Coronavirus crossroads: Australia now has 'three options'

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·5-min read

Not only has Australia flattened the curve, the number of coronavirus cases confirmed daily is now dropping significantly to the point it’s almost being squashed.

And while this offers a sense of optimism across Australia, state governments have stressed the battle against COVID-19 is far from over.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has continuously stressed the current restrictions the country is facing would last at least six months, however a drop in numbers has prompted murmurs from the Australian community - particularly from those who’ve taken a huge economic hit during the pandemic - about whether such measures are necessary considering the progress made in the past week.

Yet virologist at the University of Queensland, Professor Ian Mackay, has warned they are likely to be in effect in some sort of capacity for much longer, until a vaccine is created.

A pop-up testing facility in action at Bondi Beach. Source: Getty
A pop-up testing facility in action at Bondi Beach. Source: Getty

“Getting a vaccine or having some anti-virals that can treat or prevent illness is really the end game we’re aiming for here to give people immunity without having to go through the disease and possibly become very sick or die,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

On Tuesday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reiterated restrictions will be in place until a vaccine is found, with many anticipating that may not come until some time in 2021.

“The reality is that until we find a vaccine, we all have to live with this virus,” she told reporters.

“And no matter what restrictions there are in the future, no matter what restrictions are potentially eased in the future, until a vaccine is found, social distancing is a way of life now.

“That is the new normal.”

While the government has been somewhat secretive until now over its plans moving forward, Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy shed some light on the matter on Tuesday, after Mr Morrison met with state and territory leaders.

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, they shared modelling on the current measures implemented by the government, however Dr Murphy said they would not be able to predict what measures could be eased moving forward at this stage.

“There is no clear path,” he admitted.

Dr Murphy stressed modelling for the individual measures of social distancing, such as gathering size, wasn’t currently available and therefore considering changes to restrictions was “a matter of weeks” away.

Australia’s three options in coronavirus fight

Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist from the University of Melbourne, has questioned the government’s lack of transparency regarding its plans for the virus.

“Australia has some of the best infectious disease modellers in the world. But, at the moment, we are not hearing what they have to say at the very time we need to know what they’re thinking – a serious pandemic,” he explained on the University of Melbourne’s expert commentary site Pursuit.

He says the government now has three options when it comes to moving forward from Australia’s current position in its fight against COVID-19.

OPTION ONE: ERADICATE THE VIRUS

The first, which Prof Blakely said has an extremely low chance of success, the government could try and eradicate coronavirus from Australia altogether.

OPTION 2: FLATTEN THE CURVE TOWARDS HERD IMMUNITY

A more feasible approach, would see a sense of normality returned to society, albeit with restrictions to allow the country to manage the virus until a vaccine is available.

“In a couple of weeks’ time, a loosening up of social distancing if rates are still low [would] generate sustainable daily caseloads to ride this epidemic out,” Prof Blakely explained.

“This means flattening the curve towards herd immunity – with our health services better stocked with equipment and hopefully more evidence on effective treatments.”

This would result in a steady but controlled flow of cases and ultimately regular deaths, rates determined how stringent the measures are.

Several beaches have been closed across Australia after many failed to adhere to the social distancing restrictions implemented. Source: Getty
Several beaches have been closed across Australia after many failed to adhere to the social distancing restrictions implemented. Source: Getty
A lone car is seen on the empty city link Burnley tunnel tollway entrance. Source: Getty
A lone car is seen on the empty city link Burnley tunnel tollway entrance. Source: Getty

OPTION 3: CONTINUE SQUASHING THE CURVE

Prof Blakely said a third option is to continue the current trajectory and enforce the tight restrictions currently being used to keep deaths to a minimum until next year.

“Australia could continue squashing the curve for months and months till sometime in 2021 until a vaccine is available – with less mortality but also much greater societal and economic cost,” he explained.

Easing restrictions could spark widespread transmission

The ABC’s medical expert Norman Swan said the government’s future modelling won’t come up with one set answer that will be followed in the coming months, however will offere an insight into the government’s plans.

Any change to the current restrictions need to be carefully considered to avoid a surge in cases, he warned.

“We've got to start ruling the virus, rather than the virus ruling us,” Dr Swan said.

While it may seem Australia is in control, he pointed towards the growing number of cases from community transmission, in particular those without a known source.

“Whether it be from contact with COVID-19, or not, or an unknown, is slowly going up,” he explained.

“It just sits there, very small numbers slowly going up. And the problem is - that's the fuel for the fire.

“And it would be much worse if we weren't socially distancing, but if you let your foot too much off the brake as we've seen in New York and Italy and elsewhere, that small number can become very large number, scarily quickly.”

In NSW, where the percentage of local transmission cases without a known source doubled in the space of eight days last week, Ms Berejkilian continues to stress the importance of ensuring this doesn’t grow any further.

“When these numbers in the community do increase and they’re not linked to travel then we’ve obviously got ongoing spread developing in the community and it’s really important we try and slow that down as much as possible,” Prof Mackay told Yahoo News Australia.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.