Chief medical officer Paul Kelly has urged Australians to embrace ‘the new normal’, as some of the nation’s most locked-down states progressively shed more restrictions, noting that high vaccination rates and a ‘well prepared’ health care system mean the country is equipped to cope with the demands of reopening.
In a statement to the general public on Wednesday, Professor Kelly said there was cause to feel positive and more relaxed about how the conditions of the pandemic were changing, and encouraged those who may be uneasy about the transition to reach out.
“My message to Australians is to be confident and enjoy the hard-won freedoms as individual jurisdictions make decisions to lift most restrictions for all and even more for those who are fully protected by vaccination,” Kelly said.
“If you are feeling uneasy, support is available. Talk to your GP or specialist. Reach out for mental health support if you need it. Talk to your friends and family. Stay connected.”
We’re weeks away from what might be the toughest time of the year for many Australians, some preparing to face difficult feelings, others preparing to provide hope and support to those struggling. #ShineALight on mental health these holidays: https://t.co/7kf5JfmwMV pic.twitter.com/W1Co8mRnWU
— Lifeline (@LifelineAust) November 5, 2021
Having reached the 80% national vaccine target for those aged 16 years and over, Kelly said he believed state and territory primary care systems had the capacity to cope as further reopening happens over Christmas. But he also said that more vulnerable members of the public needed to accept cases of COVID-19 in Australia would continue, which in turn would result in significant illness or even death.
“Yes, COVID-19 is in the Australian community, and it will remain here for the foreseeable future.
“However, we know that with our high vaccination rates, the number of people who will become seriously ill and potentially die from the virus will be relatively small,” Kelly said.
“None of this is to diminish the fact that every death to COVID-19 is a tragedy – and my heart goes out to everyone affected by such circumstances,” he added.
The CHO also urged eligible people who had not yet sought out a vaccine to get one. By the time every state and territory achieved 80% vaccine coverage, he said it could be expected that any type of future lockdown order would be imposed only in the most targeted ways.
“If you haven’t been inclined to get vaccinated, I would encourage you to keep reviewing that decision, noting the high protection levels the vaccines being administered in Australia provide,” Kelly said.
With Australia’s booster shot program about to get underway for eligible people who have already been inoculated with two doses of the COVID vaccine, Kelly said that just like influenza, living with the virus meant maintaining healthy practices. People should maintain good hygiene including hand washing, and coughing and sneezing into the elbow. They should also continue to wear a mask, even when it was not compulsory, he suggested.
“Preventing serious illness is always better than treating it – and it’s for this reason, vaccination is so important. But, subject to the approval of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, treatments in the form of pills that can be taken at home will start to become available in early 2022 for COVID-19 infections. However, these are not a substitute for vaccination,” Kelly said.
Professor Kelly ended his statement by outlining how eased restrictions have given him back some personal freedoms, allowing him to go for a swim, watch a movie and visit his father in Sydney.
“Millions of Australians are similarly reconnecting with their favourite activities as a result of eased restrictions that have been made possible by our high vaccination rates,” Kelly said.
“They should enjoy them with the confidence that comes from a highly vaccinated population, and well-prepared state and territory healthcare systems supported by the Australian government.”