NEW COVID CLINICS
NEW COVID CLINICS

Deadline for crucial virus decision

In just a few weeks, Australia will have to seriously consider what exactly its COVID-19 management strategy will be and whether we need to "learn to live" with the virus.

Epidemiology Professor Tony Blakely, from the University of Melbourne, said Victoria's numbers were on their way down but it wouldn't be until the end of August - around four weeks into Victoria's strict lockdown - that health experts would start having to make hard decisions.

"In about three weeks time, the onus will be on people like me to start saying, 'given where we are at' … I don't know where we are at or where we will be, but hopefully lower cases, is elimination possible? Or are we heading for a suppression world where we live with the virus like South Korea?" Mr Blakely told Today.

"That will be the big discussion we will have in about three weeks time."

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Living with coronavirus could be our reality for a long time.
Living with coronavirus could be our reality for a long time.

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Some of Australia's states and territories - including Western Australia and the Northern Territory - have already achieved elimination of the coronavirus.

And our closest neighbour New Zealand has seen more than 100 days without community transmission.

Australia as a whole however, continues to push for suppression rather than elimination.

On July 24, National Cabinet reaffirmed its commitment to a coronavirus suppression strategy, with acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly saying Australia's "ultimate goal" was to have no community transmission.

Instead of trying to completely eliminate the virus, Australia is instead focused on aggressively testing and tracking down every case of coronavirus.

"The main issue today was to recommit to that suppression strategy, but to really demonstrate how aggressively we need to chase down every case, every day, to ensure that they are isolated, to make sure that the contacts of every case are also contacted themselves, and where necessary, be tested and isolate as soon as possible," Professor Kelly told reporters late last month.

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Acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Gary Ramage
Acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Gary Ramage

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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also slapped down an elimination strategy for Australia, saying it would be too costly to pursue.

"A strict elimination strategy would cripple our economy and require us to shut down many more sectors and not allow anyone to enter the country," Mr Frydenberg said.

"Treasury, using OECD estimates of the economic impact of full lockdowns, suggests a six-week Australia-wide hard lockdown could reduce GDP by around $50 billion."

Professor Blakely said the sheer number of mystery cases across Victoria - more than 2700 - had also poured cold water on any plans for elimination.

"The mystery cases are the concerning ones because it tells you the virus has gone underground and you don't know where the virus is popping up," Prof Blakely told Today.

"If we are heading towards elimination like in Western Australia and those cases were happening, I would be worried. Because the numbers are high, it is not as concerning.

"But as numbers come down, the mystery cases are more concerning. It shows the virus has embedded into the community and has spread around quite a lot.

"It means the contact tracing is overwhelmed because they are not keeping on top of this.

"The contact tracing will kick back in when the case load gets less than 200. They will start to get up to their sweet spot, if you like.

"One thing that actually really concerns me is those mystery cases outside of Melbourne in regional Victoria, because the mystery cases in Melbourne, they will get hit by stage 4, just like everything else will, but out there in regional Victoria, where they are only in stage 3, that really worries me, and if I was the chief health officer I would be prioritising some of my contact tracers to go into regional Victoria and go hard on the mystery cases."

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South Korea's strategy is similar to Australia's, with the country also pushing an aggressive track, test and trace program.

South Korea was hit by a second wave in late June however the country seems to have brought its outbreak under control, recording 28 new cases today, taking its total to 14,626.

Again similar to Australia, South Korea never adopted a full nationwide lockdown, instead opting for localised lockdowns, enhanced social distancing guidelines and occasionally shutting hospitality venues and shops.

Bar and restaurant patrons are required to register their details at venues using QR codes.

Originally published as Deadline for crucial virus decision


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