Health News and events

Stage 3? Bring it on.

I said it last week, but this whole situation is surreal.

At this point, there are 3,048 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around Australia. In the past week or two, the number has roughly doubled every 3-4 days.

There’s a slight bit of relief for those of us in Victoria – the growth here is a little more linear, with between 50 and 60 cases confirmed for most of each of the last five days.

But I think we all know this is about to spiral out of control. The number of cases of local transmission in Victoria rose from 9 yesterday to 16 today.

It all started off early this year with news reports from Wuhan in China, but quickly spread outwards from there.

The first real effects we saw were in early March when (possibly inspired by Hong Kong) toilet paper vanished from the shops. People were panic-buying it, and as soon as it starts, it’s hard to stop.

At one stage, rice, pasta, tissues, soap, cleaning products, fresh meat, frozen vegetables, some dairy and tinned food were all in short supply.

Chemist: out of stock

Thanks to measures such as purchase limits and early closing to allow restocking, they’ve all started to come back in.

In the past few days, I’ve found almost everything back in stock – though I haven’t spotted pasta. Even toilet paper is in stock (if you go in the morning).

Working from home

Last weekend we had hoped to get away to NSW for a few days. But I’m glad I held back booking flights. By the start of last week it increasingly appeared to be a bad idea.

Until last week I was still working in the City, but it was getting quieter every day. It reminded me of early January when most people are away.

As of this week, many workers (including myself) who can work from home are now doing so.

The public transport network is still running to full capacity (with major project works also underway) but hardly anybody is using it – this is just as well, since “social distancing” is vital to slow down the spread.

Bentleigh station, peak hour 25/3/2020
Bentleigh station at peak hour, Tuesday

So I’m at home all day. It’s a bit of adjustment. I’m finding I have to break it up with short walks, particularly at the start and end of the work day.

Most pedestrians around the place seem very aware of the guidance to keep 1.5 metres or more away from others.

Restrictions: Stage 1, stage 2…

It seems NSW and Victoria really wanted a near-lockdown last weekend. Some announcements by those states caused a lot of confusion that day, and in retrospect it seems to have been an ambit claim to force the Federal government into action.

Despite it being dialled-back, unprecedented restrictions were put in place. From Monday at midday, cafes and restaurants were forced to stop indoor dining, and gyms, pubs and numerous other types of businesses closed.

From Tuesday, Victorian schools were closed for early school holidays, though a few remain open for the children of essential workers, and in other states, schools are still open.

From midnight Wednesday there were more restrictions in place, including on weddings (now limited to a celebrant, the couple, and the legally-required two witnesses) and funerals (10 people only) and tightening of business restrictions.

I found the announcement of that one a bit problematic. After reading the list, Prime Minister Scott Morrison went wildly off-script, saying at one point that only essential workers should go out (okay, makes sense), but then nonsensically saying:

Now if you ask me who is an essential worker? Someone who has a job. Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker. Every single job that is being done in our economy with these severe restrictions that are taking place is essential.



Really, I think that undermines the messaging about avoiding unnecessary travel.

Have the restrictions gone far enough? Only 5.4% of confirmed cases so far are via local transmission with no known link to an existing case, but about another 12.9% are of unknown origin, so who knows.

And a concern is how far behind reality are the confirmed case numbers, given the delay in symptoms appearing and being diagnosed.

What happens next? I’m no medical expert, and I know how disruptive and impactful it’ll be, but I think there has to be tighter restrictions soon.

It’s easy for me to say that when I personally am not (and thankfully am unlikely to be) under financial stress, but to batten down the hatches seems like the obvious course of action to have any hope of getting this thing under control.

Good luck everyone. Stay safe.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

11 replies on “Stage 3? Bring it on.”

I really can’t come up with a good reason for them to be putting it off. It’s clear it’s going to have to happen sometime. Surely logically the quicker you lock everything down the quicker you can stop the spread, and the quicker things can get back to normal. The longer they put it off the harder it’ll be to control. Kind of wish I lived in NZ now.

@Jon, there seems to be a different strategy being used in Australia (flattening the curve) compared to NZ (trying to eradicate it), and some debate about what’s likely to me most successful in the long run. This article does a fair job at explaining it.

It strikes me that trying to eradicate might work for an island nation, but means it could flare up again in the future if it gets in again. (Once again, I am not a health expert!)

Cases in Victoria are following an exponential growth far ahead of anything linear. Effects of the restrictions should start showing up in the case data in the next few weeks and only then will we know if its working.

@meltdog. I sort of disagree. New cases in Victoria peaked on 22nd March at 67 and were declining each day until today, when they more than doubled from 54 to 111. So, at least for a few days, Victoria had roughly linear growth. The next few days will show whether today was an aberration or a return to exponential growth.

But there are many confounding factors. Most reported cases are still people returning from travel. Mild cases may never be detected. If you don’t have a known link to a confirmed case, it is very difficult to get tested, unless you are so sick that you have to go to hospital, you are a health worker, or a politician. So, we just don’t know what the true count is.

Rod, daily cases are allocated back in time. The day by day counts are retroactively updated constantly so you can’t put a set figure on any particular date. The state health department has the data online and linked in their daily updates:
Predicting a flattening out based on just a few days of noisy data is misleading when the more likely model (considering the full data and its variability) is continued growth. That this information may change others behaviour is what tips it over into being irresponsible, play it cautious and don’t fuel questioning of the (increasing) restrictions.

@meltdblog – not sure that I agree with your what you say about retroactively updating. Sure, today’s figure will be updated several times, and there may be one or two corrections to yesterdays, but the daily counts for past days remains fixed.
As for my cautious hint at a glimer of improvement tipping into irresponsible, well, Scomo is now echoing my theme.
“Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the rate of increase in coronavirus cases has fallen in Australia over the past week, showing the social distancing and self-isolation measures are working.”

Having said that, I am still in the Norman Swan school of pandemic measures: go early and go hard.
China (if you can believe the figures) has kept their total to less than 1 in 17,000. Our prevalence is already greater than China. We closed our borders too late (especially to Italy before the Grand Prix). Out isolation of returnees was too slack (until today). Cancellation of mass gatherings was too slow (see Grand Prix and NRL).

We were badly let down by the early lack of testing in the USA (see Peter Dutton, Dr Higgins etc), so the USA is the biggest source of imported cases here.

The delay between infection and test results (if the case gets tested) means that things are inevitably worse than the numbers suggest. But we have to seek solace from the improvements that are in the numbers.

So, stay safe, and take your own drinking water if you go for a walk in the park. Drinking fountains have been shut off in the parks, here in Glen Eira. Reminds me of Dr John Snow and Broad Street pump.

We need to understand what the infection time is. Quarrntine just a tad longer than that, and you would expect the virus to die out in the existing victims.

Providing we keep the boarders closed, to prevent it returning, we should then be safe from then on.

When you start a quarantine period, you expect there to be new cases come out, from people who got exposed before the quarantine time, for as long as it takes for the virus to come out in a person, then, putter out soon after that.

Difficulty is, no quarantine is going to be perfect so you will never completely squash it – there will still be new infections in essential workers or during essential activities like food shopping. You can cut down contacts dramatically but it’s not possible to completely eliminate them. And, you can’t keep the borders closed forever either. Not even North Korea attempts to do that.
So this is going to burn through your population no matter what you do (unless a vaccine is developed, of course, but there’s no certainty as to whether or when that might happen). All you can hope to do is flatten the curve so that your healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed, and thereby keep the mortality to around 1% rather than 5%.

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