There are early signs Australia is flattening the coronavirus curve, but experts say it's not happening fast enough

As preliminary evidence suggests Australia’s strict new physical distancing measures are starting to slow the spread of coronavirus, experts have warned against showing any complacency.

Staff wearing face masks outside the Royal Prince Alfred Hospitalin Camperdown, Sydney.

Staff wearing face masks outside the Royal Prince Alfred Hospitalin Camperdown, Sydney. Source: AAP

Medical experts have welcomed the first signs that the rate of coronavirus spread in Australia is slowing, but have urged people to redouble their efforts to help flatten the curve faster.

On Sunday, the Federal Government said the rate of daily new coronavirus cases increased by about 13-15 per cent over the weekend, compared to a 25-30 per cent rise during most of last week.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in NSW - where roughly half of Australia’s total cases have been diagnosed - reached 1,791 on Sunday after an additional 127 people tested positive to the virus.

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said that represented a “stabilisation” of infections after 174 new cases were confirmed on Saturday and 212 on Friday.

Federal deputy chief health officer Paul Kelly said preliminary evidence suggesting the curve is flattening was “good news”.

“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,” he said on Monday.

“But this is not a time to take the foot off the brake. We really need to redouble our efforts.”

Dan Suan, a clinical immunologist and researcher at the Garvan Institute, said Australia’s curve was “definitely flattening”. 

Dr Suan – who has been sharing posts on social media of COVID-19 case growth after 100 infections, with some attracting more than 10,000 shares – said the success comes as a result of “everything that the community and the government started doing 1-2 weeks ago”.

But, he said recent modelling showed it was possible Australia could still run out of hospital beds by late April if the curve isn’t flattened further.

“It’s a tragedy we must do everything to avoid. We have to flatten the curve even more,” he wrote in an updated Facebook post on Sunday.

“So, we need to do more, and we need to do it now.”

‘Keep the brake on’

Adam Kamradt-Scott, an expert in infectious diseases at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, said there was “a genuine risk” cases could surge again if Australians started to flout advice from authorities. 

“We need to keep the brake on as much as possible for at least the next fortnight,” he said.

“Think about your parents, think about your grandparents, and continue to comply with the measures so you don’t have to be attending their funerals,” he said.

A cleaner is seen waiting for the next arriving tram at the Circular Quay light rail station in Sydney, Monday, March 30, 2020
Source: AAP

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said the apparent slowing of new cases was “pleasing”, but warned the country was “not out of the woods yet”.

“It is important to note that a lot of the [early] rapid increase in cases was people returning back to Australia ahead of the quarantining or travel bans,” Dr Bartone told the ABC.

Dr Bartone said it was now important to look at the rate of local transmission across Australia, which authorities worry could soon spike.

“They're the real numbers which will give us a true indication of how effective the measures are and how we're travelling.” 

On Sunday night, the Federal Government issued advice that public gatherings should now be limited to two people.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy labelled the restrictions “radical”, but said at least 90 per cent of Australians needed to heed them in order to continue flattening the curve. 

“It is really important that every Australian does the right thing because for these interventions to take effect, the science shows that you need more than 90 per cent of the population to be doing it all of the time.”

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.


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Published 30 March 2020 at 3:27pm
By Evan Young