Death, Where Is Thy Swing?

As I noted in an earlier article, one thing we are not short of in this crisis is experts.  Here’s one of them being quoted in today’s (March 24) Australian:

Cases of COVID-19 are currently doubling every four days in Australia and heading towards a trajectory of a three-day doubling. If the epidemic were allowed to continue in this manner, University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said infections could climb to as many as 500,000 a day within weeks.

At 500,000 per day and based on a linear increase, it would take only a further 30 days to infect 15,000,000 people, or 60 percent of our population – the putative level at which herd immunity could be expected to have been achieved.  On an exponential scale – the premise upon which we would get to 500,000 per day to begin with – it would be much quicker. In fact, as The Australian‘s report continues:

Professor Blakely has modelled the impact of social distancing measures and predicts the moves to close pubs, clubs, restaurants and sporting facilities could reduce the R0 (the number of people a carrier would infect) to 1.2 by the end of May. That would see the epidemic peak at about 125,000 infections a day in late May, with 60 per cent of the population infected.

On that basis, ‘within weeks’ the crisis would have passed, but at what cost in deaths? Because it is deaths, not total cases, which concerns us.  It is clear that the vast majority of deaths would occur in the 65+ year age group.  These are the people for whom isolation – self-imposed or otherwise – comes easiest.  Everyone of my acquaintance in that age group is already self-isolating – not to the point of hermitage but remaining home except for visits to essential services and possibly a walk along the beach or a drive in the country.

The fact that we still only have seven deaths in Australia suggests we oldies are doing a good job of keeping safe.  I’ve no doubt deaths will increase but at this stage and based on a table (admittedly unsourced)  displayed by Peta Credlin last night on Sky, on February 29, when Italy had just over 1,000 reported cases it had recorded 29 deaths; we are doing well, I’d argue, to have what is now 2,000 cases for only eight deaths (as of late in the afternoon of March 24).  So glib comparisons along the lines that ‘we are where Italy was three weeks ago’ should be approached warily, and probably with a grain of salt at the ready.  For one thing we now know a lot more about the problem.

If the government is to introduce more stringent quarantining than is already the case, they could well start by targetting the ‘at risk’ group first, an approach Peter Smith has raised in a magisterial analysis published at Quadrant Online on Monday.  Crucial to such a decision would be a consideration of the demographic profile of new cases.  We, the public, do not know the age breakdown of new cases.  We don’t know from numbers being made publicly available how many are hospitalized, for how long and how many are in intensive care.   Why is this information not generally available? In the absence of hard data, people will draw their own conclusions, based on often biassed and ill-informed opinion from a plethora of ‘experts’. There was always going to be an exponential increase in cases.  So far we have not seen an exponential increase in deaths.   God willing that continues. Professor Blakely concedes:

“If we allow an epidemic to pass through and infect everybody at the same rate, 90 per cent of all deaths will be amongst 60-plus-year-olds.” 

For me, the take-home message of the above quote is that we need to make bloody those in the 60+ cadre don’t get infected.

There are things government could do better, such as proper screening of people entering the country and more vigorous policing of quarantine etc.  Just shutting the whole place down, as suggested in The Australian article, seems unjustified on the basis of what we have experienced so far.

28 thoughts on “Death, Where Is Thy Swing?

  • aftermath says:

    I don’t wish to sound callous. It must be awful to die from the coronavirus, in agony with congested lungs. But with respect to the older group being targeted, we are already approaching the time when we join Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue parrot. The deaths in the older cohort are not so much new and additional deaths as bringing forward what is bound to happen any case within a few years.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Just listening to the normally impeccable Peta Credlin who is contributing her fair share to the panic that is now infecting our commentariat which, in its turn, seems to now be the main driver of government policy. Government is now apparently considering stricter lockdown. What do they know now that they didn’t know last Friday? What has changed other than an increase in the number of cases, which was totally anticipated anyway?

  • Peter Smith says:

    Peter, I too have just listened to Peta Credlin sparring with Alan Jones. Only one was talking sense; to wit Jones.
    Somehow or other a strategy has entered the picture that wasn’t canvassed in the expert Imperial College public health report that I commented on in my piece and which I thought was informing the policies of the UK government and others. The strategy is a complete lockdown of an economy – going much further than the aforementioned report advocated – with the purpose of relatively quickly eradicating the virus. The difficulties are, first, that the economic hardship and all that flows from it will be beyond devasting; and, second, that if the virus is not completely eradicated it will spring back up again and spread quickly through a population that won’t have obtained any significant herd immunity. I don’t know where this particular strategy has come from or whether it has received any medical backing.

  • hwka says:

    We. Are. Led. By. Morons.
    Having closed the national border and being surrounded by the world’s largest moat how could a closure down to the State Bordet level be justified ?
    Queensland closes the border at 9pm tonight (Tues 24th).
    Just a guess but maybe another 50,000 or so INSTANTLY
    out of work.
    To quote Pauline Hanson: Please explain.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Just listening to CMO who tells us they are now very worried about the rate of infection. Really? The rate is no higher than in most other affected countries and no higher than they would, or should, have expected. Last week they knew we would have 2000 cases this week.

  • T B LYNCH says:

    The Federal Constitution provides that intercourse between the states shall be absolutely free.
    Sir Garfield Barwick made his name by taking the case of Dulcie Johnson who lived in Adelaide and desired to have intercourse with a friend who lived in Perth; Dulcie crossed the state border without a permit from the postwar Labor government. Sir Garfield won in the High Court. Sir Garfield later used this precedent to establish that Dulcie could travel on Sir Reginald Ansetts aircraft, without a government licence.
    No Australian government whatsoever has the power to close state borders. I myself crossed the NSW- Victorian border in 1944 without a permit and suffered the indignity of my gas producer breaking down at Cann River; the local police didn’t worry about permits and gave me enough petrol to get to Bega.

  • T B LYNCH says:

    The federal Constitution provides that Quarantine is a federal power.
    I used to run the Quarantine in Central Queensland for a number of years half a century ago.
    Going out on the pilot boat climbing the rope ladder and granting pratique, or prohibiting immigrants as required.
    I only looked for quarantinable diseases – diseases with a 30% mortality rate.
    I lined up passengers and crew and walked along the line looking for jaundiced eyeballs [yellow fever] hands for blisters [smallpox] and the Inspector scoured the bilge for rats, which I autopsied for plague. We didn’t worry about ordinary diseases like influenza – which actually causes 1% of all deaths, just like suicide or motor vehicles.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    I watched the Prime Minister and the CMO. To me, Peter, your comment above seem to imply that the presentation was a sign that they don’t understand the nature of the problem or that it’s only just dawned on them. I think you are being unfair. That’s the ABC’s and the mainstream media’s job, and some of their questions tonight suggest that they’re likely to be already hard at work producing their latest “gotchas”.
    The presentation was not aimed at people who already know everything, anticipated everything, and have had a ready solution at hand for all the aspects of this wicked problem, and who are, perhaps, a bit miffed at not having been consulted and not having had the opportunity to contribute their special wisdom to the National Cabinet.
    It was aimed at us ordinary mortals who, like most Quadrant readers, are probably in a vulnerable cohort who needed to know what our elected representatives are doing, whether playing catch up or otherwise, to keep us safe and to save the economy from total disaster.
    There is plenty enough to criticise, eg failure to stop/catch the runaway cruise ship passengers, the hordes of brain-damaged idiots infesting the beaches, the hoarders, and so on. However, it is virtually impossible to anticipate every combination and permutation of crazy behaviour of people in a free country, or to estimate the precise effects that any such behaviour might have on the spread of the disease. One dinner party alone resulted in the infection of all but one or two of the people there. And, just exactly what, short of bringing in a fully-armed ADF with draconian Aid to the Civil Power authority to police the streets, would prevent the possibility of further outbreaks of public stupidity?
    I think Morrison did a very good job tonight, and I was particularly impressed by his firm statement that everyone with a job was an essential worker and should be treated accordingly. For that alone he deserves high praise, as it’s one in the eye for those school heads who reportedly decided unilaterally that their schools were only to be open for the children of emergency workers.
    As Geoffrey Luck said upthread, there are few if any genuine comparisons between the situation in Italy and Australia, so their experience probably have few lessons to benefit our authorities. Similarly, I doubt there’s anything much we can learn from Singapore and Hong Kong both of which are smaller than any number of Australian outback cattle stations, with well-educated, well-disciplined populations.
    Let’s not start picking nits just yet.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Doubting Thomas, no, you miss my point. I think they do understand the nature of the problem and they structured their response early last week accordingly. I thought that response was balanced and reasonable, but it’s been unravelling since under pressure from the commentariat and social media. To suggest that they are now reacting to unfolding developments is disingenuous. They would have known we would have 2000 cases this week and if that’s a disturbing development why didn’t they factor that into their response last week?
    What I would dearly like to know, and what seems to be missing from the debate, is any useful statistics relating to the Australian situation viz how many people are hospitalized and their age break up, how many are critical, their age breakup and how they came to have the virus (i.e. did they contract it oversesas or locally) and at what date did each critical patient enter the system. That’s for starters.

  • Wyndham Dix says:

    From Peter Smith upthread: read, mark, learn and inwardly digest:-
    “…if the virus is not completely eradicated it will spring back up again and spread quickly through a population that won’t have obtained any significant herd immunity.”
    At present our politicians are aping the fretful mother in a TV commercial of modern vintage who had sanitiser at the ready to ensure her offspring did not have germs on his hands. God forbid that he got dirt on his knees or barked his shins climbing a tree or some such.
    Immune systems of those of us of ripe years developed as a consequence of these outdoor exploits during the 1930s and 40s, not by being kept apart from playmates and wrapped in cotton wool.
    Yes, someone will remind me of isolation of some during the 1950s polio epidemic, but life went on; we did not shut down the economy.
    As to the people at Bondi beach last weekend: we have missed the point that they were taking their leisure in what is one of the most effective disinfectants: sunlight.
    If you want another example of the lack of awareness of those in authority, recall the window tax first introduced in England in 1696 and not repealed until the 1850s. It resulted in people bricking-up windows of their houses, thereby preventing sanitising sunlight from entering those rooms. Examples of such buildings still exist today. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Window_tax

  • Colin Clarke says:

    How about the Prime Minister and all other Ministers takee a 50% pay cut in sympathy with the financial suffering of many of the population.? The likelihood of this? Zero.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    I’ve just discovered that SMH has published a breakdown of Australian cases:


    It provides some food for thought.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Just had a look at the SMH graph which purports to show cases as at 23 March. It shows 260 odd cases in the 60-69 category. This is roughly the same for 20-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50-59. 115 in the 70-79 category. So it seems the virus is striking evenly across the board. That is not what I had expected given the low death rate which I had thought might be due to oldies isolating more effectively. Back to the drawing board.

  • pgang says:

    Peter OBrien that is pretty much what you would expect, surely. The virus got in, people are all out doing stuff, they get infected. It’s a cold virus, there’s no stopping it, and more than that it’s a new cold virus. One sneeze in a room and everybody in the room has it. People die from corona viruses if the virus complicates some other problem, or the immune system is weak. I am of course no expert, but this is the information that has been provided to us by experts. I repeat – this is what we have been told about this virus, so it is not coming from me.
    In Australia we have a very good health system which deals with such complications in our vulnerable part of the population. My Dad, for example, lives in a retirement village with its own nursing centre where he receives first rate care if required. Of course not everybody’s life can be saved if things go wrong, but I would have thought that the most vulnerable would already be, in general, isolated. And just because people are ‘senior’ does not mean that this is a death sentence. For the remaining 99.999% of the population, catching the virus is completely incidental. Again, this is what we have been told, it’s not coming from me.
    So I keep asking myself the question, over and over again: what is really going on here?

  • pgang says:

    I would like to add one other point about this infection/mortality statistics. To what are we comparing them? What gives them perspective? How many people last year, for example, died from corona virus complications? Do we even know?

  • Peter OBrien says:

    pgang, don’t disagree with what you say but so far the death rate in Australia is anomalously low and most of them occurred early. As you say, something is going on but what? As far as I am concerned, it is deaths that matter, not cases. You can say that a certain level of economic pain is acceptable to prevent a death but that threshold would be much lower to prevent a sickness. What is driving the strategy at the moment is the need to protect the integrity of the hospital system. I still don’t know the hospitalization rate overall (there is sketchy State by State info) for each age category. If we are to shut down our economy it would be good to know that it is justified on more than the basis that ‘we don’t want to go down the same path as Italy’ and that there is a real threat to the hospital system. If we do decide to go into lockdown, it makes more sense to lockdown the ‘at-risk’ group first and see how that pans out.

  • March says:

    I note that US has just opted for pragmatism with severe restrictions ending after easter. Which brave politician will do the same here?

    In six months time we will be comparing the actions intended to save us to the actions taken to save us from the Millenium bug.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    March, and Donald Trump will be either a shoo-in in November or he will be toast. Let’s hope he prevails.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    you just anticipated my next thought, which is that the government claims to have one of the highest testing rates in the world. Could it be that we are identifying and treating cases earlier than in other countries? Coupled with our warm weather, could that account for our low death rate?

  • pgang says:

    Peter OBrien, Trump looks like a shoo-in to me. Here’s his latest, pulled from Breitbart:

    ‘”We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival. I think we’ve learned a lot. This crisis has underscored just how critical it is to have strong borders and a robust manufacturing sector. For three years, we’ve embarked on a great national project to secure our immigration system and bring back our manufacturing jobs. We’ve brought back many jobs, record numbers of jobs, and this really shows, this experience shows how important borders are. Without borders, you don’t have a nation.”‘
    ‘“Our goal for the future must be to have American medicine for American patients, American supplies for American hospitals, and American equipment for our great American heroes. Now both parties must unite to ensure America is truly an independent nation in every sense of the word.”’

    Of course Australia will keep going in the opposite direction. We only follow the stupid stuff.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Just looking at Health Dept graph
    which shows a drop in new cases in two of the last three days. I suspect the anomalous spike is due mainly to the Ruby Princess cases. Early days and I am not pollyanna but, at the moment the rate of new cases does not look exponential.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    pgang, agree re Trump assuming his move pays off.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Here’s a good example of the ANZAC spirit. While millions of Australians are losing their jobs, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association is demanding a $5 per hour pay rise for their members to keep theirs.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    Peter, best site for full global data analysis is: https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus.
    Hosted by Oxford University and without all the media BS. Have a good read through as it provides some both good data and analysis.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    @Peter OBrien, that sort of parasitism is on all over. Our premium funding company just reduced (their claim) their interest rate to “help” its customers.
    The old rate was 7.41% flat over 10 months, the new rate was 6.4% over 8 months.
    The numerically literate will spot the con a mile away.
    Needless to say we just paid cash.

  • Stoneboat says:

    It’s vital that all public servants through the PM , teachers, medical staff, judges, police and military – all of them on the public purse- take a massive pay cut to a common figure applied across the board. An amount such as the minimum wage plus the minimum hourly rate for time actually worked would be appropriate. Holidays, Super and other perks need to be brought into line with the lower end of the private sector.
    In normal times this would encourage talented public servants to leave their job security and flourish in the private sector, to the benefit of us all.
    Today, on a quasi-war footing however, it is vital to shut down the public trough to return the balance of power to the citizens. We are sailing way too close to becoming a Police State and these new laws being imposed on the Citizenry to “protect” us are just the beginning of tyranny, if we allow it.

    For example, a 23 year old NT copper with a job for life, public housing and a six figure salary has way too much to lose when faced with an ethical dilemma of being his master’s “steel hand” at the border or serving with grace Joe Citizen, recently out of work, who he claims to “protect”.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    Stoneboat, best laugh I’ve had all year.

  • rod.stuart says:

    It is nice to read a positive angle to this 9for the most part) negative controversy.

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