How Australia could beat COVID-19 by July
New modelling by the University of Sydney shows Australia's coronavirus spread could be controlled by July, if strict social distancing measures are put in place.
But the research, led by Professor Mikhail Prokopenko, also revealed that social distancing will be a futile measure if it is adopted by less than 70 per cent of the population.
Prof Prokopenko said if 90 per cent of the population complied with strict social distancing measures, the modelling showed the virus in Australia could be controlled within 13 to 14 weeks.
But because the modelling used the 1000-case threshold that Australia passed on March 21 as a baseline, and total cases had shot up since then - as of 3pm yesterday, 2369 people were infected - it would require an extra four weeks of strict measures before the virus could be controlled.
The researchers defined strict social distancing as any person in one household going out once every five days, or one member in a family going out daily, so long as the other four family members stayed home permanently.
Every day that stricter measures were delayed meant several more days under a longer suppression policy, the research team found.
Prof Prokopenko said it was hard to know how much Australia was complying with strict social distancing at the moment.
"My own perception, and I'm not an expert in surveillance or anything like that, is that we're below 50 percent (compliance)," he said. "It may be slightly higher, but it's definitely not at 80 percent."
A compliance rate of 80 percent was essential, he said, "to have any chance of bringing the number of news cases down". That sort of rate would bring the virus under control in four or five months, or about August, the research shows.
"If we go with 70 percent compliance, the growth (of the virus) slows but the numbers still go up," he said.
Getting people to comply with strict social distaincing presented challenges, and the government should consider incentivising people, Prof Prokopenko suggested.
"We can't follow the path that China followed, with the army and the national guard on the streets, and a curfew. We are unlikely to succeed on this path. We live in a free society, so we need to use incentives to encourage people to do the right thing," he said.
"People who are really hit hard financially right now, they need to be incentivised to follow this message."
Although the measures needed to control the virus were onerous, Prof Prokopenko said the modelling showed that a solution to the coronavirus crisis was possible.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel, and what I keep telling my friends is that we should choose a scenario where we control the disease rather than letting the disease control us," he said.
"If we follow this 80 percent social distancing we are essentially controlling (the virus). With our actions we make it happen, and that in itself is an uplifting message I would say."
Originally published as How Australia could beat COVID-19 by July