The Science Party is calling for the establishment of an Australian CDC. Read the policy here.
If you've watched Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion, you could almost imagine it as a trailer for 2020. Our heroes at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) struggle to contain a deadly virus ravaging the US and the world, wreaking havoc and sparking civil unrest in its path. Using contact tracing and widespread quarantine, and fighting wild conspiracy theories along the way, they develop a vaccine to halt the devastation.
While COVID-19 mortality is still far from Contagion levels, it's higher than the common flu. Given how little was known about SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), and ongoing research revealing the long-term damage it causes even in healthy individuals, our government is justified in taking hard measures to limit transmission and reduce infection rates. But what would have things been like had mortality rate been substantially higher, as with SARS or MERS?
Consider some of the real events that occurred in Australia, and the sheer incompetence that led to them:
- 19th March - Passengers of the Ruby Princess cruise ship allowed to disembark even though many showed influenza-like symptoms (with positive results for COVID-19 returned too late). Around 21 deaths and 700 cases are linked to this outbreak.
- 7th July - Protocol is breached when Jetstar flight JQ250 passengers disembark without screening.
- Hotel quarantine breaches due to insufficient controls and lack of training in Melbourne are now linked to 99% of cases in Victoria.
- Similar quarantine breaches across the entire country, including WA, NSW, and QLD.
This is the result of our Government's rushed, barely-coordinated attempt to control COVID-19. Had this been Contagion, who knows how many more Australians wouldn't be here today.
These failures leave us wondering, where's our Kate Winslet as Dr Erin Mears? Where's the Australian CDC, ready to spring into action with contact tracing, with real quarantine protocols, and with real screening?
The case for an Australian CDC
In August 2018, the Australian government rejected a recommendation (made five years earlier in 2013 by a parliamentary committee) to assess the case for an Australian CDC. Had a CDC been established, it would have strengthened our ability to defend against communicable diseases such as COVID-19. It would have provided personnel and processes ready to respond to a viral wildfire, minimising the damage and costs.
The government essentially refused to buy car insurance five years after it was told to look into insurance plans, and got into a car accident two years later. Yes, keeping experts and trained staff at standby costs money, but like insurance, it would (and has) cost a lot more to not have it when you need it.
An Australian CDC has been on the government's mind since at least 2004 (see timeline above), and COVID-19 has invigorated both elected representatives and health organisations to call for the establishment of an Australian CDC.
While the state of our economy and the number of lives lost in Australia is enviable by global standards, entire business sectors have been devastated and hundreds of Australians have died—including in isolation wards, separated from their loved ones. Thousands are now living with unknown after-effects of COVID-19.
Will this happen again?
Experts warn that our environmental and agricultural practices are setting the scene for more pandemics in the coming decades, and they have been warning us for decades.We need to be prepared to spring into effective action rather than find ourselves scrambling again and hoping for the best. It's time we insure our future now with an Australian CDC.
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