This is from Health Minister Greg Hunt’s website, reporting a transcript of an interview he gave on April 14.
It’s very different from this concept of herd immunity that has been raised a little bit, but that would mean 60 per cent of the population, 15 million people. If you had a one per cent loss of life, that would be catastrophic. That is absolutely not our policy.
So, to add to Mr Hunt’s arithmetic. One percent of 15 million would mean 150,000 Australian deaths from COVID-19. He is right, that would be catastrophic. It would be unacceptable. Such a death rate, relatively speaking, is in the same order of magnitude that the Imperial College (IC) report, which I reviewed, estimated would apply in the US and the UK if no mitigation/suppression measures were implemented.
I don’t want to pull punches. The IC report has been largely discredited as alarmist. But that aside, a month has passed since the report was issued. Hunt is now armed with more knowledge. Also, he is apparently a very bright bloke and can’t hide behind dimwittedness. He is therefore in danger of being perceived by some of deliberately putting out misleading information to excuse the government’s gross, damaging and continuing overreaction. That is regrettable. Let me explain.
First, no-one ever suggested that nothing be done. The alternative strategy was to protect the vulnerable, build up additional hospital capacity, and to allow people to continue working and life to go on, while at the same time, taking extra precautions in social situations and at the workplace to cut down the incidence of transmissions.
Second, there is increasing evidence that the fatality rate of those contracting this disease is much less than one per cent; and this particularly applies in a country like Australia with first-class medical resources. For example, virologists tested 80 percent of the population in a town in Germany (Gangelt) finding an estimated fatality rate of 0.37 percent. This was known on or before April 9.
Now, to be clear, such a fatality rate is not small. By comparison, the seasonal flu has a fatality rate of about 0.1 percent. Note, however, that the US fatality rate for the virulent flu of 1957-58 was around 0.27 percent; and the economy was not nearly shutdown. And, the likelihood, when the story is finally told, is that the fatality rate for Covid-19 will fall below 0.27 percent; perhaps well below.
The Economist (“Footprints of an Invisible Enemy”) cited a recent paper (“Using ILI surveillance to estimate state-specific case detection rates”, by J. Silverman & A. Washburne; Johns Hopkins CSSE) in the following terms:
Covid-19 takes 20-25 days to kill victims. The paper reckons that 7 million Americans were infected from March 8th to 14th, and official data show 7,000 deaths three weeks later. The resulting fatality rate is 0.1%, similar to that of flu. That is amazingly low, just a tenth of some other estimates.
Clearly, we are observing the estimated fatality rate coming down as more information comes to hand. This is not surprising. If the disease is as highly infectious as the experts tell us, and the fatality rate anywhere near to one percent, we would have had many more deaths.
My third and final point is that quoting an overall fatality rate glosses over the different rates among different age groups. Based on the latest Worldometer data, 79 percent of those dying, having been infected, are over 70 years old. I assume that including those younger but suffering from serious illnesses would push the percentage to well over 90 percent. In other words, if these cohorts of people were largely protected from infection, any overall fatality rate — even if it were one percent in the absence of counter measures — could in practise be bought down to acceptably low levels without shutting everything down.
Greg Hunt is treating us as fools. The easy solution is to shut everything down and bugger the cost. And to then justify it with alarmist talk about imaginary deaths which would have occurred if we were not blessed with such wise government.
The harder solution – which required not panicking when the infection broke out – was to spend a little time considering and debating options. At a very early stage, there was sufficient information to know who was at most risk, and time to work out how best to protect them. Remember, money was no object, as we’ve discovered.
So please, Mr Hunt, spare us. It is bad enough to be locked inside while seeing the economy and people’s businesses and working lives going down the tube, queues at Centrelink, deserted streets, children out of school, government spending money as though it were confetti, and armed police forces bringing out their inner Stasi, without hearing your self-justifying, self-exculpatory, propaganda.
The moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on. We can’t change the past. We can the future. So, please save the furniture and open up the country now, albeit prudently.