Modelling testing and response strategies for COVID-19 outbreaks in remote Australian Aboriginal communities


Ben B Hui, Damien Brown, Rebecca H Chisholm, Nicholas Geard, Jodie McVernon, David G Regan

BMC Infectious Diseases, 21, Article number: 929 (2021). DOI:


Remote Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have potential to be severely impacted by COVID-19, with multiple factors predisposing to increased transmission and disease severity. Our modelling aims to inform optimal public health responses.


An individual-based simulation model represented SARS-CoV2 transmission in communities ranging from 100 to 3500 people, comprised of large, interconnected households. A range of strategies for case finding, quarantining of contacts, testing, and lockdown were examined, following the silent introduction of a case.


Multiple secondary infections are likely present by the time the first case is identified. Quarantine of close contacts, defined by extended household membership, can reduce peak infection prevalence from 60 to 70% to around 10%, but subsequent waves may occur when community mixing resumes. Exit testing significantly reduces ongoing transmission. Concurrent lockdown of non-quarantined households for 14 days is highly effective for epidemic control and reduces overall testing requirements; peak prevalence of the initial outbreak can be constrained to less than 5%, and the final community attack rate to less than 10% in modelled scenarios. Lockdown also mitigates the effect of a delay in the initial response. Compliance with lockdown must be at least 80–90%, however, or epidemic control will be lost.


A SARS-CoV-2 outbreak will spread rapidly in remote communities. Prompt case detection with quarantining of extended-household contacts and a 14 day lockdown for all other residents, combined with exit testing for all, is the most effective strategy for rapid containment. Compliance is crucial, underscoring the need for community supported, culturally sensitive responses.

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