When Harvard professor David Sinclair shared a side-by-side of Australia’s Bondi Beach and California’s Newport Beach in April, the contrast was stark.
Next to images of an the two idyllic beaches, he wrote: “California & Australia have similar populations but only Australia crushed #COVID-19. New cases = 1000 vs 9 per day. While the pundits argue about the cause, see if you notice a difference between Newport & Bondi. It’s a clue.”
Later, he wrote: “I miss the days when we were the role model for how to get things done.”
The pictures were an early indicator of the polar opposite approaches Australia and the US would take throughout the remaining eight months of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to take hold in both countries.
Since then, Australia and the US have lived through two completely different experiences.
Australia has largely banished the virus despite a second wave in Victoria that claimed more than 800 lives.
The US, conversely, ranks last among countries worst impacted by coronavirus with more than 17 million cases and 310,000 deaths.
Just yesterday, the US set its own double record. There were more than 3700 deaths and 250,000 new cases – both daily highs.
No new measures were introduced and the states were left to fend for themselves until a vaccine is ready to go.
Meanwhile, in NSW, as a cluster of cases jumped from six to 17 yesterday (and 28 today), authorities leaned on a familiar, hard line approach.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, announcing Friday’s 10 new cases, said she “cannot rule out” hard lockdown of the Northern Beaches where the cluster has emerged.
“We’re hopeful it won’t come to that,” she told reporters. “If we find we’re not getting on top of the virus, we will consider new measures. We will if we have to.”
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She told Sydneysiders, particularly north of the city, they “should not be leaving home” unless it is essential. And when they do leave home, they should be wearing masks.
“Stay away from non-essential activities,” she said.
“People should only be undertaking absolutely necessary activity. If we don’t get on top of it in the next few days, it could mean more restrictions.”
Northern Beaches Council has already taken measures to shut down all public spaces until at least Sunday, leaving more than 250,000 residents essentially stuck in their home.
Playgrounds, skate parks, aquatic centres and outdoor gyms are all closing but childcare centres and schools will remain open.
The measures are nothing new for Australia. Victoria introduced one of the world’s most strict lockdowns when the second wave hit. South Australia introduced a hard lockdown when it appeared cases were getting out of hand.
AUSTRALIA, US APPROACHES COULD NOT BE MORE DIFFERENT
Reasonable Aussies know the approach saves lives and keeps the virus at bay. They also know America’s laissez-faire approach under President Donald Trump – a man who promised the virus would disappear and compared it to the flu – has led to countless preventable deaths.
Leading epidemiologist from the University of South Australia, Professor Adrian Esterman, told news.com.au there is a very good reason Australia does what it does.
“I think Australia is taking the most sensible approach with strict time-limited lockdowns for any breakout, and careful easing out of them,” he said.
“It has worked beautifully in Victoria and South Australia, and we are already seeing a bounce in the economies.”
Dr Lesley Russell is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy and a non-resident fellow at the United States Studies Centre in Sydney.
In an interview with Business Insider Australia earlier this year, she compared the US and Australian approaches.
Among four key differences, she noted that Australia was more prepared, had better co-operation between state and federal leaders and did not politicise the virus the way Mr Trump did.
“We don’t have Trump and America does, and that makes an enormous amount of difference,” she said.
The virus in the US continues to spread unabated but individual states are taking different approaches.
Analysis by The New York Time s shows masks are still not mandatory in 15 states and businesses remain open almost everywhere. Stay-at-home orders have only been issued in California, Ohio and North Carolina.
UK SLAMMED FOR CHRISTMAS RULES
It is not just the US taking a less cautious approach despite skyrocketing coronavirus case numbers.
In the UK, where there have been almost 2 million cases and 66,000 deaths – the sixth most for any nation – plans are afoot to take the highly controversial step of opening up for Christmas.
That’s despite lessons learned from Thanksgiving in the US where cases spiked to their highest levels since March.
The UK government was this week taken to task by the editors of two prestigious British medical journals who have called the decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions over Christmas a “blunder” that will “cost many lives”.
In just the second time in a century, the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal published a joint editorial that provides a scathing indictment of the government’s decision to relax restrictions over Christmas for a five-day period.
The plan will allow up to three households to mix from December 23-27 to form a Christmas bubble. A day either side will be added for those in Northern Ireland to allow for travel.
But health professionals have branded the idea a “mistake” that could see a new wave of infections across the country as people travel to visit family and mix in private homes.
It comes as London, parts of Essex and Herefordshire have also just entered tier 3 restrictions – the toughest level – stretching the logic of why pubs and restaurants are being forced to close if all the gains could be wiped out in a five-day festive period.
– With Victoria Craw