While human trials have been fast-tracked for several vaccines and antiviral drugs, the extensive testing essential before producing a pandemic buster at scale means neither is going to be part of a doctor’s arsenal for many months. So where does that leave nations fighting the virus?
China and Singapore give us a window into the forseeable future. While Beijing has heralded its lifting of restrictions, allowing people to get back to work, it has been faltering at best. It is having to impose strict border controls to stop infected people entering the country and lockdowns are returning in districts where outbreaks have reappeared. Singapore, a role model in keeping infections to a minimum, is also suffering from a second wave of infections.
The reality is that without a vaccine or antiviral treatment, there is no way of keeping a check on infections besides what most nations, with varying success, are doing now: testing as widely as possible, quarantining those infected, social distancing and contact tracing. But you can’t keep a nation in full lockdown for a year or two waiting for a medical breakthrough.
Like China, most countries will probably alternate between lifting restrictions as infection rates fall, then locking down when the spread spikes, an inevitable consequence of people coming into closer contact. As the scientific community gains a better understanding of COVID-19, and testing of immunity levels is developed, there is some hope that the lockdowns could become better targeted than the widespread stay-at-home restrictions. But that is no guarantee.
That is a reality and a conversation that is not taking place in Australia. Surely it’s time people got the full picture of the long road ahead. If you were thinking you were going to the MCG this year to watch AFL, you may need to think again.