The vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne says Australia’s “lockdown mindset” in response to COVID-19 risks doing more damage than the virus itself, particularly to young people’s lives.
Professor Duncan Maskell, an infectious disease expert and head of Australia ‘s richest university, said Australia had to move beyond the lockdown phase of its response or risk experiencing even greater poverty and suicide-related life losses.
“At what point do the measures that we take to suppress the infectious disease rate actually start to do more damage than the disease itself?” Professor Maskell said.
“I’m very concerned actually that if we carry on in this kind of lockdown mindset for too long, we will seriously damage young people’s lives.”
The vice-chancellor made his remarks on Wednesday night in an online forum organised by the faculty of science at the university as part of National Science Week.
“We already know that there are … some death rates that have increased, there’s more suicide going on at the moment,” he said.
“If we have an economy that’s not functioning, we’ll have serious poverty problems which we all know, lots of studies show will lead to increased morbidity and mortality in society.”
Pandemics and infectious diseases have occurred in human history, said Professor Maskell, but modern culture has reached a stage where we believe natural disasters can be controlled.
“Infectious diseases are part of the landscape,” he said. “People die from infectious diseases all of the time around the world, it’s just that this particular infectious disease is a new one and when it first came along we didn’t know what it might do to us.”
The vice-chancellor also targeted politicians and social media in a forum discussing the role of universities in crises to erode public faith in scientific expertise.
“Every single person on the planet who has a social media account feels they have the right to not just comment on stuff, but have their comment taken seriously,” he said.
“And so the number of people you see commenting on complicated issues with simplistic sound bites is really quite frightening.”
Professor Maskell said that his “primary objective is to … make sure that this university survives the crisis”.
The University of Melbourne revealed this month it would cut 450 jobs, along with an undisclosed number of casual positions, in response to an estimated $ 1 billion in revenue decline.