Policy report

Australia appears poised to relax some of its most stringent social distancing requirements in the coming days and weeks. Unlike most other countries, however, it does so against the backdrop of few active COVID-19 cases and apparently limited community transmission. This is an admirable achievement.

The next stage in Australia’s battle against COVID-19, however, remains difficult and uncertain.

Activity in recent months has been fixated on the paramount task of limiting national caseloads and preventing overload of the healthcare system, but the markers of success are not so clear moving forward. As Australia considers when and how to ease the restrictions imposed, we must ask anew what success looks like.

Setting goals for the future is extremely difficult because at every turn we find uncertainty. We are only starting to decipher the biology of this novel virus and to understand the disease it causes. We also do not yet know the strength and length of post-viral immunity. Furthermore, the longer-term macroeconomic, social, political and other impacts of the restrictions used to suppress it are also difficult to predict. Even the best models of the likely impact of public health measures on disease transmission do very little to inform us about how the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people have already been affected and will continue to be affected into the future.

Suggested key principles:

  • Acknowledge that the virus is still with us
  • Set clear, national aims
  • Compare different time horizons
  • Cultivate openness, experimentation and public dialogue
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