Victorians is the latest Australian state to celebrate officially eliminating all coronavirus cases – but experts are warning that complacency could add Australia to the list of countries that have experienced massive third waves.
Australia is almost a COVID-free oasis – joining an exclusive list of countries that have managed to get the virus under control.
But many of those countries have seen the virus rear its head – sometimes months after they had recorded their last case.
Thailand had no new COVID-19 cases for 100 days. Vietnam was the same.
New Zealand and Timor-Leste both had 102 days free of new cases.
Some countries handled their second waves so poorly they are still in them, and a select few have embarked upon their third.
Across the world, 215 nations and territories have reported COVID-19 cases, and 120 of those have experienced second waves according to the Worldometer global database.
Of these, only a small sliver have emerged victorious, explained Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole.
Six countries – Australia, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore – had serious second waves, and only some have combatted it well.
“South Korea is now having a third wave, and Japan,” Professor Toole told The New Daily.
“They’re probably the first countries to have a third wave. Hong Kong may be heading that way.”
But others in our region have been so effective at combating the virus, they haven’t seen community transmission recur.
“Vietnam went more than 100 days before having another spike, that occurred in July, but like the first wave, they went into a very effective lockdown and it was gone by August,” Professor Toole said.
“They haven’t had any local transition since.”
The coronavirus’s ability to pop up after months of no community transmission has confounded experts.
It’s pushed cities back into lockdown, sent contact tracers into a frenzy, and raised questions about the virus’s ability to survive for long periods.
Part of the reason Vietnam is such a success story is that it has the strictest quarantine system in the world – everyone who tests positive goes into a facility.
New Zealand, Thailand and Taiwan have avoided big second waves, Professor Toole said.
“Taiwan is the best in the world, they got onto the first wave very quick. They had a detailed plan because they were affected by SARS,” he said.
“New Zealand didn’t really have a second wave, it had a sizeable cluster after 102 days.”
Three key lines of defence
Newly released from a long lockdown, the thought of a third wave would send shivers up any Victorian spine – so how do we avoid it?
There are three key lines of defence, and we’ve all come to know them well.
They are: a strong quarantine system, effective contract tracing capabilities and old school public health measures like washing our hands, Professor Toole said.
“It’s about caution, caution, caution, caution. And 100 per cent strong quarantine,” he said.
Although Australia’s – and especially Victoria’s – achievement was extraordinary, the virus could still be in the community, Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett said.
We can’t be 100 per cent sure it isn’t in the community,” Professor Bennett said.
“It’s probably unlikely in Victoria because we had such a long lockdown, but still possible in NSW, still obviously possible in South Australia.”
To protect against a third wave we need to stay on the “front foot” and make sure the virus – if it’s out there – is caught early, she said.
“It’s about staying in control. That’s the key.”