Coronavirus: Backbencher's COVID misinformation continues to overshadow government's vaccine progress

Government MP Craig Kelly said making children wear masks was akin to abuse. Picture: Getty
Government MP Craig Kelly said making children wear masks was akin to abuse. Picture: Getty

Health Minister Greg Hunt has shrugged off claims by government backbencher Craig Kelly that children wearing masks to protect against coronavirus is "child abuse," comparing his claims about unproven treatments for the virus to medical commentators who warned against worst-case scenarios for the virus.

Overshadowing the government's announcement that next week general practice clinics will be able to register as sites for administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, Mr Hunt was grilled on the statements of Mr Kelly.

"There'll be very different views. We listen to our medical advisors. That's what sets Australia apart," Mr Hunt said.

"I know there are differing views, there are some widely-quoted commentators who have predicted 400,000 lives lost and that was clearly incorrect. And yet they're still widely quoted by the press."

Mr Kelly, who represents the NSW electorate of Hughes, has for months used his Facebook page to post theories about drugs he claims will treat coronavirus, questioning the decisions of Australia's chief medical officers, and most recently, calling the wearing of face masks by children "child abuse".

Mr Hunt did not take the opportunity to denounce Mr Kelly's claims, only saying people should listen to experts.

"I would urge everyone to listen carefully to the advice of the Australian medical regulators and Australian government medical advisors," he said.

Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen labelled Mr Kelly a menace, and said Prime Minister Scott Morrison and acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack had failed to bring him into line.

"They've hidden behind weasel words about freedom of speech. Well, the chief medical officer and the TGA deserve more support and respect than that from their government. They deserve more."

Mr Bowen said Mr Kelly was undermining confidence in Australian decision-making regarding coronavirus treatment and vaccines.

"When he accuses our chief health officers in the states and the chief medical officer of 'crimes against humanity', that is an unspeakable insult. That is an unspeakable insult. A crime against humanity is the most serious crime that you can be accused of, and this member of the government, this member of the government is doing that to our chief medical and health officers."

Separately on Tuesday the Australian Medical Association called for the government to invest in online advertising to counter medical misinformation on the internet.

"The internet has the potential to significantly magnify health misinformation campaigns, as people can easily absorb misinformation delivered directly to them through advertising, celebrity influencers, and people in positions of power," said the association's president Dr Omar Khorshid.

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"We have seen this with the anti-vaccination movement, and the countless conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic that circulate constantly on the internet."

Dr Korshid said the government had done a good job in cracking down on fraudulent claims around clothing or products that claimed to protect against the virus, but more needed to be done.

"We need an Australian government-funded campaign to counter this misinformation and promote healthy choices, including information about vaccine safety and the health risks associated with alcohol, junk food, tobacco, and other drugs."

This story MP's COVID misinformation overshadowing govt's vaccine progress first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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