TIME TO GO ALL-IN ON ELIMINATION STRATEGY

Comments attributable to Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes:


It is time for Victoria to pursue a coronavirus elimination strategy as part of a nationwide elimination
strategy. We need to do better than an endless cycle of recurring outbreaks, which is the result of the
current strategy. An elimination strategy is an ambitious but achievable target which causes short term
pain but long-term gain.
The elimination strategy has proven successful in New Zealand. Recent positive economic indicators
show that the short-term pain is now delivering long-term gains for New Zealand. A number of states
in Australia have also shown that coronavirus elimination is feasible. The pursuit of an elimination
strategy could produce similar positive results for Victoria.
A recent article in the Australian Medical Journal indicated that if Victoria intensified its current social
distancing measures, elimination could be achieved. The report urged the Andrews Government to
impose a stricter lockdown than the current stage 3 restrictions, because the cost of imposing a
stricter lockdown is marginal, given there is already a lock down in place. The benefits of such a
decision would outweigh the costs. Several of the measures needed to achieve eradication are
already in place in Victoria. Closure of some businesses, mask wearing, working from home practices,
and social distancing are already in place. Intensification of these measures would give Victoria a very
good chance of eliminating the virus, the study says.
One of the study’s authors, Professor Whiteley said: “Living in a state or country that has achieved
elimination is a far better option than suppression in the short- to medium-term, compared to the high
likelihood of recurrent outbreaks precipitating recurrent lock-downs with attendant social and economic
disruption."
He is right. Recurrent lockdowns will have a greater economic and social cost in the long term.
The “go early - go hard” strategy of NZ Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern has been vindicated and the
harsher stage four restrictions imposed in New Zealand have yielded both health and economic
rewards for that country and will continue to do so. Daniel Andrews should follow the NZ example and
impose stage four restrictions for however long it takes for an elimination strategy to work.
While I acknowledge the view that a harsher lockdown will have serious economic costs, no strategy
to combat this pandemic comes without economic cost.
As Victoria’s CHO Professor Brett Sutton said: “The seesaw of locking down and
easing up will be almost intolerable. We need something that is sustainable, that
might be elimination if we’ve got any feasibility of getting there, or it might be
suppression that doesn’t involve really significant constraints on behaviour.”
Victoria was close to achieving elimination before restrictions were eased. We were
“getting there” before bad luck and bad management intervened. To have the
feasibility of “getting there” again, we must learn the lessons of recent events and
pursue the elimination of coronavirus.