How Australia is handling the pandemic

March 31, 2020 • 10:00 am

Reader Sue Davies sent a report from Australia on how they’re handling the pandemic, and gave me permission to post it. While much of her information comes from two sites (a Guardian Australia site and an Aussie federal government site), the summary and words are her own, and I’ve indented them:

I thought you might like to know how we in Australia are handling the crisis.

The Prime Minister has set up a “National Cabinet” made up of Premiers and Chief Health Officers of all six states and the Northern Territory.  This meets daily to make decisions affecting the whole country.  All the states are implementing the same laws to ensure that the response is the same everywhere.

Presently the rules are these:

1).  No more than two people can congregate outside at any one time (excluding family members). There are stiff on-the-spot fines ($1600) for people caught flouting the rules.

2).  All shops and organisations are shut down excluding:  supermarkets, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, liquor shops, petrol stations, vehicle repair shops, food production and distribution, hairdressers.

JAC: Note that hairdressers are open, something that’s not the case here. I guess the violation of social distance is deemed less important than the need for tonsorial services!

3).  All state borders are closed to all traffic excluding freight, health workers. Also allowed are “compassionate grounds” travellers and people returning to their home state (who all HAVE
to go into 14 days of quarantine before they can get to their destination).

4). There are no sporting fixtures, sport training, use of outdoor gyms and playgrounds, use of public swimming pools.  And all beaches are closed.

5).  No cinemas, clubs, hotels (drinking, not accommodation), casinos, auctions, house inspections, personal services (excluding hairdressers, physiotherapists), amusement parks, galleries, museums, libraries, markets.

6).  You are allowed out of  your home in order to: shop for essentials, visit doctors, visit pharmacies, get your vehicle serviced, exercise (but by yourself).

7).  The only people allowed into the country are citizens and permanent residents, who all have to go into 14 days quarantine.

8).  All aged care facilities are locked down.  No visitors.

9).  People cannot just turn up at the doctor’s premises.  They have to telephone first and the doctor will decide whether they need to attend.  Otherwise all medical consultations are done
via phone or video.  And all consultations are bulk-billed to Medicare (our universal health system) so that no-one has to pay.

10). Landlords (of both private residences and commercial premises) are not allowed to evict their tenants.

11). Fewer half of the members of Federal Parliament (both house and senate) are sitting (just enough to constitute a quorum) to prevent spreading the virus; and those who are sitting are self-isolating between sittings.

12). Wedding attendance is limited to the celebrant and two witnesses.  Funerals are restricted to 10 people.

13). Restaurants and cafes can offer delivery and takeaway only. Food courts in shopping centres may also only offer takeaway.

14). Child care centres are closed.  In most states, schools are still open but parents can decide whether to send children or keep them at home.  Schools will remain open for children of health workers.

15).  All celebrations for Anzac Day (our national day remembering war veterans) are cancelled.

As at 6:30am on 31 March 2020, there have been 4,359 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. There have been 266 new cases since 6:30am yesterday. There have been 19 deaths.
Countrywide there are 50 people in intensive care of which 20 are on ventilators.

It looks like we may be flattening the curve:

More info and graphs can be found here. 

All this means that about 8 million Australians are suddenly out of work, so the government is implementing a $130b package to support employers, who keep their staff, by way of wage subsidies.  This prevents the government social-security network from being overwhelmed by out-of-work job seekersm and enables employers to retain staff (even if the business is not trading) to facilitate a smooth start-up when this is all over. It also assists people to keep paying rent and buy essentials.

Pensioners will all receive and extra $1750, and in Queensland electricity bills will not be issued (electricity is state-owned in Queensland but I think in all other states it is privatised).

The army has been deployed to help with enforcement of the rules and bans and are also employed in a couple of factories manufacturing PPE.

I think that covers most of it.  I believe New Zealand has also introduced draconian measures that seem to be working.

Sue added this later:

One thing that I didn’t mention is that there is no politicking about all this.  There are two state Labor governments and four state Liberal (conservative) governments and all are working together, including the federal opposition (Labor) to provide the best leadership possible.  It really is a “wartime” cabinet.  If only it could be like that in normal times. . .

Or in the U.S.!  Thanks to Sue for her report.

75 thoughts on “How Australia is handling the pandemic

  1. Good update. It’s interesting that schools are still open; here in the states, that was one of the first things closed (and is likely a contributing cause to many places of employment voluntarily shutting down, as parents then need to stay home with their kids). It’s an obvious vector for transmission.

      1. It seems some restaurants are opening again in Western Australia, certainly the one at the Ibis Styles Hotel in Perth is. It had been closed for a week at least.

        This is good news for my parents as they are stuck there with their planned return flight on April 5 not running.

  2. I’m cautious about the last few data points – because I’ve noticed, on the Johns Hopkins site, etc. since there are ongoing tests, the data might be filling in as the day progresses. That is, the certain data comes in, but perhaps there’s some data that is in progress. Actually I don’t know how many days it might take to get all cases tested on one day. Please not I’m not saying anything more than there might be data that is not accounted yet, and also I don’t know how we know the data are complete.

    But – cautious optimism comes to mind about any given plot I’ve seen.

    1. It’s usually good to wait 5-10 days after the recorded period before believing the data, as additional cases can be reported later than they occur. Thus, the most recent points may go up somewhat over time as late reports get added.

      But, as you say, cautious optimism.

    2. There is reason to be optimistic. In the course of my job we get detailed daily epidemiological updates and, at least here in the US, within the past several days there are promising signs that the curve is flattening. It’s not everywhere and it’s more of the “it’s not getting as bad as fast as it was” kind of improvement, but there are signs of improvement. Despite all the worry, it appears that in many places the efforts are beginning to work.

      Hold on to your hats.

      1. On a less upbeat note, I saw this fact earlier today…. More than 95% of the people who will die from COVID-19 in 2020 are still alive.

        1. That is definitely true. There is no easy way out of this. The goal of course, is to keep the magnitude of the overall number as low as possible.

    3. I don’t think we will really have reasonably accurate numbers until this is well over. The biggest problem IMO is the confirmed infected number. As the label suggests this number is merely the number confirmed to be infected. This number is largely dependent on testing. Not only is testing a bottle neck in most places but you can be sure that even if it weren’t that there would be many people that wouldn’t come forward and be tested.

      It is a certainty that there are many more infected than the “confirmed infected” numbers reflect.

      1. Exactly. Case numbers are useless unless tests are administered using a sampling technique. The current data we have is so bad that there still isn’t accurate information to prove that this is worse than a standard flu. Only Iceland has done a relatively unbiased sampling on an established cohort which suggests that the actual infected cases is significantly higher. This means that the death rates must be significantly lower. Iceland’s estimate is 0.03% of infected people die. In other words, flu-like.

        1. Debbie, I feel there is some confusion here or maybe things are a little our of focus. Testing can be critical for clinical care and it plays important roles in guiding the allocation of resources but it turns out not to be so important for understanding the nature of the pandemic. If present in high enough frequency, testing makes for narrower estimates of error (so long as the tests are themselves accurate) but there are solid epidemiological ways to understand the extent of the epidemic and the rate it is changing even when there is poor or inefficient testing. This is well established science and although some questions are dependent on modelling rather than direct measurements, it is a robust way to understand the pandemic.

          A lack of proper testing hampers the speed at which public health authorities can respond – which in turn makes downstream public health issues much harder to deal with – but it doesn’t mean our information about the public health aspects of the pandemic isn’t accurate. No one has a crystal ball, but we do know what works and what doesn’t and we have a good handle on the natural history of the pandemic. What we aren’t sure of is the adequacy of our responses.

      2. I would not bet on “many.”

        S. Korea tested >300,000 people. Their population is ~50M, so this is a bit over 0.5% of the entire population.* They found <10,000 infections, with 162 deaths = 1.6% mortality.

        What this tells us is that in the one country that did massive, statistically significant testing, the numbers weren't too far off what we're seeing for confirmed/reported cases in other countries. Put another way, no, there probably aren't a massive number of infected-but-not-seriously-affected people out there. Absolutely there will be some. But unless current tests have a lot of false negatives, reported cases are likely reasonably close to actual cases. Maybe off by a factor of two or less, but certainly not an order of magnitude or anything like that.

        In contrast, *U.S. reported testing is around 147k, which is ~0.04% of our population or about 10% of S. Korea's per capita rate.

        1. The case of South Korea and the few other countries that have much lower case mortality rates than the norm even though they are well over the hump of the first wave are exactly what makes me think that “confirmed cases” numbers for most places are not particularly accurate. Perhaps estimated number of cases per expert modeling are much more accurate (though I’ve seen widely disparate numbers, order of magnitude), but that’s different from the “confirmed cases” numbers. And all the expert estimates I’ve seen are much higher than the “confirmed cases” in a given area. Which does make sense to me.

          Right now there are too many confounding factors, particularly in places like the US, to expect the “confirmed cases” numbers to be accurate. It will take time both for more testing and for the disease to run it’s course to warrant confidence in them, IMO.

  3. “no politicking” is not that surprising. In the last six months I’ve taken it upon myself to took more closely at conservative voices in America and I am not convinced that the majority of issues that liberals and conservatives think they disagree about are actually as divisive as they think.

    A handful of Tweets can make a lot of people upset but those same people would be surprised how much they have in common in real life with the Tweeter they believe is against everything they stand for.

  4. Rationality and a care for the community, together make a powerful remedy. Over here in the USA we have industries haggling their way into exemption from shutdown rules.

  5. That’s quite remarkable. All those actions seem very reasonable. The schools being open is the only exception I can see. Why schools? Seems like schools would be a prime source of spread.

    1. Parents who are healthcare workers often cannot make other arrangements for childcare when schools are closed, so would have to stay home with the children.

    2. Why schools? Because our Chief Medical Officer was still recently pushing the misinformation that children don’t get covid-19. At the same time inconsistently arguing that if kids are not in school they will be “socialising at the local shopping centre”, cross infecting each other. That children under 16 should not be allowed to visit aged care facilities because they risk infecting the elderly. And “because Singapore*”, which didn’t close schools, but did do all sorts of things that we still are not doing (multiple daily temperature checks, providing hand sanitiser in schools, government enforced isolation in government facilities for positive cases, etc,. etc., etc.)

      Our PM took a political stance that schools should not be closed for the good of the economy (so parents can go to work), and that many medical people would not go to work if schools were closed, and that education is important and so schools must continue normally. The states rebelled against this, and decided that only those who must attend should attend, and advised all students to stay home if they can. We’ve done lots of things right, but also lots of things wrong. Mostly being reactive rather than proactive, and having to have the Commonwealth reluctantly dragged along by the States.

      Similarly the decision to keep hairdressers open is another inconsistent, economically motivated, political decision.

      *Our CMO asserts that “Singapore is the Gold Standard”. Looking at time for cases to double, a reasonable empirical criteria, this is not currently true. They’ve done well, they went early and hard (we didn’t), but S. Korea has done much better from a much worse starting position. Eventually, so did China. Maybe Singapore comes 4th, behind Japan?

  6. Wow, must be swell living in a sane and sensible country (making it the antipode of the US, figuratively as well as geographically).

    We USians seem to be such a long, long way from knowing that feeling. Like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

  7. Yes, It must be nice living in a country with actual leadership and making policy for all. We will never have that here regardless of how many die. The daily reports from Trumpland have become campaigns for the believers.

    1. I wonder what would have been possible if Obama was president. He might not have gone as far as some other countries because he would have feared that the country was to diverse and divided to march to a single drum. On the other hand I think he certainly would have followed expert advice very carefully.

      1. I think Obama would have been light years ahead of this do nothing. He had a pandemic organization established in the executive which Trump dismantled. He had actual and competent heads of all department, not missing in action or long sense departed. When you hollow out complete departments of the government and put jerks in charge, you get what we have today. It is one thing to be a moron yourself, as Trump is, but to also conclude you alone can do it – then you have disaster.

      2. There is no other leader in the world least equipped to handle this or any other cataclysmic event than Trump. Sadly, many will die and still worship his sorry ass.

        1. I’m sure that’s exactly right. Historians will have a great time mining his legacy centuries from now. How not to govern.

  8. The numbers of infections (cases) is now probably quite inaccurate most places, will get better, but probably never that good.

    But the numbers of deaths should be pretty accurate up to a few hours earlier in ‘Western’ countries. The population is effectively fixed for the ratio.

    And Australia right now is well under 1 death per million population. That is much better than Canada’s approximately 2.5, and US’s just over 10 deaths per million population.

    I think some of this, but not a lot, is due to the timing of when the virus ‘arrived’.
    It will be interesting to see how soon all these numbers start to approach and pass Italy’s approximately 200 deaths per million.
    By that time, there’s will have increased of course.

    1. So, why has Italy been so bad? Is it a confluence of culture, aged population, and a corrupt/ineffective government? I know some people who live in Italy, and the stories they’ve told me in the past make it seems like they basically have the government of a third world country. Plenty of other countries have a significantly aged population, but none has come anywhere close to experiencing the effects from COVID-19 that Italy has.

      1. It got to Italy much earlier, and they had far less lead time (than us in North America and Australia especially) to know enough to clamp down on social interaction. And maybe their health system, except on paper, is not that much better than that in US, and worse by far than, say, Norway or Germany. Age distribution would also be a factor I imagine.

        I’m still baffled at why Germany’s 8 deaths per million is so much better than the very comparable France’s 46 deaths per million. NYTimes noted that in a headline, but then the article seemed to entirely relate to why the numbers of infections should be that much different, which they aren’t.

      2. As far as I read from multiple sources (here are two of them), the main suspects are a higher average age, more contacts between older and younger people as in other countries, an undiscovered outbreak in the region that is now the epicenter of the pandemic, and some fatal “misunderstandings” between the government and the hospitals about who to test for the virus.

  9. If you are looking for a good source of data for coronavirus, I suggest the Financial Times. Remember that this is log scale.

    The last two days have shown a (log scale) flattening of deaths in US. Still horrible numbers but death doubling taking more than 3 days. In New York state, the doubling rate is less than 2 days.

    Australia is doing really well which I would guess is weather related.

    1. Is there any concrete evidence yet of weather making much difference for this particular virus?

      I’d guess “doing..well” is more related to decent health system or not, and decent government or not, with the timing of the virus getting established in different countries also but lesser.

      The site
      has a lot of numbers (and graphs but media graphs are not that good usually). I think they’re pretty accurate, and being updated pretty much is real time.

      1. I think there is some evidence. If you look at the FT link, Algeria, India and Indonesia seem to be doing much better than most of Europe.

        IMO (not an expert) the most likely reason would be temperature but they could also have some genetic immunity due to past outbreaks of similar diseases.

        Razib Khan, who is excellent at data models, seems to think it helps a little
        “To be clear. Does this mean weather/climate determine whether COVID-19 will spread or not? No. Rather, I think that weather/climate has some effect on the margin on the R0. I am not sure of the exact reason, but if the virus degrades much faster in hot climates, that could be one explanation of why spreading is more limited. It also does not seem to be the case that tropical countries are going to avoid mass healthcare crises.”

        1. I’m exceedingly skeptical of the “genetic immunity” bit. I’m not even sure those two words belong next to each other since immunity is gained by exposure, not by inheritance. And this novel virus is novel to all of humanity, not just to some parts of the world.

          1. Genetic resistance is well accepted science. For example, the sickle trait provides genetic immunity to malaria. The lack of any smallpox resistance was a major factor in the indigenous Americans die off. Perhaps resistance is a better word than immunity

            I am skeptical in this case but it is the only explanation I have other than weather for the low cases in Indonesia and India.

            1. Point taken as to malaria. Smallpox is different, I think, in that exposure/recovery is how you gain immunity. Indigenous populations had no herd immunity since the virus had never been seen in the New World before Europeans arrived. Europeans had a degree of herd immunity because the disease had a long history in the Old World. All humans, in the current pandemic, are in the position of indigenous Americans in 1500. Two years from now we’ll be in the position (more or less) of Europeans in 1500. Genetics don’t account for the difference, exposure in the population does.

              1. I really should have typed “1490” instead of “1500” in the interest of historical accuracy.

    2. “….flattening of deaths in US”

      I hope I’m wrong, but the (Sat,Sun,Mon)IIRC was about (450,250,558) for deaths in US, the 558 rally being their figure as of now. So I fear there was just some error in the first two, with some Saturday being really Sunday. They are doing it for the world, and time zones would play a role. Maybe the 700 total (really: whatever the numbers were) is close to correct, but 300 Sat., then 400 Sun. closer to correct.

      1. Found them. And adding Thurs,Fri.:
        (268,400,525,363,558) .

        Putting Fri/Sat and Sun/Mon together gives 925 and 921. Now it looks to me more like it IS a flattening, after deadening a bit for a possible ‘which day’ mixup mentioned above.

        So I sure hope that continues, then dips.

        Those hospital workers include many major heroes, whatever is the truth in the end.

        1. It is too early to say much but the timing sees reasonable. Deaths tend to lag infection by about two weeks and it has been two weeks since the lock downs began. If we have a few more days of slower growth, I will be more confident that it is meaningful and not a blip.

          Even so, I would still be worried in areas with lower infection rates. We really need testing.

    1. “Sweden….. are doing practically nothing.”

      And they now have 18 deaths per million compared to Norway’s 7 deaths per million.

      This is despite Norway’s relatively large number of infections, which I’d conjecture partly comes from more tourists there, and maybe from richer Norwegians’ more travel outside the country.

      1. And a worse case of making the mistake of “doing nothing” is Netherlands, with 61 deaths per million.

  10. In other bizarre happenings,

    “The Trump administration is expected on Tuesday to announce its final rule to roll back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards, relaxing efforts to limit climate-warming tailpipe pollution and virtually undoing the government’s biggest action to combat climate change.”

    Look forward to a lot of this kind of thing over the next few months as tRump takes advantage of the crisis to engineer new, future crises.

    1. And of course you guys really, really need more carbon monoxide, whatever… to fuck up your lungs, so that Corona Mark II can kill you in your old age.

  11. That’s pretty much what Germany implemented two and a half weeks ago, only brothels are also closed. (Note: I’m not speaking from personal experience, rather Ms Merkel included them in the list she read out in her speech to the nation. No one in Germany batted an eyelid, but as an Australian, familiar with English culture, I noticed it and appreciated the mater of factness of German culture in such matters!)

    1. The beastiality freaks might be okay, as long as the virus sticks to humans. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  12. In the U.S. our system is the envy of the world! Our doctors are the best. Our industry? Completely terrific. The response of our government has been tremendous, and you should see the ratings on the presidents’ press conferences! I mean, I hear from several people – I don’t go looking for these things, but people tell me anyway – that our presidents’ press conferences have beaten the ratings of The Bachelor! Can you believe it? Really amazing. Simply amazing.

  13. What’s the thing with the hairdressers? “We may go down, but we will go down good looking”?

    Considering that the gyms had to close, where people can usually avoid coming too close to each other, whereas the hairdresser has to be very close to his/her customers to work on their hair, their opening seems a bit contradictory.

    Here in Germany, hairdressers were also exempt from the general lockup at first, but had to close some time later when the measures got tightened.

    1. Yes, I don’t understand the hairdressers either. Originally the rule was you can go to the hairdresser but only spend 30 minutes there. I thought that was weird, and what woman can be in out and out in 30 minutes? then the 30 minutes rule was lifted. I don’t get it. As for the schools, our medical advice is that children don’t suffer as much from the infection. But that doesn’t answer the transmission problem.

  14. Trump is still trying hard to hide the severity of this pandemic. They’ve commanded US military to stop reporting their virus situation. I read somewhere that this was prompted because there’s a hot spot onboard an aircraft carrier and its commander went public with his cry for help.

    I’m sure they will do this under the guise of not wanting to give military readiness info to the “enemy”. As I pointed out to some MAGA dope on Twitter, they’ve already been boarded by the enemy, COVID-19.

  15. This just in:

    “New data cited by Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., shows high rates of transmission by people who are infected but don’t know it yet. An infected person can be contagious for 48 hours before developing symptoms, if they get them at all. Having a mask on could cut down on the number of transmissions from asymptomatic people.

    So the C.D.C. is now considering whether to recommend that more people — maybe everybody — wear a mask when out in public“

    1. I don’t know what that “new data” is exactly, but I heard an interview with a German virologist approx. a week ago about (pre-review?) studies which show that infected people can transmit the virus approx. 2½ days before showing symptoms. The top of the infectiousness was said to be around ½ day before symptoms.

      Searching the web for “corona presymptomatic transmission” shows many older reports about this since the beginning of March. So, at least the strong possibility of presymptomatic transmission is not very new.

      1. I think the issue was not promoted recently because there was a shortage of PPE. Face masks were said to be ineffective unless you were an MD or nurse. I think that idea was put out there to discourage hoarding. Same with presymptomatic transmission. It suggests we should ALL were masks. But where would they come from? WHO and the CDC seem to be coming clean finally. Get out your sewing machine.

        1. Actually, my girlfriend an me (she’s chinese) made our own masks out of a cotton scarf she didn’t wear anymore, using a pattern provided by a federal health department. We wear them when we go shopping.

            1. As long as you’re aware that this kind of mask doesn’t protect you from breathing in the virus in aerosol form (apart from direct hits in the face), but “only” protects others from your own spit and couch, virologists actually recommend wearing them. Like gloves, which are not really different from bare hands otherwise, a mask may also discourage you from touching you face.

              Last, but not least, it can be seen as an in vogue way of saying “I’m aware of the situation and I’ll wear this uncomfortable thing to spare you my infection if I happen to already have it.”

  16. In Pennsylvania, the state stores (liquor stores) have been closed for at least a week. Beer distributors, however, remain open, and brewpubs are allowed to sell canned (and I guess bottled, too) beer out the door.

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