Experts call for release of coronavirus modelling


Australian Medical Association NSW president Kean-Seng Lim said while modelling was never perfect – particularly when drawing upon overseas data – the government should still release it for the sake of transparency.

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“It’s important that we’re all able to maintain trust in the system,” Dr Lim said.

“As a community, [we need] to be able to see the data which has been used for modelling and to have an informed discussion.”

In March, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported on Professor Kelly’s revelation the government was preparing for between 50,000 and 150,000 deaths from COVID-19.

The government has refused to release the detailed modelling behind these figures, or an updated version, despite Professor Kelly on Monday saying: “We need to be more transparent.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Wednesday that Professor Kelly would host an epidemiology workshop later this week, which would inform an updated version of the modelling.

“That will be provided once it has been assessed and completed,” Mr Hunt said.

It remained unclear whether the full, detailed modelling would be released; the minister cited the Herald and the Age’s previous story as an example of the government releasing its earlier modelling.

AMA ethics committee chairman Chris Moy said the fact the modelling was being withheld had left a “vacuum” that was being filled by “armchair experts weighing in” with “alarmist” commentary and that any release must explain the “uncertainties underlying the assumptions”.

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said the expert panel of modellers “have had sufficient time … to prepare the narrative” and should share the modelling with the public, who needed to “understand the rationale” behind the COVID-19 response.

“The decisions being made at the moment are some of the most important decisions Australia will make this century,” Professor Blakely said.

Professor MacIntyre said the government’s refusal to make the modelling public was creating suspicion about how closely state and federal governments were following expert medical advice.

AMA Western Australian president Andrew Miller agreed, saying a “paternal, black box, command-and-control model” of responding to a pandemic was not appropriate in a democracy and was creating anxiety, social media conspiracies and paranoia.

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Former Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon said the debate illustrated the need for an independent national Centre for Disease Control, which he had called for in 2017.

Dr Gannon said chief medical officer Brendan Murphy “ultimately reports to the minister” and “this is a time where government needs genuinely independent expert voices”.

Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen said “if the government wants the Australian people to trust them, then the government should trust Australians” and hand over the modelling.

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