Many countries are now in lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, now called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The virus has sickened 2.47 million people worldwide, triggering many preventive measures. Now, it appears that preventive measures taken in Australia are containing the virus, according to new modeling.
In a new modeling report released by the Commonwealth Government and the University of Melbourne (Doherty Institute), the team provided estimates on the case detection rate and variation in the transmission of COVID-19 in Australia. The work represents a pivotal shift in the modeling pf various scenarios to provide the government with a basis for planning and preparedness measures.
St Kilda, Victoria / Australia - April 1st 2020: Signs notifying citizens of beach closures due to Coronavirus pandemic with an empty beach in the background. Image Credit: CEA Productions / Shutterstock
Doing a good job
Compared to other countries, Australia is ‘flattening the curve,’ helping the health system cope with the pandemic. The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic was confirmed to have reached Australia on 25 January 2020 in Victoria, when a man returning from Wuhan, Hubei, China, was tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Australian borders were closed to all non-residents on 20 March. Social distancing rules were imposed on 21 March, and the state governments started to close "non-essential" services. "Non-essential services" included social gathering venues such as pubs and clubs, but unlike other jurisdictions did not include most business operations such as construction, manufacturing, and most retail.
Though the measures are restrictive and have caused economic impacts, the new findings suggest that the inconvenience of social isolation is helping control the virus spread. While the researchers behind them modeling have not estimated a date by which the virus could be defeated, they estimate it could be months away, rather than weeks.
If the government continues with these measures, it can expect the health system to cope with new cases. Currently, the country is increasing its intensive care unit (ICU) bed capacity to around 7,000 beds.
In the modeling, the researchers compared three different scenarios when it comes to the peak daily ICU bed demand. They revealed that when there is uncontrolled spread, the need for ICU beds may heighten to a staggering 35,000 beds. If there are isolation and quarantine, there may be the need for 17,000 ICU beds, while the country’s strategies of isolation, quarantine, and social isolation, the demand for ICU beds will be below 5,000.
The country is also effectively tracing all positive cases and impose isolation measures.
“Australia is estimated to be currently detecting approximately 92 percent of all symptomatic cases. Each state and territory individually estimated to be detecting over 80 percent of cases,” the report said.
Preventing the second surge of cases
The model also suggests that every ten people infected with the coronavirus spread the virus to five more people. If this trend continues, it is expected that the virus would die out within Australia.
The country is doing a good job, but the measures need to be maintained to prevent a second wave of the cases. Loosening restrictions prematurely may lead to an increase in cases.
The study also shows how quickly the virus would begin to spread if restrictions are lifted. Though the current numbers show a controlled spread of the virus at the moment, without social distancing, ten infected people would infect about 25 others.
A reproduction number is the average number of people who contract the virus from one infected person. In Australia, the reproduction number is below one, which suggests that the outbreak is in decline in the country. Without social distancing measures, the estimated reproduction number of SARS-CoV-2 is 2.5.
The report recommends the country should continue using the tools they are now using to control the virus spread. These include social distancing measures, isolating infected people, tracing and quarantining their contacts, and practicing good hygiene, including washing the hands frequently.
In Australia, there are 6,625 confirmed cases and 71 reported deaths. In comparison, the United Kingdom reported 125,856 confirmed cases and 16,550 deaths. The United States reports the highest number of cases and deaths, with 787,901 and 42,364 people, respectively.