17 March 2020

Doctors urge government to shut everything down

Communicable Disease Government Policy

Over two thousand doctors have called on the federal government to immediately shut down all schools, gyms, places of worship, pubs and theatres to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The letter, sent to health minister Greg Hunt over the weekend, was signed by 2,476 doctors. Mr Hunt has not yet responded to the letter.

The letter was written by Perth GP Dr Hemant Garg and was shared on Facebook groups for doctors, including GPs Down Under, to accrue signatures.

“It’s Tuesday now,” said Dr Garg. “We sent this letter on weekend. We were hoping that they would see it on Monday morning. That hasn’t happened.”

The letter called for the immediate closure of schools, cultural and religious places, gyms and leisure centres, pubs, bars, theatres, cinemas and concert halls for three to four weeks.

“There are there are data available for how [COVID-19] is already picking up speed,” said Dr Garg.

“And if we wait until the end of the week on this, then we’ve got another doubling of cases.It’s not just the schools that need to be shut. It’s all non-essential workplaces, for example, that can be shut.

“Anyone who can afford to work from home, we need to support them to be able to work from home.”

Parents working from home could watch their children, facilitating the closure of schools, he said.

Mr Garg said a short-term emergency relief fund could be established to ease the financial impact of the social isolation measures.

Experiences from overseas showed that drastic social isolation measures could slow the spread of COVID-19 and buy the hospitals and health services time to prepare, said Dr Garg.

Singapore swiftly enacted widescale social distancing measures, including authorities checking the location of people required to self-isolate, heavy fines for non-compliance and financial assistance for people unable to work.

These aggressive surveillance measures appeared to have slowed the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the CDC.

“If a population does work together then you can slow this thing down, or you end up like Italy,” said Dr Garg.

“And we in Australia are at a point in time where we can make that decision.”

Here’s the full letter:

13 March 2020

The Hon. Greg Hunt, MP

Minister for Health

Dear Minister,

RE: COVID-19 Pandemic, Containment measures.

I write to you with regards to the current Coronavirus pandemic that has reached Australia. It seems that there is consensus amongst the medical community that the appropriate action to take in this setting is, to immediately undertake widespread measures to reduce the rate of transmission of this virus within the wider Australian population. Evidence for this comes in the form of an increasing number of cancelled medical conferences, educational events and medical specialty fellowship exams across the country, based on sound medical analysis by the boards of various specialties.

I am dismayed at the disconnect between the actions being taken within the medical community and the recommendation for actions being passed on to the general population. If widespread isolation and social distancing measures are truly what is urgently required to allow a temporised assessment and management plan for the Coronavirus outbreak within Australian borders, then surely we should be making this clear to the general public right now.

With this in mind, I ask for your help to submit just such a proposal to our government. We should immediately recommend a three to four week closure of schools, cultural and religious places (including places of worship), gyms and leisure centres, pubs, bars, theatres, cinemas and concert halls. We should also cancel all mass gathering events, such as sporting/motorsport events, concerts and festivals.

This would allow a steady declaration of cases of Coronavirus to present to hospitals and fever clinics as their symptomatic phase develops. They could then be tested as per protocols, keeping in mind the pressure on the supply of laboratory testing equipment. Numbers of confirmed cases could then be firmly established and their progress tracked, allowing for clearer guidance for ongoing quarantine requirements. Other people with flu like illnesses, but without the relevant travel histories to countries affected by Coronavirus, would also be able to be assessed and managed appropriately and calmly during this period.

I am aware that such broad measures would come with income/revenue losses for individuals and businesses. My hope is that something like a short term “emergency relief fund” could be established, to help ease such an impact for all concerned. The specifics of such a package would, of course, be worked out by those with the appropriate knowledge.

As a society, if we work with the future in mind, then we could make it through the next few weeks and months with population level outcomes no worse than they need be.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Hemant Garg, MBBS FRACGP et al

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