The COVID-safe strategies Australian scientists are using to protect themselves from the virus

When Brendan Crabb finally caught COVID-19 for the first time late last year, it was because he’d broken his own rule — he took a risk he says he shouldn’t have. Since 2020, Professor Crabb, director and chief executive of the Burnet Institute, had been sticking to a rigorous anti-COVID routine, effectively using layers of protections to avoid getting the virus.

And then in a moment of lapsed judgement, he joined a crowd of hundreds of people at an awards event in a small room in Sydney, without his portable air purifier and N95 mask. “The waiters couldn’t even get to us to give us a drink,” he says — it was that tightly packed. “That’s a situation I never get myself into … and three days later, I tested positive.”

Fast-forward a couple of months and a similar story has been playing out for thousands of Australians as COVID-19 surges again. Partly it’s because the highly mutated new subvariant JN.1 has driven a worldwide spike in infections, hospitalisations and deaths. But it’s also probably because so many of the precautions we used to embrace — masking, testing and isolating, vaccination — have been abandoned, deemed unnecessary by those who think the danger has passed, or who misguidedly believe COVID-19 is “just a cold” or necessary to catch for immunity.

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