Backlash over professor’s claim Australia can end lockdown

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A Harvard medical professor has explained how Sydney could end it's drawn-out lockdown, saying there is no need to wait until most of the community are vaccinated – just the elderly. 

Speaking to 2GB radio's Ben Fordham on Friday, Harvard Medical School Professor Martin Kulldorff was asked to give his assessment on the Covid-19 situation in Australia, where almost 14 million people are in lockdown due to Delta variant outbreaks extending beyond NSW.

Prof Kulldorff explained vaccination rates were key, specifically among older Australians.

"So everybody above 70 or maybe above 60s should get vaccinated to protect themselves, and the key thing for Australia is to vaccinate these people as quickly as possible," he told the 2GB.

A Covid warning sign is seen at Bondi Beach in Sydney.
The stay-at-home orders for coronavirus-hit Greater Sydney means non-essential retail is closed and all construction paused until July 30. Source: AAP

Prof Kulldorff said until people over the age of 60 are vaccinated they need to maintain social distancing so they don't expose themselves to the virus.

"On the other hand, younger people should be able to live their normal lives," he added.

Mr Fordham's chat with Prof Kulldorff was before Friday's case numbers came out in NSW, when 136 locally-acquired cases were reported and a 'National Emergency' was declared, based off health advice.

As of July 21 in Australia, 34 per cent of people aged 70 and over were fully vaccinated.

Prof Kulldorff was asked when the lockdown could end.

"I think you can do it now," he said. 

"But the thing is not so much what percentage we can vaccinate, the thing is among those older, let's say older than 60, if they are vaccinated, they can participate in life normally, yes, like younger people. 

"But those over 60 who are not yet vaccinated, they need to be very careful with physical distancing."

Asked what proportion of older Australians should be vaccinated before we could exit lockdown, Prof Kulldorff said as many as possible.

Several disagreeing with US professor's advice

Not everyone agreed with the professor pushing for a move out of lockdown.

"If we don’t have lockdown it will explode into thousands & more deaths!! Is that what we want?" someone said on the 2GB Facebook page. 

"There are too many “people ” out there who don’t listen to orders & not doing the right thing & that’s why we are in lockdowns. If everyone did the right thing this would have ended weeks ago. 

"Fancy someone from the US telling us how to handle it. What a joke!!"

It is worth noting Prof Kulldorff has spoken out against lockdowns for quite some time, arguing they are damaging the people. 

In April, the professor was removed from the Centers for Disease Control's vaccine safety advisory committee after he disagreed with pausing the Johnson and Johnson COVID vaccine in the US.

Covid can land anyone in hospital

While Covid-19 disproportionately impacts elderly people, anyone, regardless of age, can suffer serious illness due to Covid.

According to the most recent NSW Covid surveillance report, from June 13 to July 10 this year, 30 to 49-year-olds account for the majority of 78 hospitalisations reported at the time.

In the same time period, 22 per cent of cases who were in the ICU were aged between 50 and 59-years-old, and a further 22 per cent were aged between 70 and 79.

However, 10 18 to 29-year-olds were in hospital from June 13 to July 10, with two in the ICU, and six patients aged between five and 17-years-old were in hospital.

Fortunately, the data does reflect vaccines are proving effective against the delta variant.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant at a Covid update press conference.
NSW recorded 136 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night. Source: AAP

"Of the 78 people hospitalised, 5 (6%) are fully vaccinated (all aged care residents) who were admitted for public health reasons rather than clinical need, 8 (10%) are partially vaccinated and 65 (82%) have not been vaccinated," the report says.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has defended the lockdown countless times and said if measures were not taken, there would be thousands of cases now — logically, thousands of cases mean more hospitalisations and death.

On Friday, when NSW recorded 136 new locally-acquired cases, the death of a man in his 80s was reported and it was announced there are now 137 cases in hospital, 32 are in intensive care and 14 are on ventilators.

Ms Berejiklian warned on Friday, as the cases continue to rise, there will be an increase in hospitalisations and people in intensive care.

The data from NSW Health from 13 June to 10 July 2021 show anyone can be hospitalised after contracting Covid-19. Source: NSW Health
The data from NSW Health from 13 June to 10 July 2021 show anyone can be hospitalised after contracting Covid-19. Source: NSW Health

Australia's lagging vaccine rollout

Over 36.61 per cent of Australians have received the first dose of a vaccine, while more than 14.98 per cent have received their second.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised for the vaccine rollout not meeting its targets but insists some of the issues were out of his control.

"I'm sorry that we haven't been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year - of course I am," he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

"But what's more important is that we're totally focused on ensuring that we've been turning this around."

State leaders have expressed there is not enough vaccine doses to go around, while more than half of Australia is in lockdown due to delta outbreaks.

An empty Bridge St is seen in the central business district in Sydneyy, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The stay-at-home orders for coronavirus-hit Greater Sydney and surrounds have been tightened with non-essential retail to close and all construction paused until July 30.
Sydney remains in lockdown, with South Australia and Victoria also entering lockdowns after outbreaks in their states. Source: AAP Image

Professor Greg Dore from the UNSW's Kirby Institute told 2GB on Wednesday the highly infectious nature of the Delta variant was a game changer, confronting health authorities with unprecedented challenges.

He said while lockdowns are in force, there are still opportunities for transmission within the community.

"No one in public health would be advocating for letting it rip ... but the problem with the Delta variant is once you get transmission heading upward it can escalate very, very rapidly," he said.

The only answer was for as many people to get vaccinated as soon as possible but Prof Dore lamented that confidence in the "highly effective safe" AstraZeneca vaccine had been undermined.

"We will look back at that as one of the most baffling public health disasters," he said.

With AAP

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