US expert’s verdict on Aus virus response
The man who's advised the United States through the COVID-19 pandemic has issued a stark warning for Australia and the rest of the world.
Dr Anthony Fauci said it didn't matter if Australia had coronavirus cases under control, every country needed to be on top of the disease in order to maintain the threat.
The top infectious diseases expert in the US spoke about how Australia had handled the pandemic in a lecture for the University of New South Wales tonight.
He praised the "capability and uniformity of citizens" in Australia when we went into lockdown and emerged from it.
"When you shut down, you really shut down, very effectively," he said via video for the Inaugural David Cooper Lecture.
"Then when you had a situation where you opened up again, you responded quickly and efficiently and I'm sure not everybody in Australia was excited about having to shut things down but you did it in a way which was really quite uniform, but importantly, effective.
"If you look at the United States ... we had an inconsistent response which allowed us, unfortunately for us, to really do worse than essentially any other country, which is really extremely unfortunate."
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Dr Fauci said the US death tally hitting over 555,000 and up to 80,000 new infections recorded at the weekend showed just how badly his country was doing.
"Australia I believe was one of the better countries in the entire world in how you responded and unfortunately we have not done nearly as well as we should have done," he said.
US President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser said while he was a loyal American, he was a realist, and there was one main issue threatening his country's safety.
"It is unfortunate we are living right now in our country in a time of profound divisiveness. I think anyone who pays any attention to what's going on in the United States sees that," he said.
"In some respects, that happens in different countries, but when it spills over in the middle of the worst, most historic pandemic of a respiratory disease that we've had in over 100 years, if there's anything you want, is you want people to be pulling together in uniform.
"It's sort of like being in a war, the common enemy is the virus and we should all be fighting the virus, and not fighting with each other, so that has really been one of the real difficulties we've had to face."
The tension with former president Donald Trump
Dr Fauci said things had shifted "from the top" in the US, following significant tensions when Mr Trump was in power.
"President Biden wants science to rule, he said that behind the scenes to us on his medical team, and he has said it publicly, that we are going to be driven and ruled by science and facts, and when something goes wrong, we'll try and fix it and won't blame anyone," he said.
"That has worked extremely well, however, we still have a degree of divisiveness in the country and we still have situations where governors, because of their independence, are essentially defying some of the recommendations and guidelines from public health, which is one of the reasons, together with the variants, why I believe despite our great success with vaccines, we're in a race between the potential for a real surging of cases and the fact we're putting vaccines into people's arms extremely efficiently."
Dr Fauci said it was "painful" to contradict what Mr Trump was saying at the height of the pandemic which led to "strain and stress" between them.
"Even now after the former president is no longer in office, he still talks about that, which is unfortunate," he said.
How vaccinations will save the world
Speaking about how Australia could look to the US in its handling of their vaccine rollout, Dr Fauci said Mr Biden made it his "very top priority".
"What he's done, for example, is open up community vaccine centres, get vaccines to the pharmacies, develop mobile units to go out to get the people who are in poorly accessible areas, and got people who would be administering the vaccine out into the field as fast as he could," he said.
"Those are retired physicians, military personnel, nurses, medical students, as many people as you possibly can to get out there and administer it. So it was really making it the highest priority to get vaccine into people's arms - and it works.
"If we keep doing that over the next few months, I believe we will finally get the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated in the next several months, which I hope will then turn things around and get that level of daily infections down to a manageable level."
How worried Fauci is about COVID-19 variants
Dr Fauci said he was always concerned in general about virus variants but the one that was dominant in the US, the UK variant, wasn't a concern unless it beat vaccination efforts.
"The vaccine works well against it but the trouble is that variant has the capability of spreading much more efficiently than the original virus that seeded this country, so we're going to have an issue of what I would call a race between getting people vaccinated and not getting another surge," he said.
Dr Fauci said the critical issue was the world working together.
"Even if you control it well in your own country, the way Australia has done ... when you ultimately get it controlled, if you want to maintain the control, you want to have control throughout the entire world because as long as there's the dynamic of virus replication somewhere, there will always be the threat of emergence of variants which can then come back and even though most of the rest of the world is vaccinated, it can threaten the world that has felt that is has controlled the virus when they're still quite vulnerable," he stressed.
He also spoke about the threat of vaccine hesitancy, calling it a "stumbling block" for mass vaccination.
"I believe vaccination is the answer," he said.
"Variants are a problem, no doubt, but we are a fortunate...we now have several vaccines that are highly efficacious.
"The issue is we've got to get the overwhelming major of the population vaccinated."
Dr Fauci said people in the US didn't want to get vaccinated for reasons that weren't related to public health, labelling it "unjustified scepticism" and "political ideology".
He said vaccines had proven to be the "most extraordinary preventive modality for infectious diseases".
"How does the acceptance of that or not become a political issue? Unfortunately in many respects it has," he said.
"It really is a complication of an anti-science atmosphere that has evolved with a certain type of political persuasion that scientists don't know what they're talking about, a lot of this is fake news, a lot of it doesn't really exist. I mean, to say things like that when you have a terrible pandemic looking you straight in the eye in some respects is inexplicable but unfortunately it's happening.
"That's one of the real issues that I said from the get go, one of the more difficult aspects of this entire endeavour here has been is it has occurred in a situation of very intense divisiveness in our country and also, not just the United States."
He said ultimately common sense should prevail and those people would follow suit when they saw the impact mass vaccination had on their community or country.
Originally published as US expert's verdict on Aus virus response