We’re flattening the curve in Australia! So what happens next? Probably a question everyone is grappling with. Well this isn’t science, I have nothing to add that isn’t covered in so many other places, but it is a logical progression, at least based on the evidence currently doing the rounds. What does it mean?
The short answer, Covid-19 is something that we are going to be living with for a long time, a very long time. Far longer than anyone seems to want to admit or than the Australian Government seems to be planning for. I’ll make my case for this, and you can check the logic against your own understanding, and of course make your own call.
Flattening the curve.
Let’s start with this catch-cry and goal. ‘Flattening the curve’ seems to make perfect sense. Reduce the rate of growth, limit the stress on the health system, give our Doctors and Nurses a chance to save as many lives as possible, and maybe prevent millions of people from catching Covid-19.
Certainly the measures that Australia’s Federal and State Governments have taken, largely voluntarily accepted by the population, have done what they were meant to do. The curve is flattening. From the 100th case in Australia on March 9, the rate of growth was close to 20 per cent per day, doubling every three or so days. 15 days later on March 24, Australia had passed 2,000 cases, doubling almost 5-times over, and growing at over 400 new cases per day and skyrocketing. Similar to what has happened in other countries that did not take early reductionary action.
Now another 12-days later, instead of being at over 15,000 cases, Australia has only recently passed 5,000 diagnosed cases, and the growth rate is down at around 4 per cent per day, doubling every 18-days or so, rather than every 3-days. So the ‘curve flattening’ actions have clearly done what they were meant to do, and stretched the curve out over a much longer period of time.
I’m not going to get into the economic and social consequences of this, I guess we will all find that out in due course, and that discussion gets emotional and partisan very quickly, I am just looking at the consequences for Covid-19 numbers and how long we might be living like this.
How long do we need to do this for?
You may have seen some modeling on ‘what the curve might look like?’ Perhaps something like the one I’ve included in this article from the University of Sydney published by ABC News. The one thing that is consistent in most of them, is that we still get very large numbers of Covid-19 cases, we just get them later.
The interesting thing with this one is that it is on compliance. How well behaved everyone is with social distancing, now being replaced with the better phrase … physical distancing, and with staying at home and self-isolating. Along of course with hygiene and other reductionary practices. A lot of the media’s focus is on compliance, blame, shaming and other sensationalist story telling.
Take that away for a minute and you’ll notice on almost every model that the bottom never makes it to zero, so there is always a spark for re-ignition. Also that the top number also ends up large, usually after some relaxation of ‘lock-down’ conditions. The University of Sydney model (shown) climbs back past the top of the chart, regardless of the level of compliance, it is just the time-frame that changes.
So forget the lines for a minute, or how well the community is complying, all of these lines end up re-igniting during the middle of the Australian Winter, at what I would assume is a far worse time for catching Covid-19 and living with it, if you are unfortunate enough to catch the disease.
So it would be a reasonable assumption that any Australian reductionary measures are going to be around until well past the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter, at least six-months under the current level of measures, or more stringent ones if compliance doesn’t increase and infection rates don’t continue to decrease.
What about after Six-Months?
No Northern Hemisphere countries are going to want ‘winter-bound’ travelers from Australia bringing Covid-19 back to the USA, Europe or China, and reliving the horrors they have already endured. After all, no one is sure that you can’t catch this a second time or more. The base virus being the ‘common cold’, I know myself I’ve had multiple colds in some Winter seasons, maybe not the same one, but no one has written this off yet, or how long any immune system protection lasts.
So you can forget travel, and then when the globe is in the other half of its solar orbit, the same will happen in reverse. So the real answer is a vaccine, something that can create enough global human resistance to stop the spread. The best I have heard from reliable sources, or rather scientifically credible sources, is that this not likely to be within the next twelve months. So some level of Covid-19 related restrictions will be with us for at least a year, maybe the ‘new normal’ will be much longer that that.
Surely it isn’t as bad as that?
Hopefully not. Maybe better testing and greater understanding of transmission will lead to better ways of handling the situation before a vaccine or other more permanent eradication solution is available.
Of course if you want to take a negative view. Secondary cases, further evolution of the virus and general human behaviour could all make you feel concerned. Why are US citizens queuing for guns and ammunition? Why were Australian’s stock-pilling toilet roles and baby formula? People don’t handle the unknown very well and fear is as easily, maybe more easily, spread than the virus.
Economically our societies aren’t designed for this, and the consequences of the social, commercial, educational and residential changes are going to be dramatic. There are some benefits of course, slowing down a little isn’t a bad thing, and this is a new renaissance for the dogs of Australia … best day ever, over and over again. People are also reaching out to each other and reconnecting with old friends on new apps.
I don’t know what to make of this, other than it is going to be here for a long time. Staying healthy, eating and sleeping well, keeping occupied and helping other people out, rather than hoarding and shutting people out, well that’s probably the best we can do while we let the experts be experts and hope that our Government and institutions don’t take advantage of the virus or use it as an excuse for poor behaviour and power grabbing.
I hope I’m wrong and that next Summer is a summer of being out and about, but right now that seems unlikely.