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More Covid strains likely, but we may have seen end of restrictions

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More COVID-19 variants are likely in Australia but that doesn’t mean there will be a return to lockdowns and harsh restrictions, experts say.

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More COVID-19 variants are likely in Australia but that doesn’t mean there will be a return to lockdowns and harsh restrictions, experts say.

The Omicron variant crashed on to Australian shores in late November, quickly overtaking Delta as the most common strain in the country.

It is reasonable to expect more variants will emerge, University of Sydney’s Dr Megan Steain said, but that shouldn’t be cause for concern.

“What that variant will look like is almost impossible to predict,” she told AAP.

“It could be a further descendant of Omicron but it could also be something that looks closer to Delta or one of the earliest strains.

“But we’ve got a lot more resources now to handle this virus. Rather than the more stricter measures, we need to use booster doses, particularly in vulnerable populations, as well as antivirals.”

Victoria is the latest state to remove close to all of its restrictions, with worker vaccine mandates gone from Saturday and masks only required on public transport, taxis, ride shares and planes.

But a Victorian parliamentary hearing was told last week measures like masks shouldn’t be removed just yet because of the high rates of transmission.

Burnet Institute deputy director Professor James Beeson agreed, telling AAP masks and venue caps could be useful to tackle current and future variants.

“We have to really just accept as a society that at times, we are going to have some restrictions,” Dr Beeson said.

“We’ll just have to keep an open mind about that as a possibility as we go forward to really protect the community.”

With more than 95 per cent of Australians double-dosed, vaccines will continue to be the country’s biggest defence.

“For the next couple of years, we’ll be getting another dose because that does give better protection against Omicron and presumably against a future variant,” Dr Beeson said.

The boosters could be incorporated into an annual flu jab or improved so people would only need a new vaccine every three years or so, he said.

But it all comes down to funding medical research so better vaccines can be developed.

“If nothing improves, then we’re not in a great position to keep being at the forefront of medical research,” Dr Steain said.

“Medical research is expensive. We’ve got great scientists here but a lot of them end up out of the job or moving because they can’t secure a position or funding to do the work.

“It’s going to require continued investment over many years to ensure that we’re in a better position.”

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