COVID-19 could cost Australia $56 billion annually: report

By Our Reporter
Representative Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The recent report “A Neglected Burden: The Ongoing Economic Costs of COVID-19 in Australia” lays out startling figures that reveal the economic fallout from the pandemic is far from over. The report draws attention to the need for sustained countermeasures from the government to mitigate future economic repercussions.

The study suggests that depending on how the situation unfolds, the future economic cost of COVID-19 in Australia could range from $17 billion per annum (about 0.6% of GDP) to as high as $56 billion per annum (approximately 2.2% of GDP). The brunt of these costs isn’t just going to be felt in healthcare or government coffers; it will impact sectors as diverse as productivity, employment, and even more deeply, vulnerable groups in society.

The cost in productivity losses due to infections in working-age adults could be around $17.8 billion per year, equivalent to around 0.7% of Australia’s GDP. For children, infections may result in productivity losses of about $1.7 billion per year. These figures don’t just represent numbers on a balance sheet; they signify missed work, disrupted education, and long-term economic implications for families.

But what about vulnerable Australians—older citizens, those with comorbidities, and Indigenous Australians? The report estimates an annual cost of approximately $12.4 billion due to COVID-19’s impact on these communities. Long COVID, a condition still not fully understood, could result in the loss of 46 workdays per person, potentially costing the Australian economy around $8,058 per affected person per year.

The frontline of this battle, the healthcare sector, is experiencing its own turbulence. The report highlights at least $2.3 billion in productivity losses per year regarding healthcare workers infected with COVID-19. This could exacerbate already critical workforce shortages and may substantially impact the quality of care provided.

Notably, Dr. Anita Muñoz, Victoria Chair of the Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners, underscores the importance for General Practitioners to understand these broader impacts, as they are at the frontline of caring for Australians with COVID-19. Quentin Grafton, Professor with the Australian National University, emphasises the need for ongoing interventions, like vaccinations for all age groups and improved indoor air quality, which in his opinion, outweigh the costs they incur.

Prashant Nikam, Managing Director of MSD Australia and New Zealand, points out another worrisome trend, “pandemic amnesia.” As time goes on, people are forgetting the severity of the pandemic, leading to potential complacency about its ongoing economic and health impacts.

Another key point is the uneven distribution of costs across various segments. Populations with high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, or age over 60 to 65 years are disproportionately impacted. Indigenous communities are more susceptible to severe COVID-19 outcomes due to high rates of chronic illness and inequalities in accessing health services.

In light of all this, the report doesn’t just spell doom and gloom; it offers potential policy countermeasures such as contact tracing, mask-wearing mandates, and other medical responses like vaccines and medicines. Policymakers with a fortified toolkit of countermeasures will be better positioned to ease the high costs of COVID-19 and better prepare for future health challenges.

The report’s findings make it abundantly clear that the economic toll of COVID-19 in Australia is far-reaching and ongoing. The numbers offer more than just economic forecasts; they underscore the urgency of concerted efforts and long-term planning needed to minimise the damages of this lingering pandemic. And in this, it’s not just the role of the government or healthcare sector, but every individual, to be a responsible participant in the fight against COVID-19.

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