Masks are required everywhere you go. Restaurant dining rooms line the streets in tents instead of inside. People wait outside in the cold to obey store capacity limits. This is the scene that we in the U.S. have seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
It’s a different story in Australia.
Major landmarks are reopened. Crowds of people attend sporting events. Life, in general, is almost back to normal. COVID-19 seems to have affected this country in a very different way. What has Australia done differently?
According to The Washington Post, the implementation of several practical measures helped Australia almost eliminate COVID-19. Health officials chose several strategies including tightly sealing its international borders, shutting its domestic borders, limiting movement for interstate and intrastate travelers and building up manpower to isolate outbreaks.
Most of these restrictions are similar to the ones implemented in many European countries as well as the U.S., but the rate of COVID-19 cases in these countries differ drastically.
The national response from Australia was headed by Health Minister Greg Hunt who worked with health experts to create a strategic plan that focused on containing the outbreak. This resulted in an extreme lockdown in which most businesses were closed, a nightly curfew was heavily enforced and restrictions on travel set across the country. Hunt also worked closely with hospitals and physicians, overseeing purchases of protective equipment, clothing and masks.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Hunt said his team created a plan focused on both containment and capacity-building.
“We closed the border and concentrated on testing, tracing, and social distancing,” Hunt said. Instead of beginning a cycle of lockdown-reopening-lockdown, these health experts knew they had to shoot for a higher goal: zero.
Perhaps the most important reason that Australia has been able to successfully stop the spread of COVID-19 is the powerful persuasion implemented by government leadership. Australian leadership put political ideologies aside and motivated the people to follow the rules in place and to take the virus seriously.
The lack of partisan animosity helped create a more effective message. It made people more willing to follow the guidelines by asking them for their cooperation and preparing them to give up some of the freedoms they were accustomed to.
The Australian people saw their leaders but their political differences aside for the sake of their constituents, and this message played a role in cooperation from the people.
Stephen Duckett and Will Mackey, two authors from the Grattan Institute — a nonprofit think tank — who wrote Australia’s COVID-19 policy followed the belief that lockdowns should be one and done; a hard lockdown early on would give the best chance for a complete elimination of the virus. This idea proved to be true as it is exactly what we see in Australia today. Australians are seeing the benefits of their efforts as businesses open back up, social distancing policies lessen and life returns to some sort of normal.
The containment strategy used in Australia was not that different from those employed around the world, but its success was in part due to the dedication of the people to follow the rules and commit to the government’s strategy. The government also made it easier for businesses and workers to comply by providing businesses with subsidies and increasing workers’ unemployment benefits; thus, ensuring even greater compliance.
Australia is not the only country to see this success; we have seen pandemic victories in countries such as Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand, the last of which has received global praise for their response to the pandemic. These countries show that victories are possible when it comes to COVID-19, and they provide a light at the end of the tunnel for countries like the U.S. who are still dealing with rising case numbers and deaths.