Aust shutdown came too late says Swiss doc

By AAP Newswire

Across the border from Europe's coronavirus hotspot, a Swiss doctor looked at his Italian neighbours and decided to prepare for the likely spread of the virus throughout his region.

He has also monitored the situation of his wife's country, Australia, and his verdict is stern.

Measures to stop the spread of the virus are too late and Australia must hurry to increase hospital capacity to treat COVID-19 patients, says the chief medical officer for Ticino, Switzerland, a region that borders Lombardia, Italy's most affected region.

"The containment measures did not come in early enough, you heard new measures every day but you still had cruise ships coming in with people that are positive and disembarked," Paolo Ferrari told AAP.

"One person can infect 3500 people within five days and each one of those 3500 can infect as many other people. So what you see now is just a tip of the iceberg of how far in the community the virus has spread."

Having worked in Australia from 2003 to 2017, Professor Ferrari received the Order of Australia for his contribution to kidney transplantation.

Under his advice, Ticino grew its intensive care capacity ten days before it even had one positive case, turning different locations into coronavirus-dedicated hospitals.

The region currently has about 300 cases and is expected to peak in two weeks time.

He argued these facilities were similar to war hospitals and urged Australia to do the same within days.

"You will have way more patients requiring hospital admission that you would have had if the measures had been introduced early enough," he said.

"So the only way now to be able to care for those patients is to create those beds that are not there."

He's hoping the efforts mean there won't be as many deaths as there has been across the border.

"But we could be wrong and see the army trucks come in a load the dead people that couldn't be treated, as they have in Italy or Spain," Prof Ferrari said.

The early intervention, he argues, was key in countries that have so far managed the pandemic like Taiwan, Hong Kong or Singapore.

Prof Ferrari says Singapore learnt from the SARS virus outbreak 17 years ago, an idea supported by Flinders University Professor Michael D Barr.

"In 2003, I watched the epidemic unfold day by day and felt the initial response was hopeless, until at least halfway through the crisis," Prof Barr said.

"Ad hoc, inconsistent responses at that time now remind me of how Australia's political leaders are behaving during the current COVID-19 crisis."

Thousands of Australian doctors have signed a petition requesting an immediate shutdown of all non-essential services, social isolation, support for health systems and attention to the risks for Indigenous and rural Australians.