Listening to much of the commentary as Victoria has battled to get on top of its second wave of COVID-19, you’d be forgiven for thinking the state had seriously embarrassed Australia and should hang its head in shame.
It’s still too early for Victoria to start a victory lap but the daily numbers of new COVID cases do give some cause for optimism, now regularly into double digits daily, and with the trend heading south.
It isn’t all that many weeks ago that Victoria and Melbourne were clocking up more than 700 cases a day. Without swift and decisive action at that time, the outcome could have been catastrophic (think Italy, France and Spain six months ago as they came out of their winter).
At that time – and still today – Victoria wasn’t in a position to get ‘on the bus’ to open up its economy. It wasn’t even in a position to be ‘waiting for the bus’. Acting on the best medical advice to hand, Premier Daniel Andrews chose the only course of action he could in the interests of protecting the health and lives of the people he represents. Any other response other than a hard, if unpopular lockdown, could have thrown Victoria ‘under the bus’.
Now is probably a good time to take stock, and given the pain and inconvenience Victorians have endured under lockdown, consider how it’s faring compared to western countries of a similar population size.
With a population of around 6.65 million, Victoria has reported 19,574 cases of the coronavirus with 675 deaths. Broken down on a per capita basis that equates to 2,943 cases per million people, and 101.5 deaths per million.
That’s certainly comparable with Denmark (pop. 5.8 million) which as of today has recorded 628 deaths. It’s had 3,125 cases per million people, and 108 deaths per million.
Compared to so many other countries, however, Victoria is doing relatively well.
Much has been said about Sweden’s (pop. 10 million) more liberal approach to the pandemic where its statistics show 5,837 deaths in total, equating to 8,462 cases and 577 deaths per million. That’s a death rate more than five and a half times the rate of Victoria’s.
Belgium (pop. 11.6 million) is faring even worse with the death toll now standing at 9,909, with 7,653 cases and 854 deaths per million.
Still in Europe, Switzerland (pop. 8.6 million) has lost just over 2,000 lives to COVID-19 and Ireland (pop. 5 million) has lost 1,777 people. Their per capita casualty rates are more than twice and three and a half times the rate of Victoria respectively.
While Canada (pop 38 million) hasn’t suffered to the same extent as the USA, its numbers don’t make good reading. There have now been 9,146 deaths in Canada which equates to 242 deaths per million (close to 2.5 times worse than Victoria) and 3,495 cases per million.
If there’s to be a gold standard for COVID-19 management globally, take a bow, New Zealand. Our friends across the ditch were amongst the first to close its international borders, followed closely by a total nationwide lockdown in which everyone was told to stay at home in their ‘bubble’. At its peak, New Zealand had only 89 cases a day and it managed to go 102 days straight without any new cases being recorded.
After that lengthy period being effectively COVID-free, New Zealand has avoided a dreaded second wave with another hard lockdown when a small number of cases re-emerged in early August.
The numbers speak for themselves. To date, New Zealand (pop. 5 million) has recorded just 24 deaths. It has reported 356 cases per million and five deaths per million – an incredible result based on those tough, early decisions. And despite considerable inconvenience, especially in the early days, the government’s hard-line approach has enjoyed majority community support.
Only time will tell if the Andrews Government will score a win against COVID-19. With no knowledge on when a vaccine will be readily available it’s impossible to say whether we’re only nearing the end of the first quarter of this battle, or possibly deep into the fourth.
As the rest of Australia largely watches and waits, we should – in true Team Australia style – pay tribute to everyone in Victoria who has demonstrated patience, understanding and a deep resolve to get through this. And get through it we will.
Special praise to everyone on the front line – medicos, aged care workers, contact tracers, public health officials. You know who you are. Keep up the good work. We salute each and every one of you.
Sources of data:
Terry Slevin is the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, and is also Adjunct Professor in the School of Psychology at Curtin University and Adjunct Professor in the College of Health and Medicine at the Australian National University.