The ACT already has the highest life expectancy of all states and territories in Australia, and it seems that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has increased.
A new study by the Australian National University (ANU) has found a silver lining to the seemingly endless days of pandemic restrictions, with the time a newborn baby can expect to live in Australia jumping by more than half a year in 2020.
Instead of the expected average annual increase of 0.09 to 0.14 years seen in the four years between 2015 and 2019, the researchers found an increase of 0.7 years from 2019 to 2020 for both females and males.
Females now have a life expectancy in Australia of 85.3 years, and males 81.2 years, and 85.9 years and 82.1 years in the ACT, respectively.
The study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and compared life expectancy figures to those seen in other countries during the same period of time. Australia saw the greatest increase.
The researchers said Australia’s quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic – such as closing borders and implementing lockdowns – was the point of difference between the outcomes.
“Australia was in a unique position to be able to close borders to the rest of the world,” said study co-author Professor Vladimir Canudas-Romo.
He said attempts were made to close borders during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, but with no vaccination, it returned with a vengeance as soon as ports reopened.
“With modern-day vaccines, Australia has been able to escape this deadly fate,” said Professor Canudas-Romo.
Around 15,000 Australians died from the Spanish flu when it first reared its head in 1919. COVID-19 has been a contributing factor in the deaths of 2668 Australians so far, and was the 38th leading cause of death in 2020.
Based on current national figures, the case fatality rate for COVID-19 is 0.19 per cent.
The researchers say lockdowns also led to longer lives because of a “sharp decline in the spread of other infectious diseases due to COVID-19 containment measures”.
For example, deaths caused by influenza and pneumonia fell by 45.8 per cent in 2020. Influenza was the ninth leading cause of death in 2019 – claiming 4124 lives – but dropped to the 17th cause in 2020.
The lockdowns also seemed to have a mysterious positive effect on non-infectious diseases.
“This includes a reduction in deaths due to cancer and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, which accounted for a great share of the mortality reductions,” said Professor Canudas-Romo.
Another key finding in the study was that a decline in social mobility triggered a large reduction in the number of road traffic accidents.
Rates from suicide and drug overdoses also decreased in 2020, although alcohol-induced death rates were up by 8.3 per cent.
According to study co-author Associate Professor Brian Houle, the question remains whether the increased life expectancy will continue in a post-pandemic Australia.
“It’s hard to make a long-term assessment for this unusual increase,” he said.
“If working from home remains popular, with fewer people on the road commuting at peak times, that might result in reduced road accidents compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.”
However, it isn’t all good news for the ACT, as the Territory recorded 13 homicides in 2021 – the highest number of murders since crime statistics were made publicly available in 2014.