The NSW South Coast has good reason to fear the arrival of the coronavirus via holidaymakers, with a new health index showing much higher levels of the chronic diseases that make people vulnerable.
By contrast, Canberra's relatively healthy population leaves it in better shape, although there are pockets of disadvantage in the older suburbs of west Belconnen and Tuggeranong.
Associate Professor Ben Phillips, of the Australian National University's Centre for Social Research and Methods developed a model with Catholic Social Services to chart disadvantage across the country.
He said the health data was useful for tracking where the coronavirus would have the harshest impact, given the virus a much bigger impact on people over 50, and especially over 70, and is also more dangerous for people who smoke, or who have chronic health problems such as respiratory conditions, asthma and diabetes.
His health index has the happy news for people in Wright, in Molonglo, that they are the healthiest suburb in the country.
But the news is not so good for places like Batemans Bay, Broulee, Eden and Ulladulla, whose health scores are well under the average. The average is taken as a score of 1000. Those coastal areas are close to 800, which puts them well into the bottom 10 per cent of the country on health.
Associate Professor Phillips said the health index didn't specifically include age, but the conditions it did measure correlated with older age - so the older populations on the coast partly explained the expected vulnerability to coronavirus.
"It's not really about predicting the areas that are going to achieve the highest number of virus cases, it's just that for a given infection rate, these are the areas that we think would struggle more than others," he said.
"It applies to most of the coastal regions outside of the capital cities because they tend to have an older age profile so if coronavirus was to spread to those areas there could be considerably more trouble than, say, in a capital city area. And there's a question mark as to how health services would cope."
Most of Canberra does well on the health index, although many of the older suburbs of Tuggeranong and around Woden and Weston fall around the national average. Much of the inner north also sits just above the national average. But suburbs such as Turner, Braddon and Campbell are among the most healthy in the nation, along with a number of the Gungahlin suburbs. Wright tops the nation, with a health score of 1299.
Associate Professor Phillips stressed the data did not predict that any particular area would be hit with the virus, but showed that if the virus did take hold in some communities the impacts were likely to be worse.
The health ranking is a model that uses Census and Australian Bureau of Statistics data, as well as information on people's health spending.
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