As the number of COVID-19 cases explodes across the globe, it’s easy to forget a statistic that rarely hits the headlines.
But it remains the key to understanding how close Australia is to not simply flattening the curve, but crushing it.
The statistic is the number of active cases of COVID-19 in Australia, the tally of people who are currently battling the illness.
It tells a story that is far more positive than the 6,675 Australian cases you may have heard on the news.
It sounds like a large number and there’s no doubt every one of those cases would have been terrifying for the families involved.
However, that figure is simply the total number of cases diagnosed in Australia since the pandemic started.
The good news that is the number of Australians diagnosed as infected with COVID-19 who have now recovered is 5,136.
The true number of active COVID cases? In Australia, that figure is now 1,461.
Critically, the number of people those cases are infecting is also being reduced by aggressive contact tracing and quarantine measures to just one person or less.
If we can keep that up, we can steadily reduce the number of cases to zero in some regions.
“Well, we’re far ahead of where we thought we would be at this time,’’ the Prime Minister said on Friday.
“And the people I have to thank for that is the Australian people and their patience and their discipline and their application.
“I know it’s frustrating and annoying and all of those things. But this is really delivering for Australia and making us safer.”
The vast majority of the current cases in Australia are in NSW and Victoria with a handful of cases in many states. In Canberra, there are just four cases.
The 6,675 figure is the “tally” used by Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy on Friday when he provided an update on the coronavirus with the Prime Minister.
“So, currently the case tally in Australia is (6,675) cases. Seventy eight people have, unfortunately, died from coronavirus-related disease,’’ he said. That number has since increased to 79.
The headline “tally” of cases includes 2982 in New South Wales, 1343 in Victoria, 1026 in Queensland, 438 in South Australia, 548 in Western Australia, 205 in Tasmania, 105 in the Australian Capital Territory and 28 in the Northern Territory.
But when you take out of those headline numbers the number of people who have recovered, a more accurate picture emerges of just how successful Australia has been in managing the COVID-19 crisis.
In NSW, the state hardest hit by COVID-19 there are currently 894 people battling the virus.
The headline tally is 2982 but that does not mention more than 2,000 people who have recovered.
In Queensland, there are currently 282 active COVID-19 cases. Another 738 people have recovered.
In the Northern Territory, there are 10 patients in Darwin hospital but none of these patients are in intensive care.
In South Australia, there are now 33 active cases. More than 400 people have recovered and there have been no new cases for days.
There are four people in the hospital and no patients on ventilators.
In Tasmania, a recent outbreak has spiked cases but there are still only 91 active cases.
There are 16 people in hospital but none of these patients currently require intensive care.
In Victoria, there are just 73 active cases and 1,254 people have recovered.
In WA, there are 76 active cases and 464 people have recovered.
Across Australia, there are only 138 serious cases under hospital care.
“Fortunately, the number of people in intensive care units is dropping, only 42 at the moment. Only 29 people on ventilators,’’ Prof Murphy said.
Given the terrifying predictions of hospitals overwhelmed and 150,000 Australian deaths that were reported just a few weeks ago, it’s extraordinary to think that there are just 43 Australians with COVID-19 currently being treated in intensive care units across the nation.
To protect against a second wave of cases over winter, health authorities are preparing a ‘pandemic intelligence plan’ that plans to test extensively.
Every state and territory has now broadened the testing criteria. That means anybody with acute respiratory symptoms – cough, sore throat, runny nose, cold symptoms, flu-like symptoms – can get tested.
Another new strategy is active surveillance mechanisms to test even more people without symptoms in a range of frontline occupations.
That should also address fears that there are ‘silent carriers’ in the community.
In New York City, the current epicentre of the crisis, recent tests have suggested up to 1 in 5 people may have had the virus.
But Prof Murphy says early evidence suggests that with much lower infection rates than the US that is not happening here.
It’s good news, but the Prime Minister warns a cautious approach is still required to avoid a “stop and start” approach to easing restrictions.
“What we don’t want to do is get that decision wrong and then in several weeks’ time, lock things down harder,” he said.