One of Australia’s leading epidemiologists has taken a brutal swipe at several developed countries over their failure to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
University of NSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws told the National Press Club on Wednesday the world had hit 107 million coronavirus cases and more than two million deaths to date, and the number of fatalities will continue to rise.
She said high GDP countries had not handled the pandemic as they should have to prevent the numbers from getting to where they are today.
“It would have been reasonable to expect that high GDP countries would have the knowledge, the strategy and the resources to use low-tech public health – hand hygiene, masking, keeping distancing and augmenting with testing – and what you would have seen was a very low number of infections in high GDP countries,” she said.
“Sadly the only ones that have managed that include Norway, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Finland, New Zealand and Japan per million population.”
Professor McLaws said all GDP countries should be in the same envious position as Australia, but sadly that was not the case.
“So what we have is ... countries that are quite frankly shameless in their lack of controlling the pandemic with very low-tech resources – sadly includes the US, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Israel, Switzerland,” she said.
“They could have done better.”
Professor McLaws said now instead of being in a position where high GDP countries could protect the rest of the world, they were now seeing a national vaccination approach where countries were rushing to give their population the jab.
“Certainly the US, the UK and South Africa really need this vaccine,” she said.
Professor McLaws suggested high GDP countries could have continued its low-tech approach so the rest of the world could be vaccinated first.
“As Dr Tedros at the World Health Organisation said, none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” she said.
Also speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, infectious diseases specialist Assoc Professor Sanjaya Senanayake, of the ANU, expressed concern about the global rate of vaccination.
“At the current rate of vaccination, it is estimated we won't reach global coverage of 75 per cent with vaccines for about six years,” he advised.
“Not one or two years, but six years!”
New Covid variants to emerge every three months
With the emergence of the highly infectious UK and South African coronavirus strains, University of Sydney vaccine expert Professor Robert Booy told the press club the virus would continue to adapt.
He said while the South African strain was worrying, it had arisen through natural mutations, also known as genetic drift.
“New viral variants are emerging all the time and a new one comes to dominate about every three months,” Professor Booy said.
“So the one that dominated a year ago has long since gone and we’re dealing with another. We are going to get a new variant, it just doesn’t have a name yet.”
While it may sound dire with the UK and South African strains more infectious than the first, Professor Booy predicted the strains would cause a milder disease over time as they continued to mutate.
“Indeed, all the clever virologists I know are saying within two to three years it may be more like a cold than the severe pneumonia that’s currently occurring,” he said.
“So that’s pretty encouraging.”
With the effectiveness of the current AstraZeneca jab in question, Health Minister Greg Hunt assures Australians the vaccines approved will be effective here.
"In terms of particular variants, particular countries, the world is learning about those with all vaccines,” he said.
“All up what we're seeing is very significant results with the vaccines that have been approved, with up to 100 per cent protection on the early data that we've seen in the clinical trial results for serious illness and hospitalisation.”