The world is at war. Not within humanity but against a common foe – a disease, and more specifically the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.
That makes it difficult for families to decide what is best for them, especially with regards to important decisions around schooling for children.
On these pages I have been scathing of the Australian Government’s response, and I have included some choice comments for the American administration under President Trump.
The latter in particular has been quick to point blame to China, the first victims of this lethal virus new to mankind, and in recent days he has returned to this strategy by referring to it as the “China virus”.
The major Anglophone countries of the USA, UK and Australia all appear to have been slow to respond to the emerging pandemic, even though it was clear early on just what a threat this virus represented, and as I showed in my first report on 3 February 2020 “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises” the virus had characteristics which ensured that it had already escaped the biosecurity efforts to contain it to Wuhan and China.
The reason for the slow response by these Anglophone countries is clear – not only did they observe the impacts of this virus on the Chinese people, they noted the obvious economic impacts that would ensue from the biosecurity measures that were necessarily employed to contain and/or slow its spread. In an Anglophone world where “greed is good”, and human beings are always considered foremost as “consumers”, that threat clearly predominated the thinking of the national “followers” (I can no longer even call them leaders with lowercase l’s – these people are anti-leaders – followers).
Stepping outside of the Anglosphere propaganda, and listening to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and others, there is a valid narrative emerging that the Chinese people – under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party – made enormous economic and social sacrifices to slow the spread of COVID-19 out of its borders to buy the entire world time to get prepared for the onslaught.
Over the last fortnight the WHO has continued to express dismay at the response by some nations and has implored nations to “not hoist the white flag” and to “pull out all stops” in their fight to contain the virus, and in the last few days has added to those messages by saying nations must “test, test, test” for the virus. This is an area that all of those aforementioned Anglophone countries have fallen short, especially the USA, but none has even come close to achieving what South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong has managed in this vital task to track the prevalence and incidence of the virus in populations.
Instead in the UK, and a lesser degree Australia, there has been the emergence of a concept of “herd immunity” which involves minimal responses to protect the wider public, while enacting biosecurity to protect the most vulnerable, so that a proportion of the population becomes infected and then presumably develops immunity so that there will be no recurrent waves of infection. In my previous post “COVID-19 Elephants in the Room” I discussed some issues which throw serious concerns over such a strategy, and many epidemiologists and physicians have stood up to argue against the wisdom of such a strategy. And my comments about the elephants in the room are being reinforced.
My view is that this is usual political self-interest. These national followers baulked at rapid implementation of the necessary biosecurity measures out of fear of the economic impacts, and now fearing a backlash against them as the societal consequence become clear in other jurisdictions, they have gone in search of and latched onto this narrative to justify their (in-)actions.
I do not think that anybody could accuse me of favouring the politics of any particular country – I would not visit China again because I imagine that the CCP would be displeased by at least some of what I have written – and I recognise that I am fortunate to reside in a country where I am free to point out the failings of my own and other political followers with virtual impunity.
Moreover, I am under no illusion that any of this is happening in a vacuum somehow separate from the cold war with China that has been ongoing but has only recently come into our collective consciousness – and that relates equally to actions by Chinese politicians as well as Anglophone politicians.
This is how, I believe, we landed at a point where the Australian political editor of the left wing paper “The Guardian” wrote a piece yesterday largely giving Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison a big free kick over his past failings on the response to COVID-19 and almost suggesting that we need to wipe the slate blank in this crisis and get behind him. (And yes, I remain a little skeptical on why they did not publish any of my early material on COVID-19.)
I, for one, can not because, besides an obvious change in tone, following a similar move by Donald Trump at the weekend, and indications that he is thinking a great deal more about providing political coverage for his actions, I see little change in Mr Morrison’s actual performance and outcomes.
That view was all the more reinforced in watching the debate at the National Press Club Wednesday where Dr Kamalini Lokuge clearly had the better of her (much more bureaucratic-focused – political insiders) opponents Jodie McVernon and Vanessa Johnston.
This suggests to me no change in focus from the top – just more political spin. And I have to say what really annoys me when some intelligent people debate it just becomes about winning, not necessarily nutting out ideas that can be of value to society. Dr Lokuge debated with great compassion, humility and intelligence – my impression was that her two opponents lacked the former two qualities.
So while I remain open-minded to Morrison finding his road to Damascus, I see no genuine evidence of it as yet. And for that reason I am entirely satisfied in myself on how I am handling this crisis for myself and my family. That is what I will discuss next especially within the context of decisions over school closures.
As I discuss the strategies that I have chosen for my family there are a few things that are specific and which inform my decision-making. All families are unique and these factors need to be carefully weighed.
Firstly, we were not young parents so I am now 50 with a child each in primary school and high school.
Secondly, with family histories of asthma several of us are especially prone to developing severe asthma, requiring courses of the strong corticosteroid Prednisone, whenever we contract a upper respiratory tract viral infection.
This places our family in a higher risk category, and me especially so.
As is clear from my writing on MacroEdgo I was very early to realise the threat that this virus poses to global humanity. The WHO recommends that people in high risk categories undertake social distancing strategies, and they list high risk categories as people of 60 years or older, OR people with underlying health conditions including hypertension, diabetes and/or respiratory conditions (including asthma).
In my Coronavirus update of 11 February (note carefully that date and that of the next quote) I said the following:
Presently every developed country will be asking themselves these questions:
– what is our capacity to test everybody displaying flu-like symptoms and at what point do we start and at what point do we stop (and devote resources elsewhere)
– at what point will we stop large public gatherings (sports events, conferences, concerts)
– at what point will we close schools
– at what point will we stop public transport and encourage employers to ask employees to work from home
– how will we ensure that we can continue vital services such as health, water, electricity
– at what point do we close the borders completely to all non-citizens or residents
The sooner these measures are enacted the greater the chance of limiting the human impact on Australians, and, in fact, playing a role in preventing the spread throughout broader human populations. However, the politics of these actions are significant and even the WHO can not avoid them in that they did not recommend the closing of borders with China even though they knew that not doing so would lead to increased dispersion of the virus.
On the other hand, the sooner these measures are enacted the greater the impact on the Australian economy and especially some specific businesses. And economic impacts certainly do have society and human impacts.
And in my update of 18 March I said:
I am privileged to have close contact into one very small Italian community by virtue of the fact that I own a holiday home there – hence my upcoming post – so I am able to gain a view on the challenges that they face in confinement. And remember this is an impoverished area that has done it tough for a long time. But even so, when we are asked whether we in Australia are yet in lock down, and respond that we are not, they find it difficult to believe given the examples that are abundantly clear on what has happened in China and now in Italy and broadening in Europe.
Last week I decided I was placing my family at a level of risk that I was uncomfortable with by following the Australian Government directive to continue to send our children to school, without qualification other than if required to self-isolate according to the Public Health Act 2020, rather than following the WHO recommendation of higher risk people (thus families) initiating self-isolation strategies.
As I stated in my paper “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises” that first weekend in February we shopped early and we bought a little more than usual. We have continued doing that since – we shop much less often, and when we do we go early before many people are present and when surfaces are less likely to contain viable virus than later in the day, and we have continued to buy a little more than usual so as to build up a bit of stockpile of necessities gradually so as not to impact others who have only recently been alerted to the need to do so.
Again, this is something that I warned about, especially in comments at The Conversation in early February, because it was always clear that this was going to be a major problem and the longer that the Government downplayed the issue the sharper was going to be the realisation to people that unprecedented actions would be required by the Government and by households.
Equally important to discuss is how to talk to somebody who does not understand the deep implications of what has and will occur. The WHO is being more frank about the situation than all Governments. Our world has changed – I have spoken up about the consequences of that (see “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises”) – but keeping people in the dark while praying for a (political?) miracle will only increase anxiety not decrease it. Politicians have cynically divided people for too long and the consequences of that are already on display with the numerous reports of increased xenophobia since the outbreak. Information on the outbreak (and my background) at macroedgo.com
So last Thursday I informed my sons that Friday would be their last day at school for a while. Even though they were aware that this might happen, they were still shocked to learn that we had arrived at that point. And it is fair to say that they experienced a few days of grief that their lives as they knew it had changed.
Obviously I made this decision, and begun to enact it, before PM Morrison’s new communication strategy was implemented which included an all out assault on those arguing for a lockdown of Australia where school closures have become the key area of debate. Instead this grouping of political followers, including state premiers, have argued that social distancing can be achieved within otherwise normal school environments, which was immediately dismissed as unworkable by those who would have to implement.
I will not wipe the slate blank so quickly and acquiescently as the Guardian’s Australian political editor, and I can confirm that my family remains of the view that the Prime Minister is accountable to families personally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by the loss of a loved one as I detailed in my open letter.
I will say this, however. In Queensland we are two weeks away from the end of term school holidays. If we are following the trajectory that Italy followed, which I fear we are, then we are at a time where there is significant community transmission going on which will be expressed by a rapid acceleration in the number of unwell people presenting at hospitals and other health care facilities in two to three weeks. This is why Dr Lokuge was so stridently arguing for increased testing as the WHO has implored of nations.
I cannot see any real reason why schools could not be shut 2 weeks earlier than otherwise to see how things develop over the period until when school would normally be commencing term 2. If there is no acceleration in the number of cases and seriously ill people, then what is lost – really? But if there is a serious deterioration in the situation then we can all be thankful that the decision was made earlier than it would otherwise have been made.
And if the potential length of confinement is really an issue, with mention of it potentially lasting 6 months, is an extra 2 weeks really significant, especially when we are observing through the media what were the consequences elsewhere in jurisdictions that enforced lockdowns later in their own pandemic curve?
My view is that this is all a very clear indication that the political followers absolutely will die in a ditch over this. But if you look back through all of my writing of the last 6 weeks, you will notice that I have called all that has happened well in advance, and the Australian PM has found it necessary by circumstance to acquiesce – including closing the borders – as the human reality confronts the public.
School closures will be no different.
In concluding my post “politics vs society” I said:
I want to be clear – I am in no way qualified to make these calls on how the cost/benefit of economic impacts to actions can be weighed against human and societal impacts. Then again I do not really believe that anybody is qualified. Sometimes people find themselves in extraordinary situations and they need to make a call not knowing whether it is even likely to be the right one. Sometimes in life decisions just need to be the best that can be made at the time.
Even if we do strip things down to a bare cost/benefit analysis for society – if it were ever possible to totally eliminate politics, both broad systematic politics and interpersonal, social politics (essentially of egos) – how does one weigh up the costs and benefits of a certain level of economic activity versus a certain level of deaths amongst a society. And even then there are cross-contaminating issues, where economists will quickly point out that the stress of economic hardship results in costs to the health of populations and then to deaths.
I just wish that I had witnessed behaviour worthy of faith and trust in the political [followship] of this country instead of a continual erosion of it over the last two decades…
While I am not qualified to make decisions on behalf of the nation, I am qualified to make decisions on behalf of my family and I have done so.
And while I say I acknowledge that I am not qualified to make decisions on behalf of this nation, I comfortably put forward the historical account of my forecasts on the development of this pandemic against historical comments by those of this nation’s political and bureaucratic health followers.
I am far from convinced that the human tragedy has yet gotten through to the Australian political and bureaucratic followers, and my fear is that shock at the consequence of their slow and reluctant decisions will only confront them when our physicians are drawing up arbitrary decision trees to determine which Australians will be given a respirator and thus a chance at survival.
Morrison will need to backtrack to find his road to Damascus, but it is still there for him if he chooses to wise up.
Even if or when he does, though, there is no question he is on the hook for lives lost because he was much, much too slow to choose society over politics.
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020