Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in early July that “when COVID is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu, and that means no lockdowns”. Did this mean he had finally run up the white flag in Australia’s damaging, quixotic quest to achieve ‘Zero Covid’? The intention to ditch that fantasy policy goal — if the Prime Minister is to be believed — signals a welcome acceptance of the reality that the Wuhan virus will be with us forever, a seasonal respiratory wog we will have to manage like all the others.
At first blush, Morrison’s announcement seems to chime with the budding trend internationally towards ‘learning to live with the virus’, rather than suppressing or eliminating it. Although New Zealand, under the sensible Birkenstock heel of Zero Covid Queen Jacinda Ardern (a kind of woke Hilda Rumpole with better teeth), is determined never to rest until the last possibility of infection is wiped forever from the Land of the Long White Cloud, all US states are up and running lockdown-free, Singapore has abandoned lockdowns, and in the UK, where Freedom Day has dawned, the new Health Secretary is saying “We are going to have to learn to accept COVID”. The opening of this new rhetorical détente in World War CCOVID could signal a breaking of the spell of coronadoom, a start to the ending of the delusional psychosis that has gripped the planet at both elite and popular levels for the last miserable year and a half.
In announcing the national cabinet’s four-phase plan to end Australia’s yo-yo cycles of lockdowns and border blockades triggered by handfuls of community-transmission ‘cases’, Mr Morrison now speaks of changing the terms of statistical reference from positive tests to “serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality”. These new metrics are vastly preferable to the inevitably alarmist stats of positive test results in which it is difficult to invest much faith. The fact of the matter, as as even Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration concedes, is that the tests are inaccurate to the point of being dodgy, delivering a goodly dose of false positives for we used to call ‘the healthy’.
Devoid of timeframes, concrete key performance indicators and politicians more fixated on their electoral health than the greater public’s wellbeing, the grand exit from lockdown has all the solidity of a house of cards, an edifice of political expedience and unconvincingly proclaimed optimism which could be knocked over by any state premier in response to even a single rogue virus ‘escaping’ from medi-hotel quarantine. As the current lockdown spasms of Gladys, Dan and all the rest demonstrate, the national cabinet agreement may not be worth the paper it’s printed on, the state premiers’ wheels seemingly still spinning in the mud of ‘phase one’ of the plan to suppress the virus through costly closed borders, ruinous lockdowns and the frantic sport of trace-test-isolate-then-hold-a-press-conference).
Slippery, invertebrate politicians make for unreliable route guides out of perpetual lockdowns. State and federal political leaders have been politically and psychologically invested in ‘Zero Covid’ for so long they can hardly be expected to reverse course and tell the punters that ‘Well, now that you mention it, a few community cases are acceptable after all’. That would amount to is an admission everything done, and all the sacrifices made under threat of fine and harassment, were for nought. You’d need the imagination of JRR Tolkein to picture a premier or prime minister saying ‘Sorry about wrecking your economic well-being, ruining your recreational pleasures, stuffing your kids’ education, causing more (non-COVID) health harm than lockdowns have prevented. And apologies, too, for all the social distancing nonsense borrowed from the Theatre of the Absurd, for banning church attendance while allowing brothels to operate and blowing millions of dollars on phone apps that neither stopped nor traced a single infection.’ If there is one thing history teaches us it’s that politicians never hesitate to double down on failure if such a move postpones or obscures their responsibility for it. So ‘Zero Covid’ no doubt remains the tune they just can’t get out of their heads, the security blanket they reach for when rising case numbers on their watch herald a mauling in the media and the polls.
The arrival of the various COVID vaccines, however, has potentially disrupted this static policy framework. ‘Vaxxing’ our way out of lockdowns — the original political sales pitch for the vaccines by pro-lockdown politicians — looks set to strut the political stage in earnest. The non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns and masks have been laughably useless but there is now the non-non-pharmaceutical intervention of a vaccine. Treating COVID “like the flu” may well mean treating it through mass vaccination whilst still keeping what was a pretty ordinary, and becoming ever more unremarkable, coronavirus at elevated fear levels (‘Watch out! It’s the dreaded Delta variant!’) to justify all the past actions — a political face-saver for politicians initially panicked into lockdown over-reaction.
Hence the current ‘vaccine’ frenzy designed to bump up Australia’s current 10 per cent fully-vaxxed rate (one third partially-jabbed) to something suitable to providing herd immunity. Leave aside that, uniquely in the history of virology, herd immunity apparently can’t now be achieved by prior cross-immunity from related coronaviruses (including the common cold and SARS1) or recovery from natural infection. Leave aside, too, the question of how the COVID vaccines can deliver herd immunity, when, by the manufacturers’ and regulators’ own admissions, they do not prevent anyone from catching the disease or passing it on; rather, they simply reduce some of the more severe symptoms. If our politicians are to dig themselves out of their lockdown foxholes, it’s COVID vaccines or nothing.
Worryingly, national cabinet is contracting the Doherty Institute (sired by the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital) to come up with an appropriate vax-induced “herd immunity threshold”. Ah, more ‘expert modelling’ from the folks who, back in early 2020, came up with terrifying predictions that 150,000 Australians would die from the virus unless borders were closed and lockdowns implemented. These manic modellers primed their black boxes of computational wizardry with wildly over-the-top assumptions (especially the ‘R’ rate and an infection fatality rate) borrowed uncritically from dodgy Wuhan data and the shonky Imperial College London modelling of Neil Ferguson which panicked (‘500,000 will die unless you do as we say!’) Boris Johnson and Donald Trump (‘2.2 million Americans will perish!’) into disastrous lockdowns against their better political instincts. Do they borrow the solons of statistical projection borrow their methods from climate modellers? So off the mark have been their prognostications that the cross-pollination of error and assumption must be considered a strong possibility. Let us at least be grateful that, given Melbourne University’s involvement, Professor Bruce Pascoe won’t be adding indigenous knowledge of genetics and virology into the mix.
Supping once more from the same cauldron of COVID-kooky modelling, governments and their worrywart experts could well find vax-induced herd immunity thresholds being set so unachievably high (90%? 95%?, 99%?) as to effectively rule out the final ending of lockdowns, given that one in three Australians is set to decline the jab (half of these are adamant they will never, ever roll up their sleeves, with the other half ‘not very likely’ to do so), despite the ABC’s endlessly repeated blockbuster production of ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love the jab’ screening every night plus matinees. Adopting an unrealistically high herd immunity threshold would be further depressing evidence that the federal and state governments’ aim remains ‘Zero Covid’ and the elimination of any community transmission. This time, though, it will be — fingers crossed — through the vax rather than via lockdowns, masks, curfews and, in Victoria, Daniel Andrews’ Praetorian Guard, aka VicPol, knocking down the doors of citizens of whose opinions the Premier disapproves and arresting pyjama-clad pregnant ladies in their kitchens.
The Devil’s stamp in your ‘vaccine passport’
Never mind, yield to the pressure to have the jab and, as a reward, you get to join the ranks of the medically elite courtesy of a ‘vaccine passport’ intended to coerce or bribe Australians to roll up their sleeves and submit to an experimental gene-editing treatment. Your ‘Freedom Pass’ will allow you to leap Australia’s tightly barricaded international borders and closed-open-closed-again state borders in a single privileged bound and to be exempt from lockdown and other domestic restrictions. Well that is what they tell us anyway. Decline the jab, and you don’t get the freedom goodie bag.
Any vaccine passport, however, may face a rocky future. Israel implemented one only to see the system fall apart after less than three months because venues did not enforce it, as also happened with uber-Democrat New York’s brief venture into medical apartheid. In Britain, when the Night Time Industries Association surveyed 250 nightclubs in response to government ‘urging’ the industry to adopt proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, it found 83 per cent of clubs can’t or won’t do any such thing. In France, Macron has proposed sweeping vax-passport discrimination (including restricting access to shopping centres and supermarkets) and this prompted not only a vaccine-booking rush but street rioting (which was met with tear-gassing on Bastille Day by a police force conveniently exempted from de facto mandatory vaccination). Moscow city authorities have repealed their order for vaccine passports at restaurants because of the economic hit the establishments were taking.
The fate of any vaccine-passport could also hinge on public awareness of the illogic that underwrites such a measure. If the vaccines work, and if they render immunity, then the vaxxed have nothing to fear from rubbing shoulders with the unvaxxed; if they don’t work too well, as the rising number of infections and hospitalisations amongst the vaxxed (including the double-jabbed UK Health Secretary) is beginning to show), then the vaxxed aren’t in a very position from the unvaxxed, save for official assurances that they’ll get less sick than the un-jabbed. In other words, no freedom from masks and other restrictions on normal life.
A vax passport, as with everything in the entire misbegotten response to the virus, is utterly pointless in health terms – it’s all been political theatre, of equal parts tragedy and farce, designed as arse-covering for the authors of a steaming pile of ineffective, rights-infringing, economy-wrecking, extra-legal horse manure.
In the Australian parliament, at this stage, only a handful of principled Liberals (Matt Canavan and Alex Antic) and one former Liberal (Craig Kelly), as well as a typically defiant Pauline Hanson, have publicly opposed a vaccine passport. From Labor and the Greens, total silence, naturally. Sadly and based on form, we can expect Prime Minister Weathervane to go with the pro-passport flow unless genuine small-l Liberals come out of their closets.
If the federal and state governments’ intention to introduce vax passport does eventuate, it would be another example of how, contrary to Mr Morrison’s statement, we won’t be treating COVID ‘just like the flu’. The flu has properly-vetted, traditional annual vaccines for which refusing it incurs no threat of second-class citizenship. Moreover, should vaccine makers send out a deficient or deadly batch of a flu vaccine, the courts are available for the injured to seek recompense. With the COVID vaccines, no such luck. Big Pharma has been indemnified against legal liability, so you’ll just have to like and lump any adverse consequence now or down the road. Despite the Prime Minister’s proclaimed new perspective, when it comes to vaccines, COVID is being treated in exactly the opposite manner to the flu.
Why the change?
Nevertheless, a road out of lockdown (albeit a vax-driven, ‘Papers please!’ one) is finally on the table and the formerly heretical words about treating the virus just like the flu (“Ah-ha, you must be one of those granny-killing, let-it-rip, virus-denying, evil Tory/Wicked Republican, Trump groupies who places corporate profit ahead of saving lives”) have now at least been uttered by those who matter.
Why the change? Population fatigue with the whole COVID circus? Focus groups giving forthright views of how fed up they are with repeated lockdowns and closed borders? More prominent voices like Warren Mundine‘s venting how sick he is of COVID bureaucrats telling us what we can and can not do? When even dear old Leunig, patron icon of inner-city refrigerator doors too numerous to count, began recording his dissatisfaction? Or was it lobbying by peak industry groups and a quiet word in the government’s ear?
Probably all of the above. We have, as a result, been given a glimpse of the sunlit uplands of the lockdown-free Old Normal. The current, desperate rehashing of lockdowns by Gladys and Dan may be occluding that vision just at the moment but, as the virus steadily regresses through the Greek alphabet on its way to becoming just another relatively mild, common-cold-causing coronavirus, it could be the light on the hill of better days ahead that keeps us going. If the broad Australian public, which has so far acquiesced meekly to lockdowns and associated indignities, doesn’t get a grip on its endangered liberties and hang on to them with all its might, Australia as a liberal democracy is cactus.
What the crystal ball says
Nothing lasts forever and the current madness will surely pass, eventually. Enough of the vax ‘undecideds’ will be propagandised or shamed (‘no one is safe unless we are all safe!’) or cajoled/coerced, bullied and bribed by a vaccine passport to take a swig of the pharmaceutical hooch to reach a scientifically arbitrary but politically symbolic herd-immunity threshold that enables the federal and state governments to declare mission accomplished.
The vaxxed will be relieved of their social obligation to get tested as a work requirement, the ‘case’ count will fall and, voila, the pandemic (which amongst those without co-morbidities was largely only ever a ‘test-a-demic’) will be declared to be at an end, and we can all get down to spending the next few decades repairing the economic and social damage.
Lockdown, masks and all the other exhibits from the Great Virus War, however, are unlikely to be retired, as they should, to a Museum of Political Folly. Instead, expect them to remain on the books of the public health junta, who have grown alarmingly fond of their new powers. Count on their future use because, as we’ll be told, they worked so well last time.