I suspected Nick Coatsworth was out of his depth in the modern world when he responded to a question ‘So who are the people to listen to?” asked of him by Peter Stefanovic on Sky News. Coatsworth replied “Well, I think when you hear your leaders speak; I mean, there’s a difference between experts and leaders, Pete. I think that experts, sure, give the view as you see it, that’s fine, within your swim lane, because some experts work in a very narrow sphere, Pete, but they’ve had a sort of creep in terms of what they’re asked to comment on, and they don’t seem to mind swimming outside a swim lane. So, my advice to people is listen to the leaders, primarily”1.
Coatsworth was of course referring to political leaders, such as people like the egregious liar Scott Morrison. Coatsworth seems to be unaware that Scotty from Marketing is well outside his ‘swim lane’ and for him to make sensible decisions he would have to listed to experts. It is clear that Morrison does not listen to experts, whether it be about climate change, vaccine requirements, economics, or just about any field of expertise with which Morrison is unfamiliar.
Coatsworth has form in denying reality. In early May, 2020 only a about three and a half months from the beginning of the pandemic in Australia, Coatsworth was asked, by Laura Jayes, again on Sky News: “Do we have a better handle on how this has been transmitted through our community? Is it that this is airborne? Is it and that it’s hand-to-hand contact? Or is the disease surviving on surfaces? Or is it a combination of all three?” Coatsworth replied: “Covid-19 is definitely not an airborne pathogen. When you have airborne pathogens, like measles for example, the basic reproductive number that we’ve all come to know so well is much higher than what it is for COVID-19 – so, so definitely not an airborne. It’s got- this is a droplet pathogen which means it settles on surfaces. Once it is coughed up or expectorated it tends to- it drops to the ground very quickly. And that’s why hand hygiene and physical distance are our most important measures, and will be our most important measures particularly when we start opening businesses that they enable processes that allow us to keep our distance from each other until we have a vaccine or effective treatment”2.
While this was relatively early in the outbreak, at the time, there was a clear suggestion that the pathogen was airborne. As aerosol scientist Lidia Morawska (Queensland University of Technology) said “In the mind of scientists working on this, there’s absolutely no doubt that the virus spreads in the air. This is a no-brainer”3.
Almost a year later, in mid-February, 2021, Coatsworth appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q and A show. He stated: “There is a live debate about the extent to which Covid-19 is transmitted via the aerosol route, via aerosols of Covid-19 that are inhaled,” This was after epidemiologist Tony Blakely had called for “federal guidance around aerosol [transmission] and its impact in [hotel] quarantine”. Michelle Ananda-Rajah, associate director at the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering, said Coatsworth was “wrong” for suggesting there was debate about aerosol transmission. She added: “There’s no debate”4.
While this could be construed as an argument between scientists, that would ignore the fact that in mid-June, 2020, 8 months before Coatsworth’s infamous blather on Q and A, there was a study published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences which showed that the airborne transmission route is highly virulent and is the dominant mode of spread for Covid-19. The research was also able to discern the most effective mitigation measure was the use of a face mask. It is the single protective measure that has most significantly reduced the number of infections. Other mitigation measures, such as social distancing, were insufficient by themselves in protecting the public5. Coatsworth should have known this if he was up to the task.
Now Coatsworth seems to have outdone himself. In mid-December, applied mathematician, Associate Professor James Wood, from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, released some modelling of the likely increase in Covid-19 cases in the current outbreak. His work predicted that 25,000 cases a day was likely by the end of January. He found that a “four-fold growth in cases per week was very consistent with what we are seeing here as well as international contexts”6. At that time (December 15th) NSW had 1,360 cases per day7.
Coatsworth took issue with the 25,000 number, and challenged claims by clinical immunologist Dr Dan Suan that the state was ‘sleepwalking into an Omicron disaster’, and said: “People who take Dan’s position believe that the peak will be enormous. UNSW modelling says 25,000 a day, I just don’t think that’s accurate”8. At the time of writing (December 31st, 2021), NSW had 21,151 cases7, and since Coatsworth took issue with Suan’s statement (20th December), the number of hospitalisations in NSW has risen from 261 to 8329. Perhaps Coatsworth would make himself look less of a goose if he stayed in his own ‘swim lane’.
It is difficult to know what to make of Coatsworth. He seems to be a bit too keen to follow the government’s line, as he seemed to be defending it in the Q and A show4. When asked what he will do in future, he hinted it may be politics, but not in the next federal election. If he does go into politics, I bet it will be in the Liberal Party. He seems to think his opinions are more important than facts; a common problem among those in the Liberal Party.