The US’s top coronavirus expert has praised Australia’s handling of the pandemic, but says there are two key responses from Victorian health authorities in particular that have been near impossible to implement across the Pacific.
Dr Anthony Fauci told a webinar hosted by The University of Melbourne on Wednesday he would be “in serious trouble” if he were to reintroduce the idea of a lockdown – a divisive and stringent tactic deployed by Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews over the last three months across Melbourne.
“If I were to use the words shutdown and lockdown, I’d be in serious trouble, they would probably be throwing tomatoes at me,” Dr Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, said.
“It’s the kind of thing where you’ve really got to try and articulate the importance of walking that fine line – maintaining public health without so damaging the economy that you’re negating the good you’re doing.”
Speaking with Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, and Professor Shitij Kapur – dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences – Dr Fauci said he “firmly believed” it was possible to keep businesses open while prudently enacting public health measures.
However Prof Lewin said Victoria’s “hard line” response was “driven by the science” to which Mr Andrews sat tightly on.
Dr Fauci pointed to the differing rhetorics from state governments in the US as to why such public health interventions had been a failure.
“When you’re dealing with a pandemic and state number 43 does this and state number 27 does that, it becomes very difficult,” he said.
Overall, Dr Fauci said Australia was one of the few countries that had “done well” in its response to the pandemic.
Wearing of masks in US too divisive
Dr Fauci also said he envied the Victorian public’s response to masks after Prof Lewin told him 99.9 per cent of Melburnians were adhering to mask rules and the transition to making the wearing of a mask a legal requirement in public was “painless”.
He laughed when he was informed Victorians were facing a $1000 fine if found to be breaching compulsory mask orders.
“I really wish that we could transplant that kind of mentality here, because masks in the United States have almost become a political statement,” Dr Fauci said, adding it had been “very, very difficult” to implement widespread mask usage.
“People were ridiculed for wearing masks, it depended on which side of a political spectrum you were at, which is so painful to me as a physician, a scientist and a public health person — to see such divisiveness centred around a public health issue.
“If there‘s one area of life that there should not be divisiveness, it is in the health of your nation.”
Melburnians take to the streets to end lockdown
Melbourne-based Prof Lewin said she was delighted to be heading to a restaurant for the first time after lockdown on Wednesday and joined fellow Melburnians in their droves as they took advantage of eased restrictions that allowed for the hospitality industry to reopen.
Photos showed large crowds in Melbourne, with foot traffic in the CBD returning to 80 per cent of its pre-Covid levels, according to Nine News.
Restaurants along the city’s famed Lygon Street were full, with venues allowed to host up to 50 people for outdoor dining.
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