Dr Nick Coatsworth, who helped lead Australia’s response to Covid, says draconian pandemic restrictions have lasted too long and states should be stripped of their disease control powers.
The former deputy chief medical officer claimed “groupthink” and burnout led to poor responses to Covid in a 10-page submission to the special commission of inquiry into the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Dr Coatsworth made a stunning admission that imposing vaccine mandates was wrong after the Queensland Supreme Court ruled forcing police and paramedics to get vaccinated or lose their jobs was “unlawful”.
In his research presentation, Dr Coatsworth said mandates should only be a “last resort”, “time-limited” and imposed by governments, not employers.
Dr Nick Coatsworth, who was deputy chief medical officer during the Covid pandemic, admitted Australia made mistakes in its handling of the virus.
Although Dr Coatsworth said Australia had assembled a top team of medical experts to advise on handling the pandemic, they lacked an eethical framework, meaning that the focus became too narrow.
“This allowed for the creation of a ‘disease control at all costs’ policy that, while appropriate for the first wave, was not well suited to the vaccine era,” he said.
Dr Coatsworth argued that the restriction and testing policies adopted to limit the deadliest first strain of Covid in 2020 persisted far beyond their relative benefit, leading to national workforce and testing shortages.
He also thought that different approaches among the states and between them and the federal government confused the public and eroded human rights.
“I strongly recommend that the inquiry recommend amendment of the Biosecurity Act to ensure that all disease control powers rest with the federal government during a national biosecurity emergency,” Dr Coatsworth wrote.
This means the federal government would be in control of state border closures during a pandemic.
Outside of “biosecurity emergencies,” states would retain their disease control powers.
Dr Coatsworth has previously taken aim at the Victorian government, under then Labor Prime Minister Dan Andrews, for its harsh reactions to Covid while suppressing criticism of Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the pandemic.
“Scott Morrison did not fine children for disease control offences, and Scott Morrison did not close two towers full of Australian refugees and immigrants,” Dr Coatsworth said.
“There were very real democratic rights that were hindered during this pandemic.”
Dr Coatsworth was referring to the July 2020 closure of Melbourne’s public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne, which ultimately led to the Victorian government offering a $5 million settlement to those affected.
After Covid research was announced in September 2023, Dr Coatsworth took aim at Mr Andrews, who “thinks Covid research should focus on vaccines, national medical stockpiles and PPE”.
‘It’s a word he would prefer never to enter the historical record of our (and his) response to the pandemic. But that’s how it will be,” he stated.
‘None of them are related to the central question. Proportionality,” added Dr. Coatsworth.
‘It’s a word he would prefer never to enter the historical record of our (and his) response to the pandemic. But will be.’
Dr Coatsworth has previously said that under public health principle, authorities should implement the least restrictive interventions to achieve control of the disease.
Despite being one of the faces of the vaccine rollout, which included mandates in many workplaces, Dr Coatsworth told Nine’s Today program on Wednesday the Queensland Supreme Court’s ruling that it was illegal was justified.
Dr Coatsworth believes states should be stripped of disease control powers during an emergency (pictured former Victorian premier Dan Andrews, whose state imposed particularly tough Covid restrictions)
“We’re not wrong about promoting vaccines, but I do think we’re wrong about mandates,” he said.
‘And I think you can say that hindsight is 20/20. But hindsight gives us foresight. And if we have another pandemic, we should think carefully about whether vaccine mandates are justified.”
Despite promising a Royal Commission into Australia’s Covid response during the 2022 federal election, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a much weaker response last year.special investigation commission.
Their terms of reference will include vaccines, treatments and mental health support, but will not investigate controversial features of the pandemic, including lockdowns and mask mandates.
Dr Coatsworth was appointed one of three new deputy chief medical officers under Brendan Murphy at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
He now works as a doctor in Canberra and is employed by Nine TV channels and newspapers as a presenter and health expert.