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COVID-19 - Public Health Response Limitations

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 26 May 2022

Tags: COVID-19, Health

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - That was a very ordinary contribution from Ms Dow.

Mr Speaker, we have entered the age of normalising the mass infection of people with COVID-19 and normalising mass death. So far in Tasmania, since the borders were prematurely reopened, on average three Tasmanians a week have died. Every day, on average, 50 Australians are dying to COVID-19. We are enabling the mass infection of children who are taking the virus home to their families, in some cases to parents who are immunocompromised.

We are living in an age of mass-denialism. Living with COVID-19 means living with constant reinfection because the evidence is clear that herd immunity is a myth. We have evidence now that people can be reinfected within weeks. Yet I hear people in this place who have had COVID-19 previously saying when they have a sore throat it could not possibly be COVID-19 because they have already had it this year. That is unscientific and untrue.

I wonder sometimes whether our Public Health officials are reading any of the data or the science that is coming in. If they are, they would be advising governments strongly to reintroduce protections and advising government to have better measures in place to prevent mass infection.

Has anyone in Public Health in Tasmania spoken to the minister about the hundreds of cases worldwide now of severe hepatitis in children linked to COVID-19? There is a Chinese Academy of Sciences preprint paper which found that a COVID-19 variant mimics human liver protein that may trigger T cell autoimmunity, potentially damaging the liver. The authors suggest it could explain a surge in childhood hepatitis.

Victorian Public Health, at the very least, every day across all its social media platforms puts out information to people about how to avoid infection. It advises the wearing of masks. We get nothing like that here. We got from the Minister for Health and from Ms Dow a totally unscientific contribution, which is all about vaccination only. As Dr Woodruff outlined, the experts are very clear that you need to have high vaccination rates and other protections in place.

The Minister for Health talked about the low hospitalisation rate. Hospitalisations are increasing along with deaths. Part of the reason that we have been able to make hospitalisations look lower is because of the COVID@home program and community care-based treatment. We have been contacted by constituents who felt that they are on death's door who are being made to participate in COVID@home or sent off to a community facility to keep them out of hospitals. Living with COVID is a myth.

They have found that there is an eight-times increase in reinfections with Omicron. As I said earlier, people are being reinfected within weeks. I know, for example, Senator Jordon Steele John, the Greens Senator, contracted COVID 19 in March, went down, and then, in late April, got it again and got it worse - reinfection.

We would like to know why the Government is not advocating for more broad access to antivirals. Professor Raina MacIntyre says:

It is disappointing that GPs have not been provided guidelines on rapid treatments for COVID-19 within the community.

Everyone should be able to access antivirals. They are simple, proven, available measures like the asthma preventer inhalant budesonide which may prevent severe complications, but there are no guidelines for community treatment. There are two effective antivirals which can reduce hospitalisation rates and one is widely prescribed in other countries, but access is severely restricted here. Why?

I refer members in this place to some of the science. In the Nature Communications Journal, for example, there is evidence of accelerated biological ageing in COVID-19 patients. We have a paper here that talks about the effect of COVID-19 on prenatal lung growth which finds that in pregnant women who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, normalised foetal lung volume was significantly reduced.

We also have an alarming paper which has been put out on super-antigens and SARS-CoV-2 in the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute's Pathogens paper. It talks about COVID 19 potentially having a super-antigen in it. Super-antigens are potent antigens that can send the immune system into overdrive. SARS CoV-2 causes many of the biological and clinical consequences of a super-antigen. It says:

Urgent research is needed to better understand the long-term risks being taken by governments whose policies enable widespread transmission of a potential super-antigenic pathogen.

It says:

Super-antigens have been shown to impact central nervous system function and are implicated in the development of neurological conditions and cardiovascular dysfunction. Super-antigens are implicated in the development of auto-immune disease.

It also says:

Some countries seem willing to tolerate high levels of infection, provided their healthcare systems can cope. This approach is predicated on the belief a level of protected population immunity can be achieved and sustained and the impact of reinfections will be less severe.

If SARS CoV-2 contains a super-antigen or super-antigen-like protein or triggers a super-antigenic host response, this strategy may prove a grave error. The effect of a super-antigen is dependent on dose exposure, genetic predisposition, environmental conditions and immune response.

Business as usual on COVID-19 is totally unacceptable. We now have around close to one in three Tasmanians who have been infected with COVID-19 and the evidence is clear that living with COVID-19 means they will get infected again and again. Given that, the evidence tells us COVID-19 hammers our T-cells and suppresses our immune system.

What we are talking about here is dire for Public Health and we urge the Premier and Minister for Health to start reading some of the science and taking this much more seriously in order to protect the health of Tasmanians, which is his job. I hope that he will read some of the science that has come in because it is very clear that the approach the Tasmanian and Australian governments are taking is wrong.