A Short Critical Review of our Covid Response

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.

12 Replies to “A Short Critical Review of our Covid Response”

  1. Ted you are right one can never flatten a bell curve. It can be moved to the left or right but not flattened. If it could, it would be known by some other name , perhaps table top like the mountain or in Latin “mensa” or Spanish “mesa”. ( just a bit of levity.)

    You have also uncovered the reason that no State Government ever produced the so called Health Advice upon which they relied to create their draconian rules
    One of the many problems of modelling is the assumptions. Those with a vested interest – the Health Depts would without doubt take the “Worst case scenario” because it plays into their more money , more infrastructure campaigns. They are unlikely to ever take the “Best case scenario” because it would just approximate to the annual flu deaths and there would be no need to worry.

    Similarly politicians with a vested interest would not look like heroes under the best case scenario.

  2. Ted, I totally agree.
    To me the most disturbing thing about the last 2 years is the apparent willingness of the majority of population to surrender their basic rights and comply with everything they’re asked (told) to do even in the face of being obviously ridiculous. Case in point, having to wear masks in and out of cafes but taking them off when seated to eat and drink. There must be some magical cone-of-immunity involved here I think. Trusting souls, aren’t we.
    Our governments at all levels have perfected the art of buck-passing thinly disguised as delegation. The politicians have relied on their “expert” advisors. The Feds have neatly left decisions to the States. The States have left it to businesses to police the myriad of mandate rules. Individuals have been given the task to self-monitor and report their every movement, and made an admirable job of it.
    It’s easy for governments to claim credit for saving us when the nature and size of the threat is grossly exaggerated to begin with.
    As one of the great unwashed, it saddens me to think that every death in aged care attributed to covid since mid-December can only be the result of contact with fully-vaccinated individuals, yet we are the ones who have been demonised and penalised socially – makes you wonder.
    My main take-away from the whole thing is that all laws which give rise to such unfettered powers must be repealed. We must not soon forget these lessons. As you say, there are better ways.

  3. Should be read by the decision makers of the time and decisions makers of the future. I particular like the suggestion of an investigation into the response, although I don’t know how any decision maker(s) of the time could be held to account, except what could possibly follow from a publication of the findings and a democratic response by voters at the next elections.

    1. Well Matt in recommending a review I am not so interested in blaming anybody for the errors of the last two years so much as ensuring we don’t repeat the errors. Thank you for your comments.

  4. My wife had not been feeling 100% (just off a bit) so decided to do a Rapid Antigen Test. She got a positive result. Given we spend so much time together, I immediately took the test. Negative result.
    (a) As a teacher she rang the school and said “what do I do?” Reply. “Wait 7 days and then see you back at school.”
    (b) At the same time, her 84 year old mother is in hospital getting some tests. I rang the hospital who said “your wife cannot come to the hospital but because you are negative you can come.”
    It certainly seems the government has over reacted and not been proactive in learning lessons along the way.
    As to whether I need a mask to buy a loaf of bread or fill up my car with petrol – who knows!

  5. Ted, you are just another armchair critic – all opinion and no responsibility. Governments had to make decisions in real time. It is fine for us to examine the decision they made, but on the whole Australian State governments did pretty well in controlling the virus and keeping the economy going. The Federal Government lagged behind, only just being able to keep up with the mark. However, they have done what they have done and the majority of Australians have been able to survive the greatest pandemic in a century. At the time they were made, the choices were diabolical and not clear cut. I am glad I did not have to make them. Although I have opinions, on this matter mine are ill-informed and I do not have a balanced view of the data. I would say the same about your piece, I am afraid. I thought your manipulation of ABS data to support an ideologically driven opinion was disappointing. I do not want to be Premier of Queensland or Prime Minster of the Commonwealth. As a result, I have to accept their decisions and make my opinion known at the ballet box.
    The fear the population had was real and justified. Nearly $1m people in the US (currently 950,000) have died as a result of the pandemic (Johns Hopkins University). This is almost one in 350 people. In the UK, the death toll was approximately 1 in 414. In my view, these figures are an absolute disgrace and reflect the incompetence of the ideologically-obsessed governments in charge at the start of the pandemic when real advances could have been made. According to the same data source, deaths in Australia were 5,171, which is approximately 1 in 50,000. An enormous difference, and largely a result of different Government attitudes and the sensible approach of the Australian people. Of course we were going to lose some skin. It was unavoidable and I am sorry businesses have gone under. As per your arguments about old people dying, businesses go under all the time. Economically, Australia has weathered the pandemic well, mostly because a healthy populous provides the basis of a healthy economy.
    So provide us your opinions from your armchair if you wish, but in my view the scorecard tells the story.
    By the way, I thought that your comments conflating the Russian invasion of Ukraine with climate activism were disgraceful. I guess when one has a drum to beat, one will find any old stick to beat it. Discussion for another day.

    1. I seem to have upset you Richard! I suspect my unorthodox views challenge your worldview. That, I suspect is probably good for you. It is healthy that you in your armchair and me in mine can debate such issues. My concerns are about the infringements on our freedoms. Your concerns seem to be more about our health and welfare. Our governments have largely pursued the issues of the pandemic through a similar point of view. Certainly in comparison with the rest of the world our health outcomes are good. My thesis is however that we could have easily achieved the same health outcomes without impinging so much on our basic freedoms.

      My best wishes to you Richard. I look forward to people disagreeing with me and I can assure you that I will always give them a voice on my blog site.

  6. An arm chair critic ……. I don’t think that’s a fair jab towards anyone who spent a life, not in an arm chair, but engaged in an active and productive working life while always seeking to understand as far and wide as one’s faculties could reach, and then is courageous and generous enough to actively share thoroughly thought through opinions on very well written and readable articles.

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