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According to,

Australia COVID

Australia had 3 deaths for covid-19 in the last 8 months, and they succesfully controlled the pandemic at least 9 months ago, 3 months before starting vaccinations. Nowadays they barely have 26.9 vaccine doses administered per 100 persons, when countries who are suffering or starting to suffer another wave like United Kingdom and Israel have a rate of 110.76 - 123.29 doses per 100 persons respectively, with near 50% and 60% of the population fully vaccinated, when Australia only has 4,3% as of 24/06/2021

Is there any identified policy Australia is doing to successfully control the covid-19 pandemic the other countries aren't using?

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    As an Australian friend of mine put it: "Diggin' a big-ass moat around it probably helped." Jun 25 at 20:03
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    isn't their policy simply not letting the damn virus into the damn country? and when it does get in, getting it out again? You would be surprised how many countries don't have these policies.
    – user253751
    Jun 25 at 21:17
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    It turns out that sometimes, being an island near the bottom of the world is a good thing. Jun 26 at 12:13
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They're an island that tests and quarantines visitors from outside the island, traces contacts when infections occur, and implements mandatory public health measures like social distancing and capacity restrictions that vary in intensity according to the level of infections observed.

There are lots of lay press articles about Australia, I'll include just a sampling here:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/feb/15/australia-covid-19-lockdown-rules-coronavirus-restrictions-by-state-nsw-victoria-vic-queensland-qld-western-south-australia-wa-sa-nt-act-travel-border-social-distancing-masks

https://www.businessinsider.com/expert-explains-4-key-differences-between-us-australia-coronavirus-strategy-2020-5

https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2021/03/24/what-can-we-learn-from-australias-covid-19-response

https://www.brookings.edu/research/policy-and-institutional-responses-to-covid-19-australia/

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-18/contact-tracing-coronavirus-australia-five-hallmarks-succcess/12759068

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    @Pablo There's no real secret to it: if you want an infectious disease to go away, you need to get the average number of people that someone spreads it to less than 1 and keep it there until it's gone. Lots of countries were able to get that number way down from where it would be without any measures to something manageable near 1, but only when case counts were high. When cases drop, if people give up the measures then you get spread again. Jun 24 at 22:43
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    It works a lot better when a significant proportion of the population isn't mewling about how having to wear a mask impinges their Freedom.
    – Shadur
    Jun 25 at 7:03
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    @Pablo UK test and trace basically doesn't work, the quarantine has been porous, and there's no real effort to drive covid to zero; as soon as the levels got merely low the government payed people to eat in restaurants and sent children back to school, etc.
    – pjc50
    Jun 25 at 8:15
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    @pjc50 the UK's quarantine has been porous at best, was late to start, and was non-existent for relevant periods. Australia's approach from the start has been comparable to the way the UK treats arrivals from red list countries now. One reason our test and trace doesn't work is that even when it correctly identifies people who need to isolate, many can't afford to as they'll have no income at all (in other cases very little) - government support exists but has too many gaps.
    – Chris H
    Jun 25 at 13:32
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    @Nij That's kind of the point of my answer. It's the thoroughness and extent to which the policies are implemented and maintained and followed rather than anything special beyond that. Jun 27 at 19:01
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From an Australian perspective

Policy

  • Restrictions
    • The governemnt, especially at a state level, is willing to halt the entire functions of the area, in the hope that restrictions don't have to be enforced for as long as a result
  • Border controls
    • As a result of our position on a (remote-ish) island, border restriction were applied earlier, and haven't been opened (except to New Zealand)
  • Quarantine
    • Quarantine for people coming to Australia, which is managed by the government, rather than just telling people to stay at home, using hotels temporarily converted to isolate potentially infected people for 2 weeks
    • In addition, home quarantine is used, when people travel between some internal areas of the country, which helps in limiting spread

Social/Not Policy

  • There is quite a high level of pride in being 'free of covid' here, and people are willing to make sacrifices to uphold that, and unlike other countries, mostly follow restrictions
  • The population here is quite low, especially for the size of the landmass, and almost all of the major cities are spaced quite far apart
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    Mine is just a bit of speculation, but I think there are a couple more factors that relate to Australian culture. I remember reading some years ago about a study about the comfort zone and personal space in various cultures. IIRC it turned out that Australian people have a personal space distance that is almost double of that of European and American people. And even bigger than that of Latin Americans and South Europe "latin" cultures (France, Spain, Italy, in particular). ... Jun 25 at 12:14
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    ... On the other extreme of the spectrum there were Japanese people, who had a personal distance almost half that of the Europeans. This means that Australian people naturally keep a bigger social distance to people they don't know, or know only superficially. Moreover, from what I heard, Australians are also less "huggy" and "touchy" than other people (less than Italians and other "latin" people, anyway). ... Jun 25 at 12:14
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    ... For example, here in Italy many people touch you on your arms or shoulders while speaking, even if they are not your friends, but only mildly acquainted, especially in informal situations. And you can also see this behaviour if you watch some TV news where international leaders meet. Anyway, I'd like to hear from an Australian like you if my information is correct and if it makes any sense to you. Jun 25 at 12:16
  • @LorenzoDonati--Codidact.com There may be slight differences of personal space, but not to the level that Aussies want a personal space bubble four times as wide as Japanese people do! And Aussies still shake hands rather than bowing, which doesn't help in a pandemic. Jun 25 at 14:06
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    Another key point is food security. AU easily produces more food than it consumes, making the decision to close international borders a lot easier.
    – osxconor
    Jun 25 at 19:43
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Australia, like other countries such as New Zealand, Singapore, and more (including China after the initial outbreak, but of course information from China is often unreliable), have applied a "zero Covid" strategy.

The goal is to:

  • prevent the virus from entering (this is really the key)
  • whenever it still manages to enter, stop it very aggressively from spreading so that it disappears.

The first part, for Australia and New Zealand, is made a lot easier by the fact that they are isolated islands/continents, relatively far away from other land masses, with limited continuous exchanges with neighbouring countries, and the ability to effectively cut off most travel in or out (which is very different from the UK for instance).

So they applied very strict restrictions on entry into their territories, real quarantine (not "please stay at home and please don't see anyone during your self isolation, or we will be very unpleased").

It was also helped by the fact that during the initial spread of the virus throughout the world, before many of the important facts were known (human-to-human transmission, asymptomatic transmission, airborne transmission, fatality rate...), they were relatively spared, possibly thanks to the yet-to-be-fully-understood seasonal effect. So when they started isolating, there were few cases inside the countries, and those local clusters could be curtailed through the usual very restrictive measures which have been applied elsewhere (masks, social distancing, strict lockdowns...).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, many other countries, especially in Europe and the Americas had already extensive numbers of infected people in many different places before anything could be understood, were in the middle of winter, faced significant difficulties in getting PPE when needed, and had to address varying policies and stages of the pandemic in different countries/regions/states which have extensive exchanges with them.

Many European countries also faced the "summer surprise": the virus seemingly vanished during the summer, only to return with a vengeance at fall, after the virus had spread out a lot more through asymptomatic cases.

Once you get past a certain number of cases, you can only slow down propagation, it's a lot more difficult to really stamp out the fire. As soon as there's even a single person with the virus, the risk of it spreading to millions is still there. But getting back to 0 when you have had tens of thousands of cases per day is virtually impossible. Due to the exponential nature of contagion, it takes a lot of time, i.e. very very long lockdowns, and that is economically, psychologically, medically and politically devastating.

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    "But getting back to 0 when you have had tens of thousands of cases per day is virtually impossible." A month-long lockdown will do it, as long as it's done properly. Long lockdowns indicate that they're not actually stopping being from mixing with each other. Jun 26 at 7:14
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    While I agree with the main points of your answer, can you please provide some sources backing claims made in your last paragraph? "getting back to 0 when you have had tens of thousands of cases per day is virtually impossible. Due to the exponential nature of contagion, it takes a lot of time, i.e. very very long lockdowns" is what is touted a lot by some, and makes sense. But, some in the UK believe we have lifted restrictions too early and some think we have done it at the right moment, while others think we have gone too long. Can you provide some scientific references to back it? Jun 26 at 7:23
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Australia's low COVID rates can be explained by three factors: always locking down until zero community cases are reached, having no land borders and enforcing a hardcore quarantine on all arrivals. Lets compare them to the UK to see why one failed to achieve while the other succeeded.

Lock down until zero cases

Australia's general modus operandi has been to clamp down on all in-person activity (including a ban on protesting and harassment of people sharing family photos) until zero community cases are reached. Not a "low amount", not "enough to relieve the hospitals", but zero. One single case can grow into thousands and then into millions (in fact, the original COVID infection probably happened to a single person) so you can't tolerate a single infection in the community without some hardcore measures. As a result, Melbourne has been in lockdown for 111 days during their "second wave" and then spent a couple of weeks in lockdown recently over a few local cases.

To contrast this, the UK never reached zero cases since the initial wave started in March 2020. So essentially their lockdown was pretty much a waste of time, short of relieving some stress from their hospital system. Otherwise it merely delayed the inevitable as cases avoided in spring 2020 came back roaring in the winter.

No land borders

Australia is a relatively remote island where everyone has to arrive either by ship or by plane. This makes border control a no-brainer as you just have to ensure quarantine protocols in your airports and sea ports. Obviously a rogue traveler could in theory charter a boat and land on a beach in the middle of nowhere but that's something out of reach for the vast majority of people.

Now you might argue that the UK is likewise an island (along with Ireland) and that all sea crossings are controlled but there's one huge difference: truck drivers. As a general rule truck drivers take their goods from one country, drive straight into another country and then unload them at the destination. This is in contrast with ships or planes where the cargo is unloaded at the port and then carried on to the destination by local residents. So even if the UK was absolutely perfect in securing their borders, they would still have to contend with the problem of tens of thousands of foreigners coming in without quarantine. In theory you could build a system where all trucks unload their cargo in, say, Dover and then local truck drivers carry them on, but this would take many years if not decades to complete. Stopping trucks altogether is not an option as this would cause massive disruption in the supply chain.

Hardcore quarantine

Four types of border control were seen during the pandemic:

  1. "Free for all" - seen in Mexico, Turkey, Brazil and a few other nations. Anyone could come in with no quarantine, though sometimes a test was required for entry.
  2. "Only locals" - free entry with no quarantine if you're a citizen/resident, otherwise you're banned. Implemented by the US.
  3. "Home quarantine" - after entering the country travelers are legally obligated to stay at home for 7-14 days and sometimes obligated to get tested on arrival. Implemented by most countries in the world, including the UK.
  4. "Hotel quarantine" - armed men escort all arrivals into specially designated hotels with no one allowed to go out before they spend 14 days in isolation and get multiple tests. Implemented by China, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand

Is #3 as good as #4? No, definitely not. Lets evaluate each solution as to how well it can stop the virus:

  1. Allows for at least 1 infected person to interact with the general public upon arrival
  2. Allows for at least 1 infected person to interact with the general public upon arrival
  3. Allows for at least 1 infected person to interact with the general public upon arrival
  4. Does not allow any arrivals to interact with the general public

Is it weird that 1-3 are all the same? No, because remember once again that one case can easily grow into millions. There's no such thing as "good enough" when it comes to international quarantine, it has to be all or nothing. And you definitely can't pretend that the locals are all virus-free while the foreigners are all infested with COVID, as the virus does not discriminate by ones citizenship.

Australia took this one step further by preventing citizens from leaving the country, which reduced the number of international arrivals. They've also introduced a complete ban on travel from India for a few weeks, which applied even to citizens.


As a final note, its important to distinguish between "success in fighting COVID" and "long term success". It remains to be seen if Australia can reopen the border after their vaccination campaign is complete. Its possible that they will spend many more years with localized lockdowns due to strong fear of the virus and its many variants. In contrast the UK is likely to fully reopen sometime this year and just carry on with life while accepting a certain number of COVID deaths per year as unavoidable. Which scenario is a better solution still remains to be seen.

Update: looks like Sydney/NSW is now facing a major COVID wave and would likely spend several months in lockdown to stop it. Quite unlike the US which is currently living a maskless life with zero concern for whatever cases remain in the nation. As mentioned before, we'll only be able to judge the best strategy in the long run.

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  • "Obviously a rogue traveler could in theory charter a boat and land on a beach in the middle of nowhere" They could try. Odds are the Australian Navy would pick them up and give them a free ride to the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. Australia's always taken border security seriously, even before Covid.
    – nick012000
    Jun 28 at 4:02
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    @nick012000 its hard to estimate the true odds of getting caught. Australian immigration wants you to think they’ll catch 100% of boats but unless they allow an independent security team to send in 100 boats to check how many will get caught, we’ll never know what their true success rate is. Jun 28 at 13:06

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