Scott Morrison and his chief adviser, Brendan Murphy, have both repeatedly claimed that Australia has been a world leader in testing for COVID-19.
Here is what they’ve said:
On March 31, Morrison claimed, “We are the first country, to the best of our knowledge, that has been able to exceed [the 1% of the population testing] mark”.
“The testing resources that we are putting in place have been absolutely fundamental to our tracing … to ensure that we can restrain the growth and the spread of the virus.”
A few days later, Murphy, stated, “Our testing has been probably the best in the world. We are very confident that, while there will certainly be some undetected cases, we have a pretty good idea of the size of our outbreak”.
Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt then said our testing infrastructure represented an “extraordinary effort by our medical professionals, by our supply chain management, by our pathologists, who are very courageous leaders doing all of this work to save lives and protect lives”.
Are we actually that good?
While any sort of global figures for COVID-19 need to be taken with a grain of salt and can often conflict one another, Worldometer (which seems to be most people’s go-to for quick data points) recently added a “tests per 1 million population” data point. The data for Australia (of 297,000 tests) matches the federal government’s own WhatsApp application.
What it shows is Australia is far from being the global leader on testing. In fact, we’re not even close. In terms of raw number of tests, we’ve done far less than the US (1.65 million) or Germany (918,460).
But Morrison and Murphy were talking about per capita testing. In that regard, it’s even worse.
We have tested around 1.1% of our total population (and importantly, we don’t test randomly, so would be missing asymptomatic cases).
Iceland, which actually does lead the world in testing, has a rate almost seven times Australia’s (they have tested almost 7% of the population), Luxembourg is at 3.6%, UAE is at 2.2%, Norway is at 1.9%, Switzerland is at 1.8%, Estonia is at 1.5%, Slovenia is at 1.3% and Hong Kong a 1.2%.
Not only are we not leading the world, we’re back at number 18 (when you include smaller island nations). Our 1.1% puts us about the same level at Italy — which is tracking at 1.09%.
What about school closures?
One of our government’s challenges has been maintaining consistency in messaging and policy. Hairdressers and Bunnings can open but beauticians can’t. You can only go outside with one person, but building sites with hundreds of construction workers in close contact remain operational.
But the greatest absurdity from our patchwork lockdown remains Morrison and Murphy’s bizarre position on school closures.
Most developed countries have shut their schools: China, the UK, most of Europe, Hong Kong, much of the United States and South Korea. But Australia stubbornly refuses.
Even worse, Morrison even pressured Catholic schools to remain open by threatening to withhold their funding, and last week created what is essentially a $1.6 billion taxpayer-funded bribe to coax parents to send kids to childcare, risking the lives of thousands of low-paid workers.
Morrison’s reasons for keeping schools open are fallacious.
First, he claimed that if they weren’t at school, kids would be roaming around shopping centres putting “themselves in contact with the vulnerable and elderly population”. That is now not possible with the current stage three restrictions in place.
Then he argued widespread closures of schools “would seriously impact and disrupt the health workforce that is needed to save lives”. While this is a factor to consider, other counties have been able to mitigate this risk (the UK for example is allowing children of healthcare and limited essential workers to attend school). According to a study in The Lancet, 15% of healthcare workers have kids aged from three to 12 without a non-working adult or sibling. Only 6.8% live in single-parent households.
There’s around 500,000 nurses and doctors in Australia — so Morrison is forcing every school to open for a very small percentage of the population (which as the UK showed, can still be helped).
Finally, Morrison and Murphy cited Singapore as an example of a country that maintained very low community transmission rates while keeping schools open. But Singapore just announced they would be closing schools in an attempt to slow escalating infections.
Maybe Morrison just really doesn’t want his young daughters hanging around the house…