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Fri, 17 Apr 2020

Ray of hope for COVID-19 in Australia

hand wearing a green surgical glove holding the handle end of a swab
A new study on the spread of the COVID-19 virus has produced hopeful signs Australia is getting on top of the disease, with indications it is on track to die out. Photo: CDC / Unsplash

A new study on the spread of the COVID-19 virus has produced hopeful signs Australia is getting on top of the disease, with indications it is on track to die out.

Emma McBryde, Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology and Modelling at James Cook University’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine was part of a study led by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital).

Professor McBryde said the good news it appears the reproduction number of the disease was now below 1, meaning every infected person was infecting less than one other person on average and the virus was on course to die out.

“These analyses produced broadly consistent results showing that the effective reproduction number is likely less than 1 in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and West Australia as of 5th April 2020,” she said.

Professor McBryde said all three methods used indicate that the COVID-19 epidemic in Australia is currently being suppressed sufficiently strongly to achieve a reproduction rate below 1.

The exception currently is Tasmania with outbreaks in hospitals in the state’s North-East. Professor McBryde said it’s expected the reproduction number estimates in Tasmania are greater than one.

“If current measures were sustained indefinitely, and in the absence of imported cases or localised clusters, suppression in Australia is achievable, and down the track, elimination may be achievable too,” she said.

She said the researchers also provided estimates of the percentage of people with active COVID-19 symptoms who were being discovered by testing.

“As of April 2020, the estimate of the symptomatic case detection rate for Australia is 93 per cent. The corresponding estimates for each state and territory are all greater than 80 per cent,” she said.

Professor McBryde said this was an excellent result, and among the best in the world.

“It means that we can afford to relax the most stringent lockdown measures in the near future, but this process needs to be cautious, measured, incremental and reversible,” she said.

Professor McBryde said completely controlling the virus would still take many months and would vary between areas as it was dependent on the initial number of cases in each area.

Please note: In the interests of getting important information to the public quickly amid rapidly changing circumstances, this paper has not been peer-reviewed by academic staff external to JCU or the co-authors’ organisation or institute.

Contacts

Professor Emma McBryde

E: emma.mcbryde@jcu.edu.au