COVID safety rating system floated amid warnings of reopening risks

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A leading infectious diseases expert has suggested that businesses be subject to a star rating system based on the vaccination rates of staff and other COVID-19 safety practices so that consumers can have the confidence to enter premises once lockdowns end.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, who is head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW, told the audience at a virtual event for the Committee of Economic Development Australia (CEDA) on Monday that businesses would have to show they have COVID safety front of mind if they want to reopen.

Professor Raina McIntyre told a CEDA live event that if businesses wanted to reopen, they should have to show systems for preventing COVID spread. Credit:James Brickwood

“I was talking to a certain Lord Mayor recently and suggesting they do a pilot program of a star rating program for businesses, where you award a star rating based on vaccination rate of staff and ventilation,” Professor MacIntyre said.

“In some European nations they have mandated that restaurants and premises have a carbon dioxide monitor at the front door so that a client or patron can have a look and decide for themselves if they want to go into an unsafe environment.

“That’s what we need to be doing — if business wants to open, let’s all do that, let’s start putting in systems. It’s going to need a layered approach,” she said.

Laureate Professor Peter Doherty from the Doherty Institute, speaking at the same event, said the challenges of the pandemic would not evaporate once the nation hit its vaccination targets.

Professor Peter Doherty said that while the most important step at the moment was to get people vaccinated, the reality was that treatments for the virus would be needed for the long term as the Delta variant was not going away.

“We would positively benefit from more treatments that we could use at diagnosis stage. That may prove enormously important and save many lives over the next few months,” he said.

“Once the Delta variant is established as it has been in New South Wales and Victoria we [are] not going to get rid of it. We need to get used to this idea.”

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline received provisional approval for its virus treatment from the Therapeutic Goods Administration in August. The treatment, called Sotrovimab, is a type of medicine known as a monoclonal antibody, which stops the action of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Effective, evidence-based treatments for COVID-19 are an important piece of the puzzle as Australia seeks to lessen the public health impact of the disease,” GSK Australia managing director Christi Kelsey said at the event.

Victoria recorded 473 cases of coronavirus on Monday, while New South Wales recorded 1257. NSW citizens are expecting additional freedoms in mid-October after the state hits its 70 per cent vaccination target.

During Monday’s CEDA event, Professor MacIntyre said public health measures such as mask wearing would be important for the longer term, while businesses and urban planners would have to focus on ventilation given the airborne nature of the virus.

“We don’t accept dirty water out of a tap, but we accept dirty air all the time,” she said.

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