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Australia I helped prepare Australia's pandemic plan and so far it's unfolding reasonably well

00:56  01 april  2020
00:56  01 april  2020 Source:   theage.com.au

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In recent weeks we've seen calls to "lock down" Australia to halt the spread of COVID-19. These calls have increased in frequency and stridency after watching the unmitigated human tragedy in countries like Italy, Britain and the United States. If those calling for lockdowns are to be believed, Australia is tracking along the same trajectory and it is "inevitable" we'll face a similar catastrophe.

The risk Australia will confront an epidemic that overwhelms our health system is real. To suggest we are somehow immune from what we've seen happen overseas is lunacy. But equally, Australia's response has unfolded reasonably well to date given the rapidly changing circumstances.

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It ’ s thought that the pandemic may have been spread through transporting infected people, rats, and cargo harboring fleas through ocean-going trade. He went on to say, a pandemic outbreak in today’ s world would likely travel much quicker and could cause far more deaths than previous pandemics .

A pandemic is an epidemic of disease that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple continents, or worldwide. A widespread endemic disease with a stable number of infected people is

And while you may not have heard much about it, the government does have a plan. I know because I was part of a small team that helped develop that plan.

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Australia's pandemic preparedness plans were in development by the early 2000s but were spurred along by the 2003 SARS outbreak and emergence of "Bird Flu" in 2005. Australia's first national exercise - Exercise Cumpston - was then held over four days in 2006 to test the health sector response to a hypothetical pandemic.

After the first, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to hold a second national exercise to test when a pandemic virus is widespread across Australia. The aim of Exercise Sustain 08 was to test the non-health sector response and identify how we could get the country back on its feet.

In contrast to 2006, Sustain 08 was a six month-long exercise programme involving three discussion exercises and a fourth "functional" exercise that tested our national coordination mechanisms. The discussion exercises involved over 300 experts from multiple sectors of Australian society that looked in detail at measures to halt the spread of an infectious disease. The functional exercise culminated in a teleconference involving COAG leaders, simulating the national cabinet Prime Minister Morrison announced on March 13.

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The plan we are seeing enacted now is based on a number of principles. The first of which is, while we have a high concentration in our capital cities, Australia's population is spread across 7.7 million square kilometres. For these reasons, while there is a need to coordinate as much as possible, each jurisdiction needs the flexibility to implement measures based on their specific circumstances. Put simply, it makes little sense to implement nationwide measures that would see Cooktown's schools close if the majority of infected people are in Geelong.

This approach is necessary not only for trying to contain a pandemic but, critically, to also help the country get back on its feet, as it permits measures to be kept in place in one part of the country while other areas resume normal social and economic functioning.

A second key element is that any response needs to be scalable, flexible and proportionate to the threat. Our pandemic plans were designed to deal with a highly transmissible airborne disease. COVID-19 is not airborne. It is spread by droplet form, which means applying different strategies and some of the more stringent measures (like a lockdown) that might be warranted in an influenza pandemic may not be necessary now, or at least, not yet.

Of course, not everything was resolved by Exercise Sustain 08. It was agreed, for example, the level and extent of government assistance to industry, communities, even individuals, would be contingent on who was being affected, what sectors of society were impacted, and what was happening across the world.

It also has to be acknowledged not everything has gone to plan with the Australian COVID-19 response. Mistakes have been made. There'll be a lot of time for analyses in the years ahead.

For now, the important thing is that governments acknowledge the mistakes, note the lessons, and ensure they aren't repeated.

Where successive governments have let Australia down is in ignoring one of the key recommendations of Exercise Sustain 08. Namely, that planning at the national level was highly complex and required continued refinement. It was further noted the momentum created by holding the two national exercises needed to continue, to ensure we were adequately prepared.

Since 2008 though, no further national exercises have been held. I also suspect the national stockpile of personal protective equipment created to help us get through the first months of a pandemic has been subject to a raft of efficiency savings, cut backs and clawbacks by a string of governments unfamiliar with how critical that stockpile was to our plans.

This has left us in a position that is less than ideal, where strategies that were already agreed upon in 2008 are being revisited and reconsidered, and where we may not have sufficient levels of PPEfor our frontline healthcare workers. And let's be clear: it is our frontline healthcare workers who will bear the brunt of failed policy.

They are our first, last, and until a vaccine becomes available, only line of defence. They must be supported and protected at all costs.

It is easy to become consumed by panic and anxiety. These are dangerous times, and the world is confronting a global pandemic the likes of which hasn't been seen for a century.

Amid the doom and gloom it is important to remember that despite some of the mistakes, our government, your government, remains one of the best prepared in the world. The work put in behind the scenes over the past two decades has got us here.

That preparation can only take us so far though. We need every Australian to join this fight, to do their bit. It is, after all, a fight for our very lives.

Adam Kamradt-Scott is a former registered nurse and public servant in Australian pandemic preparedness. He is an associate professor at the Centre for International Security Studies, University of Sydney, where he researches and teaches on global health security.

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The 10 biggest stories you might have missed on Stockhead this week.According to a report by The Washington Post, “the Secret Service this week signed a $45,000 contract to rent a fleet of golf carts in Northern Virginia, saying it needed them quickly to protect a ‘dignitary’ in the town of Sterling, home to one of President Trump’s golf clubs”.

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