US president-elect Joe Biden is “very interested” in Australia’s success at containing COVID-19.
The US recorded a record 144,000 COVID-19 cases in one day this week, while it is believed by some that coronavirus could be technically eliminated in Australia within the next few weeks.
“[Joe Biden] was very interested in Australia’s success,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison of efforts to contain the coronavirus.
“And it’s obviously the top of his priority list, as he’s been saying himself.”
Mr Morrison said he would pass on the latest review of Australia’s contract tracing measures to Joe Biden’s team and the current US administration.
Here’s the overview of the National Contact Tracing Review, which was led by Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.
Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from November 13 with our coronavirus blog.What did Dr Finkel have to say about the report?
Basically he said we should be pretty confident in Australia’s contact tracing systems.
“Perhaps the overriding conclusion from our report is that there is good reason to be confident in the contact tracing and outbreak management systems in Australia,” Dr Finkel said.
But Dr Finkel stressed that contract tracing is a second line of defence in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
“Critically important are the preventative measures,” he said, adding these include hygiene practices and physical distancing.
The 92-page report was commissioned two months ago, its authors visited every state and territory and it made 22 recommendations.
So, what does Australia need to work on?
The report found several processes that could be improved.
In some states or territories, interviews with contacts are recorded on paper before being entered into a database, which the report said can cause delays and the potential for errors.
The report found contact tracing could be better at some venues.(ABC News: James Hancock)
It also found contact information is inconsistently collected when people visit venues.
Text messages to people with COVID-19 and contacts are not always in the preferred language for those the messages are for.
The report also found domestic airline passenger lists and contact details are not always accurate.
Are testing and notifications happening fast enough? The report recommends no more than a 48-hour turnaround from a test sample being taken to close contacts of a confirmed case being notified.(ABC News: Peter Healy)
The report says there should be faster turnarounds for the testing and notification of contacts of cases.
It said the current national goal of directing close contacts of a COVID-19 case into quarantine within 48 hours is too slow.
“We recommend that test results should be available within 24 hours of a sample being taken, maximising the likelihood that people will isolate themselves while awaiting test results,” the report overview said.
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There should be no more than 48 hours from a test sample being taken to close contacts of a confirmed case being notified, the report recommends.
How can states and territories work better together?
The report does not recommend a single contact tracing system for the whole country.
But it found information needs to be shared more easily between states and territories.
Currently, information is shared via email and phone calls which, the report says, would not work under the pressure of high case numbers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian Government was sharing “our learnings both with the [current US] administration and the incoming administration”.(News Video)
States and territories must be able to access and transfer information about cases and contacts where people have crossed borders.
“We’ve recommended that there be a means of digitally exchanging information between the states and territories,” the report said.
“As we go to a more mobile society and a fully active economy, they need to be confident that they can share information about people who are travelling from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”
“Patient testing, contact tracing and case management should be fully digital end to end, starting at the point of testing. This includes collection of information, reporting of results, contact tracing, case management and outbreak management.”
‘Every effort should be made to go hard and go early’
While digital systems improved the efficiency of contact tracing, they cannot replace well-trained medical staff, the report said.
It said each state and territory should work with a surge workforce ready to respond to outbreaks.
“In the event of an outbreak, every effort should be made to go hard and go early,” the report said.
“The driving principle for contact tracing must be to never fall behind.”
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