New modelling shows that Australia could control the COVID-19 outbreak in 13 weeks if at least 80 per cent of the population properly adopted social distancing practices.
Using a simulator based on the living arrangements and working patterns of Australia’s population, University of Sydney researchers applied similar modelling techniques used to track the spread of influenza to predict the number of coronavirus cases in Australia under different scenarios.
Led by complex systems academic and pandemic modelling researcher, Professor Mikhail Prokopenko, the data found a high level of compliance with social distancing was required to limit the spread.
“If we want to control the spread of COVID-19 – rather than letting the disease control us – at least 80 per cent of the Australian population must comply with strict social distancing measures for at least four months,” Professor Prokopenko said.
“However, if 90 per cent of the population complies, then the duration could be as short as 13 to 14 weeks – meaning if we began tomorrow, we could expect a control of COVID-19 by July.”
To achieve 80 per cent social distancing, researchers said that would either mean each person in a household could go out once in five days, or one member of a family of five could leave the house daily, while the rest stayed home all the time.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told Australians to stay home unless it’s “absolutely necessary” to go out, however a range of non-essential services are continuing to operate.
The modelling showed that social distancing would not work if fewer than 70 per cent of the population followed the rule.
“If less than 70 per cent of the population is adopting social distancing measures, we cannot suppress the spread of the pandemic and any social distancing could be a fruitless effort.”
It’s difficult to estimate the number of people following the rules as there is no real-time data, but Professor Prokopenko suspects it’s not enough.
“People need to be financially incentivised to stay/work from home.”
The study also considered the effect school closures would have on older adults and children. It found that closing schools would not significantly reduce new cases for older adults and that leaving schools open would only increase new cases in children by a slight fraction.
The study suggested that the coronavirus pandemic had not yet hit its peak in Australia and that tough measures needed to be put in place as quickly as possible so that the peak could be reached and a slow-down in new transmissions realised.
“There’s good reason for imposing tough measures early on. The longer we delay the peak, the more time our healthcare system has to prepare for it by accessing more resources such as ICU beds, ventilators, antivirals and trained health workers,” Professor Prokopenko said.