Australia is showing the world how to manage COVID-19

There is no place like home – at least right now. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said last week that even accounting for Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19 infections, Australia had been “an exemplar” for the rest of the world on how to manage COVID-19.

Our freedoms have been limited this year, more so in some parts of the country than others, but our extensive testing regime, one of the best in the world, and our contact tracing system, which in most states has stopped COVID-19 in its tracks, means you are less likely to catch the virus here than in most other places on Earth.

A COVID-19 testing clinic in Prestons, NSW.

A COVID-19 testing clinic in Prestons, NSW.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Australia has recorded 1.06 cases of COVID-19 for every 1000 people. That compares with a world average of 3.85 cases per 1000 people and about 20 cases per 1000 people in the United States.

The US is recording anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day and often more than 1000 deaths. In some cities, such as New York, schools are yet to reopen after they were closed in March. That’s six months of home-schooling. And counting.

In France, there have been up to 23,000 new cases a day in the past week. Testing for COVID-19 was only made free at the end of July and the country is struggling to meet demand. People have had to wait days to get tested and on Thursday, workers at testing laboratories went on strike over their workload. Last week, 5.4 per cent of tests carried out were found to be positive – compared with about 0.1 per cent of tests in Australia.

Demand for tests is also challenging Britain. It is recording about 4000 new cases a day and authorities are worried, especially as winter approaches. In the north-east of England (and now the north-west), the number of people who can gather inside or outside your home has been reduced to six for the whole country and hospitality venues in the north have now been ordered to offer table service only.

It is staggering to read this as an Australian. The thought of having to pay for a COVID-19 test – or having to book for one – is mind-boggling. The residents of north-east England still have more freedoms than Melburnians, who are entering their 12th week of stage-four lockdown.

Lockdowns have proved effective at halting the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. But they have come at a huge economic and social cost. In Britain, like the US, debate rages over whether the cost of greater restrictions is worth it and many countries are choosing to take protective measures and live with the virus instead.

But NSW, in particular, has shown the world that effective case management can prevent the spread of COVID-19 without a lockdown. The daily number of new cases in NSW has been 10 or fewer all week, and the number of cases acquired in the community is lower again.

The state’s ability to trace an infected person’s movements and identify his or her close contacts has allowed NSW Health to jump on top of clusters and contain them. This has meant residents have been able to retain most of their freedoms, although not the freedom to travel to other parts of the country. There is no remaining case for closing state borders to residents of NSW and they must be reopened.

In Victoria, case numbers are now down to double digits and falling further every day. Residents of Melbourne are counting down the days until they have their freedoms back too.

As we head into the warmer months, however, we cannot be complacent. The ease with which we can get tested in Australia, and the efficiency of our tracing systems, is helped by keeping our case numbers low. We owe it to our public health officials to keep acting responsibly. This will protect the systems we have put in place to contain COVID-19 – and protect our freedoms too.

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