Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton has slammed a “disappointing” omission in the national Covid recovery plan, which could see Aussies suffer.
One of Australia’s top infectious disease experts has taken aim at a “disappointing” omission in the federal government’s Covid recovery plan, saying Australians will be the ones to suffer if it isn’t changed.
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton has criticised Australia’s plan for living with Covid for containing “no explicit recovery phase” to address the long-term health and economic impacts of the pandemic.
The pair wrote that “vigilance and a planned recovery are essential” to Australia being able to live with the virus in the years to come.
The editorial suggests the roadmap out of Covid-19 agreed on by the National Cabinet could encumber the country’s recovery in its current form.
The four-step plan ends with the “final post-vaccination phase” which includes border reopenings and living with Covid in the community without lockdowns.
“Disappointingly, the roadmap includes no explicit recovery phase: it as if we could all soon heave a sigh of relief and simply move on,” Professor Sutton and Professor Duckett write.
“The recovery phase after public health emergencies normally includes addressing their economic effects and managing the mental health impacts.
“Covid‐19 became a disease of low income workers — those who couldn’t work from home — and their families and communities. It affected Australia very unevenly, with poorer outcomes for those at greatest disadvantage.”
They write that the real lesson of the pandemic has been the huge impact of inequality and structural disadvantage, meaning there must now be a focus on better understanding “these social drivers of health in the Covid‐19 era”.
The recovery phase allows time to address the uneven impacts of the pandemic and, according to the editorial, should also include governments, hospitals, and primary care services learning from the crisis.
The publication states this should not be a “witch hunt”, but rather an exercise in truly understanding what was done well and what could be improved upon.
In 2022, Australia will enter into its third year of living in a world with Covid-19.
If the correct recovery response is implemented, then it means “community vaccination levels will be high enough that the occasional Covid‐19 outbreak will not require lockdowns or other strict public health measures”, the editorial states.
“The 2022‐and‐beyond vaccine program is but one of the policy challenges Australia needs to consider. More broadly, all governments need to be involved in planning the recovery phase, to ensure that they can manage the impact on health systems and protect public health during the inter‐pandemic period.”
Professor Sutton and Professor Grattan warn 2022 will bring “new challenges” for Australia, with the mental health impacts of the virus and lockdowns likely to be seen for years to come.
They also pointed out that the impacts of ‘Long Covid’ on physical health are yet to be fully understood.
Health services will also need to implement a plan to help healthcare workers recover from Covid-induced burnout.
“Decision makers in health systems will need to spend early 2022 assessing and developing strategies in response to these problems, and this situation will be more confronting if new vaccine‐resistant virus variants emerge, or the effectiveness of current vaccines wanes,” the paper reads.
“In 2022, public health will need to concern itself with the emerging burden of disease and avoidable harms linked with the profound effects of the Covid‐19 pandemic over the past two years.”
Professor Sutton and Professor Grattan write that Australia weathered the Covid storm well, with our death rate among the lowest in the world and the impact on the economy “relatively mild”.
However, they warn this may have hindered the country’s vaccination rollout and the government and public health sector must work hard to ensure complacency doesn’t interfere with our ongoing recovery.
“We must ensure that our health system has the capacity to respond to the shadow pandemic of mental health problems caused by the viral pandemic and its management, and that we are well placed to face the challenges of both long Covid and future pandemics,” the paper states.