Hard and early lockdown is best strategy

Without last year's hard lockdown Australia could have suffered a $1 trillion hit to the economy.
Without last year's hard lockdown Australia could have suffered a $1 trillion hit to the economy.

Locking down hard and early is the right strategy for dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks in terms of health and jobs, a new study shows.

The research published in international journal PLOS One on Saturday found an early eight-week national lockdown in Australia had cost $52 billion, or about three per cent of GDP.

But with no suppression measures, the welfare and hospitalisation costs as a percentage of annual GDP would have ranged from 13.1 per cent ($263 billion) to 47.9 per cent ($956 billion).

As well, the country could have faced between 12,500 and 30,000 deaths, instead of just under 1000, the study found.

"The costs of a much-delayed lockdown were many times greater and included a much greater loss of life," said report co-author, Professor Quentin Grafton from the Australian National University.

"If other high-income countries had imposed effective suppression measures earlier, and especially supervised quarantine for all arrivals, they would have had lower COVID-19 fatalities and economy costs."

Lead author, Professor Tom Kompas at the University of Melbourne, said Victoria's current snap lockdown was the correct approach.

"Our work shows that what Victoria is currently doing, with its 'circuit-breaker' lockdown is exactly the right thing to do," Professor Kompas said.

"An uncontrolled spread of COVID, especially with newer, more aggressive strains, would be disastrous for Australia.

"Elimination of community spread in Australia is best for both health and economy outcomes. There is no question about this."

The authors noted the UK had lost 128,000 lives to COVID-19 and in 2020 suffered its biggest annual decline (9.9 per cent) in GDP in over three centuries.

By comparison, Australia's GDP is now higher than it was just before the pandemic.

Australian Associated Press