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Australia's COVID-19 lockdown also prevented about 400 deaths from other illnesses - research paper

FILE PHOTO: People wearing masks walk through the city centre as the state of New South Wales continues to report low numbers for new daily cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sydney, Australia, August 28, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Social distancing and lockdowns in Australia not only slowed the spread of COVID-19, they saved the lives of about 400 people who would have been expected to died in June from respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, a research paper published on Monday showed.

Examining Australia’s most recent official fatality data, the Actuaries Institute said there was a shortfall between verified deaths and the number expected during the mid-winter month, which it concluded was due to a decline in respiratory illnesses.

“It is clear that lockdowns and other COVID-19 control measures have created great hardship for many in Australia. There will surely be medium and long-term consequences for physical and mental health and the economy,” said Jennifer Lang, Convenor of the Actuaries Institute’s COVID-19 Working Group.

“These measures have not only saved very many Australians from COVID-19 disease and death, they have also reduced deaths from a number of other causes.”

Australia in March shut large swathes of its economy, limited the number of people allowed to gather together and shut its international borders to slow the spread of the virus.

While the measures has taken a significant toll on the country’s economy, Australia has so far recorded just over 27,500 COVID-19 infections, far fewer than many other developed countries.

Australia’s economy shrank 7% in the three months to the end of June, the biggest quarterly shrinkage since records began in 1959. The unemployment rate hit a 22-year high of 7.5% in July as businesses and borders closed to deal with the coronavirus.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry