26 September 2023

Pandemic crowd warning repeated

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Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly has reiterated his warning that people taking part in mass gatherings were doing so at risk as thousands of Australians exercised their democratic right to protest over the past weeks.

“I said it earlier this week and I’ll repeat it here: Black lives do matter and this is undoubtedly a very worthy cause — but none of us can ignore the health risk presented by these types of very large gatherings,” Professor Kelly said.

“They are being held at a crucial moment in our COVID-19 pandemic response and in spite of the pleas of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).”

He said one case of COVID-19 had been found among those who attended.

“We may face what my AHPPC colleagues and I fear most — a large, geographically-widespread outbreak that’s going to be difficult to trace,” Professor Kelly said.

“The priority now is to quickly identify if the virus has spread and to contain outbreaks if they emerge.”

He said the risk was not theoretical — it was real.

Professor Kelly cited the case of one infectious person attending a choir practice in the United States leading to 53 of 61 members of the choir becoming infected

“The act of singing might have contributed to this ‘super spreading event’, just as shouting at a protest may do. That’s why we’re concerned,” Professor Kelly said.

“Now that the protests have occurred, it is incredibly important that people who attended pay extra attention to their health.”

He said that through the hard work of all Australians and many sacrifices, the country had so far avoided the disastrous situation still being faced elsewhere, but the successful public health response to date was no guarantee that things could not go backwards.

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