Oz virus measure Fauci won’t endorse
America's top COVID-19 expert Dr Anthony Fauci has praised Victoria's recovery from its second wave of coronavirus after a gruelling, months-long lockdown.
But Dr Fauci also revealed that he wouldn't dare publicly suggesting similar measures in the US, which has now had more than 9 million coronavirus cases: "If I were to use the words shutdown and lockdown, I'd be in serious trouble … they'd probably throw tomatoes at me," he said.
Speaking in a University of Melbourne panel discussion with Doherty Institute director Sharon Lewin and helmed by the University's Professor Shitij Kapur, Dr Fauci said Australia had done "quite well" handling the pandemic.
The medical experts compared Australia's virus response - Australia currently has 201 active coronavirus cases - with that of the US, where almost three million people are currently living with coronavirus.
"Australia's one of the countries that's done quite well, I believe. I would like to say the same for the United States, but the numbers speak for themselves," said Dr Fauci.
"We have 9 million infections, we have 225,000 deaths, and we are essentially getting worse and worse. At a senate hearing a few months ago, I said 'although it pains me to say this, if we do not do something different, we could be up to 100,000 cases in a day'. Two days ago we were up to 83,000 cases in a single day. That is really troubling."
Fauci said Australia's unique position as an island gave it a geographical advantage over the US in keeping the virus at bay, saying that America's southern border with Mexico had been "problematic."
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He also pointed to the independence of each of America's states as a weakness in the country's coronavirus response. If ever there was a situation where you wanted consistency throughout the country, (it's now): 'This is what we're going to do, everyone does it.' When you're dealing with a pandemic and state number 43 does this and state number 27 does that, it becomes very difficult."
Melbourne-based Lewin pointed out that Australia is also made up of separate states, often with separate, competing interests, but had still managed to weather the pandemic well.
"From the beginning we had good national leadership. I think a lot of our policies and leadership have been driven by science. Closing down and opening up the country was driven by mathematical modelling," she said.
"The government took a very hard line - we were in lockdown for 12 weeks. I'm going out to dinner in a restaurant tonight after being at home since March. All that opening has been driven by science and mathematical modelling - its been driving the business communities crazy because they just want to open, but the government has sat really tightly on the science.
Dr Lewin also pointed to the societal "individualism" of the US as a problem: "This idea that you can't tell someone to wear a mask. If you walk the streets of Melbourne, 99.9% of people are wearing a mask. We did it by finish people - that, I gather, would be very difficult in the US," she told Fauci, who conceded it would.
"I really wish that we could transplant that kind of mentality here, because masks in the United States have almost become a political statement," he said.
"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."
But Dr Fauci appeared to baulk at the mention of Melbourne's strict second wave lockdown, a months-long measure that saw the daily new case rate drop from more than 700 in August to this week's recordings of zero new cases.
"I'll never use the word 'shutdown' again. If I were to use the words shutdown and lockdown, I'd be in serious trouble, they would probably be throwing tomatoes at me. 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."
Elsewhere, Dr Fauci said he had watched with interest as Australia experienced a record low flu season this winter, a secondary effect of the public health measures introduced to combat coronavirus.
He hoped America would be "as lucky" as us heading into warmer months but admitted he had serious concerns about what's to come: "I'm really concerned now. Thanksgiving (on November 26) is one of our most important holidays. A lot of travel, a lot of family settings," he said, adding that those sorts of holiday get-togethers were proven "super spreader" events.
"That's going to be really difficult. We're going to have a tough time in the next few months."
Watch the discussion in full below:
Originally published as Oz virus measure Fauci won't endorse