'Ludicrous' Calls To Lift Coronavirus Lockdowns 'Callous At Best', Experts Say
Growing claims that Australia flattening the coronavirus curve should mean social distancing rules are removed are "callous" and have "dire circumstances", experts have warned.
"It’s far too early to do anything but double down on what we’ve got. Anyone saying we can go back to the way we were on January 1st is just delusional," Bill Bowtell, adjunct professor at the University of NSW, told 10 daily.
"We’re not going back to that. We let the virus in and we have to take the consequences."
Numerous conservative commentators have pointed to Australia's fast-declining coronavirus statistics -- just 44 new cases nationally in the 24 hours to 6am Tuesday -- as evidence against the need for social distancing and business shutdown rules to continue.
Articles published in several national newspapers have claimed Australia is over-reacting to the pandemic crisis, calling for movement restrictions to be eased and businesses allowed to resume, in the name of kickstarting the national economy again.
But multiple public health experts have slammed such suggestions as "premature" and dangerous, saying such plans could potentially see Australia's coronavirus caseload spike above its previous peak.
"It's far too early. Our job must be to make the job of the virus as hard as possible for as long as possible," Bowtell said.
"Where we will be in two weeks depends on maintaining and extending the shutdown."
Politicians and health officials have warned against "complacency" in the face of declining infection rates, repeatedly saying restrictions must stay in for weeks or months longer to truly get on top of the virus.
Critics of the lockdown measures have posited the theory Australia should accept a higher rate of infection in exchange for reopening shuttered parts of the economy -- an idea Bowtell slammed as "flying in the face of ethical public health policy".
"It’s, at best, very callous to say that anybody should die in the pursuit of some policy. That was the idea of herd immunity, and they abandoned it in the United Kingdom, because it was deeply wrong," he said.
"We should not have one extra person with this disease, period. There is no acceptable limit to COVID infection."
Bowtell said the long-term effects of coronavirus on even people who had a mild illness are unknown, but said early evidence pointed to "disturbing" impacts on the brain, lungs and heart.
Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of NSW, said lifting the restrictions without far enhanced virus testing programs could see numbers spike to a new high.
"If you don't accompany it with expanded testing, you would see a large bounceback... it could potentially be larger than before," she told 10 daily.
"As long as the majority of people are not immune, any introduction of the virus back into the community can create a large increase."
"We would need vastly expanded testing capabilities."
"You'd have to test everybody, with or without symptoms."
Adam Kamradt-Scott is a health security expert at the University of Sydney. He too said relaxing rules now would be "premature", and said the restrictions could only be wound back gradually, with up to four weeks in between each batch of changes, so experts could gauge the effects of the the easing.
"Realisitically we need two weeks at least to measure the immediate impact on rising numbers," he told 10 daily.
"What we can't afford to have happen is, in lifting restrictions, it leads to community transmission. That would end up in a very dire circumstance very quickly, maybe back to where we were a few weeks ago, when it was being called exponential growth."
Kamradt-Scott said officials had choices of where to go from here -- a full elimination approach, of keeping strict lockdown measures in hopes of lowering total cases to zero, or a 'Goldilocks' strategy to keep numbers low while opening the economy back up.
He said it would take "double the incubation period" of the virus -- 28 days total -- of zero new cases for a jurisdiction to be called "COVID-free".
"Some countries started to lift measures too early, now they're reapplying them again. That can have big psychological impacts on a society, when they think they're out of the woods but then a few weeks later, they're back in it," Kamradt-Scott said.
"The lockdowns have had the desired effect, but we need to be careful in how we relax the measures, so we can get the country back on its feet without having things blow out of control."
Bowtell wanted to see governments vastly increase testing, in search of asymptomatic infected who could be inadvertently spreading the virus. He also slammed claims that Australia's declining case numbers meant social distancing restrictions were an over-reaction.
"It's the paradox of prevention, when you say the measures weren't needed because the results weren't so bad. It's a mistake to think if you take your foot off the pedal, the virus will stop," Bowtell said.
"It’s completely irrelevant. The virus just thinks 'if there's more people around, more to infect, the better for me'."