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Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has been forced to apologise live on air after saying people “aren’t dying” from Covid-19, despite record breaking death statistics.
For much of the pandemic, Australia has been the envy of the rest of the world for how it kept Covid-19 at bay and fatalities low.
But, while NSW and Victoria are likely over the peak of their Omicron wave, both the United States and Europe have issued a stark warning to residents urging them not to travel to Australia.
When asked whether Australia could still say it was the “envy of the world” when by the European Council and the US Centre for Disease Control have both labelled the country as “danger zones”, Mr Joyce said Australia could still take pride in the way it had handled the pandemic.
“People aren’t dying,” Mr Joyce told RN Breakfast.
He was immediately picked up on the point by host Patricia Karvelas who said “people are dying. People are dying every day”.
Mr Joyce immediately sought to cover his tracks and apologised.
“Sorry, sorry sorry. Yes, you are correct, I shouldn’t have said that,” he said.
“But the number in which – the fatality rate is very low.
“Obviously that is a tragic thing for anybody … (to die) for any reason – for catching the flu. But the fatality rate of Omicron is remarkably low and Australia has done a remarkable job.”
Since January 1, 891 people have died with Covid-19.
Mr Joyce said for “most people” who were diagnosed with Covid-19 and double-vaccinated, they would get a “mild illness” like he had.
“For me, it was a couple days of something pretty mild. And I was pretty lucky. (I know) it’s not for everyone,” he said.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said people were in fact dying “in record numbers”.
Mr Joyce also came under fire for his comments about rapid antigen tests, suggesting Australians were hoarding the kits – prolonging the shortage as the concession scheme begins.
From Monday, 6.6 million Australians with a concession card are eligible for free rapid antigen tests from their chemist. These are capped at ten tests over three months, with a maximum of five in a month.
But, pharmacies are pleading with people to be patient with not enough testing kits available for circulation.
Mr Joyce said part of the problem was people buying more tests than they needed.
“People have been buying not what they require, but more than they need,” he told RN.
“We have 16 million tests turning up by the end of the months … We have 70 million on order.
“It is not as if the tests aren’t there. The problems that Australia is experiencing is being experienced around the world.”
Mr Albanese clapped back during his own interview, saying it was “extraordinary” for Mr Joyce to blame Australians for the unavailability of the tests.
“We all knew that once we opened up the increased number of infections, elimination tests would be an important part of the response to keep people safe, and the government simply didn’t do anything about it,” Mr Albanese said.
- By Ellen Ransley, news.com.au