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A young woman gasping for breath in a hospital bed will appear on Sydneysiders social media feeds from Sunday in a confronting new federal government advertising campaign designed to tell people to stay home.

The ad, evocative of the 1980s “grim reaper” AIDS campaign in its bluntness, was filmed towards the end of last year but the government decided not to run it because the outbreaks since then were not severe enough to justify it.



That has changed. It will appear on social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube for Sydneysiders as COVID-19 case numbers hit 77 on Sunday and are expected to rise further in coming days as police continue to fine people at gatherings in breach of lockdown rules.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the ad was intended to make three messages very clear: stay at home, get tested and book in for a vaccination. “It is quite graphic and it’s meant to be graphic,” Professor Kelly said on Sunday.

A separate series of ads with the much more positive message of “arm yourself” will also run in Sydney as well as other states and territories to encourage vaccinations.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said viewers should set aside any scepticism about the ads based on their lateness or Australia’s past success in suppressing transmission of the coronavirus.

“This is telling a real story,” Dr Moy said of the more graphic ad. “People need to understand what getting COVID badly means.”

In particular, Dr Moy said, the ad emphasised that young people could get very sick.

Even then, the ad does not show the worst of the coronavirus because the woman is depicted on oxygen, rather than full ventilation, Dr Moy said. Five people in NSW were on ventilators because of COVID-19 on Sunday.

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