Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommendations on application of regional additional social distancing measures to combat COVID-19
30 March 2020
Following the progressively scaled up social distancing measures over the last week, Australia has now achieved significant behavioural change and a clear narrative on the message to “stay at home unless doing limited essential activities”.
The measures so far introduced are, in large part, similar to many overseas countries. Secondary effects of these measures are also being observed, such as the voluntary closure of many retail chains. While there has been broad behaviour change, it is not clear if compliance with physical distancing measures has reached a sufficient threshold to drive down transmission.
These measures and the recently enhancing quarantine of returned travellers will not be predicted to have maximum impact for several days.
It is too early to say whether the small positive recent moves in the epidemiology curve are significant or will be sustained.
The biggest single concern remains the evidence of cases without an epidemiology link, suggesting community transmission with undetected cases. Other potential points of concern include local public health capacity and health system capacity.
AHPPC recognises that States and Territories will be at different points in their outbreak and outbreak response. Whilst we strongly support the long-term nationwide maintenance and enforcement of the severe restrictions currently in place, we recognise that local circumstances may prompt States and Territories to introduce additional measures for a period to further control community transmission.
These local decisions should be on the advice of the local Chief Health Officer informed by the local epidemiology at the time:
The factors influencing such a recommendation will include consideration of:
- The overall number of new cases, and particularly the rate of change
- The proportion of locally acquired cases without known links to other cases
- Multiple outbreaks in vulnerable populations, including remote Indigenous communities and residential aged care facilities
- Capacity of laboratory testing, public health and health system to respond to current and predicted load.
AHPPC notes that there is no ‘formula’ to guide such decisions. Rather the local assessment has to be made on the current evidence and the knowledge that there is a lag time of at least 7-14 days before the real impact of additional measures will be seen on case incidence, and longer for critical care requirements and mortality.
Read previous statements from the AHPPC on coronavirus (COVID-19)