Australia is close to the point at which COVID-19 cases begin to decline and the epidemic could die out in the community, a senior health official has said.
A senior health official says Australia is on the “cusp” of seeing the coronavirus dying out locally but he warned if social distancing measures were relaxed the epidemic could yet explode.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly says the reproductive rate has been somewhere between one and two – meaning every infected person infects between one and two others.
“Where you want to be is below one – so less than one other person being infected after a person themselves has the infection,” Prof Kelly told reporters in Canberra on Friday.
“Once you get to that point the virus dies out or the epidemic dies out.
“At the moment we’re probably on the cusp of that in Australia … whether that’s where we’re going to be in several weeks or months remains to be seen.”
Prof Kelly stressed “we’re not at that stage yet” and he warned people needed to remain vigilant in the fight to flatten the curve of case numbers.
Without the social distancing measures currently in place, one positive person could lead to 400 other cases within a month, he said.
“That is the sort of explosive epidemic we’ve seen in other countries. We just cannot afford, at this stage, to be considering that happening.”
Asked if allowing international flights into Australia would be the last restriction to be lifted down the track, Prof Kelly noted: “We are an island, of course, and that’s our advantage.”
Australia’s daily increase in cases fell below 100 on Thursday – the first time it’s slipped under that threshold for three weeks.
More than 6100 people in Australia have contracted coronavirus with 54 deaths – including the latest deaths in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his Easter message to drive home the importance of social distancing during a typically festive weekend.
Drawing on his own faith, Mr Morrison acknowledged this holiday would be vastly different, with online church services and no large family events.
“For Christians, not being able to gather does not diminish the hope that we have through this important Easter period,” he said in a video message.
‘This year, we will live out our faith by doing the right thing.
“That means staying at home, making sure we’re checking on our neighbours and supporting our communities and families, our friends.”
Federal Opposition leader Anthony Albanese in a statement issued a similar message, imploring Australians to stay home for the sake of community wellbeing.
He also thanked those working over the weekend on the crisis’ frontline.
The federal government, meanwhile, has reached an agreement with Qantas for three rescue flights from Peru, Argentina and South Africa for Australians stranded through border closures and lockdowns.
Those flights are expected next week while a separate government rescue flight returned about 280 Australians from Peru on Thursday.
Australian independent schools will also be forced to open in term two after the federal government threatened to cut funding.