"Political momentum for the monitoring and surveillance of Covid-19 is
“fading”, the Australian virologist who developed a world-first method for
rapidly isolating and characterising variants said.
Prof Stuart Turville, with the University of New South Wales Kirby Institute,
said while the impact of Covid-19 in Australia is waning, the Sars CoV-2 virus
that causes disease is constantly changing and “there is still a lot we don’t
“How and why did the virus change between Delta and Omicron?” he said.
“From that change and in the face of vaccination, what is the virus up to now
in our bodies? For those who cannot sustain a robust vaccine response such as
the elderly and immunocompromised, what does the virus now do? Will the virus
turn up again and surprise us?
“There are many jigsaw pieces we still don’t have. We won’t find them unless we
Turville and his team developed a method to speed up the process of isolating
and characterising the risks posed by variants of concern.
Called R-20, the methodology was used to rapidly analyse all major circulating
viral variants in Australia, and helped researchers to ascertain that the
vaccine-induced antibody response to Omicron was weaker than it was to the
original Sars-CoV-2 strain.
Turville acknowledged that funding thousands of people across multiple
Australian institutions to track, trace and sequence the virus across all cases
is no longer necessary or realistic. Monitoring needs to be consolidated and
pragmatic, he said.
“But the fear both myself and my colleagues have is that the political momentum
to support us has simply moved on,” he said.
“Both here and in the United States there is an element of ‘Thank you for your
service, job well done’. There are still people working on this, we are still
monitoring, still daily looking closely at understanding what the virus is up
to and doing.
“But the support for us to do it is starting to fade. The wind is out of the
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics