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Where did Victoria go so wrong with contact tracing and have they fixed it?

Victoria’s contact tracing system has faced criticism in the past for being inefficient, with officials flying to New South Wales in September to learn from that state.



a person in a car: Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images


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Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Comparisons are difficult in a pandemic because each outbreak has its own unique characteristics. That said, there are some key features that underpin the differing responses of NSW and Victoria when it comes to contact tracing.

Fundamentally, NSW’s system of decentralised local area health districts meant when the second wave hit, that state was able to draw on teams embedded in their local communities to manage contact tracing. These teams worked independently but also in concert under the mothership of NSW Health.



a person in a car: ‘NSW’s system of decentralised local area health districts meant when the second wave hit, that state was able to draw on teams embedded in their local communities to manage contact tracing.’


© Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
‘NSW’s system of decentralised local area health districts meant when the second wave hit, that state was able to draw on teams embedded in their local communities to manage contact tracing.’

Related: Sun, sand and coronavirus: Australia aims to enforce a Covid-safe summer

In Victoria, a legacy of cuts left the Department of Health and Human Services under-resourced and highly centralised, meaning there was a smaller base upon which to build the surge contact tracing capacity (with some contact tracers coming from interstate).

This was further challenged with the rapid rise in daily new cases, from 65 to 288 in one week alone in July. Systems had to be developed quickly to manage large quantities of data and feed it back to a central hub. The state had to “build the aeroplane while flying”.

Much has changed since then, and for the better. Some hard lessons have been learned along the way but the contact tracing system in Victoria is now very comprehensive and increasingly robust.

Community engagement, local knowledge

Community engagement and local knowledge might seem like buzzwords but in a pandemic, they’re vital to ring-fencing a cluster.

NSW’s system of devolved public health units and teams meant when local outbreaks occurred, locally embedded health workers were at an advantage. They’re already linked with local area health providers for testing, they already have relationships with community members and community leaders, and they know the physical layout of the area.

If you’re doing a contact tracing interview with someone and they’re talking about a key landmark at a certain time of day, you can visualise it and understand what it means in terms of risk.

What’s crucial is a nuanced understanding of local, social, and cultural factors that may facilitate spread or affect how people understand self-isolation and what’s being asked of them. It can also make a critical difference in encouraging people to come forward for testing.

It’s not just about making sure you have materials

Australia’s Victoria State Reaches Lower Infection Milestone | World News

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s city of Melbourne, capital of the coronavirus hotspot state of Victoria, on Wednesday reported the lowest two-week average of new cases after a second contagion wave that led to one of the world’s toughest lockdowns.

For the first time since the second coronavirus outbreak caused more than 800 deaths in the state – more than 90% of the country’s 897 virus-related deaths – the two-week average has fallen below 10.

The metric is key as officials in the second-most-populous state are reluctant to ease mobility restrictions until the rolling average in the two-week window falls below five.

“The strategy is working,” premier Daniel Andrews told reporters at his daily briefing. “Its success is pinned ultimately to whether symptomatic people come forward and get tested.”

Australia has so far reported more than 27,000 COVID-19 cases, with Victoria accounting for about 75% of infections. In the previous 24 hours, the state had found six new cases and reported two more deaths, Andrews said.

In the neighboring New South Wales (NSW) state, the most populous, officials found three new locally transmitted infections overnight, putting an end to a 11-day run of zero such cases.

“It is a concern when you have a handful of community transmission, but … we’re always going to have cases pop up because we’re in a pandemic, but we’re also in an economy which is open where people are undertaking their business,” NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

Although the number of deaths and infections in Australia from COVID-19 has been low compared with many other countries, the outbreak has driven the country to its deepest economic slump on record.

On Tuesday, Australia’s conservative government unveiled billions in fiscal stimulus as part of plans to boost jobs and help its economy out of its historic recession.

Its budget assumes the country will be able to contain COVID-19 outbreaks by the end of the year, the majority of its inter-state borders will be reopened, and a vaccine will be developed in 2021.

(Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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