How many lives have been saved by Australia's approach to COVID? | BetaShares

How many lives have been saved by Australia’s approach to COVID?

BY David Bassanese | 7 July 2021
How many lives have been saved by Australia's approach to COVID?

By global standards, Australia has so far managed to contain the COVID outbreak fairly well. Given that debate still rages over whether rolling lockdowns and border closures have been justified on a cost-benefit analysis, I though it might be useful to at least gauge what we have potentially achieved by our containment efforts to date.

Australia’s exposure to COVID has been low by global standards

As seen in the chart below, on average around 4 to 10% of the population of some of our major peer countries have been reported as having contracted a COVID variant*. In the U.S. and United Kingdom, for example, around 35 million and 5 million respectively have been reported as having contracted COVID, which equates to 10.4% and 7.3% of their respective populations.

In Australia, by contrast, only 31,000 have been reported as having contracted COVID, which equates to 0.12% of the population. Had we had the U.S. experience, around 2.5 million Australians would had contracted COVID already. If we take the average infection rate across Germany, the UK, U.S. and Canada of 6.5%, around 1.6 million would have had COVID by now. Note New Zealand is much closer to Australia, with only 0.06% of its population reported as having contracted COVID.

Our reported death rate has not been especially low

On average among these peer countries, the ratio of reported COVID deaths to COVID cases is around 2.2%.

In Australia to date it is somewhat higher at 3%. Australia’s moderately higher death rate may reflect the fact that, so far at least, we have stopped COVID reaching the broader (and healthier) population. But, that said, we still don’t appear to have been especially good at protecting the most vulnerable (for example, 75% of deaths in Australia have been aged-care residents). Indeed, in NZ, where the incidence of COVID across the population has also been low, the ratio of deaths to reported cases is only 0.9% – one third that of Australia.

34,000 lives saved

Either way, had Australia experienced the average ratio of COVID cases to population of our international peers (6.5%), 1.625 million of us would been reported as having contracted COVID. And if 2.2% of those reported cases died – again the average among our international peers – it would have implied total Australian deaths of 35,313 – compared to the 910 people we’ve had to date. That is a saving of 34,403 people – largely because of the contained virus spread.

Cost benefit analysis

Of course, this is only an estimate of the benefits of COVID containment – not the costs. A proper cost-benefit analysis would need to estimate the potential loss of life from lockdowns themselves, through a variety of reasons – such as reduced access to health services and even suicide. There are of course the harder to estimate mental health costs to those who have faced unemployment or business failure, along with broader financial costs to the economy overall.

That said, the evidence to date suggests overall estimated deaths since the COVID crisis began are not significantly above long-run averages, in part because social distancing has also helped reduced seasonal deaths through the flu. Official national suicides rate are not yet available – while there are reports of an increase in attempted suicide among some younger age groups, NSW at least has suggested the number of suicides last year was down on 2019 levels.

It’s also fair to say Australia’s economy has performed reasonably well by global standards over the past year – we’ve enjoyed our own ‘V-shaped’ recovery – while still recording far fewer COVID cases and deaths than some of our international peers. As RBA Governor Phillip Lowe recently noted, Australia (and New Zealand) were, as at 17 June 2021, the only advanced economies to have restored total employment to pre-COVID levels. As the May Federal Budget noted, GDP last year fell by just over 2%, less than in many peer economies such as the United States and the UK, and compared to an overall global GDP decline of 3.3%.

So, at least by international standards, the economic costs of our COVID containment policies don’t appear especially large.

Of course, another aspect of cost-benefit analysis is whether the same benefits of reduced deaths could have been achieved at lower cost – such as better targeted measures, like ensuring all those in aged-care were vaccinated as quickly as possible, not to mention aged-care staff and those involved in hotel quarantine or the transport of airline staff. Were state/city-based lockdowns the most efficient way of saving 34,000 lives?


In terms of costs versus benefits, I can only leave that to others to debate. The main purpose of this analysis was to show that, at least by global standards, Australia’s COVID approach – while arguably not as efficient as it could have been – appears at least to have saved many thousands of lives. And so far at least, the economic and human costs don’t appear to have been especially large compared to that evident among our international peers.




*All of the above analysis is based on reported cases and deaths on, which in turn source national organisations and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Although question marks remain over potential under-reporting of COVID cases and/or over-reporting of COVID deaths (some may have died due to pre-existing conditions) it’s likely that these biases have been evident in all countries to a degree. As a result, international comparisons of relative performance based on official data seems reasonable – it’s also our only choice!


  1. steve  |  July 21, 2021

    Excellent hat someone has looked at this.

    Delta is apparently 10% as bad as the original strain and with Dexymethodone assisting to save 30% of hospital admitted cases, shows that the virus is manageable even though the nation is largely unvaccinated.

    Its obvious that those in need of care and the front line staff needed mandatory and priority vaccinations.
    Facts appear to show that those most affected had prior conditions such as obesity, diabetic, blood issues etc so its hard not to agree that targeted care to those in most need along with fit for purpose quarantine locations would have saved a large portion of the 2% loss in GDP that no doubt we will all have to pay for in due course.

  2. Kevin D  |  July 21, 2021

    Quite a good analysis but the one area in assessing how are approach saved lives that should be looked at is how our methodology in particular lockdowns cost deaths, How many deaths from suicide and a whole range of other causes due to lack of treatment & diagnosis which may not be known for years occurred. To muddy the waters even more how many deaths were from covid or the comorbidity that nearly all cases suffered from. You embarked on a very complex challenge but some of the stats were very interesting.

    1. BetaShares Client Services  |  August 2, 2021

      Hi Kevin,

      Thank you for thoughts, it is true that it is a complex challenge to quantify the impact Covid has had. David has touched on some of the points you raise in the cost benefit analysis however with limited data it is of course difficult to form any firm conclusions.

      BetaShares Client Services

  3. Suzie Stride  |  July 21, 2021

    Well done David.

    Loved that analysis.

    And if you count 5+ close family contacts who have not suffered due to a death of a loved one, 170,000+ people have been spared the heartbreak of losing someone close to them.

  4. Allen C Wilson  |  July 21, 2021

    Great article David, A great read.
    Thanks so much

  5. Alex Burridge  |  July 22, 2021

    Thanks David Bassanese, for fab article on lives saved by Australia Inc’s pandemic management . . obviously that only relates to deaths . .what about hospitalisation / healthcare costs saved due to the other 98% of Covid cases avoided . . astronomical?

  6. Geoff Svenson  |  July 23, 2021

    Thank you for a very welcome sensible analysis – no hysterics no judgement. Perhaps a bit more of this plus a will in some sectors of the community to follow “the rules” will allow Australia (and New Zealand) to continue to succeed.

  7. Max Perumal  |  July 26, 2021

    Thank you for a rational analysis of the best available data to paint a robust analytical perspective picture of the situation in Australia. Civic and personal responsibility are the best way forward for the community at large. Small personal freedom sacrifices in short term will pay back many times over and build stronger communities and resilience towards a healthier and happier, caring and sharing future for the all.

  8. David  |  July 27, 2021

    Being an elderly person I sincerely hope our federal government has vastly improved on the lack of attention and given to the plight of the elderly who have been placed in the hands of private companies with their own agendas.

Leave a Reply