Since its first reported case on 25 January, Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unique. Rather than imposing strict lockdowns aimed at halting non-essential activities for a few weeks (which has been the prevalent approach around the world), the Federal Government’s emphasis has been on implementing social-distancing rules viable for at least six months.
On March 22, and after 28 days of the first confirmed case, Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison announced Stage 1 of a set of social distancing measures aimed at reducing social interactions while minimising economic disruption. The PM stated:
“We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow this virus down must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives, allow Australia to keep functioning and keep Australians in jobs.”
The initial set of measures included restrictions to social gatherings of more than 500 people outside or more than 100 people inside, the closure of entertainment venues, and suggestions on how to practice social distancing.
These restrictions were tightened on 29 March following what has been, so far, the highest daily increase in confirmed cases, with 460 new cases reported on 28 March. These Stage 2 measures reduced indoor and outdoor gatherings to two persons only, and Australians were strongly advised to stay home unless for essential activities; such as shopping for supplies, medical needs, and exercise. But, despite these stricter measures, the government maintained its commitment to policies that could be sustained for at least six months while balancing out the health and economic effects of the pandemic.
Although, these restrictions have resulted in thousands of jobs lost and entire industries in desperate need for help, so far, they have been effective in controlling – and even reducing – the spread of the virus in the community. This figure shows the seven-day moving average growth rate in COVID-19 confirmed cases since Australia reported its 100th case. After peaking at nearly 25% in early March, this rate has dropped to its lowest level at 4.5% on 6 April, 28 days after the country reached 100 cases.
In comparison, the average growth rate between the more severely affected countries in Europe and the US, was almost four times higher at 16.1%, after reaching 100 cases. Even China, one of the most successful countries in containing the spread of the virus – according to the official figures – was sitting at a 10% growth rate 28 days after reaching their 100th case.
Overall, and despite specific blunders – such as the infamous Ruby Princess case – State and Federal governments in Australia have been successful in “flattening the curve” and slowing the spread of COVID-19. Let’s hope this trend continues.