How did Australia flatten its coronavirus curve? Country begins easing restrictions as infection rate continues to fall

That many Australians are now in such an enviable position would have been unthinkable just a month ago, when nationwide daily infection rates reached triple the number. But on Friday, the entire country reported only 16 new cases, a sharp decline from the peak of 460 new infections on March 28.

"No more cases in South Australia. This is a landmark for us," South Australia Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said with a big smile during a press conference Wednesday.

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The southern state of 1.6 million people, home to the country's fifth most populous city of Adelaide, has reported 438 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with just 14 remaining active cases and four deaths, according to SA government.

"I think many people in Australia are surprised at how well we've done it. If you look at all states and territories, this is the safest place to be in the world, maybe other than New Zealand," she said.

Neighboring New Zealand recently achieved its ambitious goal of "eliminating" the corona virus, which means that while the daily infection rate has not yet reached zero, the country is able to trace the origin of each new case.

A group of men walk on Bondi Beach May 1 in Sydney, Australia, following easing of lockdown measures in response to a decline in coronavirus cases across the state.

In total, Australia has reported 6,762 confirmed cases, of which 92 died and 5,720 have recovered, according to the federal health authority.

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"We continue to do very well around Australia to suppress the virus, and we have well and truly leveled the curve for cases and new infections," a spokesman for the Australian Ministry of Health said in a statement Thursday to CNN.

"Security has been our fundamental focus, and the success of our suppression strategy has meant that Australia is a very similar (place) like New Zealand, which has stated that the strategy is aimed at elimination."

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Some Australian states have already begun the process of alleviating restrictive measures and social distance rules. Western Australia and South Australia relaxed border at public gatherings, up from two people to 10 people.
In Western Australia, which saw several "zero-case" days last week, national parks reopened on Friday, and almost 60% of public school students have returned for the start of a new term.
In the remote control Northern Territory, where no new cases in three weeks have been reported, residents will be able to use public swimming pools, water parks, fishing with friends and playing golf starting Friday. The state has also announced plans to restart the economy, allowing restaurants, pubs and gyms to reopen May 15 and lift remaining restrictions on June 5.
Surfers are waiting for officials to open Bondi Beach in Sydney on April 28 as coronavirus pandemic restrictions are eased. The beach is open to swimmers and surfers just to exercise.

Restrictive measures

Australia's success in taming the outbreak started with early measures to prevent entry from high-risk areas.

On February 1, Australia joined the United States to close the borders of all foreign visitors who had recently been to China, with the outbreak being first reported in December last year.

As the virus spread and outbreaks flared across China, Australia blocked entries from Iran, South Korea and Italy in early March, before close the borders completely to all non-citizens and non-residents on March 19.
But the country has also had its share of mistakes. On March 19, it allowed more than 2,600 passengers to disembark Ruby Princess cruise ship in Sydney, despite several previous outbreaks elsewhere in the world involving cruise ships. More than 600 cases and 15 deaths have since been linked to the ship, according to the public broadcaster ABC.
People wave as the cruise ship Ruby Princess departs from Port Kembla, about 80 kilometers south of Sydney, April 23, after a few hundred virus-free crews departed to begin the process of returning home.
As the number of cases rose sharply at the end of March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on March 22, all bars, clubs, cinemas, gyms and places of worship would be closed indefinitely, while restaurants and cafes would be limited to take-away only – but supermarkets, clothing stores, pharmacies and beauty salons would be allowed to remain to open .

"What we're doing is putting down collections at pubs and clubs and things like that, we're not putting lockdowns in place that will restrict people to their homes," Morrison said at the time.

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The state of Victoria closed schools, and some states, such as Western Australia and South Australia, closed their borders, requiring someone to come in to enter the two-week quarantine.

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At the end of March, the authorities introduced stricter rules on social distance, Limit the Assembly to two people from the previous 10. People were encouraged to stay home and only go out if it's "absolutely essential", like shopping, exercising, and for medical reasons.

Constantly expanding testing

While closure of businesses, schools, travel restrictions and social distance rules are common measures adopted by many governments around the world, Australia also mated these limitations with extensive testing.

To date, more than 570,000 tests has been performed all over Australia, according to the Department of Health.

By comparison, the UK, with a population more than 2.5 times Australia, has conducted 763,387 tests.

Medical practitioners performing tests for Covid-19 on a drive through test facility in a parking lot April 30 in Melbourne, Australia.
March 25 Australian expanded the test criteria to include all health care providers, elderly care workers, prisoners and persons in other identified hotspots who have a fever or acute respiratory symptoms. Previously, only people who had recently returned from abroad or had come into contact with a confirmed coronavirus case could be tested.

Last week, the criteria were further extended to anyone who even shows the mildest symptoms of Covid-19, Federal Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy announced.

"Anyone with acute respiratory symptoms, cough, sore throat, runny nose, colds, flu-like symptoms can get tested," Murphy said at a news conference Friday, according to ABC.
On Monday, Murphy said Australia will do it start testing for asymptomatic cases for the first time "to be absolutely sure that we capture all the things we can and that we don't miss things."

Drawing ire from Beijing

While Australia appears to contain the coronavirus, it has been enveloped by a diplomatic spat with China after it demanded an international coronavirus outbreak investigation.

The bipartisan press for a global investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, including China's handling of the first outbreak in the city of Wuhan, started last week, with Secretary of State Marise Payne urging China to allow transparency in the process, according to ABC.

The pressure quickly drew credit from Beijing, which narrowly referred to as "political maneuvering."

In a interview with the Australian Financial Review, Chinese Ambassador Jingye Cheng even warned of a financial setback if Australia continued its pressure for an independent investigation, suggesting that the Chinese public may boycott Australian products or decide not to visit Australia in the future.
One day after Cheng's stern warning, Morrison promised to keep pushing for the inquiry at a press conference Wednesday, calling it a "pretty obvious and common sense proposition."

"This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives worldwide. It has shut down the global economy. The consequences and effects of this are extraordinary," he said.

"It would seem perfectly reasonable and sensible that the world wants to have an independent assessment of how all of this happened, so that we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again … I think there will be support at the right time, to make sure we do it, "Morrison added.

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