Living with COVID: big ideas for a new normal
We’re all itching to return to some semblance of normal life, but how can we achieve it?
Victorians are looking forward to the end of stage-four restrictions and whatever’s on the other side. And we yearn for normal service to resume. But despite the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine there are no guarantees and best estimates are that it’s still many months or years away. So just how can we return to a semblance of normality with this virus lurking in our midst?
Deserted Melbourne icons in lockdown: Flinders Street Station, Southbank, National Gallery of Victoria, Hardware Lane. Photos: Matt Harvey.
A recent article in The Atlantic offered the ‘moonshot’ idea of testing every US citizen every day with pregnancy test-style, mass-produced paper strips. In this scenario office workers would show up in the morning, take a test and have a coffee while they wait 15 minutes for the all-clear (or not). Crazily ambitious perhaps, but worth a shot say its proponents.
Also mooted is the idea of pool testing – where dozens or more people would be tested in batches to identify whether anyone, say in a classroom or a restaurant on a given day, was infected.
Closer to home, Melbourne’s Burnet Institute is also focused on rapid testing, through its work to develop an accurate, fast COVID-19 test similar to the finger-prick test the institute developed for HIV/AIDS. The aim is to create a point-of-care test to identify people infected with the virus and confirm those who are safe to return to work.
World-renowned infectious diseases expert and head of the Kirby Institute’s Biosecurity Program, Professor Raina MacIntyre, baulks at the idea that there is a single silver bullet that will help us live with COVID, but says the humble face mask is probably our best chance. “Use of masks may be the one thing that allows us a chance of some semblance of normality,” she says. “The virus is spread by the respiratory route, and some infected people have no symptoms and may not even know they are infected, so mask wearing can make a difference.”
But what other ideas are out there? We asked some leading thinkers in the areas of epidemiology, demographics and infectious diseases to share their big ideas for how we might carve out a new normal for living with the virus.
Demographer Bernard Salt. Photo: Paul Jones, AFR