Australia’s Department of Health began monitoring the situation already in early January this year and developed a national response plan by mid-February.
In any health emergency, our focus is on ensuring our response is flexible and scalable, so we can respond effectively whatever the situation might be.
Australia has a federal system, so ensuring effective coordination between the Federal Government and states and territories has been vital. It’s actually state and territory governments in Australia who are mainly responsible for health matters.
By using a National Cabinet mechanism, the Prime Minister and leaders of each state and territory meet regularly to discuss challenges and come up with effective, coordinated responses. The leaders come from different sides of the political spectrum, but all have worked very well together.
So far our Government support has been A$320 billion, or about 16.4 per cent of annual GDP
Even when different states or territories have taken different approaches, good communication from leaders has helped people understand why. One state might be dealing with a COVID-19 hotspot or have a larger number of cases. Another state or territory might want to implement additional measures to protect vulnerable populations, for example, indigenous communities in remote parts of the country.
While the crisis is not over yet, we believe Australia implemented COVID-19 restrictions early enough to prevent widespread community transmission. We are successfully flattening the curve. The majority of confirmed cases in Australia were acquired overseas, so implementing travel restrictions has been a crucial part of our response. This includes mandatory 14 days quarantine for those who return to Australia.
As we move forward, a crucial next step in slowing the spread will be improving our ability to find and contain outbreaks quickly. On 26 April our Government released a new COVIDSafe App to improve our ability to contact trace. Almost 3 million people have downloaded the app in its first three days.
Throughout the crisis, we’ve looked to learn from the experiences of our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region. In the case of the app – it’s modelled closely on the app developed by the Singaporean Government, which was very effective there. And we want to share our learning too. Our national Science Agency, CSIRO, is contributing to global efforts to find a vaccine – it’s encouraging to see how much international collaboration is happening on this front.
The economic challenges ahead are significant. So far our Government support has been A$320 billion, or about 16.4 per cent of annual GDP across forward estimates. That’s unprecedented, but it’s what we needed to do. We’re very conscious things will take some time to recover on this front.
We haven’t eliminated COVID-19, but we’ve managed to get to a good position to move forward from. The key is not to be complacent.