Australia should attempt to drive coronavirus cases to ZERO, former health boss says

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Australia should implement ‘smarter’ restrictions and aggressively drive COVID-19 cases to zero because the ‘short-term pain’ will pay off on the other side, a public policy think tank says.

The Grattan Institute report, released on Thursday, said Victoria, NSW, and Queensland should ‘go for zero’ infections to avoid future outbreaks, reimposed lockdowns, renewed economic disruption and more deaths. 

The report, written by former federal Department of Health secretary Stephen Duckett, Will Mackey, and Tony Chen, said Australia is facing new challenges due to community transmission in NSW and Victoria. 

If COVID-19 infections were to spread out-of-control, Australia’s health system could become overwhelmed and about ten million Australians, who are at a higher risk of coronavirus complications, may choose to restrict their movement. 

Australia should aggressively drive COVID-19 cases to zero because the 'short-term pain' will pay off on the other side, a public policy think tank says. Pictured: A woman wears a face mask at Sydney's Coogee Beach during unseasonably warm weather on Thursday

Australia should aggressively drive COVID-19 cases to zero because the ‘short-term pain’ will pay off on the other side, a public policy think tank says. Pictured: A woman wears a face mask at Sydney’s Coogee Beach during unseasonably warm weather on Thursday

The Grattan Institute report, released on Thursday, said Victoria, NSW, and Queensland should 'go for zero' infections to avoid future outbreaks, reimposed lockdowns, renewed economic disruption and more deaths. Pictured: Victoria Police patrol St Kilda Beach in Melbourne on Thursday

The Grattan Institute report, released on Thursday, said Victoria, NSW, and Queensland should ‘go for zero’ infections to avoid future outbreaks, reimposed lockdowns, renewed economic disruption and more deaths. Pictured: Victoria Police patrol St Kilda Beach in Melbourne on Thursday

Reimposing lockdowns to control another outbreak would lead to ‘sizeable’ economic costs, the report says.

‘Ideally, lockdowns are only done once and done well,’ the report says.

‘The benefit of zero is to reduce the risk of ”yo-yoing” between virus flare-ups and further lockdowns to contain them.’   

Victoria, which remains in lockdown until at least September 13, should only ease restrictions when the state records less than 20 infections a day, the report said. 

There were 113 new coronavirus cases in the state on Thursday – the first time since Sunday that the daily tally has been above 100 – after 90 on Wednesday and 70 the day before. 

On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews will announce separate ‘roadmaps’ for how Melbourne will come out of Stage Four lockdown and the way out of the Stage Three rules for regional Victoria.  

Pictured: Crowds flock to Bondi Beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs during hot weather on Thursday

Pictured: Crowds flock to Bondi Beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs during hot weather on Thursday

But there is no confirmation yet that any restrictions will be eased on September 13.

‘These are some of the most difficult decisions that I’ve ever made in 20 years in public life … these are really challenging decisions to make because the tolerance for getting it wrong is incredibly low,’ he said on Thursday.

‘I will not do this faster than the science tells me to because there’s too much at stake.

‘And that’s not to say that being in lockdown doesn’t have its own cost, doesn’t have its own sense of pain and challenge. I get that. I understand that. None of these decisions are made lightly.’

If COVID-19 infections were to spread out-of-control, Australia's health system could become overwhelmed and about ten million Australians, who are at a higher risk of coronavirus complications, may choose to restrict their movement

If COVID-19 infections were to spread out-of-control, Australia’s health system could become overwhelmed and about ten million Australians, who are at a higher risk of coronavirus complications, may choose to restrict their movement

The Grattan Institute report says Victoria, NSW, and Queensland can ease restrictions even further when new infections drop below five and again when they reach zero.

The report says the remaining states and territories – Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the ACT – have already achieved and are maintaining zero community transmission. 

Zero cases can be maintained through quarantining international arrivals, increased coronavirus testing in all states and territories and more efficient contact tracing, the report says. 

‘Continuing restrictions for the states with COVID-19 will mean more short-term pain; but the payoff will be greater freedom on the other side,’ the report says.

‘Getting to zero means life can return to closer to normal, with a substantially reduced risk of future outbreaks. 

‘Zero is in our sights; now is the time to finish the job.’

Zero cases can be maintained through quarantining international arrivals, increased coronavirus testing in all states and territories and more efficient contact tracing, the report says. Pictured: A drive through testing centre at Bondi Beach in Sydney

Zero cases can be maintained through quarantining international arrivals, increased coronavirus testing in all states and territories and more efficient contact tracing, the report says. Pictured: A drive through testing centre at Bondi Beach in Sydney

The report detailed a four-step plan to achieve zero infections.

In the first step, the government should be explicit about their goal for zero cases and in the second point, the government should be clear about the conditions which lead to restrictions being removed or reintroduced.  

‘Governments should implement and maintain ‘smarter’ restrictions that can reasonably be expected to bring cases down to zero,’ the report said.  

The remainder of the four-step plan says public health efforts should be improved while hotel quarantine and frequent testing should remain after achieving zero new cases. 

There have been 678 COVID-19 deaths in Australia, 591 of which are in Victoria.  

WHAT MELBOURNE’S STAGE FOUR LOCKDOWN MEANS FOR YOU

State of disaster: Increased police powers to enforce the lockdown. Cautions will no longer be issued, only $1,652 fines or court summons

Curfew: No one allowed outside 8pm to 5am except for work, medical, caregiving – no shopping or exercising

Distance limit: Shopping and exercise can only be done 5km from home 

Exercise: All recreational activity is banned and you can only exercise, with one other person, for one hour a day

Partners: You can visit a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t live with you, even if they live more than 5km away 

Shopping: Only one person can go shopping per household per day

Cafes and restaurants stay open for takeaway, as do supermarkets, etc

Schools: All students learning from home unless they are vulnerable or parents are essential workers. Kindy and childcare closed

Funerals: No change to funeral limits, but only 10 mourners can leave Melbourne to regional Victoria for one

Weddings: Completely banned

Public transport: Slashed after 8pm and cancelled late at night 

Community sport: All community sport across Victoria is now banned. Only exercise is allowed within the permitted public gathering limits of two people.

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