The government’s modelling suggests if we ditched social distancing too soon, demand for ICU beds would exceed supply.
Researchers who released the Australian government's coronavirus modelling on Tuesday have warned that "if we relax any (social distancing) measures, it will turn into an explosive outbreak".
The modelling from the Doherty Institute, from the University of Melbourne, shows that Australia is "flattening the curve", but must maintain social distancing to ensure adequate supply of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds.
"Australia has acted sufficiently early based in part on the work we have provided," said Professor James McCaw from the Doherty Institute.
"We have now got to a critical important state in our society where we are suppressing the infection and keeping the hospital system under control."
It's the first time the government has publicly released the modelling behind their public health policies of self-isolation, mandatory quarantine for people entering Australia, and social distancing.
The researchers and the government stress that the modelling is just theoretical for now, as it is based on coronavirus case data from Wuhan and other international locations, and it's too early to accurately predict how many Australians will become infected with the virus.
Dr Nigel McMillan, Program Director of Griffith University’s Infectious Diseases and Immunology Program, says once Australian data starts coming in the modelling could become more practical.
"No evidence-based model is perfect, we’ll do as good as we can with the numbers… the more data you get, the more accurate you are, we’ll refine it over time” he said.
"The mode got us into the situation we’re in today. Which is a good place."
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said modellers were looking at Australia’s 5,908 cases to build up an idea of how far it will spread, and how long measures will have to stay in place.
From their international research, the researchers built up three main 'theoretical' scenarios:
The worst case - where the government took no action to combat the virus - would have resulted in 23 million people, or 89 per cent of the population, becoming infected, with daily demand for ICU beds reaching up to 35,000 - far beyond capacity.
The next scenario, where Australians with symptoms self-isolated and quarantined, would still result in 16 million infected and ICU demand would still be exceeded.
A scenario where we embrace self-isolation, quarantine, and social distancing measures would "very clearly drop the peak", according to Dr Murphy, with fewer than three million infected.
"At the moment, our strategy is very much to identify, complete control and isolate every case. That may be the long-term strategy. But we have to look at all of those potential options, there is no clear path," told reporters in Canberra.
"We don’t know if and when a vaccine will come with this virus. If it does, that’s a beautiful way out."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said once Australian data was ready, it would be shared with the public.
He urged Australians to stay in over the Easter long weekend, saying: "We have bought valuable time, but cannot be complacent."