OzSAGE position statement 8 November 2022
Australia’s Chief Health Officers have expressed concern about the impact of COVID-19
waves on our community, particularly for people in high-risk groups. SARS-CoV-2 infection
spreads rapidly and increases burden on our health care system. Ambulance services and
emergency departments are strained (severely by some reports) and police are reported to
be covering medical attendance in some jurisdictions. Emergency care at hospitals will be
affected with potential flow on effects to non-COVID conditions including disruptions to
elective surgery. There is a clear trend in increased excess deaths in 2022 directly and
indirectly related to COVID. Long COVID is drawing resources from an already stretched
healthcare system and causing gaps in workforce, some critical. It is also affecting staffing
and service delivery across the economy.
Promoting and providing updated booster vaccinations to those most at risk is an important
strategy to reduce the hospitalizations and deaths and to mitigate the impact of a wave on
the health care system. Bivalent vaccines are available and many of those at risk are 6
months since their last dose, but ineligible for the bivalent vaccine because they have
already had 4 doses. Although the protective effect of vaccination remains strong, during a
wave of COVID cases even small amounts of waning of effectiveness plus the continuing
evolution of the virus with increasing immune evasion will result in a large number of
hospitalizations and deaths that could have been prevented.
Putting in place layers of mitigations to stop SARS-CoV-2 spread is critical to preserve our
societal systems and save lives, suffering and a chronic burden of COVID-related disease. It
is important to prevent infection even in the vaccinated, as complications can still occur,
such as long Covid and post Covid cardiac and cerebrovascular events. With the winding
back of mask mandates, very few people are now wearing them to protect themselves and
others from infection. Efforts to provide clean, well-filtered air in workplaces, childcare,
aged care and schools have faltered. The impact of disease most severely affects our rural,
regional and remote areas, the elderly, those with disabilities and other common medical
conditions, people with less economic means, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
and older Australians – but can affect any, and all, of us. Our future generations will be at
increased risk for long term outcomes, such as neurological, cardiac and lung disease and so
taking a precautionary stance and suppressing the next wave is far preferable to dealing
with the devastating long-term effects.
Failure to suppress the wave will not only have major impacts on the health system but
impact the broader economy, not just through acute illness and absenteeism from work, but
also from long COVID.
To decrease risk of catching and spreading SARS-CoV-2, OzSAGE commends the recent
Commonwealth health advice on wearing N95/ P2 high quality masks.
We commend the provision of Commonwealth funding for improved ventilation in schools.
The stakeholder consultation occurring for Centre for Disease Control (CDC) under the
Commonwealth is timely and welcome. A recently published Multi-national Delphi consensus to end the COVID-19 public health threat argues that government and
community working together provides for more effective disease control.
To mitigate the risks of the next wave of COVID-19, OzSAGE recommends:
Provide clear education on pathways for bivalent vaccine booster access
Expand availability of bivalent booster to at risk people
Consider recommending vaccines for children <5 years
Reinstate the seven day isolation when someone is infected with COVID-19, with
support if needed. If that is not feasible, N95/P2 high quality mask wear to exit on day 5
if symptomless. Rapid Antigen Testing if available is helpful
Contacts of the infected person to wear N95/ P2 high quality masks in the
community if they cannot isolate (also Rapid Antigen Test if available)
Provide free N95/P2 respirators to community
Ensure widespread access to affordable testing
Reinstate mandatory reporting of positive tests in all jurisdictions
Provide widespread multimedia education on how COVID-19 is spread and how
people can best protect themselves from it.
Educate people on the value of ventilation and safe indoor air. This includes CO2
monitoring, to identify areas of poor indoor air quality, particularly in critical indoor
areas such as childcare, schools and aged care facilities. Regulation of indoor air
standards to decrease risk of airborne disease and support businesses and organizations
to improve indoor air quality.
Widen access to subsidised anti-viral medication for all adults 18 years and over. This
may also help with prevention of Long Covid
Review the sensitivity of current Rapid Antigen Tests in use, because there are
anecdotal concerns for reduced sensitivity to newer variants
Mitigate risk for large events. This can include holding events in outdoor air and
Rapid Antigen Tests prior to the events, and other strategies as we have previously