A leading expert in infectious diseases says she doesn’t understand why schools haven’t been shut down to help Australia flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Professor Raina MacIntyre is the Head of the University of New South Wales’ Biosecurity Program, and a member of the expert panel advising the Government on the coronavirus response.
LIVE UPDATES: Australian death toll rises
“I think it’s risky to be keeping schools open. I don’t understand why there was so much reluctance to close the schools,” Professor MacIntyre told Deborah Knight on 2GB.
“It would have been a very easy strategy, as opposed to doing it in the middle of school term, you could have just tacked on a week before the holidays, two weeks afterwards, and got a lengthy period of shutdown.
“Combined with more intense social distancing in the community, it would have had a good impact. I don’t understand it.”
Professor MacIntyre argued that unless an overwhelming majority of the population followed advice to limit social interaction, the spread of coronavirus would continue at a rapid rate.
“You need 80 per cent of people to stay at home to have any impact on the epidemic curve, and if you don’t, it’s just going to keep increasing,” she said.
“It’s pretty much unachievable with keeping schools open.
“There’s also shopping centres being kept open.
“The data doesn’t show a high level of social distancing happening in Australia, and I think just the eyeball test says there’s people out and about.”
The global death toll from coronavirus has now passed 20,000, with Australia recording another death this afternoon.
Professor MacIntyre dismissed the widespread view that COVID-19 is an “old person’s disease” pointing out that young people can get more than a mild case of coronavirus.
“That’s giving young people the message that it’s okay to go out and party, and we know that people went to Bondi Beach when the weather was warm.
“That’s where the transmission is going to be happening.
“We know that lots of young adults died in China.”
“They’re not being hit as hard as older people, but there have been deaths, and serious illness in children.”
Reports are emerging of a shortage of protective equipment such as masks for hospital workers, with concerns growing that the situation will only get worse as the virus spreads.
But Professor MacIntyre says there’s still a chance Australia can avoid mass infections like we’ve seen in Italy and the United States.
“It’s never too late, I’ve always been hopeful for Australia, we started off with a really strong response,” she said.
“There’s still hope that we can jump on top of this.
“Maybe the social distancing measures will have an impact, we’ll know in a couple of weeks.
“The worst case scenario is that we continue to have silent transmission and we won’t know until it starts hitting the health system.
“If the cases become greater and greater, that burden is going to fall on our health workers, for whom we do not have adequate protection.
“Health workers are not like ventilators, you can’t just crank up the production and make some more.”
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