NSW has reached a milestone 50 days without a locally acquired case of COVID-19 but one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts warns normal life won’t be for another year.
Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases professor at the Australian National University, believes the threat of more outbreaks this winter means NSW residents shouldn’t be dropping their guard against the virus until at least October.
“We won’t go back to normal life at least for another year,” professor Collignon told NCA NewsWire.
“With this virus, you never know what could happen; in a week’s time we might have four or five cases.
“We are by no means out of the woods yet. I’m still concerned about this winter; last winter we were in the thick of the pandemic and people in NSW were quite vigilant.
“We have to be careful not to relax too much until at least October, maybe longer.”
NSW health officials recorded just one case in overseas travellers overnight and are aware of 55 active cases.
One of the cases is in intensive care but is not on a ventilator. Most cases are being treated out of hospital.
The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine is into its third week while the AstraZeneca vaccine will be first administered to frontline workers in NSW from Wednesday.
Professor Collignon bases his winter concerns on the northern hemisphere, where COVID-19 brought the UK to its knees.
There are two main reasons why winter allows the virus to spread more easily, according to professor Collignon.
“The first is that people are indoors a lot more than in summer, and therefore in closer proximity with each other which allows for greater transmission,” he said.
“The second reason is in winter humidity is lower, which causes more dry throats and noses than in summer. When you have a dry throat, it is easier for the virus to latch on.
“We saw in the UK and around the northern hemisphere winter was deadly in terms of the virus.”
Professor Collignon said professional sports such as rugby league kicking off in coming weeks was also worrying for the virus.
“Outside is much safer than inside, so the stadiums are less of a concern than people piling into pubs and bars to watch NRL and other sports,” he said.
“Having said that, I can’t see how winter sports can have 100 per cent capacity crowds just yet. I wouldn’t advise more than 50 per cent crowds so that social distancing measures can be maintained.
“We can’t relax restrictions too much until the vaccination rate in this state is considerably high.”