CORONAVIRUS IN AUSTRALIA: DO THE FACTS JUSTIFY THE ACTIONS?

We are all very concerned about the spread of CV, the overall risk to us and the chance of personally dying.   Information from the Department of Health’s reporting (health.gov.au – coronavirus current statistics), as opposed to the media and pictures you get, show that the real story is significantly different from people’s fears.  Do the facts justify the current set of actions?  What should be/should have been done?

What is the Current Situation?

At March 30, of our current 4000-odd CV cases (rising at around 400/day):

  • 3000 (75%!!!) are due to people who travelled overseas or were in DIRECT contact with those who did
  • Of those 3000, around
    •  40% came back from Europe travel
    • 20% came from Cruises (a new category for the Dept!)
    • 20% came from the ‘Americas’ travel  (mostly the US )

Only 250 were from local transmission (<10% of analysed cases).

Of those 250:

  • 200 (80%) are in NSW (due mainly, directly, to crazy behaviour, such as Bondi Beach, bar parties, late crackdown on large gatherings there)
  • Which means LESS THAN 50 CASES IN AUSTRALIA ARE FROM LOCAL TRANSMISSION OUTSIDE NSW (really Sydney….)
  • Most of those 50 cases are in Victoria (where I live)
  • Almost all deaths (only 18 so far) are of people over 70 with pre-existing illnesses
  • In Victoria, there are only 4 (FOUR) people in hospitals in ICUs and only 26 in hospital in TOTAL (!)
  • 99+% of infected people in Australia are recovering.

Is the Focus and Attention Appropriate?

The actions taken (closing whole swathes of the country’s businesses and organisations, banning indoor and outdoor meetings) seem like a total over-reaction at the country level, when much more targeted action, based on the specific threats, would have been more effective.

(By comparison, the flu killed around 450 people last year in Australia, there were over 220,000 cases and we had vaccines to ‘protect’ ourselves from it!)

What Should Have Been/Be Done!

Obviously what we should have done/do as a country was/is:

  • Provide correct information and analysis, so people could understand the true risks and not get so frightened, while making communications consistent with the evidence
  • Shut down in-bound travel (we did this very early with China travel, with very positive effects, as China is now a very low source of our total infections, but were too slow with Iran, Italy and the US;  this has now been done)
  • Quarantine, in closely supervised, government-controlled places, any incoming travellers for 14 days (begun 2 days ago)
  • Encourage improved personal hygiene (this would also help against a wide variety of medical problems, including common colds and the flu…)
  • Temperature test people in all public buildings and spaces (this is what was key for Asian nations, all of whom have successfully controlled or slowed the virus well below virtually all Western nations

What About Physical Distancing and Shutting Down Businesses/Organisations?

Most medical experts have actually supported shutting down places where people congregate and apply physical distancing principles, but this is mainly impacting only local transmission cases, not those directly connected to overseas travellers.

If they have more information than we have, we should have that information, so we can see why these life-impacting and country-impacting measures are justified.  The above measures seem to have more evidence to support their effects than mass shutdowns.

What is Our Personal Risk Really?

In reality, individually, we seem to be at very low risk of catching CV, at very low risk of having severe symptoms if we do catch it and very, very low risk of dying…unless we are over 70 and have pre-existing medical illnesses.  Even in the US, their 200,000 infections is less than 0.05% of the population and 2,000 deaths is 0.0005%.  Miniscule, though it sounds a lot.

Perhaps, in a week’s time, when the 4,000 Australian cases have become 16,000 (based on doubling every 3-4 days), the government’s actions will seem more appropriate.  Perhaps if there are <16,000 cases in a week, that will ‘prove’ the government has been right.  But, it seems that a different set of actions – ones flagged early on – would have seen much better health results…and much less long-term impact on the social and economic future of the country.

 

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