Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton apologises to Afghan community

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has apologised to members of the state's Afghan community after his comments at a recent coronavirus briefing left them feeling singled out.

In his apology, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he had "inadvertently called out Afghanistan" and it was inappropriate.

In his apology, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he had "inadvertently called out Afghanistan" and it was inappropriate. Source: AAP

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has apologised to the state's Afghan community after he "inadvertently called out Afghanistan" while discussing coronavirus cases in south-east Melbourne.

Professor Sutton opened his coronavirus briefing on Saturday by saying sorry to the community, after his comments earlier this week drew criticism from the Afghan Australian Community of Victoria.

The AACV expressed concern that recent media reporting and the chief health officer's comments would lead to the "scapegoating of an entire community".


Professor Sutton had been addressing COVID-19 cases in the Casey local government area on Monday when he said he had offered to personally speak to the community "having been to Afghanistan a couple of times over the years".

"I want to be able to reflect on my cultural experiences and the fact I know that there are universal motivations that every family has to do the right thing to protect their own families and the wider community," Professor Sutton said.

In his apology on Saturday, the chief health officer said he had "inadvertently called out Afghanistan" and it was inappropriate.

Professor Sutton said he had volunteered in the country a couple of times, and loved and respected its people.

"I know that members of the Afghan community might have felt singled out by statements I made recently," he told reporters.

"That was absolutely not my intention. So, sorry."

The chief health officer said he had been reflecting on his experience of working with diverse communities internationally, and "the fact that there really is a universal human experience".

"We all want to look after our families, we all want to protect the broader community," he said. "I think that's the case across Melbourne."

The AACV previously said his comments had caused concern and disappointment.

“We confirm that government and health authorities have not confirmed the ethnicity of the source of the recent spark nor do they collect such empirical data,” spokeswoman Zahida Popal said.

“Therefore, any connection to the Afghan community is grossly unfair." 

Ms Popal called on health authorities to be more cautious in their language while reporting on the pandemic “so that the media does not, in turn, manipulate and sensationalise their statements to pedal their own rhetoric”. 

Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 9pm and 5am.

During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.

Between 5am and 9pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative.

The full list of restrictions can be found . All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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3 min read
Published 19 September 2020 at 2:56pm
By Jodie Stephens
Source: SBS