Doctors in Australia have demanded an apology from a state health minister who sharply criticised a GP for working while unaware he had coronavirus.
Dr Chris Higgins treated about 70 patients in Melbourne while sick with what he thought was a cold.
On Saturday, Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said she was “flabbergasted that a doctor that has flu-like symptoms presented to work”.
Dr Higgins defended himself, saying he had followed official advice.
“I believe you have taken a cheap opportunity for political grandstanding and would appreciate an apology,” he said in a statement to Ms Mikakos.
Dr Higgins, the father of well-known Australian singer Missy Higgins, said he had returned from a trip to the US on 29 February. It’s believed he contracted the virus overseas.
What was said?
In a press briefing, Ms Mikakos acknowledged that doctors were “dedicated” but added: “It is irresponsible for people to be going to work if they are unwell.”
She didn’t name Dr Higgins, but identified his clinic and other details. She also suggested his conduct could be referred to regulators.
Responding on social media, Dr Higgins identified himself as the “doctor concerned”. He said: “I have been upset about the inaccuracies and unfairness of your comments.
“I hesitated to do a swab because I did not fulfil your criteria for testing but did one anyway on Thursday evening for sake of completeness, not imagining for one moment it would turn out to be positive,” he added.
What’s been the response?
Dr Higgins has received much support from others, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA) – the peak representative body for doctors.
A former AMA president, Dr Kerryn Phelps, said the row had “unleashed a rare mood of fury amongst Australia’s GPs”.
More than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for an apology, while #IStandWithChrisHiggins and #Flabbergaslighting trended online.
Ms Mikakos declined to apologise on Monday, reiterating warnings to health care workers to stay home if they were unwell.
She said she had contacted Dr Higgins directly and wished him well for his recovery.
The saga has highlighted some confusion about Australia’s public health advice about coronavirus. Critics say politicians have sometimes contradicted or overstepped the guidance from health officials.
The number of positive tests for Covid-19 in Australia has escalated in the past fortnight.
More than 80 local cases have been recorded, including three people who have died.