Vet lashes premier

‘Fear over facts’

THE Australian vet aboard the Al Kuwait has slammed authorities for their handling of the Covid-19 outbreak aboard the live sheep carrier.

The Al Kuwait has been stuck in Fremantle port since arriving last Friday when six crew members were diagnosed with the virus; on Thursday the WA Health Department revealed another six cases had been discovered.

Herbert Rebhan joined the Al Kuwait on March 4 as its accredited vet and is currently quarantined in the Novotel Hotel in Perth along with the crew who tested positive.

Dr Rebhan reached out from his quarantine this week to say the McGowan government had pushed fear ahead of facts and unfairly demonised the crew as a danger to the community.

“We have not been allowed off the ship in any port and Fremantle is one of them. We posed no threat to anyone,” Dr Rebhan said.

“The bosun has not been home for 15 months – this is one of the great tragedies of this situation – the Phillippine crew are a year without being home. No one can get off a boat and go home.”

Dr Rebhan called for police commissioner Chris Dawson to stand down over his comments, saying he should have been aware of the quarantine regulations before maligning the crew.

The Herald contacted the commissioner for comment.


Dr Rebhan also called premier Mark McGowan “irresponsible” for his initial comments that the ship had berthed knowing there were Covid-19 cases aboard but didn’t alert authorities. The premier has since backtracked.

“When a few crew members fell ill the captain asked me to evaluate them,” Dr Rebhan said.

They displayed various symptoms and returned to duty after appearing to respond to a course of antibiotics he prescribed.

“Not one crew member had the number one coronavirus symptom of coughing, or the number two symptom of difficulty in breathing,” Dr Rebhan said.

He also criticised the state health department for not automatically testing everyone on board.

“The Department of Health had a great opportunity to experiment on the underlying transmissions rates of the disease, but they are ignoring the ability to gather this information from what is essentially a control group.

“We have 50 people on board the ship who have been in close contact but essentially isolated from the outside world.”

Dr Rebhan believes the number of people infected with the disease worldwide is far greater than being reported because like the ship’s crew, many people are asymptomatic.

He says Australia’s isolationist approach in the hopes of a quick vaccine is naive and the McGowan government should be looking at how to get herd immunity through a controlled release.

“It takes 20 years to bring a safe vaccine to the market. You could perhaps  get that to 10 years through collaboration, but if they brought out a vaccine within two years I’d be telling my family and my friends not to take it because you would have had to have cut so many corners you couldn’t guarantee its safety.”

Dr Rebhan says no one’s even got the ship’s last port correct; it wasn’t the United Arab Emirates as widely reported, but Qatar.

That’s significant, because Qatar is facing a major outbreak of Covid-19 amongst its huge population of immigrant workers and he believes the virus probably slipped aboard the ship on a pallet of food.

“People in the migrant section are likely to be doing the manual labour and are probably the ones that were packing the pallets for the food.”

“It could have been on a banana, or on one of the coffee jars – one of the foods that might not have been washed.”

Dr Rebhan said it was highly unlikely the infection was picked up during the unloading of sheep, as both the Al Kuwait crew and dockside workers were in full protective clothing and there was little interaction.

“When we unload the crew go to the end of the count, then a representative from the wharf also does a count.”

He says his treatment while under quarantine has also been questionable, as he called an emergency number he’d been provided in case he started feeling ill, but no one answered. Earlier in the morning a nurse had called to check on his condition, but when she advised that some of his questions were “beyond her pay scale” he was told a doctor would call him back.

He was still waiting when the Herald spoke to him that afternoon.

A health department spokesperson said its public health team was working hard around the clock to assist more than 200 people who are currently quarantining in Perth hotels.

“While we do our best to respond promptly to all enquiries, they are triaged based on need.

“Guests who are required to quarantine are provided with a comprehensive information booklet when they first arrive at their hotel, which lists a number for them to contact in the event they have routine medical questions. This is not an emergency number. As indicated in their booklet, guests who require assistance in the event of an emergency are urged to call 000.”

The spokesperson said all crew members would be tested for coronavirus.

Dr Rebhan’s letter

I was the Australian Accredited V eterinarian on the livestock vessel the Al Kuwait and I am now in quarantine with many of my crew members. I’ve been at sea since March fourth and have not been allowed off he ship due in any port to the worldwide Corona Virus lockdown. 

I am astonished with the fear surrounding this virus and it is time the people of Australia were given the facts as opposed to the fear the WA government and governments around the world are spoon feeding their citizens.

It was irresponsible for your premier, Mark McGowan, to state we berthed in Fremantle knowing we had cases of Coronavirus on board. Up until about two weeks ago all crew members have had no illness. When a few crew members fell ill the Captain asked me to evaluate them.

Sore throat

All of the crew members complained of different symptoms. One had a sore throat. Another had a sore throat and sinus pain. A third had joint pain but no sore throat or sinus pain. A fourth complained of fatigue and muscle aches. Not one crew member had the number one Coronavirus symptom of coughing or the number two symptom of difficulty in breathing.

To be safe, they were placed on antibiotics. All reported improvement in 24 hours and returned to work after finishing their course of antibiotics. Antibiotics fight bacterial infections; they have no effect on viral infections. 

With this information, all medical doctors would agree with my conclusion that due to the varying presenting symptoms, the rapid response to antibiotic treatment and the lack of the two most common quarantine in a hotel.

Coronavirus symptoms, it was likely not the cause of the illness. The likely cause was because the men were working long hours, became run down, and opportunistic infections were at work.

I was surprised that they tested positive for Coronavirus. When I heard there were asymptomatic carriers of the virus I knew the disease was much more widespread than what was reported – and less pathogenic and deadly. If 100 sick people are tested and found positive for Coronavirus and three die, it is wrong to assume the fatality rate is 3 per cent, which is exactly the figure used to promote fear. 

The right thing to do is to test a random sample in the population to see how widespread the infection is. Test people who have not been ill. If you find 1,000 have been exposed the fatality rate is now 3 in 1,000 or 0.3 per cent. Quite a difference.

Control just updated their fatality rate for Covid-19 to 0.26 per cent. The normal flu season fatality rate is 0.1 per cent. The fatality rate during the 1968-1969 Hong Kong flu outbreak, a bad flu, was 0.2 per cent. Overall, Coronavirus is slightly worse than a bad flu.

The great news is the CDC estimated that for healthy people under 50 with Coronavirus and showing symptoms, the fatality rate is 1 in 5,000. Considering half of the people in this age group would not show any symptoms, that figure drops to 1 in 10,0000. Healthy people under 50 years of age are more likely to die in a car accident; for children under the age of 14, they are more likely to be hit by lightning.

Anyone who objectively looks at the data will conclude this virus is not as deadly as the government and media are making it out to be.

It is also been falsely reported that those of us in quarantine have been tested for Coronavirus. That is not true. There were 50 crew on the ship. One would think it would not have been difficult to test us all at once. Why did the WA Health Department only test those that were ill? Are they afraid that the rest of us, those that have not been ill, would have tested positive, indicating this disease is not as pathogenic and deadly as they are proclaiming?

It is high time the people of WA get the truth concerning Corona Virus. The truth is that the elderly and those with additional health concerns are at risk. The rest of the population has nothing to fear. Therefore, the logical thing to do is devote resources to protecting the vulnerable and allow the rest of the population to get on with their lives.

Quarantine is when you isolate the sick and those that are at risk. Tyranny is when you isolate the healthy. 

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