‘Unmitigated disaster’: CSIRO official laments US coronavirus death toll

Authorities in New York preparing hospital beds during the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities in New York preparing hospital beds during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty

As the toll from COVID-19 passes the 100,000 deaths milestone in the United States, a top Australian health official says the country’s pandemic response is an “unmitigated disaster”.

The US has recorded more deaths from the disease than any other country in the pandemic, and almost three times as many as Britain, which has recorded more than 37,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The latest count of fatalities is 100,047 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

About 1400 Americans have died on average each day in May, down from a peak of 2000 in April, according to a tally of state and county data on COVID-19 deaths.

In an interview with The New Daily, the CSIRO’s director of Health and Biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell said we are in a “global war against the virus” and that the world will judge leaders by how they approach the pandemic.

“When we look at the washout of this event in about six to 12 months’ time, when we look at how countries performed … the leaders will be measured on how they approached this,” Dr Grenfell said.

“We’re all alarmed by Brazil’s response – it’s catastrophic – where, in fact, clearly health authorities are not being listened to at all, or in the US, where states are actually having to rally against the president.”


Like Mr Trump, Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has ignored public health advice in favour of reopening the economy despite soaring case numbers.

The Latin American nation has overtaken Russia as the second global hotspot for coronavirus cases behind the US, with as many as 15,000 new cases being detected in 24-hour periods.

In the US, more than 100,500 people have died from COVID-19 and confirmed case numbers have surpassed 1.7 million.

A post-truth pandemic

Dr Grenfell said media spreading false accusations was “unhelpful”.

“There has been a solid attempt by a number of news agencies to find out the facts and interrogate those facts, and then there have been others looking for sensationalism, for conspiracies and other things,” he said.

For months, Mr Trump has been spreading misinformation and offering fraudulent health advice about the virus.

Until recently, he had promoted an anti-malarial drug linked to heart problems as a possible cure, and has even suggested scientists research whether drinking bleach would work as a form of protection.

Finally, social media giants are starting to catch up.

On Tuesday, Twitter applied its first fact-checking label to a tweet by Mr Trump as part of its new “misleading information” policy aimed at combating misinformation about the coronavirus.

In an apparent attempt to cast doubt over the upcoming 2020 presidential election result, Mr Trump tweeted that new mail-in ballots to be used in some US states would be “anything less than substantially fraudulent”.

The president responded to the new fact-checking label by complaining that Twitter was “stifling free speech”.

The blame game

Though Mr Trump’s misinformation was “dangerous”, US political analyst David Smith said it wasn’t fair to blame him for “everything that had gone wrong” in the US.

“Clearly not everything that happened was Trump’s fault,” said Dr Smith, a senior lecturer in American politics and foreign policy at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

“There was a major problem with testing in the US and multiple failures involving state governments – for example, the New York government acted far too late – so there is a lot of blame to go around.”

He said Mr Trump’s push to reopen business in America despite rising infections was tied to his goal of re-election.

“It’s almost impossible for a president to win an election when the economy is in recession,” Dr Smith said.

“He’s going to try to blame everyone else possible for what’s gone wrong during the pandemic.”

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