Hindsight is 20/20 and Shelley and her team have been looking at the year 2020 with not only the benefit of hindsight but the brevity of producing a balanced report.
Though northern Australia — which falls into the Tropical region — has a large volume of data, Shelley and her team were investigating the Tropics worldwide. “In terms of direct statistics, the first wave of COVID-19 cases was horrifying for some areas in the Tropics,” Shelley says. “At one point early in the pandemic, Mexico reported a 15 per cent mortality rate.”
Shelley and her team’s research also analysed the effectiveness of how nations in the Tropics managed different stages of response to the pandemic, such as staggered re-openings in 2021.
“What we found during our research may provide validation for some of the approaches to suppressing community transmission through lockdowns and restrictions when we didn’t have alternative means of protecting the community,” Shelley says. “Of course, that will always be up for debate and reflection, but the statistics show case numbers, particularly in northern Australia, were low throughout lockdowns and then increasing when restrictions were lifted. Similarly, there was a massive uptick in cases when state and international borders were re-opened.”
Staggered re-openings also had to navigate different waves of the pandemic, including facing new variants of the virus. Shelley’s team have taken on the responsibility of learning from the negative impacts of re-openings.
“The data shows that case numbers had been pushed down and vaccination rates had risen to nearly 70 per cent of the global population near the end of 2021,” Shelley says. “Then when travel restrictions were lifted and the Omicron variant began to spread, parts of the Tropics in particular had an exponential increase in case numbers. In northern Australia, the COVID-19 cases increased from a total of 400 cases at the end of November 2021 to 68,000 by the end of January 2022. Other parts of Oceania, particularly some of the South Pacific islands, had similar experiences.”
“Every aspect of responding to the pandemic was difficult to navigate, and the report reflects that.”
JCU Researcher Dr Shelley Templeman
The data from 2020-2022 also provided insight into how the necessity of staggered re-openings outweighed the negative results. “There were necessary trade-offs. Those nations that are very, very dependent on international tourism as a large proportion of their gross domestic product, or GDP, had to face a trade-off of either protecting their community or taking a significant hit to their national economy. Many countries in the Caribbean have ten to twenty per cent of their GDP reliant on tourism. Every aspect of responding to the pandemic was difficult to navigate, and the report reflects that.”