Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shut down any suggestion the nation should pursue an eradication strategy amid the coronavirus pandemic, stressing Australia cannot “mortgage off” its economy.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said earlier this week he’d be open to a re-evaluation of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s suppression strategy after low levels of cases flared up in the state, leading to a coronavirus crisis which saw more than 300 cases confirmed on Thursday alone.
And while several experts have thrown their support behind an eradication strategy, Mr Morrison said on Thursday the government’s stance would not change.
“[National Cabinet’s position] has always been an aggressive suppression strategy and that remains our view and it's certainly the view of my government,” he said.
"If you're looking at an eradication strategy... you're talking about hundreds of thousands of more people unemployed for a start, and other businesses closing and livelihoods destroyed and you’ve got to weigh that up against what it achieves.”
Mr Morrison pointed out Victoria had been the most stringent of all states and yet now faces the largest outbreak of cases, suggesting even with draconian measures, the virus can still fester.
"The greater risk of an eradication strategy is... all you need is one break and it rushes through community quickly because people become even more complacent.
“It's a very risky strategy and one that can be very illusory.”
In April, then chief medical officer Brendan Murphy regularly touted eradication of the virus as a potential by-product of the suppression strategy in place – something Mr Morrison suggests is still possible.
“[Suppression] is the path we are on. If you get to elimination as a result of this, that’s all well and good, but you can't mortgage off your economy for what would prove to be an illusory goal.”
Premier dismisses controversial coronavirus strategy
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also dismissed suggestion of an eradication strategy, telling reporters on Thursday the state government was a long way from even entertaining discussion on the matter.
“You've got to order your thinking and order the work you do. And the most important thing at the moment is to have that sense of control, drive those numbers down, see community transmission at but a fraction of the rate it's running now,” he said.
“We need to get within range of that before we start having any sort of discussions about whether the strategy needs to change.”
Mr Andrews said while a suppression strategy was in place, it was “absolutely our aim” to eventually eradicate the virus.
Expert calls for widespread lockdown
Medical practitioner and mathematician Dr David Kault says research shows eliminating super spreaders is the key to winning the war against COVID-19.
The adjunct senior lecturer at Queensland's James Cook University says Australia has a 50-50 proposition of eliminating the disease, but that any win comes with personal and financial sacrifice.
Dr Kault said a policy of suppression without elimination leads to an eventual increase in infections, which is what is occurring in New South Wales and Victoria.
"We are seeing the consequences of opening up too soon," he said.
"We can still eliminate it, but we need to lockdown again now. We can't get complacent because numbers are low. Mathematically, going the extra mile to lock down for a few extra weeks is worth it.
"Elimination on an island continent is possible."
Dr Kault said a lockdown would almost certainly smother super spreaders who are more infectious than others.
However, it's difficult to determine who they are and shutting down the country for a couple of weeks would eliminate their potency.
"Super spreaders are the key. We know there are occasional super spreaders who pass the disease on to many others, which means there are also people who pass the disease on to no one," he said.
"The majority of infectious people don't spread it to others and just 20 per cent account for 90 per cent of all subsequent infections."
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.