What a difference a week makes for The Lucky Country.
Back on March 25th, Australia had 2,400 cases, growing at the standard 20-25% per day. Our trajectory looked similar to most countries; doubling cases every 4 days, and quickly heading for a public health disaster.
Although we were seeing some very early signs of slowed growth, according to most models we were still on track to exceed 10,000 cases by April 4th, with over 1,000 new cases each day.
Fast-forward to today, and the story is much different. Our curve is getting absolutely demolished. New cases have fallen off a cliff. We are at under 5,400 total cases, and growth has slowed to a single-digit trickle. We are in great shape compared to most of the infected world, and no longer at risk of hitting ICU capacity.
But here’s the thing: Nobody knows exactly why.
It doesn’t actually make sense. Our exponential curve just suddenly shattered – far earlier than anyone expected (especially us nerds who’ve been following & tracking this thing like crazy.)
Most models expected cases to start dropping 10-14 days after political measures were put in place. But in reality, after March 25th everything just started sinking like a stone. This was only 5 days after we closed the borders, and two days after Australia went into lockdown!
In fact our graph has improved to such a degree that yesterday Scott Morrison announced Australia is moving into a new “suppression phase,” which doesn’t mean much, but signals our politicians recognize a fundamental shift has occurred.
To be fair, there’s plenty we have done right in this battle. From the beginning, our rate of testing has been amongst the highest in the world, and positive cases have remained steady at 2.1%
But we’ve also made a lot of mistakes. The biggest being: 1) Not closing our borders as quickly as we could have, 2) Allowing the Ruby Princess cruise ship to dock in Sydney, and 3) Bondi beachgoers ignoring the beach ban at the height of the disaster
The borders thing especially bothers me. From the very beginning, anyone who was paying attention could see that the vast majority of new infections in Australia were from people who had recently been in the US. (And this was at a time when America was officially reporting just a few hundred cases!)
We now know that a whopping 67% of Australia’s cases came from overseas. The Age has finally come out and said what needed to be said:
In short, about 2000 of the first 5000 cases in Australia came from the big three Petri dishes of Europe, the US and international cruise ships.
[America] never made the banned list…even as the evidence mounted in early March that the Americans were tracking for catastrophe. The US was only swept up by default, when Australia closed its borders to all foreign visitors on 20 March – six weeks after the initial ban on visitors from China. Even then, another week would pass before all Australians returning from overseas were placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
It is not so much a double standard as an unavoidable diplomatic reality. Australia, like most Western countries, continues to tap dance around the fragile ego of Donald Trump.
The Morrison government would have known that treating the US on the basis of hard evidence, as a risk equivalent to China or Iran, would likely have enraged a President who thought the coronavirus was a media beat-up.
New Zealand recognized this trend, and acted early. Jacinda Arden (who should probably be made Prime Minister of the World) pulled up the drawbridge quicker than nearly every other country on earth. If Australia had the courage to give Trump the middle finger, we’d be in even better shape today.
Anyways, while it feels like we’re moving past the early innings of the fight, I’d caution anyone to think we have this fully under control. Singapore, whose response so far deserves a gold medal, just announced they are going back into partial lockdown, indicating countries around the world will likely live with periods of on & off lockdown for months until the vaccine is created.
But compared to many other countries, we can’t complain too much. Someday we’ll better understand exactly why some areas of the world fared better or worse than others. There are some interesting theories out there, some of which have merit and others which are probably conspiracy theory bullshit. Here’s one that’s especially interesting to me. I don’t know where on the bullshit spectrum it falls, but it’s interesting.
Who knows. Maybe we are just lucky after all. 🇦🇺