How does our nation get through COVID-19? Options: Eliminate or adapt.

How do we balance the prolonged damage to the economy, society and medicine (in other medical issues not being treated) by choosing to ease restrictions vs the potential consequences of further spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths?

Do we keep the strict “lockdown” until all active cases diminish to zero, and then wait a further 14 days until there have been no new cases – eliminating the virus?

Or do we ease things a little, knowing that COVID-19 will not be controlled and more people will die from it?

The Group of Eight, an affiliation of leading Australian research universities, this week published a report inviting the Australian Government to choose between two contrasting but related strategies: ‘elimination’ of COVID-19, and a ‘controlled adaptation strategy’.

Under the elimination scenario, Australia would continue its nationwide please stay-home order for two further weeks after daily cases reach zero. That means lockdown would last until likely June, given the current trajectory of cases. BUT after that, many social distancing measures could be lifted quite quickly, due to minimal risk of societal spread of disease.

However, in the ‘controlled adaptation’ strategy, the Government would still use extensive “test-and-trace” protocols (to test broadly and trace comprehensively anyone who has come into contact with someone with COVID-19) to keep the number of new cases as low as possible. The positive with this strategy is that lockdown restrictions would be lifted sooner, not fully, but gradually, with continued social distancing measures – in parks, work, schools and shopping areas. These measures lasting for perhaps years.

The advantage of elimination is that people can go back to close proximity sooner (eg: gyms and sitting down in cafes).

The advantage of controlled adaptation is that it may allow less strict travel restrictions later this year or next year. Something which is important for the parts of our economy which rely on people flying in from overseas – in particular the education industry.

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Dr Lachlan Soper