How and when will the COVID-19 crisis end?

 

AN Australian infectious disease expert working on the frontline in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, believes the world is in for the long haul in dealing with the disease.

Professor Dale Fisher senior consultant in Infectious Diseases at Singapore's National University Hospital and adviser to the World Health Organisation on the pandemic said while the strict lockdown measures announced by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison are likely to work in controlling the spread of the deadly virus, there will be more outbreaks to come when the rules are eased.

 

Professor Dale Fisher, Senior Consultant and Head of Division Infectious Diseases at the National University of Singapore. Picture: PAUL MILLER
Professor Dale Fisher, Senior Consultant and Head of Division Infectious Diseases at the National University of Singapore. Picture: PAUL MILLER

Prof Fisher, who was educated in Tasmania and worked in Sydney and Darwin before moving to Singapore in 2003, says there are only a few ways the crisis will end - the virus will change to become less transmissible or less severe and it goes away by itself; the community will gain herd immunity; a vaccine will be developed; or effective drug treatments will be found.

He said the first was unlikely and relying on herd immunity would be unthinkable.

"For herd immunity you need 60 per cent of the population to get it. So in a population Tasmania's size (500,000) that would be roughly 300,000 cases, or 1000 new cases a day for a year. That's not a good strategy.

Italian patients being treated for coronavirus are seen with their heads zipped into oxygen helmets at a hospital in Milan. Picture: SkyNews
Italian patients being treated for coronavirus are seen with their heads zipped into oxygen helmets at a hospital in Milan. Picture: SkyNews

"Even Italy has just 0.1 per cent of its population exposed - they won't have herd immunity until this has happened to them 600 more times."

Prof Fisher said a vaccine was likely to take a year or two to develop and to conduct trials before it could be deemed safe and effective.

"Even if you had a vaccine right now, it would take time to produce enough to inoculate populations and then who do you decide gets it first?" he said.

Prof Fisher said an effective drug would change things dramatically and it is likely promising reports of treatments would be offered up by researchers and drug companies. But he said these again would need to be supported by proper research and longer-term trials before they are made widely available.

Last week a team of Brisbane researchers revealed they had trialled treatments using two drugs which were showing promising results.

At the weekend Health Minister Greg Hunt announced $15.6 million boost to researchers to help develop a new coronavirus test and treatment.

Originally published as How and when will the COVID-19 crisis end?


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