Australian “Followship”

The majority of material in this report was the basis of Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 22 March. For me, it tells the story of Australia’s response thus far to COVID-19. Independently, these disparate data and opinion pieces add up to damning evidence in support of what I have argued on this site for 6 weeks that the Australian Government has failed to reasonably protect Australian lives.

Firstly, let’s start with some raw data. Now my family had been noticing a fading out of national data being reported in Australia – instead individual state data was being reported – but that has reversed in recent days, in part because the media was complaining about having difficulty in accessing these data.

According to WHO situation reports, on 19 March Australia reported 199 new cases, an increase of 39% to 709. On 20 March that increased another 164 to 873. And on 21 March the latest reported number of cases stood at 1,081. So within 3 days the number of cases more than doubled from 510 to 1,081. And remember – remember! – that the Government strict rules on who can be tested precludes people being tested unless they have travelled overseas or had contact with a confirmed case in the previous 14 days (though on Friday it was broadened to allow testing of people in aged care facilities).

So how do we stack up compared to other Countries?

Answer – not well, and remember, these data are dependant on how much testing is going on. (Please note source of this graphic is FT).

But if you listened to Mr Morrison on television last night, on 22 March, you heard a different story, one of a bureaucracy at the top of their game and responding well. So let’s address that.

The information on which he based those comments are contained within AHPPC coronavirus (COVID-19) statement on 22 March, published early morning 23 March.

This report contains much information on how Australia has done an excellent job thus far, and concentrates heavily on testing efforts. It contains these graphics supportive of that contention.

So far so good, and I do have to give credit where it is due – this is a great job by the people on the ground doing the testing!

But look at the note on the table “different countries have different testing regimes based on their case definition and testing capability”. In Australia it remains the case that in order to be tested the patient either needed to have travelled overseas or had known contact with an infected person, and only last Friday was it extended to include people from nursing homes irrespective of fitting the other criteria.

Technically other people who acquire the virus from unknown sources can not be detected by the testing regime, but many are beginning to be detected now based on these graphs, first from the NHPPC update on 17 March and the latest one on 22 March.

Either this growth in cases is due to the testing of people in aged care homes, which would be a real worry, or doctors are making the call themselves – against comments by the Chief Medical Officer in recent days due to a concern for running out of test kits.

And you would think that this would all be important news to inform the public on. No. Buried in this report, towards the end of the text is this passage:

Nationally, Australia is close to 50% community transmission at this time

Also note in the two graphs immediately above that the indication in the ramp up in local transmission from unknown sources in recent times was readily visible in the first (the reduction in the blue portion of the bars denoting “overseas acquired” and the growth in the green portion for “under investigation” which is essentially a synonym of locally acquired source unknown). However, the later graph is a cumulative graph of ALL cases detected thus far so it gives no indication of how COVID-19 is increasingly spreading within Australia. So, when it is said that the majority of cases remain to be from travellers that is factually correct but it is getting less and less the case every day.

And here is the thing about politics and spin these days. Everybody knows that information will be cherry-picked to tell the story that suits the politicians, and anything that is detrimental to the case they are presenting is either not reported, is reported in a confused and difficult to decipher manner, or is buried to be less visible and less likely detected.

Another key point, let’s play a little game of “which one of these things is not like the other” from my favourite childhood television program: in the table comparing the testing intensity of all countries, which country is unique? Regular readers should know this because I have stated it repeatedly from my very first report “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises“. Hint: think hemispheres. Yes, Australia is the only southern hemisphere country and we are heading into what will be a very long and challenging winter period where other respiratory viruses will be circulating making the COVID-19 response all the more challenging.

This is a much understated issue, in fact I have not heard any of the officials mention it! We need to be on our game!

Here is a graphical representation of how our response measures match up around the world.

Increasing intensity – yellow-green-blue – denotes increased containment measures.

This graphic indicates that our containment measures at 19 March were better than PNG and central Africa, and on a par with Brazil, Mexico, Burma, Russia and UK.

So we did not act with caution and implement anywhere near stringent-enough biosecurity protocols to clamp down on the introduction of COVID-19, even though concerned voices were attempting to be heard. As I explained in “Politics and Biosecurity” and my open letter to PM Morrison, and I said it above but it really does bear repeating, Australia has certain geographical advantages that would have been extremely useful to preventing pandemic here – most notably being an island and our biosecurity infrastructure – but were not fully utilised.

So where to from here?

These are the options still available to us as laid out in a great piece by John Daley of the Grattan Institute, and my regular readers will notice a very clear echo in the Option C which Daley chooses as the prefered way to go.

Still Australian political and bureaucratic followers dither and either fail to grasp the full scale of what is heading our way or refuse to react in a way which would ensure minimising lives lost in Australia.

Next an article from George Monbiot, a columnist at The Guardian UK, explaining why the politics of Australia, the UK and America “isn’t designed to protect the public from COVID-19” (and note that right through my discussions on these pages I have lumped these major Anglophone countries together, as recently as in my post on Friday “The First Victim of War is the Truth” which I wrote and published before finding Monbiot’s great piece).

Finally to what has been the effect in Australia to the dithering, confused and self-interest-predominating response of our Australian politicians.

This is a video that I recorded from live television, CNBC, on Saturday morning (Australian time, from New York early evening Friday) where a business person operating across 11 countries notes the extreme level of nanchelance from key Australian team members.

As I said in “COVID-19 Elephants in the Room” with reference to the GP in Victoria who was criticised by their Health Minister for treating people when unwell after returning from the US before the depth of their problem was understood, the level of complacency in Australia is a direct result of the political and bureaucratic followers deliberately seeking to understate the risk that this pandemic poses to Australia to lessen economic impacts.

So on the one hand professional people who are failing to comprehend the scale of the problem heading our way is understandable, along with young people heading to Bondi for day at the beach, and on the other hand a public only now coming to grips with it and fighting over toilet paper and stripping shelves bare to stockpile in case of shutdown, is all related to inept leadership in Australian which has become “followship” (as Mr Hockey actually admitted during his last visit to Australia).

OK, I have just about exhausted myself in prosecuting this case. I do not know whether I will manage it, but my aim is to cease pointing out the defincies in the Australian response because I fear it is all pointless at this stage. Our advantage in battling the pandemic was not taken. And some times it is just too difficult to fight against the reality that “The First Victim of War is the Truth“.

I aim to add some more positive pieces to assist my nation and broader humanity endure this our toughest immediate challenge.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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