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Australia’s three COVID-19 ‘endgames’, and what happens next

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Australia faces three COVID-19 endgames which will trigger very different death tolls and impacts on the economy, a leading Australian think tank has predicted.

Australia faces three COVID-19 endgames which will leave behind very different death tolls and deep impacts on the economy, a leading Australian think tank has predicted.

The differences between each amounts to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and hundreds of thousands of avoidable hospital admissions, the Grattan Institute's John Daley says.

The three endgames will trigger varying systemic hits on Australia's economy and society.

A view of Selaron Steps sealed off during a lockdown aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

"None is attractive, but one is better than the others," Mr Daley writes in a detailed analysis of the pandemic on the institute's blog.

Endgame A: 'Flatten the curve'

This scenario sees countries try to flatten the curve. This involves heavy restriction of movement to reduce the number of cases.

If a government chooses this strategy, they are banking on the infections continuing to grow until the epidemic has run its course.

"There will be many deaths," Mr Daley writes.

In taking this path, Australia would likely to run out of intensive care capacity and ventilators at 45,000 cases – a small fraction of the population.

Exponential growth in cases would put intense pressure on the Federal Government to "shut everything". But by this stage, containing the pandemic would be much, much harder.

There would be a huge shock to the economy - and just not just tourism and hospitality.

"Companies small and large across sectors from household services to manufacturing to construction, are developing and executing plans to sack hundreds of thousands of people," Mr Daley writes.

"Unemployment will soar, probably driving a sharp fall in house prices, causing big problems for banks."

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As infection rates drop, there would be a growing clamour for the removal of restrictions to get business and economy back on track.

But premature moves to do so could see restrictions lifted too soon and infection rates again rising, further prolonging economic pain and fatalities.

A Polish border guard dressed in a protective suit, mask and goggles takes the body temperature of a man seeking to enter Poland at the Polish/German border

Endgame B: 'Trace and track'

This strategy is just how it sounds. Tracking each case and tracing who the carrier has come into contact with.

In reality, this can only work in a small country which has shut its borders quickly and has a very few number of cases.

"It is too easy for the number of new infections to overwhelm the tracking system, and then we are back in Endgame A," Mr Daley writes.

Municipality workers wearing face masks and protective suits disinfect Kugulu public garden amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Ankara, Turkey

Endgame C: 'Stop then restart'

This method means severely minimising activity and interactions, and sealing all borders to passenger traffic including citizens but not trade.

Mr Daley writes this absolutely must continue until infections are driven down to zero.

Only essential services would be maintained, such as the food supply chain and utilities such as electricity, water and the internet.

All schools, universities, public transport and non-essential retail would be closed. People would be confined to their homes as much as possible.

Police would visibly enforce the lockdown, and all confirmed cases should be housed in government-controlled facilities.

"This might seem unimaginable, but it is exactly what has already happened in China, South Korea and Italy," Mr Daley writes.

Once infections hit zero and remained at zero for at least a fortnight then economic and social activity could restart sequentially.

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However, international borders would remain closed to passenger traffic until there a vaccine is developed - which could be 12-18 months away.

Mr Daley says if endgame C is "the dominant strategy" then Australia should implement it "immediately and aggressively".

"The longer we wait, the longer that economic activity has to remain at a standstill to get back to zero cases."

Australia has a major advantage of being an island, lending itself well to endgame C.

"The goal would be to ensure we emerged out of the trough with human and physical capital and institutions in good shape. We need to avoid deskilling and demoralising workers and destroying businesses that will not be reborn easily," Mr Daley writes.

"This will require very large expenditure from government, which the government can afford if the shutdown is short enough."

However, Mr Daley cautioned that despite appearing to be the best option, even endgame C may not work.

Source: 9News

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