March 31, 2020 19:31:31

The daily growth rate of coronavirus cases in Australia has fallen so significantly that the federal Health Minister believes “we are now flattening the curve”.

Key points:

  • Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australians had “risen to the occasion”
  • Experts agree the data shows physical-distancing measures are working
  • In Victoria, there are concerns about a sharp increase in suspected community transmissions

Greg Hunt said the daily increase in cases had dropped from 25–30 per cent just over a week ago to 9 per cent this week.

Experts say the slowing growth rate of COVID-19 shows the actions taken by the National Cabinet, and individual Australians, are working.

Mr Hunt said the physical-distancing measures being implemented by Australians were saving lives.

“In these most difficult of times, with these most difficult of measures that none of us had ever dreamt we would ever be involved in, you have risen to the occasion,” he said.

“We are seeing what I would describe as early promising signs of the curve flattening.”

But there was still a long way to go, he said.

“Whilst we are making progress, and whilst we are now flattening the curve in the first early stages of progress, there’s more to do,” he said.

“The new measures we have just put in place, we hope will deliver more benefit.”

But Victorian authorities are concerned about a jump in suspected community transmissions in that state, and have warned the virus could begin significantly spreading in the next few days.

Australia ‘would have twice as many cases if not for interventions’

Paul Glasziou, the director of Bond University’s Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, said “things are actually looking very good”.

He said the data showed measures such as cancellations of mass gatherings and travel bans had made a difference.

The professor estimates Australia would have had about 8,000 cases of the virus by now, rather than just over 4,000, if the National Cabinet had not taken such measures.

“It means it’s taken about 7–14 days for these new interventions to be kicking in,” Professor Glasziou said.

“The changes introduced on Monday we should see have an impact by the end of next week.”

Bill Rawlinson, a senior medical virologist at the University of New South Wales, cautiously welcomed the decline in growth.

But he warns it could be weeks before we can be certain the trend is here to stay.

“We can say now that the trend is flattening, the question is whether that [will be] continued,” Professor Rawlinson said.

“Certainly in terms of diagnostics we’ve seen fewer requests for testing as well as reduced numbers from the initial large numbers of fever clinics.”

Focus shifts to stemming community transmission

Professor Rawlinson said while there was a lot to celebrate about the initial trends, other factors like mortality and recovery rates were also important measures of success.

“What we really need to see is the reduction in new infections, and that’s going to take a couple more weeks to be certain about,” he said.

“What we’re seeing so far is a good sign, but it does need to be confirmed by other factors.”

The national strategy is now focused on stemming community transmission.

In Victoria, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned a jump in suspected locally acquired cases, from six to 32, was concerning.

“The community transmission will be significant in a few days if we don’t get on top of it,” Professor Sutton said.

“We wouldn’t want to see that trajectory ongoing.”

The NSW Government has announced the establishment of pop-up testing clinics in areas where coronavirus clusters have emerged, such as Bondi and Waverley in Sydney’s east.

Professor Rawlinson praised the move.

“You have to test in the areas where there are the most likely cases to stop the community transmission,” he said.

“People are worried about cases going undetected and this will give us some handle on that.”

Mr Hunt said more than 230,000 tests had been done in Australia, which had produced accurate data of the virus’s spread.

“By having what we believe is the broadest and widest testing program in the world, perhaps [except] only for Singapore and Korea … we have a good picture of where we are at,” he said.









First posted

March 31, 2020 18:46:50