Coalition still well ahead in NSW poll, Newspoll premiers’ ratings, and WA upper house electoral reforms


AAP/Bianca de Marchi

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneA New South Wales state Resolve poll for The Sydney Morning Herald gave the Coalition 41% of the primary vote (down two since July), Labor 30% (up two), the Greens 11% (down one), the Shooters 2% (up one) and independents 10% (steady).

Resolve does not provide two party estimates, but analyst Kevin Bonham estimated 53-47 to the Coalition, a two-point gain for Labor since July. I previously covered issues with the independent vote in Resolve and the lack of two party estimates.




Read more:
Coalition gains in federal Resolve poll, but Labor increases lead in Victoria


Incumbent Liberal Gladys Berejiklian led Labor’s Chris Minns by 48-21 as preferred premier (55-16 in July). This poll would have been conducted concurrently with the August and September federal polls from a sample of about 1,100. The federal Resolve polls in those months have had a strong lean to the Coalition compared with other polls (see below).

By 65-17, voters supported “the plan to ease restrictions in mid-October with 70% vaccination rates”. The SMH article implies the Coalition’s position was stronger in September than August, as vaccination uptake makes reopening soon realistic.

The same situation applies to the federal government. Once lockdowns are over, the economy is likely to rebound quickly, and this will assist the Coalition in an election in the first half of next year.

Newspoll: Andrews has best approval out of Vic, Qld and NSW premiers

The Poll Bludger reported that Newspoll asked for premiers’ ratings in last weekend’s poll from a larger than usual national sample of 2,144.

The states considered were NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Victorian Labor premier Daniel Andrews had a 64-35 satisfied rating (net +29). Queensland Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a 57-38 satisfied rating (net +19). Berejiklian had a 56-40 satisfied rating (net +16).

On handling COVID, Palaszczuk scored far better than her overall rating at 67-31 good, while Andrews and Berejiklian scored nearly the same (63-35 good for Andrews, 56-41 good for Berejiklian).

Nationally, Scott Morrison had a -4 net approval in Newspoll; he was at +15 in Queensland, -3 in NSW and -16 in Victoria.

Nationally, Morrison had a 49-48 poor rating for his handling of COVID, unchanged from six weeks ago. By 53-42, voters expressed more concern with relaxing restrictions too fast than too slowly (62-34 in January).

WA upper house electoral reform: group ticket voting and malapportionment to be scrapped

The massive WA Labor landslide at the March state election gave them large majorities in both chambers of the WA parliament – the first ever Labor majority in the upper house.




Read more:
Coalition and Morrison gain in Newspoll, and the new Resolve poll


Labor set up a committee to look at reforming the upper house’s electoral system. There are two current major problems: malapportionment and group ticket voting (GTV). The Mining & Pastoral region and Agricultural region elect one-third of the upper house on just 10% of the state’s population. GTV allowed Daylight Saving to win a seat in March on just 98 primary votes.

Labor will adopt the committee’s proposals to change to a statewide election of 37 members, up from the current 36. GTV will be replaced by optional above-the-line voting, in which a single “1” above the line will stay within the party it is cast for. Voters can number “2”, “3”, etc, above the line to continue directing preferences after their original party is excluded.

This system is the same as is currently used in elections for the NSW and SA upper houses. However, these states elect half their upper house at each election (21 seats up each election in NSW and 11 in SA). The WA proposal is for all 37 seats to be elected at once, so the quota will be just 2.63%.

With optional preferential voting, parties will be able to win seats from much lower vote shares than 2.63%. It’s likely to lead to cluttered ballot papers at the next election.

ABC election analyst Antony Green has much more on the WA reforms. I hope the Victorian government scraps GTV before the 2022 state election – Victoria is now the last Australian jurisdiction with GTV.

Other state developments: NT, Victoria and Tasmania

The Labor Northern Territory government gained Daly at a September 11 byelection by a 56.0-44.0 margin over the CLP, a 7.2% swing to Labor. Bonham said this is the first time a government gained from an opposition at a byelection anywhere in Australia since Benalla (Victoria state) in 2000.

Matthew Guy ousted Michael O’Brien as Victorian Liberal leader at a leadership spill on September 7. Guy led the Liberals to a landslide defeat at the November 2018 state election.

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted August 7-9 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 49% (steady since the May election), Labor 28% (steady) and the Greens 13% (up one). Incumbent Peter Gutwein led Labor’s Rebecca White as preferred premier by 59-29 (61-26 in EMRS’ last state poll in February).

Coalition leads on estimated preference flows in federal Resolve poll

A federal Resolve poll for Nine newapapers, conducted September 15-19 from a sample of 1,606, gave the Coalition 39% of the primary vote (down one since August), Labor 31% (down one), the Greens 10% (down two), One Nation 4% (up two), Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party 3% and independents 9% (down one).

No two-party estimate was given, but Bonham estimated 51-49 to the Coalition, a one-point gain for the Coalition.

There’s divergence in voting intentions between Resolve and Newspoll, which was 53-47 to Labor. But there’s been movement in all recent polls to the Coalition, which was up one in Newspoll and up two in Morgan to a 52.5-47.5 Labor lead.

49% gave Morrison a good rating for his performance in recent weeks, and 45% a poor rating, for a net +4 rating, up five since August. Albanese’s net approval was up three to -16. Morrison led as preferred PM by 45-26 (46-23 in August).

The Liberals and Morrison led Labor and Albanese by 42-24 on economic management (44-19 in August). On COVID, the Liberals led by 37-24 (37-22 last time).

Canadian election called two years early gives nearly status quo result

I live blogged the results of the Canadian election that PM Justin Trudeau called two years early for The Poll Bludger. At the 2019 election, Trudeau’s centre-left Liberals won 157 of the 338 seats and the Conservatives 121, despite a 1.2% lead for the Conservatives in vote shares. In 2021, the results are nearly the same.

The German election will be held Sunday, with polls closing at 2am Monday AEST. Parties need to either win at least 5% nationally or three of the 299 single-member seats to qualify for a proportional seat allocation. The Guardian’s poll aggregate
suggests the overall left parties have a narrow lead over the overall right. I will be live blogging for The Poll Bludger.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NSW risks a second larger COVID peak by Christmas if it eases restrictions too quickly


C Raina MacIntyre, UNSWNew South Wales plans to relax restrictions when vaccination targets of 70% and 80% of those aged 16 years and over are met.

The national plan was based on the assumption there would be just 30 cases when restrictions were lifted. However, NSW may have cases in the hundreds or thousands when restrictions are relaxed.

The current discussion has been around “the peak” occurring during current restrictions.

But modelling from my team at UNSW shows if current restrictions are relaxed while a large proportion of the community is unvaccinated, a larger, second peak may occur that may overwhelms our hospitals – unless countermeasures are taken to prevent that.




Read more:
Flattening the COVID curve: 3 weeks of tougher lockdowns in Sydney’s hotspots halved expected case numbers


What would a second peak look like?

The 70-80% adult vaccination targets correspond to 56-64% of the whole population, leaving plenty of room for the virus to spread among increasingly mobile people.

If the first relaxation of restrictions occurs around October 18, our modelling predicts a second, larger peak will occur between December 24-29 2021.

If restrictions are only relaxed around November 6 when the 80% target is met, the peak occurs later, between January 6-12 2022 instead of around Christmas day.

The current strategy of mass vaccination is vital to our exit plan. But vaccination alone cannot control an epidemic that began when fully vaccinated rates were extremely low.

This is because the virus spreads much faster (days) than the time taken to benefit from vaccine immunity after two doses (two months, with a six week interval between doses and two weeks after the second dose to get maximal immunity).

Also current vaccines are not as effective against the Delta variant due to a combination of vaccine escape (meaning they’re not exactly matched to the Delta strain) and waning immunity.




Read more:
Is Delta defeating us? Here’s why the variant makes contact tracing so much harder


The restrictions used in NSW since the end of June have kept a lid on it, but case numbers have continued to grow. We estimated the 70% target may be met around October 18, and case numbers at that time may be in the thousands.

Depending on what steps accompany that relaxation, many different scenarios are possible. Modelling allows us to look at best and worst case scenarios and ensure the worst never occurs.

Weighing the harms

Controlling an epidemic is like balancing a set of old fashioned scales. Imagine the virus is a large, menacing metal weight sitting on one side, and the public health measures are a bunch of weights on the other, which are combined to keep the fight even.

Modelling shows the effect of changes on either side of the scale.
Shutterstock

The Delta virus is very heavy, so we need many public health “weights” to keep it from winning. Vaccination alone is not enough, as we have seen in the United States, United Kingdom and Israel.

The public health “weights” include:

  • vaccination
  • testing (identifying infected people and isolating them)
  • rapid contact tracing (within 24 hours of identifying an infected person)
  • restricting mixing and movement of people
  • masks
  • ventilation (safe indoor air).
COVID-19 spreads through air.

Modelling can help us work out the effect of changes on either side of the scale. What if the epidemic is bigger? What if we remove movement restrictions?

That will tip the scales in favour of the virus, so we need to add more into the public health bowl to compensate for that removal. Maybe we can add more contact tracing, mask use or testing.

It’s a constant dance in trying to outwit the virus, and modelling helps by allowing to forecast the impact of different approaches to relaxing restrictions.

Vaccination alone isn’t enough

We already know that to relax restrictions, we need high vaccination rates. But because the vaccine is not enough against Delta, at the 70-80% adult targets (which correspond to 56-65% of the whole population) there is still plenty of scope for the virus to spread.

COVID-19 will find under-vaccinated pockets and communities, whether it be disadvantaged urban communities or remote Aboriginal communities like Wilcannia, which had a 7% rate of full vaccination when the Sydney outbreak arrived there.

So, our modelling shows that if you remove restrictions on movement, you need to add more weights to the public health bowl to stop the scales tipping in favour of the virus. This is the vaccine-plus and ventilation strategy recommended by OzSAGE, a new independent expert network I’m part of, which outlines a safe pandemic exit strategy.

It means when we open schools, we need to open classroom windows too, ensure clean air in classrooms, ensure parents and teachers are vaccinated, and have kids wearing masks.




Read more:
From vaccination to ventilation: 5 ways to keep kids safe from COVID when schools reopen


We estimated the NSW capacity to rapidly trace contacts dropped off in mid-August.

So, in preparation of increasing mixing of people, we could massively scale up contact tracing capacity using digital methods. This would be adding more weight to the public health bowl.

We need to make sure testing capacity remains high and think about making rapid testing more widely available in schools, workplaces and homes.

We could also retain the outdoor mask mandate to ensure at least the protection of masks is not also reduced in the public health bowl (the current roadmap indicates outdoor mask mandates will be dropped).

How bad could it get?

We modelled six different scenarios and ways of adjusting the weights in the scales to ensure we do not overwhelm the health system.

We used the NSW definition of “code black” – when there are not enough ICU beds and alternative models of care are needed. We used this to forecast scenarios that could cause or avoid code black conditions.

The best case scenarios would only have a single relaxing of restrictions and retain high mask use, scale up contact tracing, and retain some reduction of mixing between people.

On the other hand, relaxing restrictions progressively between the 70% and 80% targets, or drastically increasing mixing, while reducing mask use at the same time, and not improving contact tracing, will be taking too many weights out of the public health bowl. This would allow the virus to overwhelm the health system.

In the worst case scenario, there may be five weeks of code black conditions. In the best case scenario, code black is avoided.

If ICU care cannot be provided, the death rate will increase because all people who need ICU cannot receive it. So it’s essential we avoid code black conditions.




Read more:
We’re two frontline COVID doctors. Here’s what we see as case numbers rise


There are an infinite number of scenarios we could model, but the general trade-off between both sides of the scales are demonstrated by the model.

All models have uncertainty in them. Models predict a range of possibilities under different conditions, and worst-case scenarios usually do not eventuate, because authorities use the models to inform the prevention of severe scenarios. They may also reinstate restrictions if the health system is under threat.

Models are a valuable tool to guide and provide transparency to decision-making. At the moment, the choices in NSW are between “not great” and “terrible”. But that will change.

In time, we will have better vaccines (matched to Delta), boosters and higher vaccination rates in all Australians including children. These will add more weight to the public health side of the scales, and hopefully prevent the virus from winning.The Conversation

C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Head, Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NSW and Victoria admit they won’t get back to COVID-zero. What does this mean for a ‘fractured’ Australia?


Amalie Dyda, The University of QueenslandAustralia’s two most populous states have now conceded they are unlikely to return to COVID-zero.

The highly infectious Delta variant has spread significantly in both states, making contact tracing and containment more difficult.

This may be welcome news for those in Sydney who have been under stay-at-home orders since June, and those in Melbourne who have lived through more than 220 days of lockdown over the past 18 months. It means these states will leave strict lockdowns eventually without having to wait for case numbers to decrease to zero.

But with other jurisdictions across the country continuing to pursue COVID-zero, what does this mean for Australia?




Read more:
Explainer: do the states have to obey the COVID national plan?


States and territories divided

The future is likely, at least in the short term, to look similar to the current situation with different rules for different states and territories.

Those states pursuing COVID-zero may have greater freedoms, almost resembling pre-COVID life, with generally low levels of restrictions such as mandatory venue check-ins. Though strict lockdowns would be likely when cases do appear.

States like New South Wales and Victoria will require ongoing low level restrictions, such as masks and capacity limits — even with vaccination rates of 70%–80% of over 16s.

Moderate or strict lockdowns would likely still need to occur in response to rising case numbers and local outbreaks.

The importance of ongoing low-level restrictions has been shown consistently by Australian modelling and is highlighted by the current rise in case numbers in the highly vaccinated population of Israel.




Read more:
COVID cases are rising in highly vaccinated Israel. But it doesn’t mean Australia should give up and ‘live with’ the virus


How will this impact travel?

Likely the biggest impact of divided COVID-zero policies across states and territories will be interstate travel, with different rules between jurisdictions depending on their COVID-zero status.

Restrictions imposed to date would suggest travel between COVID-zero states and territories, who haven’t had any recent COVID cases reported, would be allowed.

There’s also the possibility of interstate travel occurring between jurisdictions with ongoing community transmission.

Will other states give up on COVID-zero?

As the virus continues to spread, other jurisdictions across Australia may also stop trying to reach COVID-zero.

NSW and Victoria having high levels of ongoing community transmission makes other states and territories more vulnerable to imported COVID infection.

For example, we’ve already seen cases from truck drivers reported in Queensland and South Australia.

However, tight border control and strict lockdowns when required do appear to be working in some jurisdictions, for example Western Australia.




Read more:
What is life going to look like once we hit 70% vaccination?


How will vaccination impact this?

Modelling by the Doherty Institute and the Grattan Institute suggests easing restrictions at 80% vaccination coverage is manageable.

As vaccination rates increase, the need for lockdowns and strict restrictions decreases.

In terms of vaccination, New South Wales is currently leading the way with 76.4% of over 16s vaccinated with at least one dose, and 43.6% fully vaccinated.

Other states’ vaccination rates are also rising, albeit more slowly. Approximately 36% of over 16s in Western Australia and Queensland are fully vaccinated.

If the current rate of rollout continues, it’s anticipated 70% of over 16s in Australia could be vaccinated by early November, with 80% coverage reached later in the same month.

Graphic showing days until Australian vaccination targets reached
Australia could reach its 70% vaccination target at the start of November, and 80% not long after.
COVID Live, CC BY

With vaccination rates increasing rapidly and restrictions easing despite high case numbers, NSW and Victoria may provide test cases for the other Australian states and territories in terms of a roadmap to living with COVID.

While modelling provides a tool to guide decision makers about what to expect, these calculations are based on a number of assumptions. Predicted outcomes differ depending on key factors such as the ability of the public health workforce to maintain optimal contact tracing.

The real world experience of decreasing restrictions with COVID transmission in the community will provide important information for those that follow.




Read more:
Opening with 70% of adults vaccinated, the Doherty report predicts 1.5K deaths in 6 months. We need a revised plan


It’s important to remember, while the country is slightly fractured in its current response, we are all in this together. As vaccination rates continue to rise in the coming months, states and territories will likely return to a more level playing field.

In good news, it does seem we will have more freedom in the coming months as vaccination rates continue to rise.

But this will be an evolving situation that requires constant monitoring and changes in response to the local spread of disease, with all states and territories likely to require low level restrictions for some time.

With the easing of restrictions, it’s important we all listen to and follow public health directions and get vaccinated as soon as we can to try to maintain manageable case numbers and workload for our public health workforce.The Conversation

Amalie Dyda, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Australia


Coronavirus Update: Australia


The first Indigenous COVID death reminds us of the outsized risk NSW communities face


The second wave of COVID-19 in New South Wales brings concerns about vaccination rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Shutterstock

Kalinda Griffiths, UNSWOn Sunday, New South Wales saw four more deaths from COVID-19. One of them was a man from Dubbo who was in his 50s and unvaccinated. It was the first COVID-19 death of a First Nations person in Australia.

Aboriginal communities in remote areas have been pleading with the government for help with medical resourcing and food for families. It was recently found there were pleas for protection against COVID in Wilcannia, with Aboriginal health organisation Maari Ma Aboriginal Health contacting Ken Wyatt about this back in March last year.

There has been some progress in the nation’s vaccination rates with a little over 32% of the eligible population over the age of 12 now vaccinated. However, the second wave of COVID-19 in New South Wales highlights concerns for the unvaccinated and those with multiple risk factors. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

New South Wales is now in day 76 of their most recent outbreak with cases reaching over 20,000.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were identified as a priority group early in the vaccine rollout, yet they still have lower vaccination rates than the NSW population.

Almost 12% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are fully vaccinated in NSW compared to almost 30% of the non-Indigenous population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at risk

It’s well known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of disease than non-Indigenous people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in New South Wales experience two or more health conditions at a rate that is over two and half times greater than non-Indigenous people.

In addition, there is increased risk of spread in families, as larger family groups often live together in regional and remote communities.

These risks, along with extreme yet ignored service gaps in regional and remote areas, mean our Indigenous community is facing severe risk of death and disease from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children and young people under the age of 20 account for a little over 20% of Australia’s case numbers, with all children aged 12 to 15 now recommended to get the Pfizer vaccine.

Pre-existing conditions such as asthma, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes/prediabetes, as well as children who are immunocompromised and preterm, have been found to be predictors of severe COVID-19 disease.

This is of great concern to Aboriginal communities, considering Aboriginal children are up to two times more likely to be hospitalised for respiratory conditions than non-Indigenous children.




Read more:
The COVID-19 crisis in western NSW Aboriginal communities is a nightmare realised


We need better data

The gaps in COVID-19 publicly available data are concerning, especially data specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

There is currently no information on vaccination rates for children over the age of 12 in out-of-home care. In 2018 there were 45,800 children in out-of-home care. About 40% of these children are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

There is also little to no data available on the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tested for COVID, as well as issues with the accuracy of Indigenous status in the reporting of the case numbers.

Despite the daily high case numbers, this week the New South Wales government announced restrictions in the state will be relaxed across selected local government areas for those people who are fully vaccinated.

While the risk for those people who are vaccinated is relatively low, greater activity could still increase the spread of COVID-19 across the state, putting people in Aboriginal communities at greater risk.

Knowing exactly who is vaccinated and who is at greatest risk will be of the utmost importance as restrictions start to ease.

How the public can help

The increasing case numbers and resultant lockdowns across NSW local government areas have seen Aboriginal communities having limited access to health care and basic necessities due to limitations in the supply of regional and remote supermarkets. A number of First Nations people have rallied together to support their communities.

This has included pages that have been set up for:

People can donate or contact the volunteer group to get involved.

Where to next?

As the Delta variant makes its way across Australia, all people need access to vaccines. This means increasing government resources and health system efforts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well as ensuring all Indigenous people have multiple access points to the vaccines.

This could include door-to-door vaccinations in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, pop-up vaccination clinics in regional and remote local government areas as well as school-based vaccinations.

With the expected mRNA vaccine supplies to be sufficient for the entire Australian population in the coming months, the biggest next step is ensuring their distribution is prioritised to those who need it the most.

This requires moving beyond the rhetoric and supporting health services, particularly Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, to do the work.The Conversation

Kalinda Griffiths, Scientia lecturer, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Australia


From vaccination to ventilation: 5 ways to keep kids safe from COVID when schools reopen


Shutterstock

C Raina MacIntyre, UNSW; Greg Kelly, The University of Queensland; Holly Seale, UNSW, and Richard Holden, UNSWLast week the New South Wales government announced schools are scheduled to re-open in October. While face-to-face learning undoubtedly has benefits for both children and parents, the announcement left unanswered a series of important questions about how this can be done safely.

By the time NSW lifts restrictions (estimated to be around October), only 60-70% of the population in NSW — and possibly less in Australia — who are 16 years and over may be fully vaccinated.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended vaccination for children 12 and over, but most of these children will not be fully vaccinated by October, and children under 12 will remain unvaccinated for now.

In NSW, with well over 1,000 cases a day and rising, there will still be substantial community transmission when schools open. It is unclear when schools in Victoria (where cases are also on the rise) will open, but there may still be some transmission in the state when they do.

So, what do we need to do to make sure kids are as safe as possible at school?



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

1. Vaccinate the adults around them

In California, a primary school outbreak occurred when an unvaccinated teacher, who came to work despite symptoms, read to students with their mask off. Most kids who became infected were well over 2 metres from the teacher, which confirms the 1-2m distancing rule is not effective for an airborne virus.

Every child and teacher in a classroom or childcare centre with an infected person is at risk. Shared air is the major way SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — spreads.

Children often get the virus from the adults around them, so vaccinating adults in a child’s household, and teachers, can help protect them.

Vaccination is now mandatory for teachers in NSW, but around 67% have had one dose. This probably corresponds to less than 40% of the NSW population being fully vaccinated.

Teacher reading books to kids sitting on the floor.
Anyone in the same room with an infected person, especially if that person isn’t wearing a mask, is at risk of catching the virus.
Shutterstock

One dose of vaccination gives about 31% protection and two doses gives 67% (AstraZeneca) to 88% (Pfizer) protection against the Delta variant. Most kids will still be unvaccinated if schools in the two largest states re-open for the last term of the year. This means it’s even more important to ensure the adults are vaccinated.

2. Mandate masks for teachers and students

We can mandate masks in schools for teachers and students, and highly recommend mask use for younger children in childcare.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masks for children two years and up; children over this age can wear masks without much trouble.

As mask use in schools has been more common overseas, there are now numerous toolkits (including translated versions) and recommendations to support children to wear a mask. For example, your child is more likely wear a mask if it has their favourite colour, sports team, character or special interest on it.

Importantly, a DIY cloth mask can be made to fit your child’s face and be high quality if key design principles are followed. It is important to ensure children have choices and understand the reason why they are wearing a mask (for instance: “When we wear a mask, the virus can’t jump from person to person.”




Read more:
Can’t get your kid to wear a mask? Here are 5 things you can try


3. Ventilated classrooms

Classrooms can be ventilated by opening windows (ideally two windows at opposite ends of the room). If there is only one window, a fan can help move the dirty air out. If opening windows is not possible there is fortunately a cheap fix available — portable air purifiers, which dramatically reduce the viral load in classrooms.




Read more:
Poorly ventilated schools are a super-spreader event waiting to happen. It may be as simple as opening windows


There are DIY methods for making air purifiers, too.

4. Reduce numbers of people indoors

Reducing the number of people packed together in a classroom can reduce the risk of COVID. For example, during high epidemic periods, if the decision is made to open schools, a group of kids can come in every second day and learn online on alternate days.

We have shown this approach, when combined with masks, reduces the risk of transmission on university campus.

Use of outdoor spaces for lessons is also a smart move as the weather gets warmer. While Delta can transmit outdoors, the risk is likely much lower.

5. Test school kids

Finally, rapid point-of-care testing in schools will help reduce transmission, and self-testing kits (when approved in Australia) can help.

Saliva tests are also a practical way to test children. These tests are now available in official health settings, so governments could make them available to schools.

What about childcare centres?

We also need to consider childcare centres. Contrary to popular narrative, a new study shows kids up to three years old transmit more than older kids. So, vaccinating childcare workers and parents of young kids is also essential.

All the measures above, except masks for 0-2 year olds, can easily be used in childcare settings.

Girls getting swabbed in the mouth.
Rapid testing in schools could help reduce transmission.
Shutterstock

Record numbers of children are being hospitalised with COVID-19 in the USA. It remains unclear whether the high numbers of sick children are due mostly to Delta’s increased transmissibility, or whether it also causes more severe disease in children, as it does in adults. Although the risk of severe disease remains much lower in children than adults.




Read more:
Under-12s are increasingly catching COVID-19. How sick are they getting and when will we be able to vaccinate them?


One thing we do know is that as vaccination rates increase in adults, unvaccinated groups, the largest of which is children, will be proportionally more at risk. The 70-80% targets for vaccination of eligible adults for relaxing restrictions corresponds to 56-64% of the whole population, which leaves plenty of room for Delta to spread like wildfire in unvaccinated adults and kids. So there is good reason to protect kids if we open schools.

In addition, the productivity losses from lockdowns are an important component of the estimated A$220 million daily economic cost in NSW alone. Sick kids make it harder for their parents to work productively, if at all. And they make it more likely parents themselves become sick and are unable to work.




Read more:
Introducing OzSAGE, a source of practical expert advice for how to reopen Australia from COVID safely


The Conversation


C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Head, Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW; Greg Kelly, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland; Holly Seale, Associate professor, UNSW, and Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Australia