Australian doctors have issued an urgent plea to governments to immediately change course in their response to COVID-19.
The doctors are demanding state and federal governments implement strict lockdown and social distancing, and ramp up health resources to cope with a surge in critically ill patients.
The demands are outlined in an open letter currently circulating among doctors.
The letter’s author, intensive care specialist Greg Kelly, told the ABC he consulted with intensive care colleagues at several major hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney when formulating the call for action.
“We are almost at 4000 signatories,” he said, adding he was confident “at least 3500” were doctors.
The ABC has not been able to verify those figures.
Doctors warn against Italy-level disaster
According to the letter, Australia’s health system and spread of age demographics are similar to Italy’s, rather than China’s.
“On current growth rates, the 300 cases in Australia today will be … 10,000 by the 4th of April” the letter reads.
They argue that under current preparations, Australia will be “in a worse position than Italy is currently in”.
Italian doctors are reporting they do not have the necessary ventilators and other resources needed to save critically ill COVID-19 patients, and they have been forced to make the wrenching choice between patients who can be helped and those who will be refused the treatment necessary to save their lives.
The Australian doctors’ letter points out that the death rate in Italy is “very high” – much higher than in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in late December.
It calls on the Government to heed the lessons of China, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan, which have enforced widespread economic lockdown and social distancing measures greater than what have so far been adopted in Australia.
“We believe that Australian federal and state governments can avert disaster by heeding the lessons of other countries,” it says.
The Federal Government said today it was taking medical advice on whether it needed to bring in a new wave of restrictions.
“We will continue to act as we are advised,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said.
“As the Prime Minister indicated yesterday in relation to some of these things, it is important to time these decisions in the right way.”
Frontline general practitioners have told the ABC they believe the Australian Government is ignoring what has been learned in those Asian countries.
“We have had two months to prepare for this,” Victorian GP Ern Chang told the ABC.
He said Australia should learn from countries which had dealt with previous pandemics and adjusted their health systems in response.
“Singapore and Hong Kong had SARS”, he said. “Singapore has a National Centre for Infectious Diseases and has an all-of-government, consistent response.”
AMA distances itself from letter
The Australian Medical Association distanced itself from the sentiments expressed in the letter.
“The AMA do not believe that the actions proposed in the letter are necessary yet”, it said.
“There are many messages out in the community – from official and unofficial sources, from individuals and groups.
“[Chief medical officer] Professor Brendan Murphy … will provide advice on these matters at the appropriate time, based on the best available medical evidence.”