In good news on Friday, Victoria’s active coronavirus case numbers dropped back to double figures with 81 new cases reported.
The garden state’s ability to get COVID-19 case numbers back under control has sparked calls for Australia to adapt an elimination strategy, with the Grattan Institute claiming the country could successfully achieve zero active cases.
The strategy wouldn’t come without pain, though, with strict COVID-19 regulations needing to be extended to achieve the goal.
The Grattan Institute report, Go For Zero, suggests that Victoria, NSW and Queensland should aggressively drive COVID-19 cases down as part of an explicit national policy of no active cases in the Australian community.
The report claims that opening up too early, while coronavirus is still in the community, runs the risk of future outbreaks, reimposed lockdowns, renewed economic disruption, and more deaths.
Grattan Institute health director Dr Stephen Duckett said it was time for Australia to finish the job on eradicating the virus.
“COVID is a classic case of short-term pain for long-term gain,” Dr Duckett said. “Getting cases down to zero, and keeping them there, will be hard work – but it will save lives and enable the economy to recover more quickly.”
Allowing the virus to run free, as suggested by former prime minister Tony Abbott, would be deadly, the report shows. It would place about 10 million Australians, including the elderly, the poor, and people who live or work in crowded conditions, at much higher risk.
The report also says that the NSW strategy of seeking to keep cases down to a manageable level is also dangerous, because the longer the virus is in the community, the greater the risk of breakouts requiring lockdowns to be reimposed to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed.
“That’s the ‘yo-yo’ strategy,” Dr Duckett says. “The economy could be seized with uncertainty as businesses open, close, open, and close again.”
Instead, NSW, Queensland, and Victoria – the epicentre of Australia’s second wave – should set out to drive community cases down to zero.
The report shows that Victoria could get to zero by the end of October, but only if the vast majority of the population adheres to strict social distancing measures.
Just as restrictions were phased in as each wave of the pandemic struck, they should be phased out as case numbers decline. The report says that there should be no easing until daily new cases are below 20, then further easing when the numbers fall to five, and again at zero.
Keeping numbers at zero will require effective quarantining of all international arrivals.
The states will also have to ramp up testing, including random mass testing of higher-risk groups and contact tracing will have to be faster and more accurate.
However, a successful national campaign to get to zero and stay there would enable all restrictions to be eased other than international quarantine, while the quest for a vaccine continues the report suggests.
“We should go for zero, because the pay-off will be worth it,” Dr Duckett says. “Our report shows how Australia can get there and stay there.”
Do you think Australia should aggressively target an eradication strategy for COVID-19? Would you be willing for restrictions to be extended to achieve this goal? Do you think it will also be better for the economy in the long run?
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.