RED ZONES: The towns most at risk during COVID-19 outbreak
A RECENT study has revealed a number of towns across the Northern Rivers region are 'red zones' with residents at a higher risk of suffering severe symptoms if they contract coronavirus (COVID-19).
According to the statistics, residents in the 'red zone' surrounding Evans Head, are among the 1 per cent of Australians most vulnerable to the virus.
University of New South Wales researchers recently partnered with strategic analytics consulting firm Finity to map vulnerable populations in Australia who are at severe risk if they contract COVID-19.
Following this research UNSW released the COVID-19 Susceptibility Index, which ranks every postcode where people are at risk of suffering severe symptoms if they become infected.
UNSW researchers said the results will "help make decisions about selectively lifting lockdown or social distancing measures which will enable a balanced approach to reinvigorating the economy while keeping the population safe".
The COVID-19 Susceptibility Index maps the general health data of residents, including age, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and lung disease.
These health conditions can lead to more severe symptoms of COVID-19 if infected.
Researchers said the new index map uses data to highlight local postcode 'red zones', or "clusters of comorbidity risk factors that may have greater potential for severe illness in the case of an outbreak".
Finity principal and lead researcher Aaron Cutter said initial results indicate regional areas are more susceptible to severe symptoms if COVID-19 is contracted.
According to the map, the Evans Head postcode has the greatest level of risk on the Northern Rivers, but other towns in the region falling in a 'red zone' are, Tenterfield in the 97th percentile and Casino in the 96th percentile.
The postcodes of Kyogle and Ballina arein the 87th percentile and 86th percentile, while the Coraki postcode is in the 82nd percentile.
Alstonville and Goonellabah, which includes the Lismore geographical area, both sit in the 67th percentile, followed by the Mullumbimby postcode in the 60th percentile.
Byron Bay, Bangalow and Ocean Shores have the lowest risk scores for the Northern Rivers, with Ocean Shores in the 59th percentile, and Bangalow in the 34th percentile.
The suburb with the lowest risk score is Byron Bay, which sits in the 21st percentile.
Mr Cutter said while the results are preliminary, the data reveals while the initial wave of COVID-19 cases were concentrated around capital cities due to population density plus proximity to cruise ships and international airports, these areas have lower proportions of highly susceptible individuals compared to the rest of Australia.
"The index reveals that regional areas actually have greater susceptibility - not only because of age, but due to a number of other key characteristics," Mr Cutter said.