Australia Economist Cameron Murray claims on Q+A that Australians should be complacent about COVID-19 even as new variants emerge
WHO switches to Greek alphabet for virus variant names
Covid-19 variants are to be known by letters of the Greek alphabet to avoid stigmatising nations where they were first detected, the World Health Organization announced Monday. The new system applies to variants of concern -- the most troubling of which four are in circulation -- and the second-level variants of interest being tracked. "They will not replace existing scientific names, but are aimed to help in public discussion," said Maria VanThe new system applies to variants of concern -- the most troubling of which four are in circulation -- and the second-level variants of interest being tracked.
Economist Cameron Murray has caused a stir on Q+A by claiming Australia's COVID-19 response was over the top and the vaccine "was a stroke of luck".
Mr Murray's comments, which also included his opinions about media coverage, the government response being overblown and the lack of a need to vaccinate children, were met with scorn and disbelief from all the other members of the Thursday night panel, which included Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid, epidemiologist Kamalini Lokuge, Uluru Statement leader Sally Scales and political editor of The Age and SMH Peter Hartcher.
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The virus that causes COVID-19 is evolving, with new and more infectious variants taking hold. But how do these variants occur and what makes some more contagious than others? What are variants?The SARS-CoV-2 virus genome is made up of almost 30,000 nucleotides — molecules that contain instructions for the amino acids that make up its proteins.But as with all viruses, this genetic code isn't set in stone. When the virus infects a cell, it generates thousands of copies of itself and sometimes makes errors in the process.
The issue came to a head when a question was asked aboutand whether Australia had now become too complacent when dealing with the pandemic.
Hartcher responded in the affirmative and laid the blame at the feet of the slow vaccine rollout, a "complacent" federal government and people being "comfortable" due to the lack of major outbreaks in Australia.
But once he had finished, Mr Murray went on a tear and said Australians should be complacent when it comes to coronavirus.
"I think people are right to be complacent because I think compared to what we see in the media, I think people have a better judge of the risks than what we've seen in the media," Mr Murray said.
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"From a public health perspective, it's not clear to me that any of our reactions have been ideal.
"I've read the pandemic plans from prior to 2020 and most of what we've done, were not in them.
"School closures were not recommended, working from home not recommended, border closures not recommended."
He then said it was nonsensical moving forward for children to be vaccinated.
"We know this virus is a thousand times worse for elderly people than the young and we don't need to vaccinate 100 per cent of the young people before we open up.
"That's an imbalance of risks."
Dr Khorshid then called Mr Murray out on his claims, which led to a verbal stoush between the two.
"Are you seriously suggesting that COVID doesn't affect young people or that border closures haven't made us almost the most successful country in the world when it comes to managing this pandemic?" Dr Khorshid asked.
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Which led to Mr Murray questioning if we were the most successful nation at managing the pandemic, to which Dr Khorshid replied: "We have been extraordinarily successful."
Mr Murray then refuted that response and suggested Australia's COVID response had actually hurt the healthcare system.
"In what measure," he said.
"In all public health, in all the delayed births, all those couples who will never have the children they want because the hospitals were delayed or they were scared of the pandemic.
"All those routine health checks that got delayed that we can't catch up on, you think that they outweigh the risks and are justified?"
Mr Murray then went on to be critical of vaccinating the entire population before international borders open and used Sweden's widely criticised coronavirus response, which avoided lockdown, as an example of a balanced response.
That is despite Sweden's government admitting they made errors in how they handled the pandemic, during which the nation has recorded over 1 million cases and 14,500 deaths to date in a country of just over 10 million, the highest numbers amongst Scandinavian countries.
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"We know schools were open for the 18 months in Sweden and no children died," he said.
"This seems to me like a complete imbalance and a rejection of public health messaging of maximising total health and total wellbeing."
Waiting to reopen a 'no-brainer'
His comments this time were met with a response from Dr Lokuge, who was unhappy about the message Mr Murray was sending.
"Can I speak as a public health expert and not an economist," Dr Lokuge, an associate professor at the Australian National University, said.
"What we are aiming for is a level of vaccine coverage that means we are not going to get to high levels of transmission."
She then cited the UK as a reason not to open too soon and why Australia should aim for a higher vaccine coverage rate before doing so.
"If you look at what's happening in the UK at the moment, they have almost 50 per cent coverage and they started to open up.
"Their Prime Minister, their Secretary of the Treasury have said we may need to delay opening up because we've got a new variant and got increasing hospitalisations and increased number of cases.
"So I think waiting a few months to get to a level of vaccine coverage where we know we can control this disease without stringent measures is a no-brainer."
Plea to 'protect our vulnerable people'
Despite those pleas, one audience member seemed to agree with Mr Murray as she asked if precautions were over the top.
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Mr Murray then reiterated one of his major points.
"We're closing down our normal health services and it's time to ask questions about the balance of risk and reward from the response," he said.
This time, it lead to a rebuke from Ms Scales, who said as an Indigenous woman she thought the policies were correct.
"I will always be cautious when I'm a part of a group that is always going to be vulnerable," Ms Scales said.
"Aboriginal people have got underlying issues, I'm always going to caution and make sure we're protecting our elderly.
"If COVID got into an Aboriginal community, we don't have the luxury of quarantining by ourselves.
"For my communities, if we had COVID out there, everyone would have it within a day.
"And turn around for the Royal Flying Doctors is eight hours to Alice Springs or Adelaide.
"In a case of someone else gets COVID, and is a vulnerable person, they're getting to die before that plane comes back.
"Let's protect our elderly, let's protect our vulnerable people and it's everyone's job to do that.
"Every time there's a new strain, I will keep saying that because I'm not getting to mess around with people's lives."
Vaccine 'a stroke of luck', Murray says
Mr Murray then got into another stoush when he made a claim that the medical industry simply got lucky with vaccines and said he felt they had no plan for a pandemic.
"The vaccine was a stroke of luck, let's be honest," he said.
"What was your plan if there was no vaccine for another two years? Be honest now? I'd really like to know that."
That led to Dr Lokuge saying that was simply not the case and said while some of the measures of past pandemics, such as social distancing, were in play, they were not the only plans available.
"The fact is the influenza pandemic that everyone keeps referring to happened more than 100 years ago," she said.
"It happened directly after one of the most traumatic events in history, World War I, and in a time when biomedical research and health systems were rudimentary at best.
"We're in a different situation. I had every expectation we would have vaccines."
Asked about the need to vaccinate kids, Dr Khorshid responded to Mr Murray about the need to do so as new variants of COVID emerge.
"Kids don't catch COVID as much, that is one of the realities," Dr Khorshid said.
"However, if they do get it they certainly don't follow the rules.
"And unfortunately with the latest variants, we are now starting to see children getting sick and ending up in hospital with COVID.
"Children have died from this virus around the world.
"I can tell you now the scientists, the experts that make these decisions will not recommend these vaccines for children until there's a direct benefit, not just for the community, but for the children themselves.
"They're not going to vaccinate kids to protect us or older Australians. They're getting to vaccinate kids if it's good for the children themselves."
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