currently held for 14 days in quarantine. Imported strains from returned travellers and hotel quarantine workers have arisen. Ship arrivals have also brought infected crew members to our shores. 

The virus is tiny, a simple nanoparticle of protein and RNA. It is a killer. It only needs one cell to replicate into millions of offspring. Each new virus particle is capable of destroying more cells in repeated cycles of infection. 

Virus transmission is driven by survival. The virus is fragile in the environment - only exists for seven hours on stainless steel and plastics. It uses close contact to transfer from person to person. 

The stealth virus can replicate in a person before the onset of any clinical symptoms. So, a person is capable of spreading the virus to others without knowing that they are infected or feeling sick. 

Without isolation, an individual may unintentionally spread virus to others before being positively diagnosed.

Certain people are super-spreaders. 

The speed at which all close and casual contacts can be notified, isolated and tested is critical to suppress virus transmission. Scanning QR codes accelerates early contact tracing. But once the virus is unleashed in the community for a prolonged period, the race is on.

Our lives and livelihoods are precious. Contact tracing allows others to keep their freedom in daily activities and possibly avoid widespread lockdowns. 

Most of Australia’s population is non-immune and naïve to the virus. Just over 1.2 million people here have been vaccinated. In the event of a virus outbreak with uncontrolled spread, local transmission would possibly be extreme.

With mutant strains emerging around the world, some virus variants have increased transmissibility and virulence causing more widespread, severe disease. 

Devastating images of victims with high death counts overseas reminds us of the dangers of COVID-19. Overwhelming surges of hospitalised cases in health care systems. The desperate struggle to breathe in order to survive. Coffin shortages giving way to mass graves. Successive waves of infections, with each wave worse than the previous. 

Development of antivirals, immunotherapies, and herd immunity (either natural or vaccine-induced) is our hope for the future. But we can mitigate risks and prevent the virus taking a foothold, whilst we wait.

We can do our part in infection control to keep Australia safe by simply scanning those QR codes. 

The greatest threat is our default to complacency as we live in our bubble of comfort. Let’s not grow weary of doing the right thing to ward off the invisible enemy.

Keep up the Aussie spirit of mateship and let’s have each other’s backs. 
Posted on:

20 Apr 2021


Health, Research

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