Australian actuarial and consulting firm Finity, in partnership with the School of Risk and Actuarial Studies at UNSW, launched their publicly available COVID-19 Susceptibility Index on April 22.
The actuaries ranked every postcode in Australia based on the profile of significant comorbidities in the area’s population including age, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and lung disease.
Suburbs have been given a score between 1 and 100; the higher the score, the more vulnerable residents will be to a COVID-19 cluster.
The research found a number of “red zones” across the country that are a cause for concern.
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Finity Principal and lead researcher Aaron Cutter believes the Susceptibility Index will help government policy decisions when it comes to kickstarting the economy.
“When a vaccine becomes available, the index could be used to prioritise those more vulnerable communities,” Mr Cutter told news.com.au.
On the flip side, with the index identifying low-risk areas, the government could start easing restrictions in those areas first.
“We want to put as much relevant info in front of the policy makers as we can,” he said.
Mr Cutter confirmed to news.com.au that the Department of Health had reached out to Finity to use their Susceptibility Index.
Visit the COVID-19 Susceptibility Index here
WHO’S MOST AT RISK?
The index shows overwhelmingly that COVID-19 will “impact unevenly” across different suburbs, according to Mr Cutter.
He was surprised to find “a real divide between rural and metro.”
“The vulnerable population segments are generally situated away from capital cities,” he said.
“While the initial wave of COVID-19 cases was concentrated around capital cities due to population density plus proximity to cruise ships and international airports, these areas consist of lower proportions of highly susceptible individuals compared to the rest of Australia.”
Essentially, more rural areas will be hit harder by a coronavirus second wave.
Older and poorer suburbs will also be more severely affected if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs.
Researchers found a strong link between low Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) scores leading to worse outcomes for coronavirus infections.
THE RED ZONES
The index has identified some of the worst cases in Australia, known as “red zones”.
“In NSW and Victoria, there is a central ‘belt’ where the population is at greater risk,” Mr Cutter said.
He used Kempsey along NSW’s mid-north coast as an example, which has a risk score of 98.
Considering 100 is the maximum risk score, Kempsey’s score is alarmingly high.
“Cardiovascular disease in postcode 2440 (Kempsey) is significantly higher than the general Australian population,” the report found.
“The area also scores poorly for other comorbidities.
“The combined effect indicates that 2440 may have, on average, a much higher risk to severe illness than the general Australian population.”
HOW DOES YOUR AREA RANK?
With Sydney and Melbourne having the highest number of infections in the country, Mr Cutter revealed to news.com.au the 20 most vulnerable suburbs in those areas, according to the Susceptibility Index.
Keep in mind, the higher the score out of 100, the more at risk that area is.
Gorokan/Lake Haven – 95
Blackheath – 92
Woy Woy, 92
Blue Haven – 86
Umina Beach – 86
Mount Victoria — 85
Katoomba – 85
Bateau Bay – 76
Menangle – 75
Bayview – 75
Hamlyn Terrace – 75
Wentworth Falls – 72
Wyoming – 71
Edmondson Park – 69
Menangle Park — 67
St Marys – 66
Kincumber – 61
North Richmond – 60
Revesby – 60
Haberfield – 58
Capel Sound – 98
Sorrento – 95
Portsea – 95
Rosebud – 91
Blairgowrie – 89
McCrae – 87
Altona North – 78
Campbellfield – 78
Frankston North – 77
Rye – 76
Dromana – 74
Flinders — 72
Somers – 71
Balnarring – 70
Shoreham – 69
Yarra Junction – 68
Mornington — 68
Avondale Heights – 63
Healesville — 63
Broadmeadows – 63
HOW THEY DID IT
A hero effort saw Finity’s Susceptibility Index made in record time, just six weeks.
They used synthesised data that was publicly available, such as from CENSUS and ABS.
“People will be pleased to know there’s no personally identifiable info in any of this work,” Mr Cutter.
“We’re very comfortable representing a postcode, but it doesn’t go down to a street level.”
By that, he means that he can’t type in his own name, health conditions, wealth and location and see what his likelihood is of having a severe reaction to COVID-19.
“I don’t want the general public to misunderstand the data,” he cautioned.
The actuaries have put in an important disclaimer on their website.
“We note that a postcode with a minimal average risk score does not mean that everyone in the suburb is safe,” the Index says.
“It is likely that even in low average risk suburbs, there are individuals with significant comorbidities who would be at severe risk if they were to contract COVID-19.”
ACTUARIES SAVE THE WORLD
It’s not the first time actuaries have helped in times of national crisis.
Rade Musulin, who is also a Finity actuary part of the research team, helped in the aftermath of the 9/11 Twin Towers terrorist attack and also put his skills to good use after the devastating Hurricane Katrina that tore through New Orleans in 2005.
“This Susceptibility Index is in a way a similar type of exercises we’ve done in terms of terrorism, cyclones, floods,” he told news.com.au.
“We bring in our tools, be that building codes, strengthening against terrorist attacks, or helping us understand COVID-19.”
“There’s an expression, it takes a village to do things,” Mr Musulin added.
“It takes a lot of different skill sets (to help during and after a disaster). We possess some of those skills.
“So I wouldn’t say we save the world, we’re part of the team that saves the world.”
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