"We are not Italy." The 5 most important moments from last night's Q&A.

On last night’s Q&A, host Hamish Macdonald was joined by a panel of three experts.

With him in the studio was Dr Norman Swan, a physician, journalist and broadcaster, best known as the co-host of ABC’s podcast Coronacast. Professor Sharon Lewin, the leading infectious diseases expert and Director of the Doherty Institute, and Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, joined the show via video call.

The program sought to centre the experts in our public discussion about the coronavirus, and give us the critical information we need at a time of unprecedented uncertainty.
For anyone who missed it, there were five main points made throughout the program.

1. NSW could run out of hospital beds by April 10.

When asked by one viewer if Australia was in a position to run out of ventilators, Dr Swan answered: “The predictions at the moment… If this hockey stick (the sudden rise in cases) doesn’t change that much… we’ll be out of ICU beds in New South Wales, Victoria will be behind that, by April 10th.”

He added: “And in that case ICU physicians will be faced with some very difficult decisions. And overseas, 30 per cent to 40 per cent of ICU beds are filled with young people.”

Watch: Your Covid-19 questions, answered. Post continues below.

2. “We are not Italy.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, however, disagreed.

He explained that there was a “laser-like focus” on Australia’s current intensive care capacity, and we are able to double or even triple ICU capacity relatively easily.

“Look, we are not Italy,” he said.”I’ve seen some people say when they look at the curves of what Norman is referring to, the epidemiological curve that we’re two weeks behind Italy. We are not two weeks behind Italy. We’ve been testing and finding many more mild cases.

“Italy mainly tested the top of the pyramid, the very serious cases that came into hospital…

“We’ve only had 20 people throughout this whole period who have been in intensive care. We’ve had seven deaths unfortunately, all in older people. The average age is 86.”

3. “You don’t kill as many doctors and nurses, to be blunt.”

Dr Swan, who has been widely praised for being a clear and trusted voice at a time of mass panic, said: “People don’t realise that what we’re actually entering now, we have not experienced for 102 years.

“And this is ancient epidemiology. This is difficult stuff. Where we’re changing the way we live for an indefinite period. It’s clearly scaring government. And when you put your foot on the break you can’t take it off…”


He went on to explain “the uncomfortable truth”.

The research from the 1918 flu epidemic “is not convincing” that you actually “save lives in the long term”.

He did say, however: “You don’t kill as many doctors and nurses to be blunt.”

“And your hospital system stays in tact.

“And you’re able to have a much more humane society along the way. It’s like planning for battle and working out at the Somme how many you’re willing to lose.

“It’s terrible to be in the position to make those decisions. It’s a profound change we’ve never experienced before in living memory.”

4. Testing guidelines will change this week.

Professor Kelly announced that Australians would have more access to virus testing this week, with the government looking to remove the current ‘traveller’ criteria.

As it stands, tests are reserved for people who are experiencing symptoms and have travelled overseas in the last 14 days, or have come into contact with a known case of COVID-19.

“We’ll be removing the traveller component, but we’re working on that at the moment.

“There will be announcements about that over the coming days,” he said.

5. “This is not a two- or four-week phenomenon. It’s until we get the vaccine.”

All three experts agreed that the main global priority was developing a vaccine.

Professor Kelly made it clear that if we go into lockdown, “this is not a two- or four-week phenomenon. It’s until we get the vaccine. And if we do that, less people will get the virus.

“Every time we take our foot off the brake… more people will get the infection. We can’t completely eradicate this infection unless we get a vaccine.”

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are those with symptoms who have either returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days. 

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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