The big mistake we made was that we not just hoped for the best, but we planned for the best. The first principle of public health is to hope for the best but plan for the worst, and with a pandemic that could not be more true.

AUSTRALIANS love a mandate, but only when they are convinced about the reason for it, something successive governments have failed to do when it comes to mask-wearing for the reduction of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, says one of the country’s leading researchers.

Professor Brendan Crabb, Director and CEO of the Burnet Institute, spoke exclusively with InSight+ and said the government of the day pulled the wrong rein when deciding how the country should deal with Omicron when it emerged in December 2021.

At the time of writing, there were 327 464 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia, 171 284 of them in New South Wales alone. Over 12 026 people have died from COVID-19, most of them in 2022, and we are well on the way to 10 million total cases since the start of the pandemic, again most of them in 2022.

“I think the biggest issue for Australia at the moment is a messaging one, and it’s a hard message,” Professor Crabb said in an exclusive podcast.

“[If I were in charge,] I would be saying, in as diplomatic and genuinely polite and respectful way as I could, that the strategy that we adopted when Omicron arose was the wrong one.

“We have been more casual with infection than we should have been. And we thought it was going to be okay.

“I would be saying this sobering message to capture the country’s attention and then saying, but there’s some very good news. This is something we can do something about, and it won’t be difficult to do it.

“It’s not COVID that’s in the rearview mirror – lockdowns are in the rearview mirror. We don’t need the tools we used in 2020 and a bit of 2021. We have fantastic vaccines. We know so much more about how it’s transmitted – it’s transmitted through the air – we know how to stop that and mitigate that.

“And we know the value of some other tools, particularly of getting tested, and using therapy if you’re positive or staying home to stay away from other people when you’re positive.”

Professor Crabb said he did not believe Australians in general were aware of the extent of the problem presented by the Omicron variant.

“Until the Prime Minister and the Premiers and Chief Ministers get up and give the sort of talk I’ve just given, I don’t think we will change the minds of Australians,” he said.

“We’ve got to become intolerant of lots of virus in our community, and that has to be made an explicitly clear message from the top.

“You don’t need a mandate if you’ve won over the community. What we’re worried about now with mask mandates is that the community will revolt – and that’s probably true.

“The reason for that is that we’ve not won them over. The community doesn’t know what value there is in it.

“Australians love a mandate – a seatbelt or a helmet or a speed limit or a drink-driving rule or smokers outside. We love a mandate, but only when we’ve bought in to the reason for the mandate.

“And with COVID we have not bought into that – that’s why that mindset shift is so important.”

The Burnet Institute has done modelling (not yet released by the government) showing that if masks were introduced now “we could still save 14% or so of the deaths, maybe 20% of the cases by October”, Professor Crabb.

“There are very significant gains to be had, and of course, if [masks] had been introduced earlier, much more.

“The fact of the matter is, despite a lot of good encouragement to wear masks from the Prime Minister to the Premiers, and on down, not many people are – probably not much better than 20–25%.

“We know that mandating does work. There’s good evidence to say that it makes a big difference. It’s not a trigger you’d want to pull that often, and it’s certainly not something that needs to be in every circumstance.

“This particular modeling said, if masks were mandated in schools, and then there was a sliding window of increase in use in the wider community, then these [reductions in deaths and cases] would be the effects.”

Professor Crabb said when it came to deciding on a strategy for dealing with Omicron, the government committed a cardinal sin.

“The big mistake we made was that we not just hoped for the best, but we planned for the best,” he said.

“The first principle of public health is to hope for the best but plan for the worst, and with a pandemic that could not be more true.”

And the bad news is, another problem is looming: monkeypox.

“Monkeypox, as it is emerging, has some very weird features to it,” Professor Crabb told InSight+.

“We should be acting in a precautionary way, not hand waving it away as a disease of gay men. That’s not the way you [should] treat new things emerging this way. You act in a in a strong ‘precautionary principle way’. You shut it down until you know more, and unfortunately, we’re not doing that.

“We have the big lessons from COVID-19 which we just don’t seem to have learned with respect to monkeypox.”

Subscribe to the free InSight+ weekly newsletter here. It is available to all readers, not just registered medical practitioners.


Mask-wearing should be introduced again for public indoor spaces
  • Strongly agree (69%, 823 Votes)
  • Agree (14%, 163 Votes)
  • Strongly disagree (11%, 135 Votes)
  • Disagree (3%, 38 Votes)
  • Neutral (3%, 36 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,195

Loading ... Loading ...

10 thoughts on “Omicron: the cardinal sin of “planning for the best”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Rich, it must depend on the show or the demographic who attend.
    My experience? : theatre of 1200 filled, cheek by jowl, 3 tiers, masks around 10%.

  2. Rich says:

    i along with 98+% of others wore a mask at an indoor theatre event recently. it was handed out for free and no one seemed to complain. this is the way

    we should also ensure the mask edges have an electrostatic felt edge to improve air filtering

    looking fwd to seeing that mask effectiveness / impact modelling

  3. Andrew Cochrane says:

    The major problem is that most people regard Covid infection as only a mild illness now (due to the benefit of vaccines and their reduction of death and hospitalization) and therefore not worth the effort and issues of masks and distancing.
    The real issue yet to be seen, as Brendan Crabb has previously pointed out is that we have only experienced Covid for 2years + and have no idea of the late effects. We already know about the “long Covid” issues. Will there be earlier / premature dementia due to the brain effects ?? How many more cardiac deaths? It also seems to now be accepted that Covid can remain latent in some people, so how and when will it become manifest again ? When I was a medical student, EBV only caused glandular fever, now we know that it causes B cell lymphomas and multiple sclerosis, etc.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Its very noticeable. Very few are wearing masks, none young and only the elderly. Most now don’t social distance either, even when asked.

  5. Max says:

    A Zero-COVID strategy – even one as draconian as currently being enacted in China – is doomed to fail, and may even make matters worse by maintaining immunological naivete in the community.
    Any other strategy of trying to prevent spread of an endemic virus is surely just a half-hearted attempt at the same thing.
    If you are symptomatic or vulnerable, for goodness’ sake mask up.
    But asking healthy, vaccinated, asymptomatic individuals to mask up en masse for an endemic virus for the rest of their lives does not seem feasible.
    ‘Ya lives ya life; ya takes some chances’.

  6. Anonymous says:

    To “anonymous” re Covid vaccine injuries. An 84-year-old with a long history of DVT developed “extensive skin necrosis after COVID‐19 vaccination” which was also “the first case” of its kind documented after how many millions of Covid vaccines have been delivered? Come on, get serious.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I notice there is no discussion of the risk of covid vaccine injuries. Today I read the article Genital necrosis with cutaneous thrombosis after COVID-19 mRNA vaccination –

    As it becomes widely known that the covid vaccines do not prevent illness and transmission despite what was thought to be promised by authority figures it is understandable that previously trusting members of the public will reduce their trust in authority figures and become more sceptical.

    What would be a great help would be open debate about masks, pros and cons, informed consent – details about extent of information given and legal issues, covid vaccination data – pros and cons re risks and benefits, covid vaccination injuries, risks to the health professions, trust issues and threats.

  8. Dr. ARC says:

    From a scientific basis, we all need oxygen from the air we breathe. COVID is spread by air transmission. Unless you have a fully enclosed breathing system it will be impossible to not escape the virus, mask or no mask. If you are infectious and don’t isolate, then a mask may reduce your spread to others in the community. The ONLY way to control this pandemic, (now an endemic problem), is to ISOLATE (Quarantine), mandate IMMUNISATION, and actively treat those infected. From my perspective, masks are secondary and have minimal effect on controlling COVID-19 infection. Ordinary masks cannot completely prevent inhaling virus particles!

  9. Anonymous says:

    When I go out it and try to do what I have to do – just go for a walk with the dog passing by shops or coffee places with people on the path waiting, bus stops etc and of course inside shops and supermarkets not to mention public transport, it is just breathtaking to see people – mostly middle aged and younger, without masks, some of them coughing or snorting, who couldn’t care less about others – the arrogance and lack if caring is just appalling – the same people who don’t obey road rules, run red lights, don’t pick up their dogs poo etc etc. That’s why, living in a society with lots – very many – other people we have to get along with – we have rules and regulations, fees, road rules, taxes etc It’s the cost of living together and benefiting from that. If we want the benefits there is a price – look after others, obey the rules, and wear a mask.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Masks work , My wife & I have I just returned from a RTW trip which included 19 flights & two cruises and methodically wore a well fitted mask everywhere that was appropriate and remain Covid free .Yes it was a pain but we were keen to protect ourselves & those around us.. Unfortunately few in the US Canada & Europe were doing the same.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *