Public health nurses at Sydney International Airport last month. Picture: Nikki Short
Public health nurses at Sydney International Airport last month. Picture: Nikki Short

Australia’s incredible virus day

The number of new coronavirus infections in Australia has tumbled with just eight new cases in the country so far today.

There were no new cases reported in Queensland, Western Australia or the Australian Capital Territory, just five in NSW, two in Victoria and one in South Australia. The Northern Territory hasn't had a new virus case for two weeks.

Tasmania has yet to report but its numbers have been low with only one case yesterday, although it is currently dealing with an outbreak in its northwest.

Australia's deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said earlier there had been just four new cases across the country in the 24 hours since 3pm on Tuesday.

The number of daily new infections in Australia has been below 50 for almost two weeks, and today's potential result could bring numbers to a new low, following 13 cases on Monday and 22 cases on Tuesday.

Australia's results rival those in New Zealand despite our Kiwi neighbours having a population about one fifth the size of Australia's and introducing a much stricter lockdown.

New Zealand recorded six news cases of coronavirus this morning.

This morning federal Health Minister Greg Hunt pointed out that the growth rate had fallen below 0.5 per cent in the last three days.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also noted Australia's success yesterday in driving down the number of active cases.

About 70 per cent of more than 6000 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have now recovered.

"We have active cases of less than 2500 now," Mr Morrison told reporters on Tuesday.

If Australia can get this to zero, this means there will be no known active infections in the country.

A man is advised to put on a mask by public health nurses at Sydney International Airport last month. Picture: Nikki Short
A man is advised to put on a mask by public health nurses at Sydney International Airport last month. Picture: Nikki Short

Australian National University infectious diseases physician Peter Collignon said, "Australia is a success".

"I think Australia and New Zealand are the best places in the world currently, with good health systems that have managed to control the number of infections," he told news.com.au.

"Australia is one of the best places for testing in the world, per capita, and this is reflected in the low mortality rates."

However, the statistics show a small number of cases are still being missed so the virus has not been eliminated.

"It is climbing in low numbers so we've still got to do testing and quarantine otherwise it will pop up again, especially in winter," Prof Collignon said.

"We expect to see more cases in winter, that's just the nature of respiratory diseases, they are easier to transmit in winter, so from mid-June on is when we have to be more concerned."

The Prime Minister has said restrictions would be eased by mid-May if three things were put in place including better testing, increased tracing capability and improved local response capability.

 

The Prime Minister pointed to the example of Singapore, one of the most "cautious and careful of nations", as a warning that Australia could not afford to be complacent.

Singapore managed to keep its new cases below 100 a day until early April. On Tuesday it reported more than 1000 new cases, most of them from work permit holders residing in dormitories.

"Singapore now has, sadly, more cases than Australia after some very strong early successes," Mr Morrison told reporters.

"It is a reminder that even a country as diligent and as careful as Singapore has been that none of us can be complacent about this virus.

"As I've said on many occasions, it writes its own rules. We need to ensure that we are continually up to the mark in our response."

The Morrison Government has said social distancing restrictions would remain in place for another month but announced on Tuesday that some elective surgery and IVF would be allowed to resume.

Prof Collignon believes there can be a gradual easing of restrictions but it will still be quite a while - potentially as late as September once winter is over - before more risky activities are allowed.

"Funerals and indoor crowds are not going to happen for quite a while," he said.

He was also sceptical about whether sports like rugby league could restart this winter.

Members of the Melbourne Storm train on April 14 with hopes the competition will restart on May 28. Picture: Scott Barbour/AAP
Members of the Melbourne Storm train on April 14 with hopes the competition will restart on May 28. Picture: Scott Barbour/AAP

In order to keep infections down, Prof Collignon said it was important that Australia's COVID-19 testing be maintained as well as quarantine and crowd restrictions.

Despite Australia's extraordinary results, Prof Collignon still doesn't believe it's likely that Australia will be able to eliminate the disease completely.

"It's not very likely mainly because so many people have mild symptoms that you won't pick all those up," he said.

New Zealand also appears to be abandoning the goal of getting cases downs to zero, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing on Monday that New Zealand would lift restrictions in a week, despite not reaching zero cases.

"Elimination doesn't mean zero cases," Ms Ardern told reporters. "It means zero tolerance for cases."

She said when the virus re-emerged, authorities would test, track and isolate cases.

"That is how we will keep our transmission rate under one, and it is how we will keep succeeding," she said.

Prof Collignon disagreed with Ms Ardern, saying "elimination does mean zero cases".

However, he agreed with her aim, saying Australia and New Zealand had both appeared to have brought down infections to such a low level that it was now under control, although Australia had managed to do this with much less restrictions.

The most important restrictions, Prof Collignon believes, were the ones introduced in mid-March, and these include the closure of international borders, quarantine of overseas travellers, closing bars and pubs and limiting the number of people allowed to gather in people's homes.

He does not consider these measures to constitute a lockdown but instead were "very significant restrictions" that had been shown to have been very successful in Australia at controlling the infection.

While Prof Collignon believes an app, which will be launched soon to help authorities trace the spread of coronavirus in Australia, could be useful, he said the problem would be getting a significant amount of the population to actually download it.

 

Continue the conversation @charischang2 | charis.chang@news.com.au


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