Australia was once heralded alongside New Zealand for its early response in containing Covid-19; now it is being presented as a cautionary tale of how the virus spreads when countries get "complacent".

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal listed Australia as a key country where "coronavirus is back with a vengeance" after it "had all but vanished".

"Most of Australia has enjoyed prolonged spells without locally transmitted infections. The relative speed at which the initial outbreak was contained and the low mortality rate, public health experts say, may have contributed to a sense of complacency by the time the second wave hit, despite constant government warnings," the article said.

President Donald Trump quoted the WSJ during his press conference on Friday, highlighting Australia among a list of countries now suffering through a "second wave".


"A resurgence has taken place in many countries that people thought were doing well. Despite a wide range of approaches to the pandemic, this resurgence in cases is occurring throughout large portions of our planet – in Japan, China, Australia, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Hong Kong – places where they thought they'd really done great," he said at a press conference today. "It came back, and in a couple of cases came back very strongly."

The President went on: "The virus was said to be under control, but new cases have risen very significantly once again. So when you think someone is doing well, sometimes you have to hold your decision on that."

The comparison faced criticism on social media, with many pointing out that Australia's rise in cases – horrifying as it is – is not nearly on the same scale as that of the United States.

The truth is, many countries are now struggling to contain the pandemic – albeit at vastly different numbers, and in different ways.

A resident is taken from the Epping Hardens Aged Care Home in Melbourne at the end of July. Photo / Getty Images
A resident is taken from the Epping Hardens Aged Care Home in Melbourne at the end of July. Photo / Getty Images

In New Zealand, despite the country's success, experts have warned a "relaxed" approach to testing is adding to a feeling of complacency.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan, University of Auckland's microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles welcomed this weekend's targeted testing in the wake of a man who travelled from New Zealand to South Korea before testing positive for Covid-19, but urged caution.

"It's kind of good news this testing, because we've been a bit relaxed with testing in the community over the last few weeks," she said.

"If the virus does get out into the community, it will spread really fast; we have seen this happening in Victoria."


Australia's situation increasingly dire

Trump's depiction of Australia was accurate – the data shows just how dire the situation is there.

Over the first week of June, Australia recorded an average of 10 new cases per day, according to government data.

Over the past week, there have been an average of 385 new cases reported each day, meaning the average new case numbers are now 38.5 times higher than they were two months ago.

This has largely been driven by the spike in Victoria, which marked a record high of 723 cases on Thursday, followed by a dip to 627 on Friday.

On Friday, the state surpassed 10,000 cases, and from Monday mandatory mask rules will be statewide.

New South Wales also recorded its biggest increase in months, with 21 cases announced on Friday. There are currently more than 100 active cases being treated by NSW Health, and a series of clusters spread all over Sydney.

A "Beach Closed" sign at Coolangatta in April. Photo / Getty Images

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist and adviser to the World Health Organisation, says the state is now "in the red zone" in its coronavirus fight.

Writing in The Conversation, she said a state's progress could be determined by looking at rolling 14-day cumulative cases, which represents roughly two incubation periods.

"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," she said.

"Over the last fortnight, NSW has recorded at least 154 new cases (minus international arrivals in quarantine), which is very concerning."

Time for a new strategy?

Economics Professor Richard Holden said Australia should seriously consider following New Zealand and pursuing elimination rather than suppression, noting aged-care facilities are under serious threat.

Elimination and suppression strategies employ the same control measures, including efficient contact tracing, social distancing and border controls.


The difference is that a suppression strategy – which Australia has followed – might enforce physical distancing requirements until community transmission falls beneath a certain point, while a New Zealand-style elimination strategy sees these measures in place until there's no detectable community transmission.

"The dreadful events playing out in these facilities also remind us why we need to functionally eliminate all local transmission in Australian states and territories," Prof Holden said.

Members of the Australian Defence Force await returning overseas passengers at Sydney Airport in March. Photo / Getty Images
Members of the Australian Defence Force await returning overseas passengers at Sydney Airport in March. Photo / Getty Images

"If even a relatively small number of cases are in the community, this terribly infectious disease will spread unless the reproduction rate is kept below 1.

"The inevitable result is that some of the most vulnerable Australians – people who have contributed to this country all their lives – will die in large numbers and in terrible conditions."

US cases are not slowing down

All that said, if Australia's current situation is bad, America's is off the charts, with more than 4.5 million cases – more than 25 per cent of the global total.

In his press conferences, Trump has repeatedly suggested the US is working to get the pandemic under control.


"We're working very hard to contain this horrible event ... and we're making a lot of strides," he said on Friday, before immediately launching into a spiel about how the world is "having tremendous problems".

He referenced countries now struggling with a second resurgence of the virus – Hong Kong, China, Japan, and countries across western Europe.

But the situation in the US is far from ideal – and there's been little to suggest its government has a solid plan in motion.

On Thursday, the country reported 69,312 confirmed infections. Florida, Arizona and Mississippi counted record single-day death numbers.

The country reported more than 1000 deaths for four straight days this past week, while the country's economy shrank 9.5 per cent from April through June – the biggest quarterly rate drop in modern record-keeping.

Trump has repeatedly said the US is "in the process of developing a very powerful strategy" to deal with the pandemic.


But when asked what and where this strategy was, he did not directly respond. "Well, I think you're seeing it, and I think you will see it. And one of the things that we've done that we're getting – and it hasn't been utilised fully yet – but we're all set to march when it comes to the vaccine," he said.

He ignored an interjecting question on how the Trump administration was actually slowing the spread of the virus.

"The delivery system is all set, logistically. We have a general that – that's all he does, is deliver things, whether it's soldiers or other items. And I think you're going to see something that's going to be spectacular."

-Additional reporting, NZ Herald