As Health Minister in 2007 Tony Abbott predicted fear, quarantine and economic downturn in a global flu pandemic. Picture: Sky News
As Health Minister in 2007 Tony Abbott predicted fear, quarantine and economic downturn in a global flu pandemic. Picture: Sky News

Did Tony Abbott predict the pandemic?

In 2007 Tony Abbott swung Australia into readiness of a global flu virus pandemic, spending $600m on "pandemic preparedness" economically and even predicting "extreme fear" in the community.

He also suggested at the time the Federal Government might consider new powers to quarantine people in their own homes in the event of a flu pandemic.

Mr Abbott was not the prime minister at the time, but the federal health minister, and the flu in question was the avian or bird flu known as H5N1, not COVID-19.

But he prepared the nation for a pandemic that would kill tens of thousands of Australians.

In June 2007, he told a meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) health ministers in Sydney, a pandemic would potentially kill 48,000 Australians.

He said it could hospitalise a further 150,000, with seven million seeking medical attention.

"I want to stress that disease does not respect national borders," he told ministers from 21 APEC member countries.

The meeting focused on "efforts to prepare businesses and social institutions to cope in the event of an outbreak" and the $600m had been allocated for that.

Mr Abbott told the meeting that in situations of "extreme fear" it was inevitable people would be concerned others were getting a better deal.

In 2007 the global spread of "highly pathogenic" strain H5N1 was a pandemic threat, starting in January in the UK, Japan, Hungary and Russia, and spreading to the Middle East, Asia and Africa by May.

At the time, the anti flu virus drug Tamiflu, along with "antivirals" were being used to combat H5N1.

Mr Abbott, altruistically, offered to be the last to be treated.

At the time, he said almost half of Australians could potentially be treated with the drug Tamiflu under stockpile levels available then.

Those who were "sick and in the frontline of the pandemic fight would get preference for treatment", he said.

"In order to reassure the public that no favourites are being played here … if we have a pre-pandemic vaccine I would be the last person in Australia to be given it."

On Tuesday morning, Mr Abbott spoke on Radio 2GB's Alan Jones program about his pandemic preparations back in 2007.

He said that he believed PM Scott Morrison was doing a good job, but also said Australia needed to widen its lockdown.

"We need to have a very complete shutdown now, a more complete shutdown," he told 2GB.

"The more complete it is now, the more likely it is to be short-lived".

Originally published as Did Tony Abbott predict the pandemic?



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