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Rapid antigen tests at home will be a key part of a more sustainable way of dealing with the pandemic in the coming months, but the head of the Doherty Institute says there is still potential for the coronavirus to throw more curveballs at the world.
Australia will also be a two-tier country for a while with COVID-zero and COVID positive states taking different measures to control the pandemic, Doherty Institute director Professor Sharon Lewin says.
Professor Sharon Lewin says at-home antigen testing will be an important part of living with COVID.Credit:Simon Schluter
“There will be unexpected challenges that we would not have anticipated — just like we didn’t really anticipate Delta,” she said.
On Friday, Professor Lewin convened a conference to bring together leading health experts and researchers to discuss the future of COVID-19. The conference, run by the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM), will hopefully be the first of many to unite scientists, clinical researchers and the community to discuss the latest research about the coronavirus, she said.
Professor Lewin said over the next six to 12 months she expects to see better treatments for people with the disease and more innovation in COVID testing.
“Home tests can make a big difference. We’ve been doing it for pregnancy forever. And we now do it for HIV,” she said.
The Doherty Institute produced the modelling being used by the federal government to guide the national recovery from the pandemic, and that research informed the 70 and 80 per cent double vaccination targets set by national cabinet for restrictions to begin easing.
But Professor Lewin said home testing was an important tool to include in the pandemic response.
“We’re relying really heavily on vaccines, relying still really heavily on public health measures. But if we can use some of these other approaches, it will make a big difference,” she said.
“There’s a whole lot of ways at-home testing can really help in testing people that would not normally be tested. So we’ve got a long way to go on that in Australia.”
The move to living with the coronavirus once vaccination targets are reached will be a big shift for the country. Professor Lewin says the shift will not be uniform across the country.
“We might see Australia as a two-tier country, with COVID states and non-COVID states. We might have that for quite a while,” she said.
In non-COVID states, Professor Lewin expects to see intermittent lockdowns as cases leak out of quarantine, while states with COVID will focus on risk reduction and managing the impact on the healthcare system.
“I do really understand that zero COVID’s a very nice place to be, but it’s a really tough thing to hang on to indefinitely,” she said.
Twenty months into the pandemic, Professor Lewin said the advances have been pretty spectacular.
“As difficult as things are in Victoria and in NSW right now, it’s very different. 2021 is not 2020 when we were in lockdown last year and really didn’t know what was at the end, because we had nothing, there was no vaccine,” she said.
ASHM chief executive Alexis Apostolellis said everything the organisation has learnt over the last 40 years of the HIV response was informing its work in the pandemic.
“We are pleased to be able to facilitate such important discussions on COVID-19 science and we hope this will be a model for bringing global scientific communities together to talk about COVID-19 into the future,” he said.
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