NSW’s top health expert believes the struggle to contain COVID-19 will go on for “many years”.
Speaking to a group of masked reporters in Sydney on Monday, NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said that a vaccine rollout in Australia was a “long way off”.
“I’ve indicated we’re going to be tackling COVID or living with COVID for many years. COVID may well become a bit like flu, but that will occur once we have the tool which is an effective vaccine,” Dr Chant said.
“So once we have effectively vaccinated the population, we then need to reset and readjust and recap our public health measures, but that’s a long way off.”
New Year’s Eve marked a year since the World Health Organization became aware of a cluster of infections from an unknown “viral pneumonia” in China’s Wuhan province.
The disease that turned out to be a new form of coronavirus first entered Australia, via Victoria, 25 days later.
Since then, COVID-19 has killed 909 people in Australia and more than 1.8 million people worldwide.
For NSW residents, 2020 ended in disappointment as a virus-free streak was broken two weeks before Christmas and an emerging COVID-19 cluster in Sydney threw December 25 and New Year’s plans into chaos.
That outbreak prompted the state government to take the long-anticipated step of mandating masks in public indoor settings.
Dr Chant said it was unclear just how long that mask mandate would be in place.
“I’m saying we’ll be wearing masks for however long we need to wear the masks. I don’t think I’ve changed my guidance about wearing masks,” she said.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday a contract with a COVID-19 vaccine provider had been finalised, and the country was on track to distribute all vaccines by October.
If it successfully passes approval processes, 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine would be made available in Australia – enough to vaccinate the entire population.
Mr Hunt said he was pleased with the pace of the process so far, with all vaccines set to be distributed by October.
Once the country has been vaccinated, the coronavirus will still cause hospitalisations and deaths if it’s anything like the influenza.
Prior to social distancing measures rolled out to stop the spread of COVID-19, hundreds of Australians died each year of the flu.
Australia experienced a record flu year in 2019, with 302,000 case notifications and over 800 deaths, according to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.