Australia is renowned as "the lucky country", a title you could argue we lost in recent years after rolling bouts of crippling drought, fires and floods. But when it comes to weathering the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic we have indeed been very lucky.
In mid-March our case numbers peaked and, as a nation, we now stand at just over 7000 confirmed cases and 100 deaths. Any loss of life is tragic, but if we compare Australia to countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, our peak looks like a mole hill compared to their mountains.
They are struggling to manage hundreds of thousands of cases and devastating numbers of deaths. For them, the pandemic struck hard and it's going to take time and effort to turn the tide.
Our government responded vigorously, and we have all played our part to contain the virus, sacrificing activities considered essential parts of our life and culture. While it has been uncomfortable and a massive disruption, we have shown great Australian resolve as we tackled this challenge.
IN OTHER NEWS:
- Toohey's News, The Podcast Episode 11: Alex McKinnon
- Council to use building sales to fund Newcastle Ocean Baths upgrade
- NSW eases virus rules to 50-person limit
- Northern NSW Football to return to training from May 27 with new coronavirus guidelines
- Australian coal facing China restrictions
- Hunter Water submits revised plans to increase the capacity of Belmont desalination plant to 30 million litres a day
Through good public health measures, great community solidarity and divine providence we have avoided a real pandemic wave. Collectively, we have flattened the curve and averted a catastrophe.
But as case numbers remain low and restrictions ease, our greatest foe is now complacency.
There is a community sense we have won and things can return to normal, but the battle is far from over.
It is hard to predict what will happen next - there is no script for these unprecedented times - but we can take lessons from history and from countries that battled COVID-19 in the early days of its spread. A resurgence in cases is a strong possibility if we return to pre-COVID-19 behaviour now.
The virus appears to still be lurking in capital cities and could easily be reintroduced to regional Australia through quarantine breaches. All it would require is an errant hug, an uncovered sneeze or a poorly-spaced gathering to gain momentum.
Any easing of restrictions should be taken in small, tentative steps with careful monitoring, rather than a rush back to pre-COVID life. Each step will need to be assessed, and standing back and maintaining hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette should be the new Australian way. It is going to be a critical part of our protection until an effective vaccine is widely available.
The last thing we want is to go backwards.
Together we suppressed COVID-19, and together we can continue to keep it at bay.
Dr David Durrheim is Hunter New England Health's public health physician
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here