Gaetjens to lead review into changing COVID-19 ‘risk environment’

By Shannon Jenkins

February 5, 2021

Phil Gaetjens
Gaetjens said public servants needed to call out behaviours that undermined the values of the sector.  (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens will lead a review into how Australia’s management of COVID-19 could be adapted to better suit the evolving “risk environment”.

At a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Gaetjens would work with the directors general of the state and territory governments to assess the changed risk environment, before advising the commonwealth on how policy settings and responses could be tweaked to better manage the pandemic.

“Now that can include any number of things. That can potentially, over many months, include how we respond to a breakout of a case,” Morrison said.

“Now, right now, a breakout of a case has a particular context. Three months from now, when vaccinations are occurring, where there is a downward pressure on the risk of serious, serious illness, then the risk is different. And so it is about trying to recalibrate.”

The top public servant will consider a range of factors, including the new strains of COVID-19 that have been emerging, improvements in testing, tracing, and the quarantine system, and the impact of vaccines.

Changes to policy settings would also be informed by health and economic experts.

Morrison noted that as the vaccination program is rolled out in the coming months, the coronavirus could eventually be treated like other common viruses.

“It’s less, then, about cases as it is about presentations at ICU or seeking significant treatment, and that we can potentially move to a situation where we manage the virus potentially like other conditions that are in the community,” he said.

“Now we’re not there yet … But that risk environment is what we now, as leaders of governments, need to define, understand, and ensure that our responses to things that occur are proportionate.”

Read more: Lessons for Australia as world runs the vaccine gauntlet


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