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‘People dying’: COVID warning in Australia


One of Australia’s top infectious diseases experts has joined the growing chorus of calls for a timetable on Australia’s international borders as the Prime Minister continues to dig in his heels. Former federal health official Dr. Nick Coatsworth gave a frank assessment of life in a COVID-19 world in an interview with ABC News Radio’s Drive program on Tuesday, saying there will be a risk of Australians dying if we open borders.

The issue was a significant talking point for all sectors nationwide after the federal budget predicted Australia’s international borders would remain closed mainly until mid-2022. It seems a growing topic of frustration for many Australians, as business groups openly push for more answers from the federal government. Experts and tourism operators warn that the country must move towards a COVID-19 world and consider opening up.

Dr. Coatsworth said Australia “needs to begin a conversation” on borders, suggesting a “staged, cautious approach, rather than opening like an iron door, opening or closing”. On Tuesday afternoon, the infectious disease physician and former deputy chief medical officer told ABC’s Patricia Karvelas that Australia “should be prepared to test our health care system, to test our public health system” in 2022.


He hesitated to open borders earlier than next year, though, “when we’ve got significant numbers vaccinated” and “we will have access to ICU beds”. “There will be a risk of people dying from COVID-19 if it’s circulating in our community,” he warned.

Dr. Coatsworth reassured that “what we know from the studies from what our intensive care specialists did in 2020 is that when Australians get to intensive care beds, their mortality from COVID-19, the chance of them dying, is far less than anywhere else in the world because we’ve got such a good system”.

In stunning results, the latest Newspoll showed 73 percent of voters believe the border should remain shut until at least the middle of next year or until COVID-19 is under control globally. Only 21 percent of people said the opening of the international border should align with completing the vaccine rollout across the country.

A day after another of Australia’s top medical experts, President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr. Omar Khorshid, backed the growing calls to open international borders while issuing a warning that no matter what happens, “COVID is coming”. Dr. Khorshid said Australia has been in a “bizarre little bubble” considering our common virus case count compared to the rest of the world, likening the country to a “gilded cage”.

He warned Australians were becoming complacent and should be thinking, “How are we going to get out of this” instead of relying on the fact the country is relatively COVID-19-free. Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison facing pressure in the week since the budget to work on a timeline, he refuses to budge – warning it is “not safe” to reopen.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Morrison slammed Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka for saying Australia’s borders needed to reopen even though “some people may die”. He was defiant in keeping the edges closed, warning: “I‘m not going to take risks with Australians’ lives.” Dr. Coatsworth agrees with experts, saying Australians need to think ahead even after the vaccine is administered.

“When we are fully vaccinated, what risk appetite are we going to have?” he said. “That’s why I think the conversation best (be) had now before we want to open international borders in a staged approach in 2022. “What I guess I’m worried about is that we’ve created with our success this deep risk aversion to COVID-19, which won’t necessarily be an excellent position to base our policy on when we’ve got a majority of Australians vaccinated.

“The message to Australians is that this is a different disease when you are immune to it; the amount of protection you get from immunity and vaccination is very significant.” Dr. Coatsworth had formerly made the bold claim that Australians could not continue to live in a pandemic “eliminationist bunker” and said that the complete eradication of the virus was a “false idol”.

“We will not have our borders closed indefinitely,” he said at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons annual scientific meeting. “We will not have quarantine stations in perpetuity while we aim for the false idol of eradication. “At a point in the future when a significant majority of our community is vaccinated, there will be pressure to open our borders. We must not resist that. When the time is right, we should be leading the calls for it.”


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