Coronavirus Health Information Update Melbourne

COVID-19 Information Update #3

by Mackenzie Gignac

27 APRIL 2020

What is happening with case numbers in Victoria?

The past two weeks have seen a pleasing reduction of case numbers in Victoria, and more broadly across Australia, with only a few new cases diagnosed each day. This is undoubtedly due to the effective social distancing measures. Australia is among very few countries in the world that managed to achieve this. We are indeed the “Lucky Country” in that social distancing measures came in just before widespread community infections occurred.

If we are very very lucky, COVID-19 may in fact disappear from our community, and as long as we keep our borders water-tight, we may be able to get back to a form of “normal life”, albeit without overseas travel or visitors.

The litmus test is whether our case numbers will go up once the current social isolation measures are relaxed. Unfortunately, any effect of interventions being tightened or relaxed will take two weeks to reflect on the case numbers, so “slow and cautious” is the way to go.

How common is asymptomatic infection?

This is very important as although we are diagnosing patients with COVID-19 infection and obvious symptoms, we do not know how many people out there have “silent” infection, who are still dangerous as they can spread the virus without knowledge.

In this regard, a study conducted in Iceland that was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine sheds some insight. Population screening for COVID-19 in Iceland tested 6% of the country’s population; among the 13,080 tests conducted randomly in apparently “normal” people, 100 (0.8%) tested positive for COVID-19. That means one in every 132 “normal” people walking around the streets was infected with COVID-19 without knowledge. In retrospect, around 50% of these people did have some symptoms – such as cough or runny nose.

Interestingly, the Icelandic population testing also included 848 children under 10 years old. Among this large population of children, none were positive. This observation adds to the accumulating data showing not only that children who get COVID-19 have minimal symptoms, it seems like they are less likely to get infected at all. Nobody knows why.

What precautions should I take?

Victoria is about to embark on large scale testing to find out exactly how many “normal” people walking on the streets are in fact infected. Until we know the hard data, our previous recommendations regarding precautions apply.

If for whatever reason you cannot stay at home, and need to mingle in the community, the new “COVIDSafe” app is a good idea as it allows early notification if you have been in close contact with people who may later test positive for COVID-19.

Stay Safe Everybody

Professor Con Tam, Associate Professor Ali Bazargan, Associate Professor Hang Quach, Dr ShuhYing Tan, Dr Matthew Ku and all the staff from Melbourne Blood Specialists.