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Australia has almost eliminated the coronavirus – by putting its faith in science

SYDNEY – Sydney Opera House has reopened. Nearly 40,000 spectators attended the city’s rugby final. Workers are being urged to return to their offices.

Welcome to Australia, a pandemic success story.

This 26 million-person country has nearly eliminated the coronavirus transmission in the community, beating out the second wave as soon as the infection reappeared in Europe and the United States.

No cases were reported on the island continent on Thursday, and only seven have been reported since Saturday apart from hotel-quarantined travelers. Eighteen patients were in the hospital with COVID-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus. One is in the intensive care unit. Melbourne, the epicenter of the Australian outbreak that recently came out after being locked out, has not reported a single case since October 30.

Meanwhile, in the United States, 52,049 people were hospitalized and 1

0,445 were on the ICU, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer effort to document the pandemic. The US daily number of new cases reached 100,000 on Wednesday and the death toll exceeded 233,000, a staggering figure that even makes up a larger population than Australia, where 907 deaths have been recorded. .

“I never thought we were going to get really zero, which was amazing,” said Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infections and Immunology based in Melbourne. “I went out non-stop, booked restaurants, did some shopping, got a manicure and a haircut.”

As North America, Europe, India, Brazil and other regions and countries struggle to control tens of thousands of infections every day, Australia provides a real-time roadmap for democracies to manage. pandemic agent. Along with New Zealand, experience has also shown that success in preventing the virus is not limited to East Asian countries (Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) or countries with authoritarian leaders (China, Vietnam). Male).

Several practical reasons have contributed to Australia’s success, experts say. The country has quickly and tightly chosen its borders, a step that some other countries, particularly in Europe, have not taken. Health officials quickly built up human resources to track and isolate outbreaks. And unlike the US approach, every Australian state either closes their inland borders or severely restricts movement between states and in some cases within the country, tourists .

Perhaps most important, however, were leaders from all over the ideology who persuaded Australians to take the pandemic early and prepare them to give up civil liberties they never lost before. here, even during the two world wars.

“We told the public: ‘This is serious; Marylouise McLaws, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales and consultant to the World Health Organization, said we want your cooperation.

The lack of partisan increases the effectiveness of the message, McLaws said in an interview.

The conservative prime minister, Scott Morrison, formed a cabinet of state with leaders of state, known as the prime minister, from all sides to coordinate decisions. Political conflict has largely been suspended, at least initially, and many Australians have seen their politicians work together to avert a health crisis.

“No matter who you vote for, most Australians will agree that their leaders really care about their constituencies and follow science,” says McLaws. “I think that helped a lot.”

Australians’ willingness to comply – especially in Melbourne, where residents are subjected to a lengthy state-ordered embargo – reflects differing political attitudes across regions of the United States. In a country where compulsory voting produces conventional left-center or center-right political leaders, governments tend to be seen as the solution to society’s problems rather than cause.

Australia’s national response was led by a former management consultant McKinsey & Co. and graduated from Yale University, Greg Hunt, Minister of Health. Hunt and Morrison have worked with the state prime ministers, who are responsible for health policy on the basis, to develop a common approach to the pandemic.

The government shut down Australia’s border to visitors from China on February 1, the same day as the Trump administration in the United States. But unlike the Trump administration, who criticized its infectious disease chief adviser, Anthony Fauci, Hunt mainly relied on medical specialists from the outset.

“In January and February, we were focused on preventing the risk of a catastrophic outbreak,” Hunt said in an interview. “We have a clear strategic plan that combines prevention and capacity building.”

“We have closed our borders and focused on experimentation, tracing and social discrimination,” he added. “We have built our capacity to fight viruses in hospitals and primary care and the elderly. We have invested in ventilators, and researched vaccines and treatments.

Hunt’s department oversees the purchase of large quantities of protective equipment and clothing, including masks, which became mandatory on August 2 in Victoria, where Melbourne’s headquarters are located.

After a sick 70-year-old doctor treated more than 70 people in the city before being diagnosed, Hunt accelerated a 10-year plan to conduct video consultations with doctors. Within 10 days, almost everyone in Australia can see a doctor over the internet under Australia’s highly subsidized health care system, including a psychiatrist.

When private hospitals said they were in danger of bankruptcy because non-emergency surgery was canceled, the government intervened with emergency funding, ensuring beds could be used for coronavirus patients. .

In private, Hunt exchanged real-life stories with his wife, Paula Hunt, a former infectious disease nurse who kept a copy of the 1995 best-selling book by US science journalist Laurie Garrett, “Imminent Plague: New diseases emerge in the world out of balance,” On her bedside table, he said.

“It’s valuable to have a very strong soundboard,” he said.

The coordination was not always smooth and something went wrong. Federal officials are uncomfortable with Melbourne’s severe shutdown and feel the state border closure has gone too far. Hunt, Morrison and federal medical advisers have tried to criticize the rules without undermining overall confidence in the response.

While polls show strong support for tough measures, many have been hit hard. Australia entered its first recession in 29 years, small businesses have closed and reports of depression are on the rise. On Tuesday, an anti-lockout protest in Melbourne turned violent. Police have arrested 404 people.

And for a while, it seemed Australia’s initial success was at stake, after lax security at Melbourne hotels sent back visitors leading to a second outbreak in July. By August, more than 700 cases per day were diagnosed. It looks like Australia could lose control of the virus.

More information about coronavirus outbreaks

Nearly all public life in Melbourne has ended. After 111 days of lockout, the average daily number of cases dropped below five. On October 28, state officials allowed residents to leave their homes for any reason.

Australia currently prohibits its citizens and residents from traveling abroad, a decision that is particularly difficult for 7.5 million immigrants.

On October 16, Australia opened its border with New Zealand, despite limited outbreaks, never undergoing a full second. The government is waiting for the results of the four vaccine trials it has invested in.

Most Australians will have access to the vaccine by mid-next year, an important step in allowing them to travel, Hunt said.

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