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How Australia’s 2020 Summit in 2008 focused on mosquito illnesses, bird flu instead of coronavirus

Australia’s 2020 Summit 12 years ago was worried about the threat of a bird flu pandemic and the danger of germ-based terrorism.

As a new Labor prime minister in April 2008, Kevin Rudd brought more than 1,000 delegates to Parliament House in Canberra to discuss ‘critical’ strategies for the future.

His 2020 Summit also discussed the prospect of mosquito-borne illnesses surging as global temperatures increased, five months after winning an election fought over climate change. 

 Australia’s 2020 Summit 12 years ago was worried about the threat of a flu pandemic and the danger of germ-based terrorism. As a new Labor prime minister in April 2008 (pictured), Kevin Rudd brought more than 1,000 delegates to Parliament House in Canberra to discuss ‘critical’ strategies for the future

Health experts were particularly focused on avian influenza turning into a pandemic and the prospect of terrorists releasing germs.

They recommended the establishment of a new group within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to tackle avian influenza and the possible threat of germ-based terrorism.

‘Set up a health ASEAN – a collaborative regional group to focus on emerging infectious diseases like bird flu, plan for and be ready to respond to bioterrorism and share learning and best practice on chronic and preventable diseases,’ an interim report said.

Following that two-day summit, global warming was identified as a pressing health danger for 2020.

‘By 2020, we may see rapidly rising levels of Ross River fever and dengue fever by 2020 as a result of climate change,’ a communique said.

While tropical diseases and bird flu were also high on the agenda, the threat of a coronavirus wasn’t – despite a SARS outbreak in China just five years earlier.

Griffith University principal research leader Michael Good, an infectious diseases and vaccines expert who co-chaired the summit’s health policy roundtable in 2008, has admitted there was little discussion about respiratory illnesses derived from bats.

‘I do not have my notes with me from the 2020 Summit. However, as I recall from that time in general, a pandemic of influenza was more of a concern than a new coronavirus per se,’ Professor Good told Daily Mail Australia.

Griffith University principal research leader Michael Good (pictured), an infectious diseases and vaccines expert who co-chaired the summit's health policy roundtable, has admitted there was more discussion about bird flu that coronavirus

Griffith University principal research leader Michael Good (pictured), an infectious diseases and vaccines expert who co-chaired the summit’s health policy roundtable, has admitted there was more discussion about bird flu that coronavirus

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, had broken out in China only five years earlier in late 2002, killing 774 people during the next year in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada and Singapore.

Like COVID-19, SARS was a virus that had jumped from bats to humans in China. 

Former federal Labor MP Kelvin Thomson, who served as a backbencher under Kevin Rudd, said his former boss was more focused on making Australia an even more open economy at that 2020 Summit a dozen years ago.

‘I don’t think there was much consideration given to risks like pandemics,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. 

Mr Thomson, who now belongs to the Sustainable Australia Party, said COVID-19 highlighted the limits of relying on China for medical equipment imports.

‘It showed the limits of globalisation and the need for us to be more self sufficient,’ he said.

‘The fact we’re dependent on global supply chains for so much in the way of medical supplies really has been a failure of vision.’ 

Professor Good, however, defended the summit in 2008 focusing on bird flu more than coronvirus, arguing few infectious diseases turned into pandemics.

While tropical diseases and bird flu were also high on the agenda in 2008, the threat of a coronavirus wasn't - despite a SARS outbreak in China just five years earlier. Pictured is a woman at Sydney airport wearing a face mask and waiting for passengers to arrive

While tropical diseases and bird flu were also high on the agenda in 2008, the threat of a coronavirus wasn’t – despite a SARS outbreak in China just five years earlier. Pictured is a woman at Sydney airport wearing a face mask and waiting for passengers to arrive

‘Since I have been working in infectious disease research, there has been a new emerging infectious disease about every six to 12 months,’ he said.

‘Few turn into pandemics but some do. Swine Flu, HIV and now COVID-19 are big ones. 

‘As the environment is encroached upon, the chances of organisms jumping from one species to another increases.’

Australian National University Medical School Professor Peter Collignon it could be two years until a coronavirus vaccine was developed, if one was developed at all

Australian National University Medical School Professor Peter Collignon it could be two years until a coronavirus vaccine was developed, if one was developed at all

Australian National University Medical School Professor Peter Collignon said it could be two years until a coronavirus vaccine was developed – if this happened.

‘A vaccine is going to be at least 18 months, two years away if we get a vaccine at all,’ he told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday. 

‘That’s not a given. They couldn’t make one for SARS.

‘There is still a possibility we may never have one because we don’t have a vaccine for HIV, we don’t have a vaccine for Hep C.’

Nonetheless, Professor Collignon said a COVID-19 vaccine was likely.

‘Do I think we’re going to get a vaccine that’s safe and effective? Yes I do,’ he said.

Professor Good agreed a coronavirus vaccine would take a lot longer to develop compared with one for influenza. 

‘If it had been a new flu pandemic then a vaccine might be developed more quickly, but I do think that a vaccine will be required for COVID and I am optimistic that one of the many being tried will be successful,’ he said.  ‘Fingers crossed!’

In later years, the federal government has had pandemic plans based on World Health Organisation warnings about mainly avian influenza

In later years, the federal government has had pandemic plans based on World Health Organisation warnings about mainly avian influenza

In later years, the federal government has had pandemic plans based on World Health Organisation warnings about mainly avian influenza. 

‘The way in which the Commonwealth government and state and territory governments respond to threats of imported infectious disease is influenced by a global policy framework, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO),’ a parliamentary report said.

CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 5,895

New South Wales: 2,686

Victoria: 1,191

Queensland: 934

Western Australia: 460

South Australia: 411

Australian Capital Territory: 96

Tasmania: 89

Northern Territory: 28

TOTAL CASES:  5,895

RECOVERED: 2,315 

DEAD: 45

The WHO has been criticised for not declaring coronavirus a pandemic until March 12, even though China had belatedly declared an illness outbreak in Wuhan on January 7. 

The director-general of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian health minister, had instead used the term ‘public health emergency of international concern’ from January 30 until March 11. 

Adjunct professor Bill Bowtell, from the University of New South Wales Kirby Institute, has previously criticised the Australian government for being slow to provide adequate coronavirus testing.

Last month, he also urged the government to quickly introduce temperature testing at airports, as Taiwan and Singapore had done after enduring the SARS epidemic.

Professor Bowtell was also criticised Australia’s failure to delay closing the borders to non-citizens until March 20.

This delay meant travellers from the United States brought COVID-19 into Australia.  

Daily Mail Australia contacted Kevin Rudd for comment. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk