As you would likely know by now I have been critical of the response to the Covid pandemic by both state and federal governments.
My principal concern has been governments’ unprincipled use of fear to coerce us to abdicate our freedoms. It has been somewhat alarming to me that Australians have capitulated so easily to this fear campaign and almost unthinkingly yielded up important freedoms to our governments with barely a protest. But of course that is now beginning to change.
We seem to have forgotten that in a liberal democracy we acknowledge that citizens have some responsibility and considerable agency in addressing their own problems. But that has not been the case with Covid. All our governments, even the conservative ones that you might think would value individual freedom, have jumped in to save us. The “nanny state” has proliferated beyond any sensible limit.
At the beginning we were told that this pandemic posed a threat to our health similar to the Spanish Flu, tens of thousands of people would die and our hospitals would be overloaded. We shut down what is euphemistically called “elective surgery” in our hospitals in anticipation of the flood of Covid cases. Draconian restrictions were placed on our freedoms purportedly to “flatten the curve”. (The curve referred to of course is the epi-curve which traces the rate of viral infection in a population. It is a bell-shaped curve that rises exponentially only to eventually fall away in the same manner.) Now, at the beginning it was probably prudent to take precautionary measures to deal with this unknown threat. But those measures continued to be applied long after there was considerable evidence to have us doubt their efficacy.
One of the first interventions was to impose lockdowns on the population. The emergency response plan that the government had prepared in anticipation of such a pandemic didn’t include lockdowns. But when the virus escaped in Wuhan province the Chinese government, which has little concern for individual freedoms, imposed lockdowns. Bewilderingly, most Western governments then followed suit.
In anticipation of huge admissions into our hospitals of Covid patients suffering respiratory problems the government purchased thousands of ventilator units, most of which were never used.
Let us examine the actual health impacts of Covid which our governments were so afraid of.
Firstly, although over 2,000 Australians have died with Covid, recent ABS statistics would suggest that perhaps only eighty or so of these unfortunate deaths could be directly attributed to the effects of the virus. Most of the deaths were of elderly people who had other co-morbidities.
The median age of males who died of Covid during the pandemic was 81 and for females 86. The median age of all Covid related deaths was 83.7 which is above the average Australian life expectancy. As I reported previously, over the period of the pandemic the longevity of Australians has actually slightly increased.
Whilst there might be justification in protecting the vulnerable (the more elderly and those with serious morbidities) Covid provides little risk to fit and healthy, younger people. Notwithstanding this, some jurisdictions have mandated vaccination for school children as young as five years old.
Australia’s former Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, has stated that the Omicron variant is less dangerous than the seasonal flu. He said, “…..this is a disease that will very rarely cause harm to young, fit healthy adults and kids.”
He said with his own children he would prioritise flu injections over Covid injections.
Instead of being the disaster originally anticipated, Omicron could well be our saviour. Although Omicron is highly infectious, for most people the symptoms are unperturbing, being reportedly like a “mild cold”. Consequently most of the population will eventually contract it conferring natural immunity without undue suffering.
The Director of Global Infectious Diseases at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr Edward Ryan is now predicting the end of the pandemic and a return to normalcy. He anticipates that Omicron will make boosters unnecessary and that the Covid virus will join the ranks of the “common cold”. Dr Ryan says, “We are fighting the last war with Covid and should be pivoting back to normal life.”
So in retrospect the onset of the Covid virus has had little impact on the health of the nation apart from the elderly and those with other serious illnesses. Hence it is easy to conclude that the damage done by the clumsy interventions of government are more harmful than the disease these measures were designed (with little effect) to thwart.
The ham-fisted efforts of our governments who seemed to think that Covid could somehow be eradicated from their constituent populations have resulted in:
- The closure of many small businesses
- The removal of our children from proper schooling
- The separation of people at crucial times from their loved ones
- A fracturing of the Australian Federation with individual states taking different stances resulting in a disruption of the movement of people between the states and a disruption of trade
- Increased issues of mental health, drug and alcohol abuse and the increased incidence of suicide
- Unease amongst the general populace as states provided exemptions to celebrities and sporting teams
- Failure of the Federal Government to provide genuine leadership in the face of individual states advancing their own political ends at the expense of national well-being
- Disruption of supply chains so that many Australians couldn’t purchase staples from supermarkets
And much else.
Let us pause awhile now and examine some of the interventionist strategies of governments in Australia.
Earlier in this essay I remarked on the ubiquitous use of lockdowns as an amelioration strategy. We were ordered to stay in our homes and only venture out for “essential” purposes. This was an unprecedented restriction on our basic freedoms never before experienced in Australia, even in war time.
Fortunately we were able to gauge the effectiveness of lockdown strategies because we saw different approaches around the world where some countries weren’t locked down, and gain evidence from countries like the United States where some states locked down and others didn’t. (As we will see later this was the case with mask mandates as well but for now I’ll confine my comments to lockdowns). The data shows no convincing case for lockdowns. Those places that eschewed lockdowns showed little difference form those that embraced them in terms of Covid cases and more particularly Covid deaths. So, in fact choosing the strategy to lockdown had no discernible health benefits with respect to Covid and imposed an unnecessary impost on the citizens so impacted.
Just this week, fittingly, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has called for an “evidence-based assessment of the effectiveness of lockdowns”. Curtailing citizens’ freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and sometimes even freedom of speech is a major infringement of rights and should not be attempted except under the direst of circumstances. Our governments, urged on by our excessively cautious public health officials, seem to have created such a fear in the population at large that our citizens handed over their freedoms with little demur.
One of the exacerbating factors has been the reliance on modelling that has consistently exaggerated the health impacts of Covid. In the wake of this we took children out of school and made trading arrangements so difficult that many small businesses have folded. And all this for little or no effect on the inevitable progress of the virus and its impacts on human health.
The mandated wearing of masks falls into the same category as lockdowns. There seems to be little evidence that the wearing of masks has contributed one iota to preventing the spread of Covid. We have even seen the ridiculous demand from at least one government that masks should be worn by those out of doors with no one else around! And to impose mask wearing on very young children in school is very akin to child abuse.
Just like lockdowns, because various countries and states have had different policies with respect to mask wearing we are able t observe the relative effectiveness of this amelioration strategy as well. Unsurprisingly, just like lockdowns there is little evidence that the wearing of masks has reduced the transmission of the virus in any meaningful way.
Finally we have had the issue of vaccine mandates. This again was an over-step. Perhaps there is some sort of an argument for health care workers and those working in aged care to be vaccinated (after all some of these are already required to be vaccinated against the flu) but miners, airline pilots, teachers policeman and so on should not be compelled to be vaccinated or face the loss of their jobs. I am not an anti-vaxxer (I am double-vaxxed and scheduled to get a booster in a few days) but I firmly believe that individuals should be free to make their own health decisions. It is up to the government to ensure the individual is well-informed as to the risks and the benefits of such a decision, but then it should be at the discretion of the individual.
Governments have sought to justify compulsory vaccination on the basis that it helps to protect the population at large. But this is a very dubious claim. If you believe in the efficacy of vaccination, the prime beneficiary is undoubtedly the one who is vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated can certainly still get the virus but the health impacts are greatly attenuated. However the vaccinated can still transmit the virus to others vaccinated or not.
Scott Morrison has frequently stated that the federal government wouldn’t mandate vaccinations but he has done little to prevent the states and big businesses from doing so.
In the beginning a compliant public just seemed to do what it was told by government, but as the pandemic wore on people began to question some of government’s edicts. In the end people began to protest about restrictions that made no sense to them. We are now seeing such protests around the world. We have recently seen them in Canada, New Zealand, France and elsewhere. Notably Australians launched such a protest in Canberra just recently.
Many in the press and those from the left wing governments where the majority of protests have emanated, are calling out the protestors as anti-vaxxers and right wing extremists. Pretty well all protests attract fringe elements but it seems to me however that the majority of protestors are finally reacting to the seemingly arbitrary removal of their freedoms by governments revelling in the power that their Covid fear campaigns have yielded them.
It is indeed time to call enough. Freedoms once relinquished can prove difficult to regain.
We need a thorough investigation into our response to the Covid pandemic. We need in retrospect to ascertain what really helped and what didn’t. As sure as night follows day another pandemic will arise. Next time we need to concentrate on what interventions are really helpful. We must not again allow an irrational fear campaign initiated by over-cautious health officials and fanned by the totalitarian ambitions of some of our governments to needlessly take away our freedoms.