Coronavirus in Australia – why does it not appear as bad as other countries?

In an excellent article by Benedict Brook in news.com.au he discussed an analysis by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) discussing the fact that the first thousand cases of coronavirus in Australia appear different and less significant than that seen in Italy, the US and the UK, not to mention where it started, in China, where the death rates have been significantly higher.

No one is suggesting that we do not have a problem and that the significant shut down of the country and economy is not necessary for a period of time. But, it certainly is good news for the vast majority of the population. In any article I write on the coronavirus and its clinical manifestation COVID-19, I always quote the date and time of writing the article because clearly the numbers are changing by the minute. I’m writing this at 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon, March 28 with right now 3583 cases with 403 occurring in the last 24 hours. To date, there have been 14 deaths over a nine week period with just under 600,000 cases worldwide and just under 27,500 deaths. In Italy, as an example there have been 86,500 cases with 9150 deaths and therefore just over a 10% fatality rate. The US has 104,205 cases but only 1700 deaths and that’s a much lower fatality rate compared with countries like Italy, Spain or China. The cases and death rates in China appear to have slowed right down.

So, why does Australia appear to have a much lower rate of cases and, in reality, an extremely low fatality rate? As I mentioned in an article I wrote a week ago, I believe the main difference is climate. We live in a very temperate climate as opposed to the much colder areas that are now being severely affected by this virus. Unfortunately, we are moving into colder weather and the effects of the virus may become much more dramatic as this occurs. At present, over the past week, the daily new cases vary between 300 to 400. No-one has any real handle as to whether this will become worse as the weeks go on, stay static or decrease.

Regardless, the lockdown of the country and the self isolation protocols are in force and should be accepted by all of us. In many ways, I’m still a great believer in the benefits of herd immunity and one could argue that we almost should have a division in society between people below the age of 60 and above the age of 60 to use that as an arbitrary cut off. Grandparents (and I’m one of them) should probably not be minding the grandchildren and isolating from people below the age of 60 or, of course, anyone who has any respiratory illness or has tested positive to coronavirus, until full recovery.

As we are being told (and has been borne out by the statistics), 80% of the cases of COVID-19 are mild and the person fully recovers without any sequelae. But, 20% are more severe and 10% of people will be admitted to hospital with a small proportion, to this point, requiring admission to an intensive care unit and possibly placed on a ventilator. At present our fatality rate in Australia is well below 1% and hopefully will stay that way.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by resa cahya on Unsplash

We all need to be vigilant, very respectful of other people’s personal space and follow the social distancing laws. As I repeatedly keep saying, wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. No health expert can be sure of when this will end. It may be over the next month or two or it could even be six months. For all of our sakes, let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later and in the meantime, as most of us are stuck at home for the vast majority of time, spend that time usefully by practising the “Five Keys of Being Healthy”.

  1. Quit all addictions — smokers are at greater risk for the severe complications of coronavirus. Don’t follow the temptation to consume too much alcohol and it is a no-brainer to avoid illegal drugs.
  2. Cultivate a good quality sleep habit — 7 to 8 hours per night is as good for you as not smoking
  3. Eat less and eat more natural food. All people should be consuming 2 to 3 pieces of fruit per day and 3 to 5 servings of vegetables per day (a serving being around a half a carrot). If you think that’s obvious, why do less than 10% of the society do this on a daily basis?
  4. Exercise for 3 to 5 hours per week — many people will use the excuse that they can’t go outside and the gyms are closed and therefore they can’t exercise. I have broken three exercise bikes over 12 years from over use. I believe that an exercise bike is the best form of indoor exercise as it is easy on the joints, you can’t fall off your bike, you don’t need to wear a helmet and your exercise is not affected by pollution or weather. You can exercise to your own limits on a bike.
  5. Cultivate peace and happiness — interestingly, the divorce rates have increased in China during the enforced isolation where couples had to spend more time together. Remember the wonderful saying that “it’s better to be kind than to be right”. Everyone is suffering during these times, including your partner (if indeed you have one), so show some compassion for them. Also, use this time to develop relaxation habits such as meditation, contemplation and listening to music. With our increasing online presence, there are many excellent meditation apps and websites where you can learn this technique.

The coronavirus is only temporary and life will return to normal at some stage, but the world will look different because of the health and economic effects of this virus. Let’s all cope with these times as best as we can.

Written by

Dr Walker is an expert in the field of preventative cardiology and has published seven books. He gives lectures nationally and internationally.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store