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Academy calls on government to publish Covid-19 policy data

Image: Bidgee [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Transparency must be at the core of the national response, says Australian Academy of Science

The federal government must publish all scientific data and evidence that supports its policy response to the Covid-19 national health emergency, a group of Australia’s top research scientists has said.

The Australian Academy of Science—a peer-elected group of leading researchers—has also called for greater involvement by high-profile scientists in policy decisions.

Molecular biologist John Shine, the academy’s president, said that transparency “must be at the core of government responses” to the pandemic.

“Australia must make full use of leading scientists’ expertise to deepen our understanding of Covid-19 and to sharpen our response,” he said in a formal statement by the academy.

“That is why the Australian government must make public the scientific evidence that is informing its thinking. Importantly, the open publication of data and evidence supporting government decisions will allow all scientific knowledge to be brought to bear to solve this global crisis.”

Shine has suggested that publication of relevant data could be coordinated by the federal Department of Health, health minister Greg Hunt and chief scientist Alan Finkel.

“Adopting such a model will place in the public domain the scientific evidence that is shaping the recommendation of the health and medical professions advising Australian governments. It should include findings and results of published and unpublished data,” he said.

“It is critical that the public has confidence that governments are basing their decisions on the most up-to-date scientific advice and evidence.”

Shine said there was no doubt that public health measures to slow transmission of the virus in Australia would “need to become more robust”.

“It is vital that all Australians listen to, respect and act on the health advice provided by [the federal and state] governments that have received health advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which is comprised of all state and territory chief health officers and chaired by the Australian chief medical officer.”

The scientific effort required to contain the spread of Covid-19 “is necessarily transdisciplinary and draws on areas of translational research, clinical research and basic or discovery science”, he said. It involves immunologists, virologists, geneticists, epidemiologists, mathematicians, biostatisticians, data scientists and a range of other research disciplines.

Shine said that members of the academy were contributing their expertise “to help decision-makers, directly or indirectly, in the national and global interest”.

“Indeed, their lifetime work is today paramount to the efforts to understand Covid-19, to chart its evolution, and to find antiviral treatments and ultimately a vaccine that will restore our wellbeing and way of life.”