When COVID-19 hit Australia, the country’s top health officials were preparing for something big, but they still didn’t grasp the horror of the looming crisis.
On 25 January 2020, the day before Australia Day, authorities confirmed the country’s first case was a man who flew to Melbourne from Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
A few weeks ago, then-acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly was sitting in a room at the National Case Center in Canberra.
There he heard about an unusual outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan.
“I had to find out where it was,” Professor Kelly told AAP.
“It sounded like something new, and it was eerie like the first SARS. I immediately worried that this could get bigger.”
This Thursday marked the 1000th day since the first case was announced in Australia. This marks the beginning of a spiral of unrest and fear across the country.
On February 27, 2020, the government declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This comes nearly two weeks before the World Health Organization made the same call globally.
As the public craves information about the coronavirus and state and federal governments impose ever-tougher measures to curb its spread, a previously little-known health authority has come into the limelight.
For Allen Cheng, an infectious disease specialist at Alfred Health, the transition has been difficult. He assumed the role of Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer in July 2020.
“I’m a doctor. I’m used to making decisions that affect the patient in front of me,” says Professor Cheng.
“Making the decision to close the borders or keep everyone at home is another level of decision making and certainly very stressful.”
Australia’s first COVID-related death occurred in Western Australia on 1 March. It is one of the jurisdictions with the shortest lockdown period in the country but the most difficult border restrictions.
On March 19, the health crisis snowballed after the Ruby Princess cruise ship docked in Sydney after a fateful 11-day round trip to New Zealand. It will continue to be associated with 28 COVID-related deaths and hundreds of cases.
Australia closed its borders to non-citizens and non-residents on March 20, and some states and territories have already limited the size of gatherings and introduced social distancing measures.
Within a week, the government told Australians to stay home unless they had to leave for essential reasons, and cross-border travel was curtailed.
Medical experts and media clung to outbreaks in countries such as Italy, where COVID-19 had ravaged populations and local newspapers filled the pages with obituaries.
Still, most experts were confident Australia would pass the other side of the pandemic.
Prof Chen says many people are reflecting on the country’s approach and questioning whether the lockdown was justified, but many deaths could result from eradicating the virus until a vaccine is available. was able to avoid
“Some of the initial clarity in messaging could have been done better,” he says.
“When you’re in the middle of it, you tend to get caught up in the weeds and not really detail the big picture.”
ACT Chief Health Officer Kellin Coleman said, “I never thought something this big would happen in my life.
“(I) keep in mind that as we’re reviewing these decisions and some of the things we’ve done, context really matters.”
Ultimately, Melbourne will be subject to six lockdowns in a cumulative total of more than 260 days, giving the Victorian capital the dubious honor of being named the world’s most locked down city.
New South Wales had the second most days of lockdown among Australian jurisdictions, with around 150 days, according to data tracker CovidBaseAU. Tasmania, like South Australia, has spent about 50 days in lockdown, according to data tracker CovidBaseAU.
Professor Kelly was confident in the resilience of Australians and the unsung hero of the health care system, but admits that the crisis was at times overwhelming due to the constant demand for advice and information.
“There was always scrutiny for being the first global pandemic since social media became a constant presence in our lives,” he says.
Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said there was no guarantee that a safe and effective vaccine would be developed and Australia could easily lose control of the virus if an Omicron variant emerges in 2021. It is pointed out that there is
“Australians who were not vaccinated would have experienced the full effects of the pandemic,” says Dr Gerrard.
“It would have been a disaster.”
The UK and US launched their large-scale vaccination programs in December 2020, while Australia’s now notoriously slow first rollout began in mid-February.
Australia reached 100 COVID-related deaths in May 2020, surpassed 1000 in August 2021 more than 15 months later, and reached 10,000 in July this year.
About 1,000 days after the first coronavirus infection, more than 10 million coronavirus cases were recorded.
Despite thousands of deaths being recorded in Australia, Professor Chen believes that if the virus is allowed to spiral out of control as has happened in the UK and the US, there will be a nationwide spread of COVID-19. The death toll would have been close to 80,000, he said.
“The first thing we were always taught is what we call the social determinants of health. So poor people get badly any disease…and it’s the same with COVID.” he says.
“What I’ve learned professionally is that there are things you can do to solve that problem.”
Many health officials are cautiously optimistic that the country will be able to handle future waves and variants of COVID-19 and is now better prepared to deal with the pandemic.
Professor Kelly said it is imperative that authorities continue to monitor emerging diseases and strengthen surveillance systems.
“The price of survival is eternal vigilance,” he says.
National COVID-19 data
Cases: 10.3 million
Fatalities: Over 15,400
Immunization: 63.7 million
*All data based on latest figures available as of Friday, October 14
https://www.perthnow.com.au/news/coronavirus/australias-1000-dark-days-of-covid-19-c-8558007 1000 days of darkness due to COVID-19 in Australia