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Backlash over ‘graphic’ COVID-19 ad after first death in Sydney’s latest outbreak

A “graphic” COVID-19 advertisement is airing on Sydney television screens to highlight the seriousness of the disease.

In the short federal government-funded TV ad, a young woman on a ventilator struggles to breathe in a hospital bed as her heart monitor beeps.

She slowly makes eye contact with the camera and gasps for air as a message reads: “COVID-19 can affect anyone. Stay home. Get tested. Book your vaccination.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the Australian government had specifically commissioned the ad because of the intensifying outbreak in NSW.

“We are only doing this because of the situation in Sydney and it will be running in Sydney,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“It is quite graphic and it is meant to be graphic – it is meant to really push that message home.”

Ad only to run in Sydney

A 90-year-old southwest Sydney woman became the first death of the outbreak on Saturday, just hours after being diagnosed with COVID.

Of the 52 NSW COVID-19 patients in hospital, 15 are in intensive care and seven of them are under the age of 55.

“The Delta variant is much more infectious and is impacting younger cohorts more than previous variants,” a federal government spokesman said.

“The clip encourages people in NSW to book their vaccination, but also to highlight the need to stay home and get tested.”

Vaccine task force leader Lieutenant General John Frewen said it would only run in Sydney, while the “Arm Yourself” campaign would be aired nationwide.

UNSW Adjunct Professor Bill Bowtell said the ad should be pulled off air.

“This ad should be immediately taken off air,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “Today in Sydney a young girl with Covid – about the same age as the actor in the ad – is on a ventilator fighting for her life. This insensitive ad can only distress her family and friends. It is misconceived in every way.”

Health workers who work with patients in ICU said the images shown are inaccurate and misleading. 

ICU specialist Tom Solano said it is important people have a good understanding of how COVID-19 patients would be treated in ICU.

“We’d never deliberately let you suffer like that,” he said in a post on Twitter. “We’d try to get increased support before it got that bad.”

“As a Palliative care specialist, now retired, I find this Ad appalling,” Twitter user Mags wrote. “No intensive care specialist, medic or health worker would allow that level of suffering!”

She added that the age of the young woman suggested targeting towards under 40-year-olds who are not eligible to receive the vaccine at this stage. 

“Add to that the high probability that the person of that age prob couldn’t get vaccinated due to NO SUPPLY!”

Arm Yourself campaign will be adapted in coming months 

The less-confronting “Arm Yourself” ad shows a series of bare arms with band-aids stuck on to signify they have had the jab.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it missed the mark.

“We were the best in the world in the campaign against AIDS, we’ve done drink-driving very well,” he told ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

“But after 18 months if this is the best they can do, they need to go back to the drawing board.”

Lt Gen Frewen said the Arm Yourself campaign will be adapted and tailored in the coming months as more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines arrive from overseas.

“It is really October, November and December where we had the vast amounts of vaccine coming through,” he said.

“So we do wish to build up through the year.”

By then, he said Australians can expect something more akin to the celebrity and song and dance-driven vaccination advertising campaigns rolled out in New Zealand and Singapore.

Additional reporting: AAP

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