New South Wales carefully watched reopening in Australia, experts say



Professor Jaya Dantas of the School of Population Health at Curtin University said the easing of restrictions heralded the start of Australia’s learning to “live with the virus”.

“I think it is a very good initiative that we are opening and the country will monitor how things play out,” Professor Dantas told AAP.

“The epidemic has turned from an epidemic to a pandemic and in some ways it will be endemic for years to come.

“We have to learn to manage it and I really believe we can.”

Professor Dantas said high vaccination rates and public health measures were important in controlling the spread, but Australia was behind on rapid antigen testing, which would be crucial in identifying cases in the future.

“We need full approval for rapid antigen testing across Australia and it must be available in pharmacies for free or at low cost,” she said.

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Home nasal swabs will be available in Australia from November 1, but it is unclear how they will fit into each jurisdiction’s public health measures, where they will be available and what they will cost.

Meanwhile, public transport services will revert to a Monday-Friday schedule in New South Wales with 18,000 additional train, bus and ferry services.

University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies Honorary Fellow Yale Wong said it was “uncharted territory” that would open up with a high number of cases and that unresolved issues remained with regard to transmission in public transport.

“We need ventilation plans,” he said. “Public transport (services) are confined environments and this is a big problem.”

Dr Wong said it was difficult to observe social distancing on buses and trains as cleaning and disinfection measures were “prone to errors and inconsistencies.”

He suggested that the government invest in “relief fleets” as epidemics on popular transport routes were likely in the coming months.

“We have to make sure that there are not these weak links,” he said.

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Professor Marc Stears of the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney said that being able to see friends and family to celebrate, grieve and catch up will have “profound consequences” for their mental health.

“What more and more evidence is showing is that social isolation, loneliness, disconnection has had truly terrible consequences for a lot of people,” said Professor Stears.

He referred to a study published in The Lancet last week by researchers in Australia and the United States which found that cases of major depressive disorders and anxiety disorders had increased by more than 25% in 204 countries and territories in 2020.

While there has been a buzz surrounding the reopening of large sites, Professor Stears said home visits and small gatherings are just as important for social connections.

“We are all naturally anxious and nervous about what is going to happen and whether the case rate will increase and whether hospitals will adapt,” he said.

“These are significant concerns, but there is a tremendous amount of evidence around the world as to what has happened elsewhere and we are relatively late for the opener.”



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