To: The Prime Minister of Australia, Federal Health Minister, State and Territory Premiers and Health Ministers, Chief Medical and Health Officers of the Federal, State and Territory Governments and the Members of the AHPPC, the CDNA and ICEG.
We call on you to help the community live safely with COVID-19.
We write this open letter to express our collective concern about federal and state/territory governments ending the policies that have protected the community during the pandemic to date.
Recent policy decisions will lead to:
· Increased circulation and transmission of COVID-19, including reinfection.
· New variants which are just as likely to be fast-spreading, more severe, or vaccine-resistant.
· Preventable COVID-19 related illness, disability, hospitalisations, and death.
· Limited ability to access other necessary medical care due to a health system overloaded with acute and chronic effects from COVID-19.
· An increase in chronic health problems (long COVID, cardiac, respiratory, and neurocognitive damage), reducing quality of life and burdening the health system.
· Reduced capacity to detect and respond to the inevitable threat from emerging variants. High quality data is needed to ensure Australia is not ‘flying blind’ into future waves.
· Further waves leading to shadow lockdowns as people modify their activities to avoid infection, damaging the economy and livelihoods.
· Continued exclusion of people at risk of severe disease who will be forced to either avoid high transmission environments or forced back / into such environments. This will result in reduced access to healthcare, education, employment, social and community activities in violation of human rights. Those forced into such environments will face higher risk of illness or death.
Available evidence suggests that herd immunity is unlikely to be achieved with either the current generation of vaccines or by allowing people to become infected with the virus. Reinfection with the same or different variants of COVID-19 is now well documented.
Omicron had serious impacts on supply chains and health services due to staff absences, with the hospitality and retail sectors impacted by lack of staff and a ‘buyers’ strike’. This is likely in future waves unless governments to adopt science-based policy and the precautionary principle.
Community transmission disproportionately affects at-risk populations - people with cancer, asthma, diabetes, immunosuppression, those with disabilities, older Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, migrants, the economically disadvantaged and regional and remote Australia.
To date, most Australians have complied with protective public health measures (most of which do not affect freedom of movement) to ‘flatten the curve’ not just for our own health but to protect vulnerable members of society. This is still a relevant principle in a civilised society, where we should aim to leave no one behind.