How long will virus lockdowns last in Australia?

 

As states and territories ramp up enforcement of tough social distancing requirements, there's only one thing Australia wants to know.

How long will all this last?

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases approaches 5000 and the death toll rises to 19, there have been some early positive signs of the famous flattening of the curve.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said today growth had slowed from 25-30 per cent a day to about 9 per cent.

"That's an achievement to which all Australians have contributed," Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

"This progress is early, it's significant, but now, with these additional rules around gatherings and movement, we are going the next step to help reduce again the level of infection, and to support our containment."

 

On Monday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the total number of cases was less than had been predicted under some models and may show the lockdowns are working.

"But let's see what happens over coming weeks," Prof Kelly said.

One problem is the long incubation time of COVID-19 means it can take up to two weeks for the effect of new measures to show up in the statistics.

Worryingly, while the number of new cases from returning travellers and cruise ship passengers appears to be levelling off, community transmission is on the rise.

"That's the real threat - people walking around without symptoms while they have this disease," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. "That's why it is important to assume that they have it, and to act like they have it."

Over the past week, the ABC notes there has been a 350 per cent surge in locally caught COVID-19 infections without a link to a known case.

Prof Kelly said it was "probably the most concerning component of the figure we've had to date".

Waiting for take-away customers at La Favella on Bondi Road. Picture: John Appleyard
Waiting for take-away customers at La Favella on Bondi Road. Picture: John Appleyard

 

This morning, NSW reported another 114 cases, continuing the downward trend, but Victoria and Queensland saw sharp jumps.

Ms Berejiklian said it was "too early" to say whether the curve was flattening and announced more testing in suburbs like Bondi and Waverley where there are large outbreaks believed to be linked to "infected backpackers".

Infection control expert and World Health Organisation adviser Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from UNSW told Nine Newspapers people needed to be "very careful" about being too optimistic about the recent slowdown.

"Don't get too excited about what would appear to be a trending down," she said.

Professor Raina Macintyre from the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney suggested it could still be months.

"There are different modelling projections looking at when the epidemic might peak which means there'll be several months of a tail as well," she said in a video for the Australian Academy of Science today.

"And there's always a possibility of a second wave, especially if only a fraction of the population gets infected in the first wave which is the case in China - less than 1 per cent of the whole population got infected, so there is potentially the second wave there."

Prof Kelly told the ABC it would likely be months, suggesting exit strategy could be staggered but the details were still being finalised.

"We want to see the curve not only flatten but bend downwards, and then making that decision about when to take the foot off the brake will be very difficult," he said.

"How we would make that exit strategy is certainly something we are very much working on at the moment, as much as an escalation strategy."

 

Originally published as How long will virus lockdowns last?



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