Australia joins exclusive virus club
Australia has been invited to join an exclusive club of nations that have performed exceptionally well in containing the coronavirus.
Led by Austria, the group known informally as the "first movers", is comparing notes on the response to the pandemic.
Other countries involved include Greece, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Israel, Norway and New Zealand.
All of the countries acted quickly to control the spread of COVID-19 and have been very successful in containing the virus.
Unlike nations like Italy, Spain and France, which have all seen more than 25,000 people die from the virus, Austria has kept its deaths to just over 600, Denmark to just over 500, Czech Republic to just over 250, Norway to just over 200 and Greece to less than 150.
In Australia, less than 100 people have died, there have been less than 150 deaths in Israel, and there have only been about 20 deaths in Singapore and New Zealand.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed to news.com.au the group had its second meeting on Thursday night.
The leaders swapped notes and experiences on the need to reopen economies safely, including schools, how to manage localised outbreaks, the importance of rigorous tracing and testing, keeping supply chains open, and scientific cooperation.
They also noted the positive update of Australia's CovidSAFE app.
Mr Morrison spoke about the need for an independent review of the response to COVID-19, and support for an EU-sponsored resolution at the forthcoming World Health Assembly.
It was agreed the group would meet again next week.
Last month, the Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz tweeted his thanks to the PM and other leaders for taking the time to exchange best practices on COVID-19 after their first meeting.
"We look forward to enhancing our scientific & economic co-operation to increase our resilience," he posted on April 24.
Mr Morrison tweeted in response, thanking Chancellor Kurz for hosting the "valuable exchange".
"It emphasises the need for continued strong co-operation and collaboration on research for a vaccine, supply chains and combating the virus as well as strengthening our economies again," he said.
Australia has succeeded in suppressing the coronavirus, with fewer than 800 active cases in the country. Overall there were fewer than 7000 coronavirus infections reported in Australia.
Perhaps more impressively, Australia has managed to achieve this result without such strict lockdown as in places like Austria and New Zealand as well as Israel, where residents were only allowed about 100m from their home, or other measures such as keeping people who test positive in hospital, like Singapore did.
However, the next challenge for Australia and others in the First Movers group is to re-open parts of the economy without prompting a dangerous "second wave" in cases, something that Singapore is already dealing with.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said once restrictions eased, authorities expected to see more outbreaks but they were hoping to keep these to case numbers of perhaps less than 100.
"That is the sort of thing we know we can manage," he told reporters on Tuesday.
"We don't want to have any situation where there is broad transmission over a long period of time where you end up with several hundred cases and a large outbreak.
"That is the sort of thing we are trying to avoid."
Around the world, there have been 3.6 million infections and more than 250,000 deaths, including 69,000 in the United States.
Source - World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins, other media
Deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and the severe strain the disease has placed on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is likely much greater.
Britain on Tuesday became the first country in Europe to confirm more than 30,000 coronavirus deaths, and infections rose sharply again in Russia.
Britain appeared set to surpass Italy as Europe's hardest-hit nation, even as the rate of deaths and hospitalisation declined and the Government prepared to take tentative steps out of lockdown.
The British Government said about 28,700 people with COVID-19 had died in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings, while Italy reported close to 29,100 fatalities.
Both figures are almost certainly underestimates because they include only people who tested positive, and testing was not widespread in Italian and British nursing homes until recently.
Yet official British statistics released Tuesday on people who died with suspected COVID-19 put the country's toll at more than 30,000 as of April 24, or one-third higher than the government count at the time. A comparable figure for Italy was not available.
In Russia, the number of infections rose sharply again, with Moscow reporting more than 10,000 new cases for three days in a row.
Originally published as Australia joins exclusive virus club