A top Australian public health officer has become the latest in a string of health officials around the world to face death threats over their responses to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Jeannette Young, the chief health officer in the Australian state of Queensland, said the threats have taken an “enormous toll” on her, the Australian newspaper reported Monday. A police detail has been stationed outside her house.
She faced a backlash after Queensland decided to close its borders with neighboring states to curb the spread of the virus, making it impossible for several Australian citizens to attend relatives’ funerals.
Among critics of the move was Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said the country risks “losing its humanity.”
The threats against Young followed similar cases in other countries, as public frustration over life under the pandemic mounts.
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In Germany, Karl Lauterbach, a health expert for the Social Democratic Party, is part of the country’s governing coalition, said he received several death threats in spring, after Germany imposed a shutdown on many businesses and closed schools.
Lauterbach argued in favor of strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Another key figure in Germany’s response to the pandemic, scientist Christian Drosten, reported receiving similar threats. Critics of the government’s decision to close schools had blamed Drosten for the move, which was inline with similar shutdowns that affected more than a billion around the world, according to a U.N. count.
In Sweden, Anders Tegnell, the architect of the country’s relatively relaxed coronavirus enforcement approach, which drew criticism from many epidemiologists and health experts, reported to police that he and his family had received death threats by phone, email and on social media.
The United States’ top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, told CNN last month that he had received death threats and that his family was exposed to harassment.
Amid threats and political pushback, public health officials are leaving their posts
Threats against health officials in the United States have pushed some to leave their posts.
“They’re becoming villainized for their guidance,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, the chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told Kaiser Health News over the summer. “In normal times, they’re very trusted members of their community,”
Health care workers around the world have also faced threats, and even assaults, since the coronavirus began to spread earlier this year. In April, some Australian officials warned nurses not to wear scrubs outside of work to avoid abuse. Australia has also seen a rise in the popularity of coronavirus-linked conspiracy theories and anti-lockdown protests, triggering or fueling online hate speech.
“We can’t see a clear end to this. So, we’re going to all have to work this through together and work out how we can manage this as well as go forward,” Young said Monday, countering the threats she has faced, according to the Guardian newspaper.