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Former crisis manager who led team through SARS says world should shut down for two weeks

Photographer: Alan Edgecomb is a commercial photographer based in Brisbane who previously lead the crisis management team for General Electric Healthcare’s south-east asian region during the outbreak of respiratory virus SARS in the early 2000s.

A PHOTOGRAPHER who once led an multinational medical technologies distributor through the SARS outbreak said world leaders should co-ordinate a synchronous global shutdown for two weeks to contain the international spread of coronavirus.

Alan Edgecomb is a commercial photographer based in Brisbane who previously lead the crisis management team for General Electric Healthcare’s South-East Asian region during the outbreak of respiratory virus SARS in the early 2000s.

The disease originated in China and was caused by coronaviruses, a large family of viruses that also caused COVID-19, the newest strain of coronavirus sending parts of the world into a frenzy.

Mr Edgecomb said in his role at GE Healthcare his team introduced drastic measures within the company’s south-east asian offices, which included an office in Australia.

Anybody entering the offices had their temperature taken and the company installed thermal imaging cameras with the power to detect SARS.

The word SARS was even banned in company emails, though Mr Edgecomb was one of the rare few employees allowed to use the term.

But Mr Edgecomb said COVID-19 was “far worse” than SARS because infected people were not showing symptoms of having the virus, so early detection measures like those used by GE Healthcare would be useless.

“The thing that worried me when I first heard about (coronavirus) is whether or not you are infectious before you know about it,” Mr Edgecomb said.

“So you don’t know you’ve got it and could infect somebody else.”

Mr Edgecomb believes closing international boarders would be an effective strategy to monitor the international spread of COVID-19.

“I think everybody around the world should be saying ‘do a shutdown for 2 weeks all at the same time’,” Mr Edgecomb said.

“Stop people flowing in and out who don’t know they have it.

“To me, closing down the borders certainly is a natural step.”

Careful approach: “I think everybody around the world should be saying ‘do a shutdown for 2 weeks all at the same time’,” Mr Edgecomb said.

Mr Edgecomb’s comments came as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced at a press conference on March 18 an historic and indefinite level-4 travel ban for the entire world, advising Australians wishing to travel overseas not to travel at all.

During the one-hour press conference, chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy also ruled out a national lockdown, saying a short-term shutdown of two to four weeks “does not achieve anything” in the long-haul.

But based on his experience in helping prevent a widespread outbreak of SARS in oceania, Mr Edgecomb said if the Australian government believed COVID-19 was as serious as they claimed “then a lockdown would be the obvious situation”.

He suggested the Australian government organise a two-week shutdown during the school holidays, which would allow parents to remain home with their children, and slow down the spread of coronavirus.

“And for those two weeks of school holidays say nothing, except medical facilities and grocery stores, is open, then monitor – what are people doing, what’s our rate, is is regional?” Mr Edgecomb said.

These measures, Mr Edgecomb said, wouldn’t be without a struggle for small businesses like his own, a commercial photography company based in Parkinson, on Brisbane’s south.

During the coronavirus outbreak, he’s photographed the funeral of former Archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby, and last week had been scheduled to photograph a baptism and a wedding.

He is also booked to take school photos soon, a shoot organised one month ago.

Photography: During the coronavirus outbreak, Alan Edgecomb has photographed the funeral of former Archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby, and last week had been scheduled to photograph a baptism and a wedding.

“I’ve had nothing since,” Mr Edgecomb said.

He said his backup plan was to write travel features for The Catholic Leader based on his photographs in Italy.

The entire situation was reminiscent of the 2008 global financial crisis.

“The GFC for photographers was probably a worse thing and many photographers retired early or left the industry,” Mr Edgecomb said.

“The same thing can happen here, people may do the same thing (because of coronavirus).

“It’s going to have serious ramifications.

“But it’s like that famous line – the only certainty in life is death and taxes.”

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