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Coronavirus: How is Australia flattening the infection rate?

Flattening the curve is viewed by epidemiologists as the key to beating the coronavirus pandemic and Australia has announced success in doing so.

Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) staff who worked with the passengers and crew on the cruise ship MV Artania wave goodbye as it departs Fremantle Fremantle harbour, in Fremantle.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt delivered good news on Sunday when he announced that the country had successfully flattened the Covid-19 curve. Speaking as the number of reported new cases dropped to below one percent for a seventh consecutive day, Hunt congratulated Australians on an "important national achievement."

“What it means is we now have a sustained and genuine flattening of the curve," Hunt added. Australia has reported 6,547 cases since the first confirmed appearance of Covid-19 on the country's soil, with 67 people succumbing to the virus as of 19 April according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered a ban on commercial flights inbound from China on 1 February in response to the first case in Australia, a citizen of Wuhan who arrived on a flight from Guangzhou and closed the country's borders to all Chinese nationals two days later.

On 3 March, Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter announced the inaction of a rarely used biosecurity law after the first community transmission of the virus in the country, which affected a doctor. “Under the biosecurity act, you could have the prevention of movement from persons in and out of particular places,” Porter told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Australia as implemented lockdown protocols but they are far less stringent than in other countries, with authorities prescribing a "common sense" approach to social distancing. However, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly was quoted in ABC as saying that while current measures have put Australia in a in a much better place than we thought we would be at this point," he added that social distancing restrictions may remain in place until September.

What is flattening the curve?

According to Live Science, the "curve" experts are referring to is a broad projection of the number of people who will become infected by the coronavirus over a certain length of time. Epidemiologists describe flattening the curve as a successful attempt to hinder the spread of an infectious disease to the point where the number of people needing to seek treatment at one time is shown to be decreasing, as is the case in Australia.

This is the idea behind social distancing - as opposed to the "herd immunity" thesis initially proposed by the UK government and also being broadly adopted in Sweden where no national lockdown is in place - to ensure that the number of cases does not become so great as to become completely unmanageable.

Taiwan, Canada, Iceland and South Korea, which rolled out aggressive testing programmes early to detect and identify cases, are generally considered to have successfully flattened the coronavirus curve.