Australia’s death toll from the coronavirus could hit 50,000 with millions infected, based on the Morrison government’s more conservative predictions.
It’s the figure that the Prime Minister has consistently declined to provide, despite predictions in New South Wales that more than 1.5 million people could catch the virus.
Scott Morrison has repeatedly declined to publicly reveal the government modelling for weeks – despite releasing graphs on Sunday that predict the daily demand on GPs and hospitals for coronavirus testing and treatment could hit 300,000 patients a day.
But the deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly came close to nominating the potential death toll on Monday when he conceded anywhere between 20 and 60 per cent of the nation’s citizens could contract the disease.
“It’s something in the range. I’m not going to speculate on the actual numbers,” Professor Kelly said.
This is an infectious disease. The more we can do to separate people and stop the infection spreading, the better.
“The death rate is around one per cent. You can do the maths.”
Based on the more conservative prediction of one in five Australians contracting the virus, that would result in five million people being infected and around 50,000 deaths based on a 1 per cent death rate.
However, if 60 per cent of the population was infected – an unlikely prospect according to NSW Health – the death toll could rise to 150,000 people and 15 million patients overwhelming GPs and hospitals.
Professor Kelly said the majority of those affected will experience mild symptoms, but the death toll for over-70s is consistently much higher at around 15 per cent of patients.
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On Sunday, the Department of Health refused to provide the predictions of how many cases are expected based on the Prime Minister’s reluctance to share the information.
“The Prime Minister has consistently said the government would not be making any public statements about the modelling at this point as it would be speculative,” a spokesman said.
“There are a range of possibilities in case numbers.
“What is clear is that we will see more cases.
“The most important thing at present is that we do everything we can to follow the best medical advice on implementing the effective public health measures so far agreed to and announced.”
As of Tuesday morning, Australia has more than 360 cases of COVID-19 and five people have died.
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“This week it’s all about slowing the curve of the epidemic,” Professor Kelly said.
“For most people it is a minor disease.
“About 80 per cent of people that get sick with this virus have a mild illness.
“However there are some, around 20 per cent, that do require more serious healthcare, whether that’s through primary care, general practice or in hospital. And indeed in our intensive care units.
“And unfortunately, there are some people that die.”
The grim prediction came as the Prime Minister confirmed the economic impact was likely to be worse than the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
“This is nothing like the GFC. This has gone well beyond that now. I mean, in the GFC, we didn’t have to shut down the borders,” Mr Morrison said.
“In the GFC, we didn’t have to stop mass gathering of the public.
“I mean, this is of an order well beyond what we saw last time. And it’ll be a challenging period. But, you know, Australians will come through.”
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham confirmed Tuesday’s national cabinet meeting would consider further stimulus measures to protect the economy from the impact of the coronavirus.
“There are already job losses. There are businesses under immense stress and pressure,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The government can’t step in and run the entire economy.
“We can’t run everybody’s business or save everybody’s business, but we are looking at how we continually recalibrate and approach the different policy responses to give the most effective assistance on the ground.”
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was not reassuring that a second stimulus package was being proposed so quickly after the first tranche.
“It’s just days afterward. I think they were quite clearly gaps in terms of ensuring that some sectors that would be impacted.
“We’ve said repeatedly that casual workers, gig workers in the gig economy, people who are sole traders are very concerned that there’s a big gap there.
“They’re going to miss out on income. And many of them are fearful.
“There was one fellow who was working on camera duty on my statement to the nation that was broadcast on ABC last night.
“He essentially is a contract worker, the sole bread-winner in his family a wife and three kids and they are very concerned.
“People like him [are] very concerned about the impact that this will have on their capacity to just pay their bills and put food on the table for their families.”
Mr Albanese said it was “prudent” the Reserve Bank was looking at quantitative easing.
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“The Reserve Bank, of course, was warning a long time ago – many months before the bushfire crisis and coronavirus – that the economy was not doing well,” Mr Albanese said.
“They were calling for stimulus … and for fiscal policy to do some of the work that they said monetary policy couldn’t do all the heavy lifting.
“That’s why this government needs to make sure, not just in terms of announcements, but the money flows out the door.
“We know for the bushfires, the notional $2 billion allocation, just $200 million as of a week ago went out the door.”