‘This hasn’t started’: Expert reveals it is just the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in Australia

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

A leading infectious disease expert has warned Australia it must start taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously, revealing the exponential outbreak will only worsen in the coming weeks and months.

“This hasn’t started,” Professor Dale Fisher, a COVID-19 expert for the World Health Organisation, warned on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes on Sunday.

“We’re currently two or three months into something we haven’t seen before. Various countries are at different stages of their own outbreak. But this is the beginning.

“There’s little light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Australian-born scientist, who lives in Singapore where he is chair of infection control at the National University of Singapore and National University Hospital, said it was vital for Australia to take the lead of the city-state he resides in to stop coronavirus cases spiralling out of control.

"In Singapore we don't quarantine positive cases. We isolate them," he revealed.

Professor Dale Fisher has warned the outbreak will only worsen in Australia. Source: 60 Minutes

"Once we identify a case, they're admitted to hospital, they're kept in hospital. This can take a typically 10 or 12 days until their swabs are clear and then we'll allow them out and back home."

This is implemented alongside stringent social distancing and isolation rules, which in the majority of cases, is adhered to.

Australians ignoring restrictions

Yet self-isolation measures and the government’s ever-changing restrictions appear not to be as effective in Australia, in part due to the reluctance many have had to conform.

Over the weekend, Sydney closed the majority of beaches in the Eastern Suburbs after on Friday and Saturday morning, thousands of beachgoers ignored gathering restrictions, to the disbelief of not only millions in Australia but across the world as images of the famous Bondi Beach were broadcast on international news.

And Scott Morrison’s indoor gathering restrictions which require a two metre by two metre space for every patron at bars and cafes were completely ignored by thousands of establishments across the country.

"All I can say is, it's not what's done in Singapore or China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea," Prof Fisher told 60 Minutes.

Avoid overwhelming health care system, Prof Fisher warns

He said it was vital to adhere to such restrictions to ensure Australia’s hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with patients in serious conditions from the virus – a situation that has arisen in Italy, whose health system has been brought to its knees as the outbreak shows no signs of slowing down.

An Italian hospital struggles to cope with the influx in patients. Source: 60 Minutes

Intensive care specialist Dr Greg Kelly told 60 Minutes Australia has between 2000 and 2500 intensive care beds, and warned they would be quickly taken if the amount of confirmed cases continued to soar.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia earlier this month, Professor Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland, said Australia must wake up to the serious threat COVID-19 poses.

“It’s hard to stress how bad this could be if we don’t take it seriously,” he said.

He noted how “advanced” medical teams in countries such as Italy, where the outbreak has soared, have been forced to make the decision on whether patients live or die due to a lack of beds or staff to cope with “the sheer overwhelming number of sick people”.

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