Impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on hospital presentations and admissions in the context of low community transmission: evidence from time series analysis in Melbourne, Australia

Taya A. Collyer, George Athanasopoulos, Velandai Srikanth, Ravindranath Tiruvoipati, Chris Matthews, Nicholas Mcinnes, Shyaman Menon, Jonathan Dowling, Gary Braun, Timur A. Krivitsky, Helen Cooper, Nadine E. Andrew

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BACKGROUND: Melbourne, Australia, successfully halted exponential transmission of COVID-19 via two strict lockdowns during 2020. The impact of such restrictions on healthcare-seeking behaviour is not comprehensively understood, but is of global importance. We explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on acute, subacute and emergency department (ED) presentations/admissions within a tertiary, metropolitan health service in Melbourne, Australia, over two waves of community transmission (1 March to 20 September 2020). METHODS: We used 4 years of historical data and novel forecasting methods to predict counterfactual hospital activity for 2020, assuming absence of COVID-19. Observed activity was compared with forecasts overall, by age, triage category and for myocardial infarction and stroke. Data were analysed for all patients residing in the health service catchment area presenting between 4 January 2016 and 20 September 2020. RESULTS: ED presentations (n=401 805), acute admissions (n=371 723) and subacute admissions (n=15 676) were analysed. Substantial departures from forecasted presentation levels were observed during both waves in the ED and acute settings, and during the second wave in subacute. Reductions were most marked among those aged >80 and <18 years. Presentations persisted at expected levels for urgent conditions, and ED triage categories 1 and 5, with clear reductions in categories 2-4. CONCLUSIONS: Our analyses suggest citizens were willing and able to present with life-threatening conditions during Melbourne's lockdowns, and that switching to telemedicine did not cause widespread spill-over from primary care into ED. During a pandemic, lockdowns may not inhibit appropriate hospital attendance where rates of infectious disease are low.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-349
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • COVID-19
  • healthcare disparities
  • public health
  • time-series

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