Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has urged health authorities to remove coronavirus restrictions even though a relaxed approach runs the risk of causing more deaths from COVID-19.
In an address to the Policy Exchange think tank in London, Mr Abbott, who is also a climate change sceptic said: “People should get on with their lives even in the presence of death”.
Given the fact it takes a fortnight for symptoms to show, he said any lockdown should not have extended beyond a few weeks.
This would have avoided the health system becoming “swamped” and the economy becoming “dependent on government support”, he claimed.
Mr Abbott’s comments are in direct contrast to Australia’s handling of the pandemic, with his own former colleagues aiming to curb the spread of COVID through tough lifestyle restrictions.
His words also risk fuelling the ‘tinfoil hat’ brigades of anti-virus campaigners who have been becoming more vocal and openly opposing lockdown rules.
In his lengthy speech, Mr Abbott questioned whether countries like Australia and New Zealand made the right call on trying to preserve “almost every life at almost any cost”.
He said governments should think like health economists – not trauma doctors – and pose “uncomfortable questions” about how many deaths “we might have to live with”.
Even if mandatory shutdown avoided 150,000 deaths, as was to be expected, Mr Abbott said the average age of those who would have died is 80 and questioned whether the measures imposed were proportionate to the disease.
“Even with roughly 10 years of expected life left, that’s still $200,000 per quality life year – or substantially beyond what governments are usually prepared to pay for life-saving drugs.
“Once it was clear that a 60 per cent infection rate and a one per cent death rate was unlikely, shouldn’t we have started to ask whether the cure was proportionate to the disease?”
He said coronavirus restrictions should be lifted so that people can make their own decisions about the risks they are prepared to run.
“From a health perspective, this pandemic has been serious. From an economic perspective, it has been disastrous.
“But I suspect that, from an overall wellbeing perspective, it will turn out worst of all.
“Because this is what happens when, for much more than a mere moment, we let fear of falling sick stop us from being fully alive.”
He accused the media of having “indulged virus-hysteria with the occasional virus-linked death of a younger person”.
“Now that each one of us has had six months to consider this pandemic and to make our own judgements about it, surely it is time to relax the rules so that individuals can take more personal responsibility and make more of their own decisions about the risks that they are prepared to run?”
He also warned that lockdown measures could be kept up “indefinitely” in the absence of a vaccine “that may never come” – and said they can produce not just a “stop-start economy, but a stop-start life”.
“Sometimes though, officials get trapped in crisis mode longer than they need to, especially if the crisis adds to their authority or boosts their standing.
“It’s the psychic damage, I fear, that will be at least as bad as this pandemic’s toll on health and wealth,” Mr Abbott said.