How did COVID-19 unfold in Australia? AIHW looks back at the first four months of the pandemic in its latest report
A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) contains data on the first four months of COVID-19 in the country, covering the period from 25 January 2020 – when the first Australian cases were confirmed – to the end of May.
Australia’s first cases were diagnosed on 25 January amongst a group that had travelled from Wuhan, China. There were then sporadic cases, with either zero or small numbers of cases diagnosed each day until early March, when the numbers diagnosed started to accelerate and clusters of cases started to emerge.
The 100th case was diagnosed on 10 March, the 200th on 15 March, the 400th on 18 March and the 800th on 21 March.
“This shows that cases were doubling every 3–4 days in the early days of the epidemic,” says AIHW in its report Australia’s health 2020, published on Thursday.
The peak, as captured by the report, was reached on 23 March when 611 cases were diagnosed in one day, after which the rate of growth started to slow substantially. In terms of date of illness onset, the peak day was previously 20 March with 468 new illnesses.
However this has since been surpassed, with Australia recording 502 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday 22 July—the bulk of these from Victoria.
By 7 June, there had been 7,277 laboratory confirmed cases in Australia, and 102 of these people had died.
Currently, as of 22 July, there have been 12,896 confirmed cases in Australia and 128 deaths.
During the epidemic, cumulative case counts have also been provided by states and territories daily for national reporting. Those data indicate that, by 9 June, the vast majority of cases had recovered and only 6% were still active cases.
AIHW compared COVID-19 to other recent epidemics, including SARS and MERS which were also coronaviruses, and the last pandemic influenza—commonly referred to as swine flu.
By 31 May, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths worldwide had surpassed all of these other epidemics, with over 5.9 million cases and more than 367,000 deaths, said AIHW.
Global coronavirus infections have now passed 15 million as of 23 July, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University, with more than 623,000 deaths.
Nearly four million of these cases are in the United States, followed by more than 2.2 million in Brazil and more than 1.2 million in India.
In comparison, swine flu led to more than 491,000 laboratory-confirmed global cases and 18,631 deaths.
Meanwhile SARS saw 8,000 global cases and MERS saw just over 2,400. Deaths for both were less than 1,000.
“The primary reasons COVID-19 has become a worldwide crisis are its severity in combination with high transmission rates,” AIHW found.
“These high transmission rates are driven by a number of factors: it is a new virus and thus there was no immunity in the population; there is currently no vaccine; and it can be transmitted by people who are not very ill (such as those with no or very mild symptoms), allowing it to spread throughout the community ‘under the radar’.”
As well as age—with those aged over 50 at higher risk—there are other factors that increase the risk of severe disease with COVID-19, including smoking, obesity, and chronic conditions such as health or respiratory disease, diabetes or cancer.
Even more at risk are those with multiple comorbidities or who are immunocompromised due to disease or therapy.
Members of the health workforce are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 as they may be treating, and therefore in close contact with, people with the disease, says AIHW in its report.
“This is why the availability of PPE and being competent in both putting on (‘donning’) and removing (‘doffing’) the PPE is so important,” it says.
Outbreaks in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and the North West Regional and North West Private hospitals in Tasmania demonstrate how hospitals can become focal points for outbreaks, reads the report.
“Ongoing monitoring of health care workers will be an important part of the response to COVID-19.
“The importance of PPE in protecting the health workforce from infection has been an ongoing worldwide challenge in the management of COVID-19 due to supply chain issues.”
See the full report here