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Coronavirus: Economist says Australia should copy Sweden

An economist has been slammed as ‘heartless’ for suggesting Australia should follow a Swedish-style lockdown that could kill up to 25,000 people.

University of New South Wales Professor Gigi Foster sparked outrage from Q&A host Hamish Macdonald while discussing the impacts of lockdown on Monday night’s fiery episode.  

Prof Foster was responding to infectious diseases expert Bill Bowtell, who argued a strict lockdown was required to eliminate the virus rather than multiple smaller restriction phases.

When asked on her opinion, the economist said it was a ‘fantasy to believe we can eliminate this virus, whether just in Victoria and NSW, or across all of Australia’.

‘There’s no real end game in sight,’ Prof Foster said.

She said the country would have to commit to being isolated from the rest of the world until a vaccine was found and claimed it was ‘unrealistic’ to do so.

‘I think that Australia can follow in the footsteps of many other countries in the world, some of which have not had lockdowns as strict as we have here, such as again Sweden, and look at the death tolls in those countries,’ she said.

Her views prompted a shocked response from the host of the ABC program. 

Macdonald pointed out that Sweden’s relaxed lockdown approach has seen 5,697 deaths, compared to Australia’s 161.

‘Are you comfortable with advocating that for Australia?’ he probed.

Prof Foster said she was comfortable in making ‘data-driven policy choices’ by looking at other countries such as Sweden.

Macdonald noted Sweden has not seen an economic pay off: ‘How can you point to Sweden and say there’s the model?’

The economist insisted Australia is seeing ‘huge’ economic damage, claiming the costs will ‘be with us for a generation’.

She compared the current death count in Sweden of 0.1 per cent to Australia’s population. 

‘That’s 12,000 to 25,000 deaths in Australia for people who are predominantly elderly,’ she said.

‘But it’s a body count.’ 

Macdonald interrupted the professor by labelling her ‘heartless’.

‘It’s horrible. Why are you advocating for them to die?’ he asked.

But the professor claimed she was advocating for the least amount of people to die as possible, while also ensuring the country’s economy doesn’t collapse.

‘What about everything else that kills people and makes them suffer?’ she asked.

‘We should consider all the things that influence human welfare, lives and quality of lives, whether it’s COVID-19 or something else.

‘Have we thought about the unemployment effects and the mental stress? There is new information that’s coming out of the UK which has indicated a huge drop in life satisfaction.’

Her comments sparked heated reaction on social media, with some people comparing her to ‘Karen from Bunnings’ and calling her ’embarrassing’.

‘Gigi Foster’s giddy-up-and-get covid-and-get-over-it attitude is a recipe for a failed state,’ actress Magda Szubanski wrote.

‘There IS NO IMMUNITY. And once police, doctors, nurses and the people who turn on the electricity and water pumps start dropping… there goes your economy AND law and order.’

‘It’s like watching someone advocating mass extermination – where did humanity disappear to?’ another Twitter user wrote.

‘Can’t believe what I’m hearing. Is Gigi Foster seriously advocating that 20 to 25,000 deaths in Australia is acceptable?’ another Tweeted.

‘What Gigi misses is that an economy is only as healthy as the people who run it. If workers aren’t healthy – the economy isn’t healthy,’ Unions Australia said. 

The professor made similar remarks over the weekend on 60 Minutes and earlier in the year on Q&A.

Professor Foster suggested Australia hadn’t properly weighed up the economic consequences of tough restrictions introduced to reduce the death toll, and argued the ‘economy is about lives’ too.

‘What frustrates me is when people talk about the economic costs of the lockdown they often don’t think in detail in terms of counting lives,’ she said in April. 

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