A proposal to enhance national capability to manage epidemics: The critical importance of expert statistical input including official statistics

06 July 2021

Given the high level of global mobility, pandemics are likely to be more frequent, and with potentially devastating consequences for our way of life. With COVID-19, Australia is in relatively better shape than most other countries and is generally regarded as having managed the pandemic well. That said, we believe there is a critical need to start the process of learning from this pandemic to improve the quantitative information and related advice provided to policy makers. A dispassionate assessment of Australia’s health and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic reveals some important inadequacies in the data, statistical analysis and interpretation used to guide Australia’s preparations and actions. For example, one key shortcoming has been the lack of data to obtain an early understanding of the extent of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases or the differences across age groups, occupations or ethnic groups. Minimising the combined health, social and economic impacts of a novel virus depends critically on ongoing acquisition, integration, analysis, interpretation and presentation of a variety of data streams to inform the development, execution and monitoring of appropriate strategies. The article captures the essential quantitative components of such an approach for each of the four basic phases, from initial detection to post-pandemic. It also outlines the critical steps in each stage to enable policy makers to deal more efficiently and effectively with future such events, thus enhancing both the social and the economic welfare of its people. Although written in an Australian context, we believe most elements would apply to other countries as well.