Featured researcher: Professor Catherine Bennett

Delivering the facts without the spin

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.

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.

Listen  to Catherine chat about all things COVID in a special episode of the Healing Health podcast, presented by Deakin's Institute for Health Transformation.

Discover more about Catherine’s research and career

Read all of Catherine's articles for The Conversation.

For the most up-to-date evidence-based comments and analysis, follow Catherine on LinkedIn

COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinations

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The international picture

Overview

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.

More details about the international picture

Australia (Melbourne)

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.

Click here to view the graph

Ireland

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.

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Singapore

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.

Click here to view the graph

‘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.

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.

Listen to Catherine talk about life as an epidemiologist: So you want to be an epidemiologist?

Become an epidemiologist