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Reducing COVID Quarantine and Mask Mandates Means More Damage to Businesses and Health in the Long Term

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Starting Friday, September 9, the quarantine requirement for people with COVID who are asymptomatic will be reduced from 7 days to 5 days. No mask required on domestic flights.

Australian Medical Association President Steve Robson has called for public disclosure of the science behind the national ministerial decision, but the change means that we are now rapidly heading towards a ‘business as usual’ pandemic. is showing. This political strategy requires the removal of protections and restrictions so that life and business can “get back to normal.”

But life is far from normal. COVID is her third leading cause of death in Australia, with 11,746 deaths to him so far this year. There is also growing evidence that survivors of COVID are at risk of long-term health effects on their lungs, heart, brain and immune system.

The reality is there is no going back to normal now that we are living with COVID.

Read more: The Long COVID: How Researchers Are Focusing on Self-Targeted Immune Attacks That May Be Lurking Behind It

balance the risks

So what is driving these changes, and what are the implications?

First and foremost, this change has no scientific basis. We know that how long people remain infected with COVID after testing positive varies from person to person.

Setting a reasonable quarantine period depends on balancing the risks to the community of ongoing transmission against the benefits of allowing people with COVID to return to work, school and normal activities as soon as possible. Seven days was already a compromise. And now, New South Wales Prime Minister Dominic Perrotet has called for the end of quarantine altogether. Has the evidence changed regarding this balance?

There are some recent studies assessing how long people are likely to shed the virus and become infected after testing positive for COVID in people who were vaccinated during the Omicron era. This fresh study shows that a significant number of people (one-third to one-half) remain infectious after her five-day quarantine period. Another study showed that two-thirds of this time is infectious.

So, of the 11,734 people who reported COVID-positive on September 1, at least 3,900 were still infected on day five. Released from quarantine can infect others.

Subsequent infections could lead to many additional COVID cases that would not have occurred had the seven-day quarantine period been maintained.

Although the reduced quarantine applies only to asymptomatic people, it is well accepted that asymptomatic infections do occur. Unfortunately, our politicians equate the absence of symptoms with the inability to transmit the virus in order to justify change. Decision makers clearly need more information.

New South Wales Prime Minister Dominic Perrotet wants to shorten the quarantine period. Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews says he will follow his health advice.
AAP Image/Joel Caret

Read more: Should states cut COVID quarantines from 7 days to 5 days? Here are some things to consider:

But what about business?

Mandatory quarantines stress people and businesses. However, with the number of COVID cases declining from the peak of the BA.4/5 wave across Australia, there are fewer COVID-positive people than at any time this year. The pressure on individuals and businesses from mandatory quarantine will be at its lowest level in 2022.

So why make the change now? Perhaps because so many people have recently contracted COVID, it is hoped that while we are experiencing a decline in infections, easing protections will not result in an immediate increase in cases.

This confidence trick allows politicians to make these changes without any apparent repercussions. They will continue to do so until all mitigations against infection are gone. This is all part of a strategy to “rely less on public health mandates and more on mutual respect”, in the words of the New South Wales premier. As if the two concepts were mutually exclusive rather than mutually reinforcing.

Unfortunately, reinfections are common and we will face another wave of epidemics in the future, possibly before the end of the year. Then, by systematically dismantling all existing protections, the next wave will occur sooner and affect more people.

People sitting on airplanes without masks
Domestic passengers will no longer be required to wear masks.
Gerrie van der Walt/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

reduce infection instead

Allowing a significant percentage of people to return to work while infected is not the solution to the workforce disruptions that COVID is still causing. This is because the shortened stay-at-home order will increase the number of infections at workplaces and schools. As the next wave comes, more people will be furloughed to catch COVID-19 or to care for others, defeating the ultimate purpose of change.

And, as we learned in the BA.5 wave, which has the highest number of people hospitalized with COVID in Australia since the pandemic began, reintroducing mandates once removed is unlikely, even if medically advised. It will not happen. Once the protection is relaxed, there is no going back. It is a one-way street.

The best way to protect business interests and keep the economy productive is to use a vaccine-plus strategy to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) as much as possible.

In other countries, such as the UK, which have shortened their quarantines and then abandoned them entirely, infections are only getting worse and the economic impact is worsening.

Removing mask mandates on planes means an increased risk of COVID disrupting travel or disrupting airports due to unwell crews due to rising infections.

Read more: Want to reduce your chances of catching COVID on the plane? Wear a mask and avoid business class

Reduce workplace safety by reducing isolation and thereby increasing workplace transmission. People’s right to a safe workplace must be considered along with business continuity.

Allowing infections to rise will impact the economy by increasing the number of people affected by COVID over the long term. In the UK, in a model we seem to emulate, 1 in 4 of her employers report that their productivity has been affected by her long-term COVID.

The transition to business as usual pandemic leaves us unnecessarily vulnerable and will ultimately further disrupt business.

The emergence of increasingly virulent and vaccine-resistant COVID variants and the simultaneous removal of mitigation measures such as quarantines and masks expose us to a recurring and devastating wave of disease. Doomed.

The best chance of business continuity is a layered strategy, not a one-way street to a devastating business-as-usual pandemic. This includes increasing booster rates, safer indoor air, masks in public indoor settings, and maintaining the current quarantine period for COVID-infected people.

Read more: What’s the difference between Omicron and Delta? Here’s what we know about contagiousness, symptoms, severity and vaccine protection.