Looking Through a Stethoscope

On March 4, Italy’s coronavirus death toll reached 107 out of a total of 3089 cases.  Two days later, on March 6, deaths had close to doubled, 197 deaths out of 4636 cases. Today (March 31) our death toll stands at 16 from roughly 3900 cases.  Two days ago, we had 14 deaths from about 3500 cases.

Let me re-iterate.  Our death toll stands at 16.  All were over 69 and many acquired the disease overseas; all had underlying health conditions.  Yet on Saturday we have The Australian with headlines like this:

NSW put on notice as death toll rises

Let’s accept that The Australian  is doing no more than reporting the news that NSW Premier Gladys Berejeklian is panicking. Fair enough, but ‘death toll rises’?  Really?  It went from 13 to 14.  This is no more than journalistic hyperbole that will do nothing to reassure people that, unless you are over 60 and with an existing medical condition, Wuhan virus will almost certainly not kill you.  But I guess ‘NSW put on notice as one more person dies’ doesn’t have quite the same  attention-grabbing power.

Berejiklian’s logic appears to be ‘Oh My God, infections haven’t immediately ceased.  We must do more.’   She claims that it is concerning that there are now some 150 cases of community transfer and we can’t source of each and every one of thm.  Why is that so perturbing when we are told  the infection can be contracted by touching an infected surface or by contacting an infected person?

On the March 19, shortly after the first stage of ‘lockdown’ (500 people outside and 100 people inside restriction) was announced, my wife and I travelled to Sydney for a small family gathering (nine of us) at Kingsgrove Hotel for my grand-daughter’s second birthday.  At 5pm the main lounge of the hotel had no more than 30 people in it.  We sat in a separate lounge with an open roof.  We maintained the social distancing rules.  During the two hours we were there, at any one time there would have been no more than five other people in that lounge.  So it seems to me that even that early in the Stage One lockdown, people were pretty much doing the right thing.  Ten days later we see the rate of increase of infection start to flatten out.

We hear a lot of rhetoric from second-rate State politicians, such as NSW’s Rob Stokes, along the lines that ‘if people don’t start to take the rules seriously we will have to impose stricter controls’.   Admittedly,  I don’t live in Sydney but all the evidence I can see is that, overwhelmingly, we are ‘doing  the right thing’. Photographs of police accosting individual people or couples at the beach tend to support my contention, if they are the worst examples of inappropriate behaviour.  Even the weekend’s example of 33 self-entitled medicos flouting the rules (probably the worst example so far) would not justify the current collective punishment.  It seems to me this rhetoric is nothing more than a pre-emptive justification for the further lockdowns these panicked panjandrums are prepared — indeed, likely — to bring into force. Here’s the Chief Health Officer Victoria, Brett Sutton. Worth noting is that, as late as February 13, Dr Sutton was banging the alarmist drum at a summit on the “climate change emergency“. As he has moved from one “crisis” to the next, observers might suspect the good doctor is prone to getting himself a tad over-excited. Here are his thoughts from a few days ago:

Some of the behaviour today — when we’re asking people to stay home — has been really crap. It’s hard to change habits and it’s hard to see dangers that aren’t apparent yet. But with 3,000 cases of COVID in Australia this week, we’re headed to 100,000 in 2-3 weeks without change.

Above this post is a picture of St Kilda Beach on Friday, before the local council banned all beachgoing and called in the police to keep them out. Many then took up their sun worship on an adjacent grassy area, where officaldom raised no objection.

Crazy? Well it has since grown worse than that. Today (March 31), Victoria banned sales of guns and ammunition, with the closest the responsible minister could come to an explanation being some incoherent bilge about the need to forestall  domestic violence. Out on the Bay, the Water Police are telling fisherman to get their boats ashore and themselves home. But back to the Port Phillip Council’s beach nonsense:  if we accept that some, maybe many, of the people in the photo are couples who live together, there does seem to be a fair degree of ‘social distancing’ going on.

The burning issue: why is our death rate so low?  If the current trend proves sustainable, it will make a mockery of the panic we are witnessing.  But is it sustainable?  No doubt there are a number of factors, as pointed out by various authorities, such as the much higher population densities in hardest-hit European cities, plus the older median age, and higher prevalence of smoking in, say, Italy. We also can’t ignore the distinct possibility that a major factor is that coronavirus arrived during our Australian summer/early autumn.  My brother is a doctor (albeit a dermatologist) and he expects the death rate to climb in winter, as it does for all other respiratory tract infections.  He also believes the virus cannot be contained, no matter how many anglers are ordered to return to the boat ramps  — in his words, ‘the genie is out of the bottle’. On that estimation one might argue that the current response is fully justified.

We can only guess how bad it might get in winter.  Could it be as bad as Italy or Spain, where Wuhan’s toxic gift to the world is said to be ravaging the residents of old folks’ homes in particular?  Who knows? The question is — or should be — how many deaths are acceptable?  We routinely accept 1500 to 3000 deaths a year from influenza without shutting down the economy or mandating social distancing rules. Here’s a hypothetical:  Let’s say we get only 2,000 deaths from the Wuhan virus – a not unreasonable prognostication on current trends.  Would we then re-institute today’s (or even last week’s) draconian measures every winter from here on in?  Would we, at the very least, insist that oldies self-isolate?  (Am I the only one who finds the term ‘social distancing’ more than vaguely Orwellian?)

Which poses the question, if I am right about the seasonal factor, why did we not choose the ‘herd immunity’ option from the get-go or, at least a variant of it, as in protecting the most vulnerable while allowing the virus to infect those most likely to survive it?  Might it have worked in these benign summer months?  Did we miss an opportunity?  Let as many people get the virus when it will have its least effect on individuals and our health system is most able to cope.  Are we ‘flattening the curve’ now, only to see it steepen again in winter?

I’m not saying we should have done nothing but the current approach implies by its very nature that it is not intended to eradicate the disease, just to contain it until a vaccine can be developed.  Thus we could be in lockdown for twelve months.  That would be catastrophic.

If we do get an increased winter death rate, I doubt very much it will be more than an uptick – nothing like the rates reported in Italy and Spain. Of more concern is the probability that this will inspire the media and interested commentators to panic the government into further draconian measures.  If the government hasn’t factored this into their considerations they’d better start doing so now.

A possible circuit breaker could be the development of an effective treatment  — possibly chloroquine, whose main mark against would appear to be that President Donald Trump has described it as promising and hence, in the mainstream media view, a possibility to be torn for its provenance rather than its potential.

Time may prove the alarmists right, but there must be some balance.  When we are told in one breath about new measures being put in place today, with promises of even more the next, it does not instil a confident belief the government really knows what it’s doing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Our betters certainly know how spend billions of dollars. How sad if that burden on the economy for years to come, not to mention all the small business that may well never rise again, could have been avoided with a rational Plan B, rather than the prevailing panic of the ongoing Plan A.

24 thoughts on “Looking Through a Stethoscope

  • Biggles says:

    Join the dots. Sutton is an appointee of Victoria’s socialist government led by a self-confessed Trotskyite premier. The Climate and Health Alliance is a loony-left alarmist, anti-global warming outfit. How much common sense can you expect from such a cabal?

  • Peter Smith says:

    “Time may prove the alarmists right” No, it won’t. Protecting the vulnerable and building more critical-care beds, while allowing the economy to work as it should, was and is the best policy. We are in the hands of nincompoops, following panicky, single-focussed, public health officials like lapdogs. Best not to give them any get-out.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Peter, you are right. I withdraw that caveat.

  • Bwana Neusi says:

    Both Peters, you are to be applauded for daring to face up to these wannabe dictators. I see two parallels and neither is pretty.
    Firstly, we have seen over twenty years pass without any change of global warming, but the longer the scare is perpetuated, the more shrill the invective as the catastropharians ramp up the rhetoric to new heights.
    Expect the same approach to be taken by the bureaucracy and the MSM as they feel the corona issue slip from their grasp.
    When in Zambia at the turn of the century, we occasioned to travel seventy odd kilometres to the next main town. We had to pass through nine separate military checkpoints to make sure that we were not Congolese terrorists. The Congolese insurgency occurred in the early sixties, but the bureaucracy lingers on.
    Gun and ammunition sales banned – for how long? Western Australia segregated into regions – how long before we will need to apply for a permit to travel, like the application to travel the great central highway?

  • Guido Negraszus says:

    Psychological it all makes sense. Remember the bush fires many years ago? Oops, sorry – I meant between September 2019 and January this year. It couldn’t get any nuttier than this. If people, the media and many politicians went crazy over an imagined climate emergency, surely a real emergency must be worse in their minds. I would also suggest that we probably never had so many weak leaders as now. Constantly hiding behind “advise” and “experts”, never really leading anything.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    One of the more infuriating things to emerge in recent times is the ‘putting lives at risk’ meme as in e.g. a single man lying in the middle of a huge park reading a book is ‘putting lives at risk’. You are now allowed o leave our home for exercise. My wife and I go down to the waterfront or a walk. We have been doing this ell before the crisis. We walk for twenty minutes then sit on a bench and look at the ocean for five or ten minutes then walk back to the car. We are not the only ones who exercise in this way and many have coffee. Are we now to be denied a break in the middle of our exercise, I wonder?

  • pgang says:

    Is there going to be any avoiding getting into trouble and becoming a deplorable? Like all totalitarian states our society is separating itself into the sheep and those whom the sheep hate.
    Anyway we are off to the neighbours for dinner tonight, which as I understand it is now a criminal activity. One of them is a police officer.

  • brandee says:

    ‘The country’s in the very best of hands’ as the musical says! But those hands were trained by former PM, the ‘progressive’ in the conservative political party before he abruptly resigned.
    Each of the two principal trainees has style and a head for numbers but no inclination to balance a ‘borrow and spend’ policy that is loved by the Left with a ‘remove the fat’ policy sought by conservatives.
    It now seems it was just an impulsive thought bubble that forced through the appointment to the ABC of Ita Buttrose?
    Where is the leadership to replace the Turnbull/Pyne sinking submarine contract with one for nuclear powered subs?
    Where is the leadership to reduce head public service and head politician salary so that our levels are not the highest in the world?
    Where is a conservative leader who is not beholden to the renewables lobby so that we can debunk the climate change hysteria?

  • pgang says:

    BTW, ‘Am I the only one who finds the term ‘social distancing’ more than vaguely Orwellian?’

    No, you’re not. I refuse almost to hear it, let alone say it.

  • March says:

    The government and public suffering from hysteria that is feeding off itself. Look over response to H1N1 pandemic in 2009 to see what a rational response looks like. Social media a big factor in sending this into overdrive.

  • pgang says:

    There is one world leader is doing everything right. Brazil’s President Bolsonaro. Perhaps one of the Quadrant writers could give us an uplifting story on him.
    This is from Breitbart on 27th March.
    ‘This week, the president urged Brazilians to get “back to normal” as soon as they feasibly can, while also condemning the global “hysteria” over the pandemic that has brought most developed countries to a complete standstill.
    “Our lives have to go on. Jobs must be kept … we must, yes, get back to normal,” Bolsonaro said. “A small number of state and municipal authorities must abandon their scorched-earth ideas: the banning of public transport, the closing of commerce, and mass confinement.”
    According to the latest figures, Brazil has now recorded over 3,000 cases of the coronavirus and 77 deaths, a relatively low fatality rate compared to other countries such as Spain and Italy.’

  • Alistair says:

    When I was a small child I remember being totally confused by the shouty headline associated with some natural disaster or other. – “Death toll expected to rise!” I wondered in my childish innocence – Under what conditions could you expect the death toll to drop?

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Just listening to the Qld government grandstanding about the establishment of a ‘Care Army’ to look after the at-risk group, which now involves encouraging these people to remain at home. How long before ‘encouraging’ becomes mandating. We have known from the very beginning that over 70s are at most risk. Why did we not institute these measures back then when we had no idea how bad the Wuhan virus would affect us. Why institute them now when it appears that progress is being made and it is looking increasingly likely that we will will emerge relatively unscathed. Critical to this question is, what is the age profile of new infections? Are oldies being infected at a greater or equal rate to the general population? If so these increased restrictions may be justified. But if, as I strongly suspect, the incidence of infection within the at-risk group is declining, then this is nothing more than a draconian form of virtue signalling.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Further to my last, I’ve just realized why Palaczuk made this announcement – to deflect attention from the just announced pay rise for Qld public servants.

  • Homer Sapien says:

    “The hardest thing to sell people is the obvious.”

  • padraic says:

    In a normal year the majority of people get the flu vaccine and the few out of 25 million of us don’t, so many of that group die. That’s because the rest of the population has immunity and can carry on as normal. With Covid-19, without a vaccine, the whole population is without immunity so even if you isolate the oldies the virus will spread like wildfire among the rest if they all stay at work. That means many will get very sick at the same time and have to stay away from work or die (even younger people) so the economy will be stuffed anyway, plus health facilities overwhelmed with the sick and dying and with health professionals and allied staff all going down with it as well. The choice is do you let the economy crash in a blaze of spreadsheet statistics or subside in a series of falls which ensure a better outcome as we emerge from this disaster, hopefully with a vaccine as soon as possible to stop it in its tracks.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    The evidence is that not very many get very sick.

  • lloveday says:

    “In a normal year the majority of people get the flu vaccine and the few out of 25 million of us don’t, so many of that group die”.
    I was taken back to read that “few out of 25 million of us don’t”, so checked it and a Greg Hunt Media Release included:
    “This will take the overall number of flu vaccines available in Australia this year to over 12.5 million an increase from 11 million in 2018”. So it’s about a 50:50 split.
    Even that surprised me – I’ve never had or even considered a vaccine, but then I’ve never had the flu – so I rang a few mates and yes, they get the shot, not that it always helps as the 52yo daughter of one died last year, purportedly of flu, but she had other medical conditions.

  • pgang says:

    lloveday I’ve had the flu and you don’t want it. It hits you hard and fast. I rolled up to work in the morning feeling fine and by lunch time I couldn’t stand up on my own. I religiously get a shot every year now. Note that I still get a couple of colds every year, some worse than others.
    Covid-19 doesn’t sound much like the flu, which absolutely flattens you for days. It sounds more like a mild cold that can turn nasty in the lungs (like any cold can).

  • lloveday says:

    49 years ago I got what turned out to be Glandular Fever, felt a little seedy but hopped on the standing room only train to work, and hit the floor 3 or 4 stops into the trip. A little old lady offered me her seat, which I took, such was my wooziness. Got off at the next stop and went home, saw the doctor who diagnosed GF and prescribed rest.
    Since then nothing except a few injuries fixed by cortisone shots and, or, rest, one operation on an ulna nerve, and a heart problem for which I took medication for a few months then ceased as it was impacting on my aerobic capacity. Haven’t had a sickie since the Glandular Fever.
    You are right, I don’t want to know what the flu, or any thing other illness is like – hoping to one day go to sleep and not wake up.

  • lloveday says:

    “..or any other illness is like…”

  • padraic says:

    I normally would not disagree with any of you, but having to set up a huge tent hospital in Central Park in New York plus a Navy hospital ship plus nearly a 1000 deaths a day in Spain and Italy it looks like people get very sick. It’s not the same with seasonal flu – you don’t see ice rinks converted into mortuaries or bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks. That does not say we have to panic in Australia but we certainly have to exercise a degree of caution if we are to get through it.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Padraic, no-one here is saying it’s not serious – just that our experience appears to be different to Italy, Spain USA etc nd thus our response should not be driven by theirs. That may change when we get into winter but for now we seem to be going ‘over the top’ and the analogy is appropriate.

  • pgang says:

    padriac, I think your comment is a classic case of media manipulation, no offence, as we’re all victims. As regards Central Park, the tent is being set up ‘to handle an expected surge in patients.’. Read that carefully. Has it happened yet? No. That means the health system in NY is coping, even if a quarter of staff are taking advantage of being allowed to leave work for no reason. But you would think that this tent was full of dying people already.
    1,000 deaths in Spain per day would be about normal for their population. Remember that these events are dispersed across a large nation. Most people who die are elderly. Most people dying from this virus are elderly. Are these an additional 1,000 deaths? Maybe a proportion of them, yes, but not all of them are.
    The media is having a field day destroying our lives over what is a relatively benign event in the big scheme of things. Be careful about taking their stories at face value.

Leave a Reply