New South Wales is already deep in the ‘red zone’ where COVID-19 is hard to control despite reporting a little more than a handful of infections each day, experts warn.
Every day, the Premier of Australia’s biggest state, Gladys Berejiklian, warns NSW is on a ‘knife edge’ despite a seemingly small number of daily cases.
The state has reported just 12 or 13 cases each day this week and is far outpaced by Victoria’s stunning triple-digit outbreak. The southern state recorded 725 cases yesterday and 471 new cases today.
But a World Health Organisation infection control adviser said NSW is already in ‘difficult to control’ territory, claiming it passed a magic number some time ago.
In a piece for The Conversation, the University of New South Wales’s Professor Mary-Louise McLaws wrote: ‘My analysis of the data suggests when cases reach 100 over 14 days – the ‘red zone’ – then an outbreak becomes very difficult to control.
‘This happened in Victoria on June 18, before cases skyrocketed and a second lockdown was called for July 8.’
New South Wales has reported about 188 cases in total over the past fortnight according to Health department news releases.
That places the state squarely in Professor McLaw’s ‘red zone’, despite the number of daily cases trending down in recent days.
To move to safer ground the state would need to report an average of just seven cases a day for two weeks.
Disease specialist Professor Tony Blakely warned if the virus was shed by a superspreader, NSW’s outbreak has ‘got potential to explode in the same way Melbourne did’.
Prof Blakely said there was uncertainty about the number of COVID superspreaders but estimated them at about one in 10 of those infected.
Ms Berejiklian earlier this week warned that just one case could cause a ‘huge tidal wave’ of coronavirus. She went so far on Thursday as to urge young people to curtail their socialising.
Two of today’s 12 cases involving young men visiting several bars around Sydney and Newcastle at the weekend.
‘If you have the virus and you go out five times a week to different places you could potentially be spreading it to five different locations, and then we have to contract trace everybody,’ Ms Berejiklian said.
Professor Blakely said NSW contact tracing teams had done a fantastic job in keeping track of the virus.
But ‘they’re still not keeping ahead of it’, with mystery cases popping up each day, he said.
That call is guided by the experience and analysis of the state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, he said.
‘Whether or not there’s a magic number, (Professor McLaw)’s got huge experience and if she says 100, as a rule of thumb, it’s a sensible one I think.’
Victorian health officials have provided some sobering statistics on how quickly his state’s outbreak got out of control at the beginning of July.
The southern state had 20 cases on June 25.
Just 16 days later, on July 11, it had 200 cases.
Authorities project if that continued, July 27 would have seen the state suffer through 2000 cases a day.
August 12 numbers would have reached 20,000.