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Thu 4 June 2020
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James Melville continues his comparison of international responses to COVID-19 and shows how just one British rural county has suffered more than a continent.

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A sobering statistic: Devon, with 155 fatalities recorded so far, has more Coronavirus deaths than Australia which has 95.

While the UK now has the second-highest amount of COVID-19 deaths in the world, Australia has managed to limit the spread and suppress the death rate of the pandemic.

As of Wednesday 6th May, Australia has suffered 95 deaths and 6,894 cases, far less than the UK with the Financial Times estimating over 50,000 deaths when ‘excess mortality’ is taken into account, and more than 200,000 cases. So where did Australia succeed where the UK has failed?


Australian epidemiologist Professor John Mathews explains: “Australia has every right to hold its head up and say we’ve done well. I’m pretty proud of what Australia has done, really. My reckoning is we’ll come out in pretty good shape.”

A key reason behind Australia’s comparatively low statistics was its swift response – through social distancing, closing international borders and mass testing and tracing to suppress the virus.

Unlike the UK, which wasted over two weeks in early March debating herd immunity and hosting the likes of the Cheltenham Festival, Australia went straight for full and immediate suppression of the virus. 

By acting early, Australia isn’t just flattening the curve, they are now on a mission to get rid of the virus completely.

This involved strict limits on social gatherings — first at 500 people, then 10 then two — with the goal being to contain the spread so as not to overwhelm hospitals. They also shut down any international travel into Australia from high risk countries — based on WHO recommendations. Anyone landing in Australia from overseas had to self-isolate for two weeks and people infected on cruise ships and hotspots were traced.

Australia also adopted early social distancing measures with good public compliance and mass testing and tracing programmes at a local community level with additional contact tracing and immediate isolation of those potentially exposed.


Australia smothered the virus before it was allowed to grow. Like the examples shown in New Zealand, Denmark, Vietnam, Greece, Portugal, Taiwan, Singapore, Austria, Norway and South Korea, they hit it hard and hit it early with a combination of immediate social distancing measures, early lockdowns and border controls to limit international travel. 

The UK failed to do this and instead waited seven weeks until after the first Coronavirus case was reported to lockdown. The UK now has more deaths on a weekly basis than the total COVID-19 deaths in all these countries.

By acting early, Australia isn’t just flattening the curve, they are now on a mission to get rid of the virus completely through swift action delivered at a regional and state level.  

The federalised Australian state governments didn’t wait for central government direction for them to act. For example, the states of New South Wales and Victoria announced they were proceeding with a more comprehensive shutdown of all non-essential services and social distancing on 23 March, beating the government to its own shutdown response. 

Through a combination of swift lockdown responses from the Australian states and one of the highest mass testing programmes per capita in the world and border controls, Australia have managed to get ahead and stay ahead of the virus. Meanwhile 10,000 miles away in Britain, this lack of early response has created a national health tragedy that has now spiralled out of control.

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