COVID is a unique disease that killed more people in Australia between June and August 2022 than at any other time in history. This year, influenza has killed 288 people, whereas COVID has killed more than 12,000.
Despite the fact that the number of COVID deaths in Australia during the first nine months of 2022 is more than ten times the annual national road toll of just over 1,000, we are not rushing to repeal drink-driving laws or seat belt laws to give people more freedom.
By preventing infectious individuals from infecting others, isolation, an essential component of COVID control, flattens the COVID curve.
Workforce shortages have been felt in every industry during the pandemic. Isolation will not help.The need to import health care workers from other countries has necessitated fatal outcomes for patients in some instances.
This year, when the epidemic was at its height, the workforce was so severely affected that supermarket shelves couldn’t be filled.It is hoped that eliminating the isolation period will alleviate workforce shortages, but any relief will only last a short time.
Allowing infectious individuals to freely mix at work and socially during times of COVID epidemic expansion will exacerbate the problem.
Eliminating the requirement for isolation at this time, when cases are relatively low, will not significantly benefit the workforce but will make the workplace and schools less safe.
Governments have the opportunity to cut costs by eliminating isolation rules.Payments for employees who need to be isolated will end if mandatory isolation support is not provided.
Sadly, many Australians will simply not be able to take time off from their jobs, despite the politicians’ spin that this shows that they trust Australians to take “personal responsibility.”
Essential workers in low-paying jobs will be even more likely to contract COVID in the workplace if mandatory isolation periods are abolished.
The COVID pandemic is not over. Newer variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are more immune-evasive than ever before.
Both vaccination immunity and infection immunity wane within two to three months.Although it is highly unlikely, hybrid immunity is cited as a reason to abandon isolation.
Despite the community’s significantly higher vaccine and infection-based immunity, the most recent BA5 wave resulted in more hospitalizations and deaths than the January/February BA1 wave.
Even though this immunity probably prevented a worse outcome, it clearly did not keep up with how viruses changed.
Although it was anticipated that vaccine-induced hybrid immunity and a previous infection would reduce subsequent infections, this has not been the case.
Variants that are further and further removed from the original virus are contributing to an increasing rate of reinfection.Additionally, there is increasing evidence that reinfection can result in severe illness.
To protect themselves, the most vulnerable may be forced to withdraw from society and unsafe workplaces.However, the idea that COVID is unimportant to everyone else is a misconception.
COVID has the potential to render disabled or chronically ill individuals who are currently happy and healthy.
COVID has significant long-term complications that can have an impact on the lungs, heart, brain, and immune system.
Compared to people who were never infected, the risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, and other complications, including sudden death, is roughly double a year after infection.
Even after a mild infection, chronic complications such as heart failure, strokes, and dementia can occur.
Isolation will result in an increase in serious chronic illness and COVID transmission.It could result in widespread disability, causing significant losses to society and the economy.
Treatments have been cited as an incentive to end isolation; however, they are only available to select subgroups and not to everyone.
Since 2020, COVID has behaved predictably, causing recurrent epidemic waves. COVID is an epidemic disease.
The next wave’s onset will be sped up if isolation is stopped.In addition, allowing widespread infection creates favorable conditions for the emergence of novel variants that are either more contagious or more resistant to vaccines or treatments.
What we need to do instead To maximize productivity, health, and social success, we should tackle COVID with a layered approach to transmission mitigation rather than ignoring it.
This includes increasing booster rates, expanding access to antivirals and other treatments, masks, ensuring safe indoor air, and making testing widely available.
Our defenses have relied heavily on the principle of isolation and the financial support of those who choose to remain in that state.Because viral evolution continues to outpace immunity, this is still required.
We recently experienced our worst wave, and there is no indication that the next one won’t be as bad.
Because SARS-CoV-2 transmission is a factor in workplace absenteeism, better control of the virus will lead to increased productivity, less disruption for families and businesses, and a more fruitful path toward living with COVID.
Professor Raina MacIntyre is a Professor of Global Biosecurity at UNSW, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, and Head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute.
The Burnet Institute’s CEO and Director is Professor Brendan Crabb.
The head of The University of Melbourne’s Melbourne School of Population & Global Health is Professor Nancy Baxter.