Without our dithering PM, Australia would be on top of Covid-19 leaderboard

Feb 10, 2021

Despite Scott Morrison’s failure on quarantine and aged care, we are still near top spot on responding to the pandemic. While the states have responded well in carrying the burden, imagine how many older people would still be with us if the PM had taken charge as required.

Without our disaster challenged PM we would be recognised as the best performed nation  for handling Covid-19, and well ahead of New Zealand. But far more importantly, hundreds of aged care residents might still be alive, the Perth fires might not have reached catastrophic point, and Covid quarantining would be properly controlled, with fewer outbreaks, lockdowns and border closures.

Yet despite him, Australia is still in a good Covid-19 position vis a vis the rest of the world, all thanks to our state and territory leaders.

Here we look at the key Covid-19 issues and how individual jurisdictions have performed. We will see that at least six of those easily outperform New Zealand. No, this is not a competition, but recognition for all those leaders’ achievements.

The world rankings for Covid-19 performance

Two sets of rankings have appeared in recent weeks.

On 25 January, Bloomberg published an update on the Best and Worst Places to Be in Covid. It reported that, based on its Covid resilience score, “In January, New Zealand … holds on to pole position for the third month running.” NZ had a resilience score of 76.8, while Australia was third on 70.9, behind Singapore on 71.3.

In the middle of 2020 Victoria was struggling with thousands of active cases. Now, it has just a handful and in early February 2021, along with six other states and territories, is one of the best places on earth to be, and arguably better than NZ.

On the 27 January, the Lowy Institute released an update of its Covid Performance Index. It is meant to explore how about 100 countries have managed the pandemic to date following their hundredth confirmed case of Covid-19. They used six indicators including the number of cases and deaths.

NZ topped the rankings with an index of 94.4. Australia came in at eighth position with an index of only 77.9. Some media reports interpreted this to conclude that New Zealand “has handled the coronavirus pandemic more effectively than any other country in the world”.

However, has NZ really handled the virus better than Australia or, more particularly, better than our individual jurisdictions?

The Lowy methodology has to be queried given that large countries would be expected to reach 100 cases much faster than small ones; China with more than a billion people is not included in their list. And the level of testing and access to vaccines also has to be questioned as measures of success: the more Covid cases, the higher the testing required; the lower the Covid rate, the less urgency to vaccinate, allowing more needy countries to go first.

Overall Covid-19 outcomes: The states of our nation

This link provides a useful comparison of how Australian state economies rank compared with the rest of the world and with NZ.

Australia – New Zealand: Population, size, economy (2016-17)
Population (‘000) at 30 June, 2017 Area

(sq kms)

GDP ($US billion) – 2016-17 $AUS GDP

per capita 2016-17

NSW 7,861.10 801,150 447.20 $75,850
VIC 6,323.60 227,444 319.80 $67,430
QLD 4,928.50 1,729,742 247.40 $66,930
SA 1,723.50 984,321 81.60 $63,127
WA 2,580.40 2,527,013 186.90 $96,574
TAS 520.90 68,401 22.90 $58,616
NT 246.10 1,347,791 20.40 $110,524
ACT 410.30 2,425 30.10 $97,815
Australia 24,598.90 7,688,287 1,390.10 $75,348
NZ 4,813.60 268,021 200.80 $55,620

The table uses 2016-17 dates to maintain comparison with the earlier link, which also means the GDP data avoid any economic distortions from the Covid-19 pandemic. We note:

  • In terms of area, NZ is closest to Victoria.
  • In terms of population, Queensland is the closest.
  • In terms of a city the size of Auckland, SA and WA are the closest.
  • In terms of income, Tasmania is the closest comparison.
Australia – New Zealand: Covid-19 cases and deaths to Feb 6, 2021
Population (‘000) at 30 June, 2020 Total cases Total deaths Cases per 1M pop Deaths per 1M pop
NSW 8,164.1 5119 54 627 7
VIC 6,694.9 20456 820 3055 122
QLD 5,174.4 1311 6 253 1
SA 1,769.3 602 4 340 2
WA 2,661.9 907 9 341 3
TAS 540.6 234 13 433 24
NT 246.0 101 0 411 0
ACT 431.1 118 3 274 7
Australia 25,687.0 28848 909 1124 35
NZ 5,093.5 2315 25 463 5

We note, since the start of the pandemic:

  • As a nation, Australia’s Covid outcomes are worse than NZ’s.
  • The Australian data is severely distorted due to the four-month outbreak in Victoria, which is easily the worst performer.
  • The NSW, Tasmania and ACT cases and deaths are higher due to the Ruby Princess.
  • NSW and NT have taken a disproportionately higher number of overseas arrivals.
  • We can conclude that Qld, SA, WA and NT had better outcomes than NZ.
  • Adjusting for the distortions, the outcomes for NSW, ACT and TAS are not significantly different to those for NZ.

Handling of the virus since the start of the pandemic

How have the jurisdictions handled the virus over time and, in particular, more recently? And which is the best place right now?

Since June, all jurisdictions except NSW have pursued a clear elimination policy, to reach zero community case status via a policy of squashing any outbreak before it even starts.

NSW has pursued a suppression model, much to the anguish of other jurisdictions, but strangely praised by the PM and his lackeys. It is the outlier, and a frustration for the rest of the country as it can take them weeks to get on top of an outbreak, with impacts on borders.

Since the first wave, the NSW outbreaks have been extended ones, partly due to community and interstate sources. They have also had leakages from hotel quarantine as have SA, Qld and most recently – in early February – Victoria and WA. By hard and fast action, these last four eliminated their outbreaks within days.

NZ has had three significant community outbreaks, most likely from quarantine leakage. Two took several weeks to quash; possibly they have inferior contract tracing methods.

This table summarises the various outbreaks since August, 2020.

Australia – New Zealand

Major community outbreaks since August, 2020 and estimated duration

NSW Aug: 7 weeks Oct: 4 weeks Dec: 4 weeks
VIC Four months to Oct Jan: < 1 week Feb: < 1 week
QLD Aug: 3 weeks Jan: < 1 week
SA Nov: < 1 week
WA Jan: < 1 week
TAS Nil
NT Nil
ACT Nil
NZ Aug: 6 weeks Oct: 4 weeks Jan: < 1 week

Since October, NSW has clearly been the worst performer in bringing a community outbreak under control. Victoria has learned from its earlier catastrophe.

While the NZ policy is also to attempt to quash an outbreak within a few days, they don’t seem to have the immediate success of the Australian jurisdictions, with lingering periods of some weeks.

On this subjective basis, using the Bloomberg notion, the best places to be, based on recent performance and length of lockdown are Tasmania, NT and ACT. However, it could also be argued that Victoria , SA, Queensland and WA are also safe places to be, given their recent success of controlling outbreaks within a matter of days.

We have more objective data.

COVID-19 active cases by jurisdiction at 14 January and 5 February, 2021

Source: https://www.covid19data.com.au/

At 14 Jan 2021 – Days since: At 5 Feb 2021 – Days since:
A new local case A new overseas case Any active cases A new local case A new overseas case Any active cases
NSW 1 0 0 19 1 0
VIC 8 1 0 1 0 0
QLD 2 0 0 30 0 0
SA 47 1 0 69 9 0
WA 249 0 0 5 0 0
TAS 244 35 26 266 57 46
NT 285 0 0 307 1 0
ACT 189 25 4 211 47 26
Australia 1 0 0 1 0 0
NZ 47 0 0 1 0 0

By the middle of January ACT, WA, Tasmania and NT had not had a local coronavirus case for six to eight months. However, outbreaks have since occurred in Victoria and WA.

By early August, NZ had achieved 100 days of zero local cases, but since then there have been three significant community outbreaks, the latest enough for Australia to temporarily put the trans-Tasman bubble on hold.

Economic effects of Covid-19 lockdowns

We don’t have reliable up-to-date economic data, with all indicators potentially highly distorted by the pandemic lockdowns and stimulus packages.

In the first wave, NZ had a stricter level of lockdown than Australia overall, and may have suffered more economically as a consequence. The less restrictive lockdown in Australia was paying off both economy and health wise until the Victorian hotel quarantine failure. (That failure could have happened regardless of the restriction level.)

Mid-year results indicated that WA had not been as badly affected economically as other jurisdictions. A recent announcement by the head of the RBA indicates that Australia’s economy is bouncing back faster than anticipated:

“Given the recovery we have seen so far, we are expecting the level of GDP to return to its end-2019 level by the middle of this year, which is 6 to 12 months earlier than we previously expected.”

NZ data indicate they are also bouncing back faster than had been anticipated, with excellent recovery in the job market.

And the winner is?

So where would Australia be without our dithering and meddling PM?

There is well-deserved worldwide admiration for NZ’s Covid performance.

However, had our federal government taken responsibility for quarantine and aged care, and worked with the states and territories rather than against some of them while favouring others, Australia would have performed better than our cross-Tasman neighbour, at least according to the Bloomberg and Lowy measures.

The Ruby Princess and Victorian outbreaks meant that our national figures would be unfortunately elevated.

However, the effects were not nationwide, and on a combination of extra measures covered here, we could argue that every jurisdiction, except NSW and Victoria, performed better than NZ throughout the whole crisis and Victoria better since October.

The Australian jurisdictions faced far more complications: each had seven other jurisdictions to work with, or eight if you add NZ via the “bubble”; border closures including complicated land border issues; and the potential for seaborne infections.

For best performer, it would be unfair to single out any winner, with consistent strong leadership. However, accolades should go to WA, Queensland, SA, Tasmania, NT and the ACT for their long-term performance. Victoria deserves accolades for its phenomenal recovery. And even NSW should be up there too as it has had to deal with far more international arrivals, but it is such a pity it makes it so hard for the rest of the country.

For the best place to be in Covid, Tassie is probably the best place on earth. As ‘an island within an island’ it has had relatively few international arrivals to deal with. On 20 March the Hobart Mercury front page read: “We’ve got a moat, and we’re not afraid to use it.”

In summary, despite the federal government, Australia has done remarkably well and should have been at the top of the leaderboards.

With the fires, aged care and quarantine the PM has failed as a leader. We can also add in water management, drought, endangered wildlife, the Murray-Darling Basin, Rio Tinto blasting a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in May … not to mention climate change.

In the coming months will we report he has overseen yet another failure, namely, a botched Covid-19 vaccine rollout?

And as I write this: “Another hotel worker tests positive in Melbourne. It’s time to move hotel quarantine out of cities” — https://theconversation.com/another-hotel-worker-tests-positive-in-melbourne-its-time-to-move-hotel-quarantine-out-of-cities-154820

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