Does this graph offer a glimmer of hope in Australia’s fight against COVID-19? Coronavirus infection curve shows signs of flattening amid an unprecedented crackdown on social interactions
- Australia’s dramatic rise in coronavirus cases seems to have been arrested in recent days as the curve flattens
- Country had 344 new cases on Sunday, just a 9.4% increase on previous day compared to 26.2% on March 22
- Experts expect the trend will continue with the borders closed and effect of government lockdowns to come
- Next two weeks will show whether measures will be enough to stamp out the virus before winter bites
- Scott Morrison banned gatherings of more than two people, after closing many businesses a week earlier
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Australia’s coronavirus infection rate has fallen by two-thirds in the last few days in the first real sign the country may be flattening the curve.
Latest national figures show a drop in the increase of cases from as high as 30 per cent a day to about nine per cent, just over a week after the borders were closed to non-residents.
However, experts warned the next two weeks will to critical and see whether the curve is really flattening or if this is just a mirage with a new wave of outbreaks to come.
The country had 3,984 cases with 16 deaths on Sunday night, passing 4,000 the next morning, with 344 new positive tests on Sunday.
This was a just a 9.4 per cent increase from Saturday’s 3,640 cases and a massive drop from the 26.2 per cent jump on March 22.
Australia’s increase in coronavirus cases has plummeted in the past few days, falling from a 26.2 per cent jump on March 22 to just 9.4 per cent on Sunday. This graph shows the number of new cases each day since March 12 in red – they sharply rise until a week ago when they begin to flatten out. As shown by the black line, though the number of new cases a day is still higher than early in the outbreak, the rate of increase has dropped dramatically and is still falling
The country had 3,984 cases with 16 deaths on Sunday night – the last full day of figures from all states. The total number passed 4,000 the next morning with a further 165 cases and two deaths reported by afternoon Monday
Prime Minister Scott Morrison touted the figures while at the same time bringing in more draconian restrictions banning gatherings of more than two people.
But if the trend continues, the government could possibly consider easing these measures within weeks, along with forced closures of many businesses.
Australia’s flattening curve by the numbers
Australia recorded its biggest daily rise on Saturday of 460 cases, and 370 and 378 the two days before.
However, during that time the total climbed by more than 1,000, so each day was a smaller percentage rise than the last.
The 460 rise now looks more like an outlier and infectious disease experts expect the number of new cases per day to level out in the weeks ahead.
‘It’s encouraging, certainly in the numbers have been declining over the past week,’ University of NSW associate professor James Wood said.
‘We want to keep the numbers per day the same as they are now without any further social controls. That would keep the infection rate dropping.’
Dr Wood attributed the the rush of cases a week ago to Australians flocking back from overseas, bringing coronavirus with them.
These included the 271 infected passengers on three cruise ships that were allowed to disembark in Sydney Harbour last week with no checks in a border security bungle.
‘It’s much worse almost everywhere else and we had a surge of cases with people coming back in before quarantine requirements [began] so that bumped our cases up massively last week,’ Dr Wood said.
‘We don’t yet know the consequences of all those cases (how sick they will get) and it will take a week or so before they play out.’
Dr Wood said that meant the weekend’s new case numbers were likely a truer figure, and could fall further once the effects of government restrictions started to show.
‘By the end of the Easter break we should have a good idea of if our current measures are working,’ he said.
Mr Morrison on March 23 closed pubs, gyms, cafes, and restaurants in ‘stage 1’ of lockdown procedures, and banned large gatherings.
Stage 2 began just three days later on March 26 when nail salons and other businesses with close contact were shut and gatherings slashed to 10 people.
From Sunday all overseas arrivals are quarantined in hotels for 14 days (a couple are pictured at Crown Promenade Hotel in Melbourne), instead of trusted to self-isolate themselves, meaning the risk of them passing on the virus was virtually zero
Australia’s numbers were not helped by the 271 infected passengers on three cruise ships (Ruby Princess pictured) that were allowed to disembark in Sydney Harbour last week with no checks in a border security bungle
Dr Wood said there was a limit to how far the rates of increase in cases would fall as Australians overseas could still return, with thousands landing in airports every day.
‘We are going to keep getting overseas cases. Our travel numbers have crashed but the number of cases in the source countries has gone up,’ he said.
‘We’ve been getting 100 overseas cases a day in NSW and I don’t see that dropping in the next month.’
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 4,220
New South Wales: 1,918
South Australia: 305
Western Australia: 328
Australian Capital Territory: 78
Northern Territory: 15
TOTAL CASES: 4,220
However, from Sunday all overseas arrivals are forcibly quarantined in hotels for 14 days, instead of trusted to self-isolate themselves, meaning the risk of them passing on the virus is virtually zero.
Health authorities are now more concerned with local cases – especially community transmission, where the source of the infection is unknown.
This would mean coronavirus was spreading through Australia undetected and if it got out of control could lead to a renewed epidemic.
Community transmission cases ballooned in NSW from 88 on Thursday to 145 on Friday, 170 on Saturday, and 207 on Sunday.
Local cases traced to a known source or cluster, which are of much less concern, rose from 221 to 351 in the same timeframe.
‘The two things that may trigger a more severe shutdown are if the local number goes up significantly – particularly the cases where we don’t know the source – or we start to see people come into hospital who we didn’t know about,’ Dr Wood warned.
Dr Wood said he expected to see a hospitals and ICU beds under a bit more pressure in dealing with the rush of overseas patients as they got sicker.
‘It gets very severe as you get over 70 years of age. At least three per cent of cases will need to be in ICU,’ he said.
‘I expect ICU and hospital numbers to rise rapidly over the next week as it takes a week or two for people to get really sick.’
However, if the curve continued to flatten as it had in recent days, fewer patients would add to these numbers as patients recovered and went home.
Scott Morrison on Sunday told Australians over 70 to stay inside for their own protection. This scene in Sydney’s Bondi is about as close to visiting grandparents as children can get as a result
Gatherings of more than two people were also banned, meaning this outdoor group exercise in New Farm Park in Brisbane would be illegal and cut to a one-on-one training session (with appropriate social distancing)
Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly also outlined the positive trend in the country’s growth of infections at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
‘While we were on a steep rise a week ago, that has stabilised over the last few days and that is good news and reflects probably two things,’ he said.
‘One, that we are having less people coming in from overseas. That measure we took over two weeks ago is starting to bite and so very few people, Australians, are coming back from overseas now and that is decreasing the numbers we are getting from that.
‘A large number of people have come from a cruise ships… so they have been large numbers over recent times.
‘The stabilisation of numbers is what we are looking to do, that flattening of the curve so that we can have enough hospital and intensive care resources over the coming weeks if indeed we need those.’
However, Dr Kelly said the measures Mr Morrison put in place on Sunday night were necessary to make sure coronavirus didn’t take hold, particularly via community transmission.
‘But this is not a time to take the foot off the brake. We really need to redouble our efforts to work as a society to make sure we are doing everything we can to slow the spread of the virus,’ he said.
Scenes like this on Bondi Beach are what prompted the government to clamp down on gatherings to prevent local transmission the virus, now the biggest concern with the borders closed
Coronavirus is still running rampant through Europe and North America with outbreaks beginning in Africa, South Asia, and South America.
But in East Asia where the virus began, life is beginning to slowly return to normal in a few countries that have already flattened the curve.
China claimed to have just 45 new cases on Sunday and South Korea 105 – the two countries hardest hit in the early days of the pandemic.
Both these countries imposed border closures or quarantines on international arrivals in the past few days as they now view the biggest threat to be outside their borders.
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