Talking Point: Call off the games — it’s not worth playing with our lives

THE coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has hit home. This is no longer a problem for the Chinese or the Europeans.

It is a worldwide pandemic and the concerning developments from overseas will be mirrored here in Tasmania if we are not taking action now.

This is about prevention of harm to the community in the absence of any effective treatment or cure of the disease. This is not about running out of toilet paper.

This is about people dying in the context of a health system not being supported to do its job on a good day.

For NSW alone the estimate is that over 1.6 million people will be hit by the first wave of the virus. 80000 people may require intensive care in a hospital. Simultaneously.

False assurances and health messages from our political leaders, political placebos, have no role in fighting this virus.

It is irresponsible for the Prime Minister to announce that attending mass gatherings such as big sporting events with more than 500 people is the right thing to do this weekend.

I appreciate that he is a devoted sports fan, and I really enjoy watching rugby, too. But attending an event with thousands of other innocent fans hoping for a good time and a break from reality is against the medical advice of leading experts including the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and it is also against the advice of the organisation that does have significant expertise in this matter: the World Health Organization.

THE opening NRL match of the season between the Parramatta Eels and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night. Picture. PHIL HILLYARD

THE opening NRL match of the season between the Parramatta Eels and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night. Picture. PHIL HILLYARD

The World Health Organization clearly states that specific action plans are to be agreed on in the planning phase of any mass gathering event. If an event was to go ahead specific and agreed measures must be implemented to detect and monitor event-related COVID-19 disease, to reduce the spread of the virus and to manage and treat ill persons. Follow-up of participants is virtually impossible to achieve if attendees are not registered for the event in the first place — something that is not typical for major sporting events.

This is about prevention and taking the pressure off the already struggling public health system. Health practitioners will have little to no time to manage the fallout from big sporting events. The responsibility, accountability and liability will lie with the event organisers alone.

No pandemic has ever been controlled.

If we are to be successful in containing COVID-19 we need to implement measures now that are designed to slow down the spread of the virus. They will not be popular decisions, but they will be the right ones. I commend the organisers of the Melbourne Grand Prix and the organisers of Dark Mofo for taking decisive action to keep our community safe by cancelling those stellar events in time. The financial losses would have been enormous. But no price can be put on the avoidable loss of human life.

The decision to cancel those events shows foresight and a commitment to follow the advice of the real doctors — not the spin doctors. This is what responsible organisations do.

I urge the Prime Minister to follow their lead.

This is not the time for cheering from the bleachers, this is the time to stay focused.

Huon Valley GP Dr Bastian Seidel is the immediate past president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioner and a former Clinical Professor at the University of Tasmania. Dr Seidel is the Labor candidate for the seat of Huon in the Tasmanian Legislative Council.