Will Australia Get Hit By A Second Wave Of Coronavirus?
As Australia records fewer cases of coronavirus, states are starting to wind back restrictions. But could easing these measures spark a second virus wave?
Last Friday, the federal government unveiled a three-step plan to lift restrictions and move towards a "new normal" by July.
While announcing the 'road map', Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned there will be coronavirus outbreaks and that "not everything will go to plan".
"There will be risks, there will be challenges, there will be outbreaks, there will be more cases, there will be setbacks," he said.
His comments come as countries like South Korea and Germany, which both appeared to have successfully flattened their curves, have seen spikes in cases after relaxing restrictions.
Both countries have reported cases of people becoming too lax with social distancing, with a 'super-spreader' in South Korea believed to have caused several infections after visiting multiple nightclubs.
Last weekend, Australia saw more than one hundred people attend an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne, as well as hordes of people flocking to shopping centres ahead of Mother's Day.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy admitted in an interview with ABC's 7.30 that the prospect of a "second wave", while unlikely, keeps him up at night.
"We've seen that this virus is incredibly infectious … it can spread real quickly," he told 7.30.
"And if people aren't careful and we have lots of pockets of outbreaks and widespread community transmission and thousands more cases, that is what worries me most."
Experts have warned that while the majority of Australians are doing the right thing, ignoring the health advice could be catastrophic and lead to a spike in infections.
Lesley Russell is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy.
She said clusters in aged care homes and at an abattoir in Melbourne show " just a couple of cases in the right environment [can] suddenly become a major problem."
"I think if you look at what’s happened in other countries when they’ve opened up, you do see these outbreaks, these hotspots," Russell said.
A Professor of Epidemiology told 10 daily "it's unfair" to compare Australia's caseload to South Korea's when the country's infections are far fewer.
However, she said it should act as a cautionary tale about how flouting social distancing can lead to a spike in cases.
"It’s a sobering reminder that all it takes are fun-loving citizens who are not thinking they’re going into an amplification environment in bars," University of NSW Professor Mary-Louise McLaws said.
She said while demonstrations against lockdown were attended by a small minority of Australians, it's this "sort of behaviour [that] can lead to a spike".
"I don’t think they appreciate that this virus can lead to a very debilitating illness. It can take six weeks to recover," she added.
"If they understood that, they’d understand the need for hand hygiene and social distancing."
What is a second wave?
What constitutes a second wave is not well defined and is different for every epidemic, according to Professor McLaws.
She told 10 daily she'd be concerned by "a doubling of cases every three days".
Russell says a second wave is less about the numbers, but based on whether officials are able to determine its origins, and control the spread of the virus.
However, she said with Australia currently averaging 20 cases a day, she'd be alarmed if that number grew to 50 cases.
Nigel McMillan, an infectious diseases expert at Griffith University, said Australia is unlikely to see a second wave that's comparable to the Spanish Flu.
He told 10 daily Australia is most likely to see several small waves or clusters.
"The extent of the wave, because we're quite excellent at controlling this now, I think it'll be small," McMillan said.
Is Australia well-prepared for a second wave?
McMillian believes Australia is the "envy of many in the world" in that it acted quickly to prevent the spread of the virus.
"The reason that the UK has been in such a poor way is because the virus was spreading in the community well before there was a realisation and well before they did anything about it," McMillan said.
"States like Texas where the case numbers are going up and they're opening up... it's just a recipe for a large number of cases and fatalities," he added.
In contrast, Australia's three-step plan is a sensible measure to push the country forward, McMillian says.
"Our response, we've planned out quite well in terms of lots of testing and tracing and isolation. We've put a break wall in the sea, we're not going to get a tsunami," he added.
According to McMillian: "there's no accident each of these stages is a month apart".
He said experts will be closely monitoring cases in two-week intervals to analyse the impact of loosening coronavirus restrictions.
When it comes to Australian hospitals, they are not overburdened, and are capable of catering to further cases, McMillian said.
He added that downloading the government's COVIDSafe mobile application, high rates of testing and isolating people who test positive to coronavirus will help the nation to stay on top of any outbreaks.
Professor McLaws agreed, saying even if the numbers start crawling up, she's confident the "Australian public will be advised rapidly to act accordingly".
"I think it’s reasonable for questions to be asked about a second wave, but I believe that we prepared very well," she said.
"Australia went into action early and we’re in a good place, but it doesn’t mean we want to use those infrastructures that have been developed."
But Russell worries if Australia sees an increase in cases and has to lock down again, "people will be more reluctant to do so".
"People have to realise that opening up is a long, slow process," she said.
"People want to see progress and I think our government has shown us what that progress will look like."
Professor McLaws said Australians have a social responsibility to adhere to social distancing, and that doing so will prevent another shutdown.
"It’s not about you, it’s about you potentially spreading it to others," she said.
"It's also about the people who can’t pay their rent and are in dire straits -- think of them."
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