Australia has just entered the critical month that will tell us just how bad the coronavirus crisis will be, according to the federal government’s modelling.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his medical advisers have resisted calls to release that modelling publicly. But according to Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell, it shows the outbreak peaking about Anzac Day on April 25.
“Several sources have told me that around Anzac Day is D-Day in terms of this health crisis, according to the federal government modelling on where coronavirus is at,” Clennell told viewers yesterday.
“It is then when the surge is expected on our ICU (intensive care unit) beds, according to this modelling. Essentially, we will probably know by the end of the month how bad a crisis this is for our nation.”
Clennell said the crisis was still “not quite tangible yet”.
“It’s like we’re waiting on the shore for the tsunami and seeing how big it is,” he said.
“Around Anzac Day, essentially we’re going to need some more Australian heroes, and they’re going to be in the hospital system.”
For a moment this week, it seemed as though we might actually get to see the modelling in question. Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly told reporters on Monday he was looking to “organise a meeting later this week where the modelling and the epidemiology and the public health response” would be “unlocked” and “people would be able to ask questions”.
Yesterday Professor Kelly backtracked on – or as he put it, “clarified” – that idea.
“I have been quoted as saying I would release the modelling,” he said.
“I would like to clarify that we will discuss the modelling and look to make that transparent in coming days.
“We really have our local epidemiology, which is very much open and we report on it every day at these briefings, it is on the website and so forth. That is really what is guiding most of our decision-making at the moment.”
At a press conference in Canberra this afternoon, Mr Morrison said Australia was in a good position to deal with the outbreak, particularly compared to other countries around the world.
But he stressed the most challenging period was still ahead of us.
“We are slowing the spread. That is happening. That is saving lives and it is saving livelihoods and, again, I thank Australians for their support,” he said.
“The rate of growth, as we have seen, particularly over the course of this week, has fallen on a daily basis, to single digit numbers, and that is welcome, but it is still not enough.”
He spoke at some length about his government’s handling of the crisis, and seemed particularly keen to highlight Australia’s high rate of coronavirus testing.
“Australia has now reached a testing rate of more than 1000 tests per 100,000 population. That is 1 per cent of the population. We are the first country, to the best of our knowledge, that has been able to exceed that mark,” the Prime Minister said.
“The testing resources that we are putting in place have been absolutely fundamental to our tracing, and other measures that we are taking at a state level, to ensure that we can contain the growth and spread of the virus.
“Those testing figures are the result of some incredible work that has been done by the health ministers, and the securing of the testing materials themselves and their application right across the country.
“It has been an extraordinary, mammoth testing effort, and that has put Australia on top when it comes to ensuring we have the best information on tracking the virus.”
Australia has now tested more than 260,000 people. Only the United States and South Korea have completed more tests, but Australia is still ahead of both on a per capita basis.
Beyond the issue of testing, Mr Morrison compared Australia favourably to other countries, suggesting we had approached the pandemic with greater foresight.
“Ten weeks ago this week, ahead of the rest of the world, Australia listed the coronavirus as a disease with pandemic potential under our Biosecurity Act, following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China,” he said.
“We set up quarantine facilities on Christmas Island, and ultimately in the Northern Territory, and repatriated families and individuals from Wuhan, China, who had been affected by that initial outbreak area.
“The expert medical panel was stood up and has met every day since January 31.
“On February 1, we started closing the borders to visitors coming from mainland China. We were one of the first countries in the world, indeed, to do so.
“Containing and limiting the spread of the virus that had come from China in those early days was incredibly important, and has put Australia in the position that we have been in now for these many weeks where we have been able to get ahead of this, more so than many other countries around the world.”
Mr Morrison pointed out that Australia had, in many ways, acted faster than the World Health Organisation.
“Five weeks ago, a fortnight before the World Health Organisation, we called out the coronavirus as a pandemic. We activated the emergency response plan on that basis. Further border closures and measures were announced and implemented,” he said.
“Three weeks ago, our first economic package was released, and that now has been scaled up, as you know, just in terms of fiscal measures of the commonwealth to some $200 billion, with the Reserve Bank and the Australian Office of Financial Management adding a further $105 billion to that total through the support of the liquidity and financial markets.
“The National Cabinet was formed soon after, and started to put in place the many social distancing and other restrictions. They have been upgraded ever since.”
He said the situation had been getting “very, very real for Australians” particularly in the last week, but the government had been clear-eyed about it long before now.
“We are one of the few, if only, countries that have been talking about the coronavirus pandemic as being one that we are going to have to live with for at least the next six months. I have been very clear about that,” Mr Morrison said.
“For a very simple reason – I really want Australians to understand that we need to be in this for that haul. It will be months. We need to make changes that we can live with and that we can implement day after day, week after week, month after month.”
Social distancing may last several more months, but according to the modelling, April remains the key.