COVID-19: Learning lessons, good and bad, from overseas
By Chris Johnson on Friday, April 17th, 2020
Features in QESP NewsletterVolume 32 , Issue 4 - ISSN 1325-2070
(QESP Editor’s Note: The following is a reprint of an April 17, 2020 article in The Mandarin. The original, with links to related material, is available at https://go.pardot.com/e/272522/ce-newsletter-utm-type-premium/5wkm8v/585023789?h=YUNOoVC_GzqUs2yDJVfXzNbryWoHi2hTGMD_aJ6_THY)
COVID-19 ROAD TO RECOVERY — WHAT GOVERNMENTS CAN LEARN FROM EACH OTHER: There are plenty of examples of governments handling the containment of the virus very wrong and there are some excellent cases of nations getting it very right. In this series of Mandarin Premium features, introduced by Chris Johnson, we give you an in-depth look at case studies, strategies and tactics, risks and pitfalls that several countries of note are taking.
For the moment, Australia is not following a handful of other nations in lifting COVID-19 restrictions or declaring the coronavirus to be under control.
While progress is being made in flattening the curve, the national lockdown will remain largely in place for another month at least.
National cabinet has deemed Australia to be now in the suppression phase of the response, which, it states, will last for some time.
And while restrictions will be reviewed regularly, and planning for the medium- to long-term has begun, for the next four weeks things will be much like they have been for the past four weeks.
Over the coming months, the national cabinet has decided, “further enhancements of the public health response capability will be implemented to allow future considerations of some relaxation of distancing measures”.
Putting aside the continued confused messaging over schools being open or not, this overall measured approach to recovery and rebooting appears prudent.
Asking Australians to embrace personal tracing and tracking in order to ease some restrictions, however, is and will remain controversial. Such initiatives have been implemented in some other countries.
It is well worth looking to other governments to see what is working and what is not. It is obvious that Australian governments – federal and state – are doing just that.
There are plenty of examples of governments getting it very wrong (did someone mention the leader of the free world?). There are also some excellent cases of nations that handled containment of the virus better than others and that are now embarking on their own well-thought-out roads to recovery.
Norway, Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Iceland, Denmark and Finland are among the countries with the best coronavirus responses. (It should be noted that the governments of each of these nations are led by women. Coincidence? Probably not.)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks set to soon lower New Zealand’s lockdown from level four to level three, meaning a return to workplaces for most, schools back in session, restaurants open for delivery or drive-through, and partners who live apart allowed to visit each other again.
Ardern has described it in terms of “expanding your bubble” a small amount.
“If you have a caregiver that you need in your life, children who might be in a shared care arrangement, a de facto partner who is caring for others, or you’re a single person who wants the company of a sibling, for example, you can extend your bubble,” she said.
New Zealand’s lockdown was applied earlier and tighter than was Australia’s and it has so far proven to have worked. Looking at our Pacific neighbour’s pathway to recovery would be a wise move for Australian leaders.
In Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg declared her country has largely beaten the spread of COVID-19. The reboot there has begun.
“We have now got control of the virus, so we can open up the community little by little. We will do it together, controlled and over time,” Solberg said.
“The contagion curve has flattened out. Together we have reached the goal that each infected person does not infect more than one other person.”
Here in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says his government has noted what is going on overseas but adds that Australia will not be following what some other countries are doing right now.
“The more we do the right thing now, the easier it will be in the long-term for everybody,” he said on Thursday following the meeting of the National Cabinet.
“We still have a difficult road ahead of us at this point, despite the successes that Australians have achieved in the weeks that we have just gone through. The more we keep it under control, the more we all enlist in the sorts of things we need to do to help those who are tracing the virus and identifying it and reacting to it. If there are outbreaks, well, the more we might be able to at some point turn to easing those restrictions.
“We have stayed ahead of it, we’ve got to keep ahead of it, we can’t allow our patience to wear off. I know it’s a very anxious thing for Australians and when they see the really good results, they go ‘well can’t we all just go back to how it was?’ None of us would like that more than any of us here. But let’s look to the experience of what has happened overseas.
“If you ease off too quickly too early, then you end up making the situation even worse and I don’t just mean in the health terms. If you move too early and the health response gets out of control, then the economic consequences will be even worse. And so, we need to keep it finely balanced. That is what we are seeking to do.”
As has been reported, Australia’s National Cabinet has set seven precedent conditions to any further relaxations of COVID-19 restrictions.
- Situational awareness of current measures and their impact – sophisticated surveillance of disease incidence and spread, health system status, public health capabilities, stocks of material and community adherence to public health measures.
- Finalised surveillance plan – enabled with adequate resources.
- A better understanding of the implications of the modelling and a better understanding of the characteristics and transmission of the virus.
- Complete maturation of public health capacity – including capacity to conduct testing more broadly; and public health workforce and technology for contact tracing, data collection and analysis.
- Advanced technology for contact tracing – the role of a mobile phone application to be wholly explored.
- Assurance of adequate health system capacity – should control measures fail, there must be assurance that the system will cope with any surge in cases, including the requirement for hospital beds, ventilators, Personal protective equipment (PPE) and ongoing workforce training.
- Assurance of supply lines for – PPE, pathology consumables, ventilators.
All that said, there are indeed numerous positive lessons to be learned from overseas and some fine international examples to follow as Australia charts its own pathway to recovery.
What follows in this special Mandarin Premium feature is an in-depth look at what some countries are doing to reboot after lockdowns – case studies, strategies and tactics, risks and pitfalls.
As Morrison stated on Thursday, Australia has a “need to ensure that on the other side of the virus, as we make our road out, that any sense of business-as-usual when it comes to the policy frameworks that we had prior to the election will need to be reconsidered on the other side to ensure that we can achieve the growth that will be necessary in our economy to get people back into work, to get our economy back on track.
“It will be a different world on the other side of the virus and there’ll be many challenges.”
This article is part of the Mandarin Premium’s special COVID-19 Road to Recovery series.