Victoria should go into a strict stage four lockdown to avoid the “Groundhog Day” of easing and reintroducing coronavirus restrictions, an expert warns.
Adjunct Professor at the University of NSW, Bill Bowtell, said Australia needs to adapt a strategy to eliminate the virus, rather than continue trying to suppress it.
“I don’t think suppression as it’s been put into practice in Victoria and NSW has worked very well,” he told 3AW radio in Melbourne.
“I think the present [six-week lockdown in Melbourne] is a sign of that and in NSW [there’s] a rising number of cases.
“Funnily enough I think the rest of Australia without meaning it – the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia – have eliminated the virus and New Zealand is a shining example.”
Professor Bowtell added an elimination strategy “seems to me, logical”.
“We almost got there, let’s go for it, we can’t keep putting people into lockdown,” he said.
Melbourne Metro and the Mitchell Shire are currently in the second week of a six-week stage three lockdown where people can only leave the house for four reasons – for medical care, to provide care, attend school or work and shop for essentials.
Fears of coronavirus lockdown at Christmas
New coronavirus cases have been surging in Victoria, with 238 new cases announced on Wednesday, following 270 reported on Tuesday.
Victoria has recorded new coronavirus cases in the triple-digits for 10 consecutive days and the state’s death toll has now climbed to 27.
“What do we do? We go through this six weeks and come out of it and there’s another flare up and we go back into it at Christmas? That’s pretty silly,” Professor Bowtell told 3AW.
“The only answer for elimination is a tougher lockdown and using what we know now. Back it March it was up for grabs. There were two ways of going – suppression – which we used in Australia – and elimination.
“We do know a lot more now after six months about the behaviour we need to change to make the job of the virus very difficult. Certainly it does mean a lockdown.”
Professor Bowtell suggested if Australia “had gone harder” when the first wave of coronavirus cases hit, we would have come close to or possibly eliminated the virus.
“We know what works – when you’re out and about you’ve got to use masks, thats’s very important. It really reduces transmission of the virus,” he told 3AW.
“But we need contact tracing – much better contact tracing. We need much better communication to all communities affected.”
Professor Bowtell said with about 6.5 million people in Victoria, residents are from diverse communities and backgrounds and the message needed to be delivered to them plainly and directly.
“If we do all those things as they did in New Zealand, as they’ve done in some other countries ... we can knock it out and why wouldn’t we try? It’s a very good thing to do for public health and the economy,” he said.
Professor Bowtell added a four to six week stage four lockdown could be a significant step in eliminating the virus from the country.
“It has got to be done,” he said.
“My proposition is, can we do it and be done with it – or are we on a rinse and repeat, Groundhog Day cycle?”
Eradicating coronavirus will obliterate economy: PM
As authorities attempt to tame rising infection rates in Victoria and NSW, debate around eliminating the virus has flared again.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned attempting to eradicate the disease would obliterate the economy.
The prime minister is instead persevering with a suppression strategy.
Mr Morrison said the approach relies on the strength of state and territory health systems, and their ability to track and trace cases, along with adherence to social distancing rules.
"You don't just shut the country down because that is not sustainable," he told Triple M.
"You would be doubling unemployment, potentially, and even worse. The cure would be worse than what arguably wouldn't be delivered anyway."
Mr Morrison pointed out the Victorian outbreak, which has claimed several lives, was sparked by a quarantine breach.
"Unless we're going to not allow any freight or any medical supplies into Australia, or not allow any exports or anything like this, there is always going to be a connection between Australia and the rest of the world," he said.
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