SBS Insight aired a special episode six years ago where they talked to a panel of virology experts about what would happen in a hypothetical pandemic in Australia.

A clip is now recirculating on the internet after the SBS team noticed the uncanny similarities to today's Covid-19 pandemic — from it being a respiratory virus, to pinpointing China as the place where the virus would originate, and even the 1.5m social distancing rule.

However, the one thing they got wrong was the response of the Australian public.

In their scenario, forced self-isolation with threats of fines and imprisonment was the last-ditch scenario if no one listened — and they didn't expect it to get that point.


The episode, called Pandemic, aired on September 24, 2014.

"In a special episode, Insight explores just how Australia would cope in a hypothetical influenza pandemic situation. Are we ready?" the description reads.

Professor Anne Kelso, from the World Health Organisation, was right on the money when she said it would be a respiratory illness that originated from animals somewhere in Asia.

"If we're talking about a new avian influenza then the most likely thing is it'll come from somewhere in Asia," she told viewers.

"There are very high densities of bird populations living closely to humans, mixing with other animals which can also be infected with flu viruses like pigs.

"This can then spread like wildfire because it's a respiratory virus."

Kelso even named China specifically as being a likely place where a deadly virus would originate from.

"And so the most likely scenario is that that virus would emerge first in one of the large populations, like China," she said.


Dr Jeremy Mcanulty, who was the acting chief health officer in NSW at the time, almost predicted the 1.5m social distancing rule.

"Flu is largely spread by droplets, so either direct contact with somebody who's got virus on their hands and then you put it in your face," he said.

"Or somebody coughing, usually within a metre or so of you."

Professor Anne Kelso said it was highly likely the virus would originate from Asia. Photo / SBS
Professor Anne Kelso said it was highly likely the virus would originate from Asia. Photo / SBS

Forced quarantine 'a very last step'

The episode's host, Jenny Brockie, made a sad prediction about human nature that this year has proven to be true.

"Can you force someone to stay quarantined?" she asked the experts.

Dr Rosemary Lester thought that wouldn't be necessary.


"We can force them to stay quarantined," she said — as we all now know.

"Each state and territory has public health laws which can require that people take certain actions including being isolated.

"But that's a very last step and almost always people would co-operate with a request for isolation."

Kelso also assured viewers the WHO would be very quick in identifying a virus.

"We will hear very quickly through that [global] network that a new virus has been found. We'll very quickly get our hands on that virus in order to be able to work with it."

Sadly, that prediction didn't prove as accurate as we would have hoped.