The COVID restrictions endured during NSW lockdowns should only be used in emergency circumstances, says health policy expert Professor Andrew Podger.
Professor Podger, the former Public Service Commissioner, will speak at a webinar on Thursday, hosted by the University of Newcastle, titled: "Two years with COVID-19: a tale of carrots, sticks and megaphones".
"When you take exceptional measures in an emergency, you need to be particularly careful that you withdraw those and don't allow them to be used when not in an emergency," said Professor Podger, of the Australian National University.
He said it was important that governments and the people don't now think these restrictions "can be drawn upon any time".
"That's one of the reflections we ought to have - when should we have started to wind back those restrictions and how should we have done so?
"It's very important for people's freedoms to know that these sorts of restrictions are only imposed when they are genuinely required. And that they will be relaxed as soon as is possible to do so."
The webinar will be chaired by University of Newcastle Professor Francesco Paolucci.
It will examine the emergence of COVID variants and vaccine hesitancy, along with the "wait and see approach" versus taking a firm hand on COVID.
Also on the agenda is discussion of the communication and mental health challenges faced by people, industries and policymakers.
The webinar comes as citizens and academics reflect on how Australia has handled the pandemic.
"There were errors made, particularly around the supply of vaccines and the mixed messages about their safety," Professor Podger said.
He said Australia had faced a "genuine dilemma caused in part by our success in limiting infections".
That is, the initial lack of COVID cases "did reduce people's incentives to get vaccinated".
"We had this balance to work out: how do we get vaccinations up, while in the meantime wanting to relax restrictions."
He added that it was important to examine the trade-offs between protecting people from COVID and the socio-economic suffering experienced by those in lockdown.
Francesca Colombo, head of the OECD health division, will speak at the webinar.
Professor Paolucci, a health economics and policy researcher, said a lot of treatments for non-COVID health conditions had been "suspended or delayed" during the pandemic.
He said Ms Colombo would discuss the "ways in which we are planning internationally to re-organise and reform healthcare systems" to address these problems.
"It's important to understand how we can orchestrate a pathway to avoid the temptation of saying, OK we had COVID, let's turn the page and go back to business as usual and manage the best we can," Professor Paolucci said.
"Is there a chance for us to reflect and implement strategies to improve?"
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