Eradication or Just Delaying the Inevitable?

I go stir crazy. I not complain, you understand. My super has declined precipitately, but I’ve not lost nearly as much as I would have done if I hadn’t had two marriage breakdowns, if you get my meaning. And other good news: public servants and ABC employees are sitting pretty. Got to be pleased for them. Pity about those thrown out of work overnight. But at least they know we are all in it together.

In the tradition of the great Jimmy Durante (“Did you ever have the feelin’ that you wanted to go and still have the feelin’ that you wanted to stay”) I don’t want to write again about the virus. Still I simply have to write again about the virus. What else is there? My world is empty without it.

I think Scott Morrison gets it. Trump definitely gets it. But they are in a bind. The press are virulent morons. Mostly they have secure employment, for the time being at least, and therefore no lockdown of a country is too stringent for them. Any leader brave enough to not at least go as far as other leaders in throwing people out of work is obviously a bounder, intent on killing people.

A new strategy is abroad. I have no idea whether it stems from medical advice; or from governments goaded by the press to continually best each other in upping the ante. If it is based on medical advice, it would be nice to know what is the end game.

When I recently wrote about the Imperial College epidemiological report, I explained that the recommended strategy was to supress transmissions by population-wide social distancing. This was the hard-line strategy. I disagreed with it because it needed to be maintained for an extended period, of maybe over eighteen months until a vaccine is available, by which time economies would be history. But that is by the way. Governments have since gone much further than the extent of social distancing advocated in that report.

I don’t know, but some commentators seem to believe that the new strategy is to crush the virus out of existence by denying it the possibility of jumping from one host to another. Hence the need for lockdowns and people quarantined in their homes. No frivolous travel or barbeques with family members or other irresponsible comingling. Fine, but is this really the strategy and is there medical backing for it?

Why should we be told? Well, if the strategy works far fewer healthy people will catch the virus. Thus far fewer people will build immunity. And, unless the virus can be, and is, absolutely eradicated, the conditions will be ripe for its re-emergence. Do epidemiologists think it can be so eradicated?

On the other hand, is the strategy one of locking things down in order to buy a short amount of time (“short” being the operative word) to allow a build-up of health resources, beds and equipment? Which one is it?

If the strategy is to allow time to build health resources, we should be told how long this will take. Economies are tanking and millions of people are being thrown out of work; but the damage will be far less if we, the people, including businesses, know that it will last for say three or four weeks. After which time, things would be opened up and an alternative strategy pursued of protecting the vulnerable.

And another thing. Apropos the Imperial College report, it is important to keep in mind that critical-care requirements will not peak until some three weeks after any effective suppression strategy is put in place. In the meantime, of course, a ramp-up of widespread testing will reveal many more cases; and critical-care cases (and deaths) will go on rising. Understanding that there are lags might prevent the media from overreacting (fat chance) and governments from panicking.

11 thoughts on “Eradication or Just Delaying the Inevitable?

  • DG says:

    I wonder what the CB analysis was of the risk management strategies. Harsh, but necessary, this entails a value on a life (it sits at about $6m in economic terms, but with a disability life value factored in, this might decline for the older and the infirm, again harsh, but necessary) essential to assess how much of the economy is destroyed; that is, how much of our long term sustainable production of food, medical equipment, transport infrastructure, education, etc will we sacrifice for prolonging a life of a vulnerable person by a few months?
    My conclusion: there has been no analysis, no rationally based policy, no view of the future.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Peter, I understand your frustration and your compulsion. Here is the text of a letter I sent to The Australian today, although I don’t expect it will be published:

    What everyone seems to be forgetting is that unless you are over 60 and have an existing medical condition, the Wuhan virus will almost certainly not kill you. We regularly hear the refrain that ‘we are now where Italy was 3 weeks ago’. That is true in terms of cases – on 4 Mar Italy had 2,700 cases. But they had 107 deaths – ten times the rate that we have experienced. So there is something going on here, possibly the warmer weather and our lower population density, that is limiting the deaths. It may not continue, but right now it should give pause to further precipitate action based purely on new cases being diagnosed. We already know there will be further cases.

    Today the failed Immigration Minister Cris Bowen is urging ‘harder and faster shutdowns’. Here is his reasoning:

    “Labor believes more needs to be done; done harder and done earlier. We support stricter restrictions,
    The best economic policy is the best health policy. The harder we are earlier, the sooner we will come out of this on the other side.”

    I also think Morrison understands the issue but he is being stampeded by everyone.

    I despair.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Yesterday I noted in comments on another thread, that total cases of Wuhan virus appear to be uniformly spread across all age groups and conceded that this undermined my theory that the low death rate might be due to the at-risk group effectively isolating themselves. But I’m now having second thoughts on that because it might well have been that the majority of cases on the at-risk age group could have occurred during the early phase of the crisis. It would be interesting to know if that uniform spread has persisted in the latest, say, two weeks. No doubt the authorities have this information. If I am wrong and the at-risk group is continuing to be infected at the same rate as the general population, wouldn’t you think the government would issue an explicit warning to that group, the group most at risk, to lift their game? Or even to impose more stringent conditions on that group? And if the rate of infection of the at-risk group has slowed, surely that must factor into the decision whether or not to further decimate our economy. Surely it would provide the government with a defence to the charge that they are not doing enough.

  • Peter Smith says:

    Peter, I think I might have already commented on the point you were making. However, I might be missing your point because I thought that everyone was at equal risk of contracting the virus , including children. The issue, I thought, is the age profile of those who resultantly fall seriously or critically ill?

  • pgang says:

    Oh, there’s a strategy? Is mass, fear driven, click-bait selling of electronic media a crisis strategy? Because it seems to be the only thing driving any of this utter nonsense.
    Again I find myself contemplating the cat and wondering, are we really the smart ones?

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Peter, you are only at equal risk of catching the virus if you are equally exposed to it. We don’t know the age profile of the more recent cases. If it is still uniform it means that the at-risk group are not effectively isolating themselves and that would not explain the anomalously low death rate. If the at-risk group are less represented in the recent cases it would, or should, lessen the demand for stricter lockdown.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    I harp on this point because the reason we are crippling our economy is to avoid deaths, not sickness. So far, either by good luck or good management, we seem to be doing a good job at avoiding deaths. That gives me some comfort but I would be a lot more comfortable knowing why that is the case.

  • Peter Smith says:

    Thanks Peter. Get it. The virus must be slowing my thinking.

  • ianl says:

    > ” … a lot more comfortable knowing why that is the case” [apparent low death numbers]
    I noted on earlier thread – early days so uncertain statistics, but of course these variances are known and carefully examined. We are not informed because bureaucrats will always hide hard information from the genral populace and the MSM is so full of “look at me, look at me” vanity that asking intelligent questions never occurs to them.
    In any case, all of those players – politicians, medical and administrative bureaucrats, the MSM – genuinely believe that we are too stupid to deserve complete and accurate information. Even lesser medicos are starved of real information which is why we see an unedifying plethora of them jumping up on the tv, all of them contradicting each other on a daily basis.
    Peter Smith (above) is quite right, this time, to despair.

  • lloveday says:

    For those without The Australian access, Peter OBrien’s letter was not published, as predicted.
    Jenny George made the cut though, and Leak Jnr’s cartoon has Albanese making a mess of things while proclaiming “You can never have too many cooks”.

  • rosross says:

    We see here the downside of modern science-medicine, immersed as it is in mechanical thinking and materialist reductionism.

    The credo, is never, ever, ever, ever work with nature, but only seek to dominate and manipulate.

    This virus is no more than a variation on the common theme of the common cold, and yes, while it impacts the diseased significantly, so, has the common cold always. To let society be open to the disease allows most people to develop immunity. To close everyone off merely delays the day when the virus does what it has been designed by nature, to do.

    But, modern medicine cannot cope without a pill, a test, a treatment or a vaccine and so, here we sit, on the slow train to economic ruin. Actually, the fast train.

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