Alfred Deakin Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin’s Chair in Epidemiology within Deakin’s Institute for Health Transformation, is a leading researcher and teacher in public health, with a specific interest in infectious disease epidemiology and community transmission. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has become a trusted and reassuring voice in the media, clearly presenting the facts around the daily case numbers and reducing anxiety and uncertainty by stripping away the misinformation and speculation surrounding the virus and its impact on our lives.
Read all of Catherine's articles for The Conversation or listen to Catherine chat about all things COVID-19 in a special episode of the Healing Health podcast, presented by Deakin's Institute for Health Transformation.
Her engaging commentary and expertise ranges from analysing and interpreting the numbers, to discussing the reasons why people can’t or won’t comply with restrictions, and the importance of facts over opinion.
Towards living with COVID
Read more about living with COVID
- 22/10/2021: Drive ABC Living with COVID
- 21/10/2021: Victoria COVID numbers ‘plateauing’ despite daily rise in cases
- 20/10/2021: Victorians want to know why the state’s not opening up as quickly as NSW
- 18/10/2021: Australia could see Covid surge from new variants even after 80% vaccination when border reopens
- 14/10/2021: Victorians should not be ‘alarmed’ despite record COVID cases
- 14/10/2021: Victoria Covid update: state on track to reopen despite record 2,297 cases, Daniel Andrews says
- 13/10/2021: Why NSW will avoid daunting Covid case surge seen in Singapore
- 10/10/2021: Victoria’s ‘vaccinated economy’ begins with regional trials, a concert and crowds at the Cup
- 5/10/2021: Professor Bennett: Victoria’s outbreak not as ‘out of control’ as it looks
- 27/9/2021 Berejiklian’s road map is safe and sensible
- 4/9/2021: Chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, Alfred Deakin Professor Catherine Bennett, explains that “any change in setting comes with some risk, but so too does waning compliance”. How NSW and Victoria plan to exit lockdown
- 4/8/2021: ‘There is no going back’: experts on what Australia’s Covid modelling reveals
COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinations
- 25/10/21: “I think we’re looking at six months post second dose … but the priority will be to those most at risk, the elderly, aged care and frontline workers." Rollout of booster shots will be ‘much more manageable than the first round’
- 15/10/2021: As Victoria nears its vaccination target there are fears migrant women could be left behind
- 11/10/2021: What happened to other countries that opened up after hitting their vaccine targets?
- 11/10/2021: The surprising reasons why the suburbs lagging behind in the vaccination race may not be as 'lazy' as you think
- 4/10/2021: How does COVID-19 vaccine modelling work and what can it really tell us?
- 24/8/2021: NSW’s extraordinary vaccination rates give it a fighting chance against Delta
- 20/8/2021: Pfizer vaccinations for 16 - 39 year olds is welcome news. But Astra Zeneca remains a good option.
- 8/8/2021: Mass vaccination hubs to offer AstraZeneca to all adults
- 4/8/2021: We need to start vaccinating people in their 20s and 30s, according to the Doherty modelling. An epidemiologist explains why
- 2/8/2021: Should we vaccinate children against COVID-19? We asked 5 experts
- 8/6/2021: The time for vaccine hesitancy is over, Deakin expert says
- 31/3/2021: Australia falls 3.4m doses short of 4m vaccination target by end of March
- 25/3/2021: A useful overview in Nature on where we are at with AstraZenica ahead of the release of more complete data. Bristol roll-out data indicate that AZ has an efficacy of around 70% after 1 jab, a fraction ahead of Pfizer. With the longer 12 week spacing we are employing here in Aus, we should expect better than that with the 2nd jab booster. Hopefully 80% effectiveness is feasible and real, and a practical, safe vaccine option to deliver to every corner of the globe. Let’s see those US trial numbers! What scientists do and don’t know about the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID vaccine
- 10/3/2021: ‘Safety’ first: Government’s commitment to safety reason for vaccine delay
- 8/3/2021: What's causing vaccine delays in some Asian countries?
- 27/2/2021: The great unknown: do Covid vaccines stop you spreading the virus?
- 1/12/2020: “On the cusp - final results coming in for vaccines and roll-out imminent. Our vaccine development story is extraordinary, whilst evidence mounts that public health systems in first world countries have become under-resourced over time and weren’t ready for a pandemic." Catherine chats with the ABC's Glen Bartholomew Moderna vaccine seeks emergency distribution approval.
The international picture
These graphs represent the response to the waves of COVID-19 outbreaks around the world and will continue to be added. The dark green curve shows the cumulative cases, while the light green curve shows the daily reported cases. Decisions that affect the whole population or sections of the country are classed into groups – governance, community mitigation, travel and surveillance, as well as the easing of restrictions and, further down the timeline, the vaccine rollout. These graphs allow us to visualise the timeliness and effect of some of the key decisions on the containment of COVID-19 within each country.
Between 2 - 9 July 2020, Melbourne entered Stage 3 (stay at home) lockdown, when daily new cases were around 60-140 per day. As daily new cases reached an average of 300 new cases per day, Melbourne entered Stage 4 lockdown, which included a 5km travel limit, and a curfew.
Within two days of declaring Stage 4, the new daily cases began to rapidly fall. The first step of easing restrictions (not counting removal of curfew) – when 5km limit was increased to 25km and some businesses were allowed to reopen - was when Melbourne was at an average of five or less cases a day, in October. Vaccinations commenced at mid-end of February 2021.
Between 18 September 2020 and 5 October, Ireland progressively moved to Level 3 restrictions (outdoor dining still allowed, schools open, hairdressers and some retail open with protective measures). At this time, Ireland had between 250 and 500 new cases per day. On October 21, when there were approximately 1100 new cases per day, Ireland announced Level 5 restrictions (equivalent to Melbourne’s stage 4, except that schools would stay open). Within days of announcing and scaling up the enforcement of Level 5, daily cases began to drop. A planned first step for reopening commenced when new cases were around 300 per day (1 December); small businesses, retail, gyms, hairdressers and public places reopened. Reopening continued progressively leading up to Christmas. By Christmas time (25-29 December), Ireland was seeing over 1000 new cases per day, and climbing. It was around that time that the UK variant of the COVID-19 virus was confirmed in Ireland. Level 5 restrictions were re-introduced on the 30December, and two weeks later the country had its peak of 8227 new cases per day. At the beginning of January 2021, the UK variant of the virus was detected in approximately 25% of COVID-19 tests, but by mid-February this variant was found in over 90% of the tests. Ireland is currently experiencing around 600-700 new cases per day. Vaccinations commenced at the end of December 2020.
Around 7 April, when Singapore was experiencing approximately 60 new cases per day, a circuit breaker lockdown was implemented, which is equivalent to Melbourne’s Stage 3 lockdown. Around 1 June, when the daily new cases climbed over their peak of 860, and began to slowly fall to around 500, the last day of the circuit breaker was announced with a slow and progressive resumption of activities such as religious worship, and small businesses reopening. Clusters that were discovered, would be contained by placing entire households of close contacts immediately into quarantine. Numbers continued to decrease until around July (around 200 per day), increased to around 380 in August and continued to come back down, with no noted country-wide restrictions implemented. At the end of September, when there were around 25 new cases a day, offices returned to work and events of up to 250 people, with safety measures, were allowed. Singapore has maintained approximately 5-40 new cases per day until now, with no large outbreaks. Vaccinations commenced at the beginning of January. Although Singapore did have a nationwide lockdown period, their approach was more localised, with anyone breaching the stay-at-home order having their visa revoked or passport cancelled, businesses not following rules being shut down even during reopening stages, dormitories isolated as clusters were detected there, and heavy fines and prison sentences given out for individuals in violation of COVID safety measures.
‘Disease detectives’: The role of epidemiologists during a pandemic
Epidemiology is the study of health and illness in human populations, from the occurrence and distribution of disease and the factors behind to the dynamics of infectious disease outbreaks. Epidemiologists use the information they gather to design and test interventions for prevention and control, promote public health education and inform government policy making.
Listen to Catherine talk about life as an epidemiologist: So you want to be an epidemiologist?
Epidemiologists are invaluable during a pandemic because of their skills in gathering information about disease in a population and using it to anticipate what’s needed, identify risks and prioritise health and other resources.