Immediate lock-down required to control COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in living memory. Epidemics and pandemics grow exponentially. This means that a few cases today will become many cases next week if nothing effective is done.
On March 1st Australia had 29 cases, and on March 28th we have 3,573 cases and 14 deaths. Whilst many Australian cases are travel related, there is likely a silent epidemic which has not yet been detected with widespread community transmission of infections which we have been unable to detect because of restrictive testing and shortage of test kits. The infection can spread silently and remain undetected until the health systems impacts become so severe that hospital bed capacity and staffing capacity is exceeded.
If hospital beds are full with COVID-19 patients and half the health workforce is sick with COVID-19, the ability to treat other diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, will be severely reduced. There will also be many people with COVID-19 unable to access hospital care.
There is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and there is no powerful treatment. Thus, we have to (1) identify every case rapidly with extensive testing, and isolating cases; (2) track and quarantine contacts; (3) implement travel restrictions; and (4) most importantly, practice social distancing to reduce contact and transmission between people.
The improved protection of health care workers who without sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (masks) are now themselves at the highest risk of infection and thus a source of further disease spread is of utmost importance.
Active consideration must be given to mitigating the immediate risks associated with social distancing measures, including domestic violence and impairment of mental health.
Based on the epidemic curve, we are deeply concerned about the prospect of Australia losing control of the epidemic. We therefore urge Government to introduce an immediate and complete lock-down as practised in New Zealand and some other countries.