Chief medical officer ‘can’t be absolutely sure’ Australia’s coronavirus case numbers are accurate
Australias chief medical officer says he cant be absolutely sure official coronavirus case numbers are accurate but its unlikely that authorities have significantly underestimated infections.Professor Brendan Murphy updated the media on Thursday afternoon about how Australia is tracking as the death toll reached 63 and cases trickled past 6457.
He was asked specifically about modelling published in recent days by Australia’s Actuaries Institute that suggested actual case numbers could be as high as 20,000 if testing was broadened.
“Our sense is that is unlikely,” Prof Murphy said.
Related: National tally of coronavirus cases in Australia
“We can’t be absolutely sure, one of the challenges is it’s pretty clear now there are some asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 … but we have done some pretty broad scale testing and a lot of states now, South Australia is testing everybody with respiratory illness, New South Wales has broadened testing, and Victoria, we have existing surveillance which has been going for weeks, a range of general practices which test every single person with respiratory
illness, we are testing every unusual pneumonia in every hospital.
“If we had that level of undetected cases we would have found out by now.”
He said the estimate “is likely to be too high”.
The modelling, which analysts admitted “relies on crude assumptions”, suggested that when authorities and the media were reporting 3000 cases in Australia, the actual figure was six or seven times higher than that.
“While this is a simplistic exercise, the key point is that the reported data is an order of magnitude less than the actual data,” analysts wrote.
“With access to more granular data, particularly around the demographics of those tested and the dynamics of the viral transmission, these estimates could be improved.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s testing was among the “most comprehensive in the world”.
“One thing we can be very sure of in Australia … one set of numbers we believe is Australia’s,” he said.
“I think we are pretty confident, sadly there has been fatality, when they
have been COVID-19 related, overseas I don’t think they can have that same level of confidence.”
The actuary behind the analysis, Doughlas Isles, told Business Insider last week: “We know there are a far higher number of active cases or carriers of the virus than the confirmed figures that are being reported.”
Australian cases continue to slow, according to authorities’ official figures. New detections have recently slowed to fewer than 50 a day and there are 42 patients in intensive care.
But Mr Morrison says now is not the time to take the foot off the pedal.
“If you ease off too quickly too early, then you end up making the situation even worse, and I don’t just mean in the health terms,” he said.
“If you move too early and the health response gets out of control, then the economic consequences will be even worse.”