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Australian Covid Supremo: Yeah, we’ll be wearing masks for years

At first blush, you might think this headline relates to Australia’s inexplicably slow vaccine rollout, compared to the rest of the western world. If they can’t get people jabbed, they may well have to rely on other measures. But no, you’d be wrong. Masks for years even after 80% of people are jabbed, she says:

The lady speaking there is Dr. Kerry Chant. She is the “Tony Holohan” for New South Wales, which is Australia’s most populous state (about twice Ireland’s population) and one of the architects of Australia’s “Zero Covid” strategy. One of the criticisms of that strategy that people, including me, made was that it would have to be never-ending: You can’t have “zero covid” and re-open your borders, for example, once there exists covid anywhere else on the planet.

At the time those criticisms were made, of course, most of us who made them believed that they might be a deterrent – a downside, even – that would make people think twice about zero covid. How wrong we were. She’s openly embracing it here. The permanent pandemic.

There are questions, of course, about the effectiveness of facemasks in general, especially against highly contagious variants like Delta. Those questions surely must be heightened when added to a situation where 80% of people are vaccinated. If the vaccine works, then how much marginal benefit does a mask add, exactly? We know it is not much more than last-ditch mitigation in an unvaccinated environment. But if the vaccine provides, say, 80% immunity, how much more does a mask add? If you are vaccinated, what is the extra reduction in your chances of contracting covid by adding a mask on top of the vaccine? Is it 1%, or 2%, or more? It certainly cannot be much more.

If you talk to some medics in private, they will tell you that the benefit of facemasks is much more psychological than medical, in fact. What they mean is that when you see other people wearing masks, and wear one yourself, you are much more likely to be thinking about the pandemic and the risk of infection, and keep your distance. Ditching masks, they fear, would have the effect of letting people forget about the existence of a pandemic, and go back to normal life, increasing the risk of covid spread. Even if that risk of spread is reduced by vaccines, they can’t be talked out of it. And neither, to be frank, can many of the public.

It should be clear now that a large section of the human race is entirely unwilling, and unable, to leave covid behind – ever. Unless the voters change their minds, right across the west, we are going to have a continuous drumbeat of “these next few weeks are crucial”.

The only difference with the Australians is that at least, in typical Australian fashion, their leaders are being blunt and honest about it. Here, we’re still pretending this will be over in a few more months.

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