KERRY BREEN and KERRY GOULSTON.- Update: An apolitical response at last to the Covid 19 crisis.

Mar 26, 2020

Last week we explored why government responses to the Covid 19 crisis seemed to be tardy and we argued for an expert apolitical group to lead the response.

A day ago we were alerted by the media that much tighter controls on the movement of citizens was imminent, based on the advice of ‘an elite team of academics recruited by the federal government’ which ‘has recommended an immediate, hardline and costly lockdown to boost the chances of a quick national recovery’. If this report is accurate, it is the most encouraging news in many weeks. It would be churlish of course to ask why this advice was not sought earlier.

The Covid 19 health crisis has been compared with the Great Depression and with the Australian efforts to contribute to the fight against the Axis powers in World War II. These comparisons are inappropriate. The effects of the Great Depression emerged slowly over 2-3 years and there was time for politics to play out. Fighting in World War II stretched over six years providing even more time for politics, including in Australia a Federal election and strikes by essential service providers. This crisis will be won or lost in weeks or perhaps months. The time for politics is long over.

We are not privy to the expert advice given to the Federal Government but hopefully it included the need for better communication and more widespread testing of not just persons with symptoms. To us, it seems crucial for planning the response to have some idea of what proportion of apparently healthy adults and children harbour the virus. An excellent model of good communication is being provided by Dr Norman Swan on the ABC. While an initial limit on production of test kits was understandable, if funding is now a limiting factor, this must be remedied urgently by government.

Last, it is surely time for our Prime Minister to swallow his pride and bring the ALP and the Greens to the table called the ‘national cabinet’. If he were to do this, he would earn the respect and gratitude of all Australians as it would be a sign that he truly was working for all of us. Of course, such gratitude will not guarantee his re-election as Winston Churchill found out.

Dr Kerry Breen AM is a retired physician who is interested in the regulation of the medical profession, medical ethics, medical professionalism and the health of doctors and medical students.

Dr Kerry Goulston AO is a retired physician and gastroenterologist. Past positions have included Associate Dean, Northern Clinical School of University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital and Inaugural Chair of the Postgraduate Medical Council of Australia and New Zealand.

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