It has already been six months since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic. In that time, vaccine options have become more promising, stringent travel rules have stretched beyond international boundaries and mask-wearing has steadily increased.
In that time, you’ve submitted more than 100,000 questions and we have not missed a single one.
Every day, your questions get passed on to editors and journalists across the ABC to investigate and represent the matters important to you — all while bringing you the latest updates to keep you informed.
Your questions have outlined your top concerns which have consistently revolved around health, science and travel.
There was (and still is) a lot of curiosity over the symptoms and the precautions one should take.
You are also strongly encouraged to get tested if you are unwell or have been in close contact with a confirmed case.
If you are struggling with other precautionary measures such as keeping 1.5 metres away from others, sneezing into your elbow and washing your hands regularly, just remember that it is important to keep these habits up to protect yourself and others around you.
What about masks then?
While people in other countries have acclimatised to mask-wearing over the past few months, many of you wondered when Australia would adopt the same rules.
“With mask-wearing being shown by various studies and models to help decrease the transmission of coronavirus, why isn’t the Australian government recommending that everyone wear masks in public spaces, as so many other countries are?” — Jo, NSW [May 2020]
“Should we start wearing masks in public?” — Brigitte, Qld [July 2020]
We explained that face coverings such as masks are mandatory across Victoria.
As for other states, we talked about how people in Queensland and New South Wales are strongly encouraged to wear a mask in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained, while you only have to wear one if you’re unwell in other states and territories.
The gradual adoption of masks also surfaced questions about whether the Government is allowed to make masks mandatory.
We spoke to legal experts and found that making masks mandatory does not infringe on human rights or constitutional freedoms, and that businesses have the rights to refuse entry to customers who choose not to comply with the rules.
So the question then becomes, what kind of masks should you be wearing?
“There is a lot of emphasis now on masks. Could you explain what sort of masks can be used effectively, for any mask how long a period of time before changing, and can masks be re-used by some sort of cleaning process? Thank you.” — Elizabeth, SA [July 2020]
“How effective are face shields as opposed to masks?” — Hilary, NSW [July 2020]
A study conducted by Duke University assessed the effectiveness of 14 different types of facial covering.
You also shared some dilemmas that came with wearing a mask while having glasses on or a beard underneath.
“I wear glasses and every time I put on a mask, no matter what type, my glasses fog up; other, bespectacled mask wearers have mentioned the same. Please, how do you stop your glasses fogging up as you breathe through your mask?” — Trisha NSW [July 2020]
“What is the impact on the effectiveness of masks if you have a beard. I’d rather not have to shave it off, it’s my “security blanket” — Tony, SA [July 2020]
We found that washing your glasses with soapy water and shaking off the excess before letting them air dry is one of the ways around it. And as for beards, there are some styles that minimise the risks but you’re best off clean shaven.
What do we know about treatments and vaccines?
Research into vaccines and treatments is still ongoing as the virus appears to mutate into different strains but we now know why existing medical treatments haven’t been approved and how vaccines are developed.
There are currently more than 160 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical and clinical trials, including 29 undergoing clinical trials in humans.
Vaccination has been a hot topic as the Federal Government recently clinched a deal with UK-based drug company AstraZeneca, to secure Oxford University’s potential COVID-19 vaccine if its phase 3 trials prove successful.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the Oxford vaccine would be manufactured locally and distributed to all Australians if successful.
However, this isn’t our only vaccine option as the University of Queensland emerges as another promising candidate. Its vaccine is currently in its early phase 1 clinical trial with phase 3 trials predicted to begin next year.
Another vaccine being trialled in Canberra by US company Novovax is also one to watch.
With the production of vaccines being fast-tracked like never before, many wondered how the process has changed to facilitate a quick turnaround and whether they would be safe to use.
“I keep hearing a vaccine is about 18 months away… to me that indicates a level of confidence that they CAN create a vaccine. I had thought that creating vaccines was not always possible. Or is it all but guaranteed they can with the entire world dedicating all their resources to developing it?” — Hailey, Qld [March 2020]
“It’s all very well to talk of fast tracking but drug and vaccines surely can’t be fast tracked like that? How do you assess long term risks? Or how well the vaccine works?” — Bilinda, Qld [May 2020]
“I’m very concerned that the vaccine process is too rushed and not properly trialed. I’m very skeptical that a reliable vaccine solution is even possible, let alone ethical.” — Cindy, SA [August 2020]
Your questions did make us wonder too and we dug around for answers. Here’s what we found.
One of the reasons previous vaccines took years to be made available is because new technologies needed to be developed first to support their production.
Ezekiel Uba Nwose, a medical scientist at Charles Sturt University, told the ABC in April that while vaccines can take years to develop, “relevant authorities can decide to speed up on the conventional protocols to fast-track bringing it to trials”.
The global push to tackle COVID-19 has resulted in increased funding for subsequent vaccine trials.
Regardless of the time taken for vaccine development, transparency around safety and potential side-effects of the vaccines is still important. Australian health authorities say when any vaccine becomes available, it will go through the necessary checks and balances.
You were also concerned about the ethics behind the creation of vaccines with foetal cells which was brought up by several religious leaders.
The use of foetal cells in vaccines isn’t new and the cells used were originally harvested in 1973, genetically modified to support infinite multiplications for extensive research purposes.
“How are foetal cells involved in the creation of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, leading to upset (so I’ve heard) amongst Church leaders?” — Stella, Vic [August 2020]
“In response to the ethical dilemma that some religious leaders were concerned about the Oxford vaccine, can you please explain how aborted foetus is used in the development of the vaccine and what are the ethical protocols that are in place to govern the usage.” — Vicki, Qld [August 2020]
Besides vaccines, we’ve talked about other possible solutions such as hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that has garnered strong support from US President Donald Trump, as well as Ivermectin, the drug traditionally used to treat lice.
We spoke to health experts who aren’t too keen to greenlight existing medical treatments due to the dosage needed for it to work, or scientific studies showing they don’t really work, or the amount of money and time it would take to test their effectiveness.
Remdesivir is the only drug so far that has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as a treatment option for COVID-19.
“Has it been proven that people that recovered from Covid-19 are immune against the virus? Relevance: herd immunity.” — Marina [March 2020]
As for herd immunity, we looked into it and found that it is unlikely to happen without a vaccine.
Where are we at with travel restrictions?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Prime Minister declared international arrivals would be required to isolate for 14 days and that only citizens, permanent residents and those with travel exemptions would be allowed to return for the foreseeable future.
The cap was introduced in July following the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.
You’ve been asking us when international borders will be open again.
“When do you think international travel will be possible again? What will need to be achieved before this can happen (is it waiting for a vaccine?) and do you think people with SARS CoV-2 antibodies will be able to travel sooner than those without?” — Joel, WA [April 2020]
“Is international travel now a pipedream? Do you think we will have travel without a vaccine? What do multi-cultural families need to be aware of?” — Caitlin, Vic [August 2020]
There is no clear answer for this, especially since Australia has one of the strictest bans in the world but it seems like domestic travel would open up first.
Restrictions were also put in place for interstate travel and we’ve explained what the latest restrictions mean for you.
Queensland closed its borders to Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales, with exemptions given to agricultural workers from the latter state. These restrictions were put in place amid the slow increase of cases in Queensland.
“With the latest QLD border closure, what will this mean for border towns i.e. Tweed Heads?” — Taimah, QLD [August 2020]
“I am travelling to Darwin from Melbourne. Must I self quarantine or go under government supervised mandatory quarantine?” — Gopal, Vic [July 2020]
You wanted to know more about how the NSW-Queensland bubble will affect you, especially if you’re from a border town, so we explained what you can and can’t do.
The borders between NSW and Victoria has also been tightened and we looked at what has changed and who is exempt from those changes.
As for the Northern Territory, their strict border restrictions are still in place, with those coming from declared hotspots required to undergo supervised quarantine upon arrival.
The NT opened its borders in July and we listed what you should consider before travelling there.
South Australia reopened its borders to travellers from WA, the NT and Tasmania in June and only recently relaxed those rules for those living in Victorian border towns as well as those coming into SA from Queensland (but not vice versa).
“How do I get a travel voucher in Tasmania?” — Teena, Tas [August 2020]
We explained what the travel voucher will mean to you if you’re a Tasmanian in Tasmania and how you can get one.
Although the rules on border restrictions are changing, they have impacted a large number of Australians, including cross-border families, those who have to cross the border for work, or those who have been unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.
What will your future questions look like?
We can’t predict the future. Given how often rules and policies are getting updated, we can’t even respond to your questions personally (and we’re getting hundreds of them a day!).
We are reading each one of your questions and conveying them to our journos at the ABC.
Your questions help guide the content we produce, so please keep them coming!