No, She Won’t Be Alright Mate

OK, I have tried to be a “team player” and not be (seen to be) alarmist but it’s time to start YELLING (well talk sternly, anyhow).

It seems that I am not alone in feeling like this (actually, I have noticed that I am getting a regular reader from Switzerland, and I have noticed an echo of some key words that I have used, so hello if you are reading…)

This is Dr Tedros’, Director General of the WHO, tweet from earlier today:

Whether it is cognitive dissonance – the inability of people to come to terms with possible events that are just too frightening for them to be able to contemplate – or whether it is the dumbing down and distraction of society trying to live beyond its means under a weight of personal debt, or whether it really is an Australian “she’ll be right mate” laid back nature preventing people from waking up to the reality that confronts us, IT NEEDS TO END NOW!

Consider these 2 facts: Most countries’ worst case scenario in the COVID-19 pandemic is 70% of their population becoming infected; and yesterday Dr Tedros tweeted that for COVID-19 the case fatality rate (i.e. the proportion of people diagnosed who die) is 3.4%.

Unfortunately right now not even the experts (e.g. Prof Leung from the WHO collaborating laboratory in Hong Kong) can determine what is the actual mortality rate for COVID-19, but the best guess is that it is worse than bird flu but not as bad as the 1918 Spanish flu which had a mortality rate of 2-2.5%.

A mortality rate of 2.5% might not sound a lot, but if 70% of a population becomes infected then 1.75% of that population will die. That is about one in every 60 people, or over 400,000 contemporary Australians gone.

Case fatality rate estimates can vary significantly through an epidemic – for SARS it was initially estimated at 2% but it became 17%. Mortality rate is even harder to know because in this case many asymptomatic infections will not be detected.

Another issue that would be impolite to discuss, especially in Hong Kong, would be the confidence placed in the mainland China data which at this stage represents a very significant proportion of the dataset. I would suggest the number they are more likely to massage would be the mortality number attributed to COVID-19, which would have the effect of lowering the case fatality estimate and ultimately the mortality rate.

What is known is that we are dealing with a very serious pandemic.

I realise that many readers will immediately fall back on the cognitive dissonance and say that it won’t happen in Australia.

Why? Because you wish it won’t? Because it will be really bad?

Factor this into your thinking, too. As I said in my first comments on the pandemic, in “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises“, we in Australia are in an especially precarious situation heading into a full winter season which favours transmission of respiratory viruses.

It is going to be a very, very difficult winter regardless of what happens hereon in Australia.

But if we go on to have 70% of our population become infected by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, then it is going to be more bleak than Bill Murray’s character found Ground Hog Day in the famous movie when he realised that he could not escape it!

What will be the economic costs of that? And what will be the political ramifications?

So what’s the point of this other than to scare people.

Well let me suggest that we have a choice to make.

We can follow the path of South Korea where they have done the absolute best they could do by their citizens in the way that they have responded to the crisis. If they are lucky to have a respite as the weather warms, then they have a good chance of getting on top of the outbreak. They have tested an absolutely enormous number of people.

I won’t say the other path is Iran because that would never happen in a developed democracy, and we have made a much better start. But the US is not acquitting itself well. It bungled its tests and is starting from well behind the eight ball, even though its health officials are now allowed to test possible cases of community transmission which was precluded right up until the point that the first such patient died.

Morrison’s desire to minimise impacts on the economy is obviously forcing health bureaucrats to not be as frank with Australians if they might have been working with another Prime Minister. Yesterday Morrison cut the Australian Chief Medical Office off from talking about the worst case scenario that they have factored in by saying that they are not going to talk hypotheticals and scenarios.

Morrison gives all of the indications of following the Trump playbook where Trump has repeatedly opted to downplay the threat, initially seeking to trivialise it by comparing the threat to that of a normal flu, and overnight he almost suggested that Dr Tedros was engaging in spreading fake news!

If I am polite I would say these leaders are not being as constructive as they could be. If being less polite I might suggest they should wise up and act in the greater good, or bugger off!

And Mr Morrison, be in no doubt that with a long hard winter approaching you will be the first of the group to face up to that reality lest you find your road to Damascus, quite literally…

I will leave the final words to Prof Leung from his presentation today. When asked why they shut schools when they still do not know whether children are infective to adults he responded:

Because of the precautionary principle: We cannot afford to be wrong.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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