We were so close.
So close to not only flattening the curve but obliterating the curve.
Now, we are facing a second wave. For some states such as Western Australia and South Australia, their persistence with border closures means that they can now move freely within their state. However, for Victoria and now possibly New South Wales, lockdowns are coming back, and new restrictions are being implemented.
I firstly want to acknowledge that this is an immensely challenging period. This is not only for Australians but for everyone around the world. We are living in an age of uncertainty, financial instability, and stress. Please look after yourself. Surround yourself with loved ones and reach out to one another. We need to be socially distant, but not emotionally distant.
The second wave of infections in Australia has posed an important question. A question that will determine Australia’s path over the next 6 months at least.
Suppression or Elimination?
Do we aim to suppress COVID-19 by flattening the curve, or do we try to completely eliminate the virus?
Many public health experts have suggested a change of route from Australia’s current suppression strategy to stop the endless stream of outbreaks. There is a valid fear that the approach of suppression will prolong the virus for many more months and increases the risk of outbreaks getting out of control.
However, an elimination strategy is intense. It would involve a strict period of lockdown for around 6 weeks with all schools and non-essential businesses closing. This was the route that New Zealand took, and they are now free of COVID-19.
I believe we must continue a path of aggressive suppression. Elimination is impossible without a vaccine. Moreover, focusing upon elimination can create a false sense of security that may diminish community participation in widespread testing and lead to complacency.
This is what occurred in Victoria. Daniel Andrews has said that the outbreak was primarily due to breaches in quarantine arrangements for Australian citizens returning from overseas. A lapse of concentration combined with the relaxed nature of the public has resulted in a second wave much larger than what occurred in April.
Rejoicing in local elimination is excellent. Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and other states should enjoy the easing of restrictions as they have eradicated community transmission. However, until there is a vaccine, there is always a risk, and we must be cautious.
If we set the goal of elimination, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We must continue to listen to the government, maintain social distancing and look out for one another.
This is the new normal.