TACOMA, Washington — Months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, local leaders in the Australian state of Victoria set the goal to completely eradicate the virus. With over 300,000 Victorian’s losing their jobs due to the pandemic, COVID-19 in Victoria was addressed promptly as it was quickly noted as a hazard to the health, social wellbeing and economic stability of citizens. The strategy to achieve zero cases of COVID-19 in Victoria included; setting a clear goal, promoting advantageous health behaviors and providing support to encourage collective dedication. On December 8, 2020, Victoria reported that it had no active cases of COVID-19 and none were reported for five weeks prior to that. Many are curious about the path taken toward eradicating COVID-19 in Victoria.
Go for Zero Policy: Eradicating COVID-19 in Victoria
Of the six states in Australia, the outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria was the worst, yet Victorian’s complied with COVID-19 measures the best. In May 2020, the second wave of the outbreak in Victoria saw eight times more COVID-19 cases compared to the first wave, with 700 new cases per day during the peak. On June 20, 2020, shortly after a rise in locally transmitted cases, the Victorian Government established a second lockdown with more thorough restrictions. In September 2020, citizens adhered to a four-step plan called “Go for Zero”, proposed by the Grattan Institute, to achieve eradication of COVID-19 in Victoria. The strategy was as follows:
1) The Victorian Government transparently communicated the goal of COVID-19 eradication and the steps that will be taken to achieve this.
2) The government remained honest and straightforward to the community about when restrictions will end or resume. Economic support for employment loss was also implemented.
3) The government enhanced public health strategies in the form of accelerated testing results, improved contact tracing, stricter self-isolation rules, mandatory mask-wearing and more comprehensive data for public knowledge.
4) Once achieving zero cases, Victoria continued repeat testing, began sewage testing, enforced international arrivals to quarantine and planned for future outbreak potential.
An Economic Response
The recession from COVID-19 in Victoria resulted in a 37% loss of economic output and a 24% loss of employment. Therefore, the economic consequences of COVID-19 restrictions was a priority of the government. The government agreed that lockdowns impair the economy but achieving zero COVID-19 cases is the best remedy for the economic tribulations. Despite the negative economic effects of COVID-19 measures, policymakers were confident that following a single, strict lockdown, instead of multiple lockdowns, provides a better chance for eradication of the virus and full economic recovery.
The Victorian Government funded a $534 million package to support businesses and workers affected by COVID-19. The Commonwealth Government increased unemployment benefits and provided wage subsidies to help residents stay employed while eradicating COVID-19 in Victoria.
Effectiveness of the Response
Other countries would benefit from following in Victoria’s footsteps in terms of increasing public health strategies, being prepared for future outbreaks and defining a collective goal. However, it is unrealistic to assume that other countries would be able to achieve a similar “Go for Zero” goal due to variations in partisanship, healthcare systems, ideologies and government aid. For example, compared to the U.S., Australian political beliefs are generally more unified, making it more plausible for Victorian’s to adhere to tedious restrictions of government policies. Australia’s publicly-funded healthcare insurance system allows people to receive health care services without the worry of financial consequences.
For millions of U.S. citizens with no health insurance, the fiscal burden of getting sick has led to avoidance of COVID-19 testing. The U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Response and Economic Security (CARES) Act has helped businesses recover and kept many U.S. citizens out of poverty but more than 12 million workers receiving aid were expected to lose assistance on December 26, 2020. A survey of 1,059 Australian’s conducted from May to June of 2020 found that Australian’s reported the highest levels of confidence in the government (54%) and health services (77%), compared to Italy and the U.S. Citizens’ trust and confidence in their government enable the behavior changes that are crucial in prevention, eradication and recovery from COVID-19.
Victoria: A COVID-19 Role Model
There is no mystery behind achieving zero COVID-19 cases in Victoria. The strict travel restrictions, explicit goal setting and adherence to restrictions have played a crucial role in eradicating COVID-19 in Victoria. Australian’s perceive the strong management and communication efforts by the prime minister, Scott Morrison and state and federal governments as competent and efficient. Victorian’s and other Australian citizens have modeled admirable efforts toward containing the virus. The advantages of committing to a detailed containment plan in combination with increased effective mitigation strategies will likely result in strong economic and social recovery from COVID-19 in Victoria.
– Violet Chazkel