Australians have been warned they could be bunkered down until well after Christmas, while social distancing measures could last as long as two years.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned on Friday Australians could expect six months of stringent social distancing measures as the national infection rate dropped to under 10 per cent.
But infectious disease expert Professor Peter Collignon said COVID-19’s seasonal nature meant the number of cases may not reduce significantly until the spring.
Two women walk in front of a ‘beach closed’ sign at Bondi Beach on Saturday. Australians have been warned coronavirus social distancing measures may last until after Christmas
‘You know what the bad news is? We’re going to have to do a lot of this social distancing for another 18 months to two years,’ Professor Collignon, from the Australian National University, told news.com.au.
‘This virus is not going to go anywhere soon. We’ll have a reprieve next spring because there’s less transmission of viruses in summer.’
He added the virus would continue to have an effect in Australia until a cure is found.
About 35 companies and institutions worldwide are racing to develop a vaccine for the virus but it is still unclear when it will be ready for use.
‘Until we get a vaccine that is safe and works or until we find the evidence is wrong or unless something radical changes with the data there’s no way in my view we’re going to get rid of all the virus from Australia,’ Professor Collignon said.
He added the initial positive impact of the government’s social distancing measures – including closing pubs, cafes and restaurants – meant they would need to stay in place for as long as two years.
Police on horses enforce social distancing regulations to slow the spread of the coronavirus at Bondi Beach on Saturday
Pictured: couple holding hands at Sydney International Airport on March 27. The initial positive effect of the social distancing measures on the virus’ spread could mean they stay in place for longer
Modelling has also emerged indicating the peak in infection rates may come in October – with Australians fighting the virus for a long period of time despite the measures.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 5,666
New South Wales: 2,580
Western Australia: 436
South Australia: 407
Australian Capital Territory: 93
Northern Territory: 26
TOTAL CASES: 5,666
Hospital admissions by that point in spring though will be at a much reduced level because of social distancing, the data suggests.
The number of hospitalised cases will reach 180 hospitalised cases in every 100,000 people, less than half the 450 cases which would occur with no social distancing.
The data seen by intensive care consultants also proposes the virus will have reduced in community spread by a third – from 2.4 to 1.6.
It comes as Australia’s coronavirus toll rises to 34 after four men – three who were on the Ruby Princess cruise – died in NSW on Saturday.
Police have been out in full force issuing warnings and on the spot fines of $1,000 for anybody who is outside for non-essential reasons.
People are only allowed to leave their homes for food, exercise and medical appointments.