'We need honesty': Government's coronavirus response blasted in fiery Q&A clash

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·Associate News Editor
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A leading infectious disease expert has slammed the government’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in a heated Q&A exchange on Monday night.

Adjunct Professor at UNSW, Bill Bowtell, took aim at the government over inconsistent information handed out to the public and lambasted inaction during the virus’s infancy in Australia.

"We need honesty, truth and transparency, all of which has been in remarkably short supply," said Mr Bowtell said via video link.

The Minister for Aged Care, Youth and Sport, Senator Richard Colbeck, was on the receiving end of Mr Bowtell’s spray in the absence of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt – whose lack of presence angered Mr Bowtell.

"We need to know, for example, tonight, from Senator Colbeck or Minister Hunt, who is not here, or the prime minister, who is not here, the answer to one question: How many test kits are there?” he said.

Mr Bowtell said there was no need for secrecy from Mr Morrison over how many test kits were available and information on who was allowed to access them needed to be clearer.

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Senator Colbeck (left) clashed with Mr Bowtell on Monday night. Source: ABC/ QandA
Senator Colbeck (left) clashed with Professor Bill Bowtell on Monday night. Source: ABC/ QandA

Questioning Senator Colbeck over a “panic buy” of test kits for pharmaceuticals, Mr Bowtell said numbers of kits available needed to be made public.

"I can't tell Bill tonight how many test kits there are available," Senator Colbeck responded.

At this current stage, anyone who is showing symptoms and has been in direct contact with a confirmed case or returned from high-risk countries within the last 14 days can be tested.

Mr Bowtell urged the government to provide clarity on the situation as thousands of Australians report of being turned away at medical facilities.

Senator Colbeck blamed the confusion on “misinformation” spread within the community.

Action too late as Australian cases soar, expert warns

With Australia’s cases significantly rising in the past few days, reaching 400 on Tuesday morning, Mr Bowtell suggested the government hadn’t done enough to curtail the rapid spread of COVID-19.

However Senator Colbeck argued the government acted early and has been prepared for a significant outbreak.

“All the actions we’ve taken to date have been to slow down the growth of the virus within the country so that we can... Senator Colbeck said before Mr Bowtell intrrupted with, “Rubbish.”

Senator Colbeck said that was “unfair” and insisted Australia moved quickly with restrictions on travel, quicker than most countries.

Dozens of people line up in Melbourne waiting to be tested for COVID-19. Source: AAP
Dozens of people line up in Melbourne waiting to be tested for COVID-19. Source: AAP

“You didn't move early, you moved late, that's rubbish,” Mr Bowtell quipped.

"You are not ahead of the curve.”

Mr Bowtell went on to warn the health system won’t be able to cope as the growth in cases continues at a similar rate as to countries in mainland Europe.

"On Friday, the PM said bans on meetings of 500. But not on Friday. On Monday. Today the US said 50. In Austria it's five. Have you not looked at the calamity that's overtaken Italy and France and Denmark and Austria? And the success in Taiwan, Singapore? Have you not looked at it?"

He said public education campaigns had come too late and differing information between state and federal governments were hampering the fight against the virus.

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