We’ll Pay in Pain When the Bill Comes Due

I was born in the Great Depression. “Depression Babies” they called us. Our parents were so proud. At the price of their own deprivations, they managed to rear us as healthy young Australians in a time of terrible hardship. I remember almost nothing. But as a toddler I saw able-bodied men, reduced to begging swaggies, coming to our door to ask for food. I found them frightening, but what really was frightening was invisible: they had lost control of their lives.

It is a great surprise to find that nearly 90 years later, I may well depart, not in the comfortable dotage I had saved all my life for, but in the next Depression. Unlike the ’30s, this one has been engineered by a government that succumbed to a panicky fear of death. It has sub-contracted its decision-making to panels of unelected doctors who have abandoned common sense in subservience to the cult of “modelling”. In short,  the 21st century’s looming Depression has been artificially induced, not inherited. Everyone is going to pay, and we’re going to pay for a very long time.

When the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 loomed on our horizon, its depredations in Wuhan had already terrorised the world. After sensibly closing the borders, the Morrison Government asked what would happen if the virus got loose in Australia. The Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, stepped forward to make soothing noises. There was no need to avoid shaking hands, he said. Go to the gym, go to the movies, ride on public transport, but wash your hands, he advised. More than 80 per cent of those infected with the Covid-19 (its new, politically correct name) would have only mild symptoms. There was very little evidence of the disease  in children. Even for people over 70 years of age with chronic ailments, the risk was low, he advised GPs. They should think about “social distancing”, he added. As the last flight took off from Wuhan, he told a press conference: “At this stage, evidence would suggest it’s not as severe a disease as SARS or MERS.”

But this calming voice was not that of a virologist, much less an epidemiologist. Brendan Murphy’s original profession had been as a nephrologist, a kidney specialist, but for the last 28 years he had been a medical administrator. Since 2016 he had been a bureaucrat, currently CMO, but in January was promoted to the post of Secretary of the Health Department. Not unexpectedly, his advice caused consternation and confusion in some quarters of the medical profession.

When he appealed to general practitioners around Australia to restrict their COVID testing and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) because of shortages, he elicited some acid responses, a sampling below

Before asking for help from GPs, you should consider why the government was not prepared for this pandemic. Was it not enough to build the panic among the general population with confusing information?

and this

Why are you wasting money and resources for testing so much, and outraging (sic), affecting the downturn of our economy. That looks like mismanagement of this virus.

and this

Professor Brendan Murphy, you are out of touch with the real world as a doctor and professor!

Meanwhile, boffins developing computerised mathematical models were about to usurp the responsibilities of governments. Behind the scenes, they had been working to predict what would happen to communities when a virus reached epidemic proportions. It was a fair question – it would have major implications for public health policy and governmental response. (Epidemic is defined as a disease affecting a large number of people in a short time.) The Prime Minister was about to declare a pandemic for Australia – envisaging the infection of an even greater proportion of the population. He was also about to be manipulated by the modellers.

We now know that the Commonwealth Health Department had turned to the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, based in Melbourne, to tell it what to expect from COVID-19.  From the very title of its modelling paper of March 31), To inform transmission reducing measures and health system preparedness, it is obvious the authors were not estimating the likely incidence, morbidity or mortality if the virus struck Australia in epidemic proportions. Instead, it started from the capacity of the health-care system to estimate the effect of social distancing, case isolation and quarantine, short of full lockdown. This is where the theories of infection multiplication, “flattening the curve” and increased ICU beds came from.

The government’s summary of the study, titled Impact of Covid-19 – Theoretical Modelling of how the health system can respond warned that even in prosperous Australia, without measures to limit spread of the disease, it could lead to demand for seven times the number of beds available. Translated to numbers, this led to the preposterous assumption that 89 per cent of people would catch the virus, almost 40 per cent would need hospital care requiring 35,000 ICU beds, but 85 per cent of patients could not get one. The study broke this down to show the assumed need for care – in hospital or ICU – by age group. They ranged from the insignificant 0.062% for children and youths to 35.8 per cent for the 70 to 79 age group and 65.9 per cent for the over-80s. It assumed  that one patient would need ICU care for every 3.4 admitted to hospital in every age group! But it did not disclose which country those guesses were based on.

These assumptions could only have been based on countries like China (5) and Italy, with their hugely different living conditions, smoking habits, health and age profiles. The government needed prodding before it belatedly released the modelling and its assumptions. Despite its disclaimers, it was intended to be prescriptive: “It helps us to predict the likely course of the pandemic in Australia over coming months.” The Doherty Institute did not model or recommend shutting down the economy, but its hypothetical scenario would have spooked government into the gross over-reaction we are now enduring.

The publication of these numbers led to alarmist headlines. The Medical Journal of Australia joined in, with its own warning that Australia’s mortality rate could be as high as Italy’s. With only 2,200 ICU beds, hospitals would be overwhelmed once the number of infections reached 22,000, it said, disregarding the fact that only about 15 per cent of the 10 per cent projected as going to hospital needed ICU beds. In the panic, there were urgent plans to double the number of ICU beds, and virtually nationalise the 657 private hospitals in Australia.

At the time of writing (April 10), the number of infectious cases confirmed is 6152 and 51 people have died.  Of those, some 45 — 88 per cent —  were over the age of 70. Most, if not all, had co-morbidities (pre-existing illnesses) so they died with but not necessarily of coronavirus.

The figures are currently running at 11 per cent of infectious cases taken to hospital, and 13 per cent of those requiring ICU care – a total of 88. Well within our normal capacity. The proportion of deaths to infections is 0.008, nine times less than the modelling forecast for the UK by Imperial College London team.(8)

Meanwhile, the Australian economy has been driven into the ground. Having artificially created massive unemployment from a perfectly functioning country, the desperate scenes of the 1930s have been avoided – but only by spending billions of dollars and bankrupting future prosperity. Distortions ripple through the economy. Stockmarket confidence was shattered, and while somewhat recovered of late has still taken down the earned wealth of millions. To stay alive, people already living a hand-to-mouth existence have had to be authorised to plunder their superannuation savings, with long-term consequences. Banks are coerced to suspend their dividends to finance the delay of loan and mortgage payments by people whose plight the government engineered. In a truly Orwellian twist, the Prime Minister could define the shutdown as “defending our sovereignty” and boast of the $130 billion JobKeeper plan as “the biggest lifeline package the nation has seen.”

What should have happened, of course, was a commonsense policy that did not pretend everyone could be saved from Convid-19. The assumptions and projections of the modelling should have been challenged. The truth should have been told: the great majority of the population was not likely to be seriously affected. Yes, some loss of life was inevitable, but the maintenance of a strong economy, continuing to perform as normally as possible, was essential, even paramount.

What went wrong?  We live in an emotional and sentimental age. Too often we heard the government and its ministers talking of saving every life (as if that were possible).  As Steve Waterson sagely enquired in his landmark Australian essay begging for a return to rationality: “When did ‘precious’ become ‘priceless’?” The Prime Minister’s sense of Christian compassion led him to get “the balance”, as he put it, wrong. It has brought out the Fuhrer Complex in far too many, especially police who, as one of Premier Dan Andrews’ officious officers was reported to have crowed after handing a $1600 fine to a teenage learner driver taking instruction from her mum, “We’re really smashing you guys today.” All this will make it very, very difficult to return to normality.

When this is over the statistics will reflect merely a premature “harvesting” largely of the old and infirm, balanced by a decline of deaths in the subsequent period. Deaths from the Wuhan virus will prove to be only a blip on the scale of the normal 160,00 deaths a year. But Australia will be beginning to face the real crisis – an unnecessarily weakened economic and financial position in a crippled world.

13 thoughts on “We’ll Pay in Pain When the Bill Comes Due

  • pgang says:

    An emotional and sentimental age? Hmm. This is the narcissistic age of personal melodrama, so I can’t see that. This is the age of expecting someone else to solve your problems because you deserve it. People don’t care about other people dying, as long as it’s not them. Perhaps the government’s nanny-coddling response has been perfectly attuned to the times. I still think that this has been directed by something unearthly, although I don’t expect agnostics to acknowledge that.
    As for Morrison, a Christian? Don’t make me laugh. Waving your arms around emotively in a liberal church does not build a foundation of faith. He stepped into the role of tyrant like a hand slides into a glove. No Christian could possibly preside over the forced closure of churches.
    Had to go to Westfield today to buy my wife’s birthday present. (Is that allowed? Probably not). Normally I would avoid the place like the plague (although not this plague), but it was awful to see all the small businesses shuttered. ‘Closed until further’. Sadly for many of them, just closed.

  • Stephen Due says:

    It is important to understand that the “number of infectious cases” is not the same as the “number of infections”, which is almost certainly a lot higher, because it must include asymptomatic cases or mild cases that have occurred without being detected by the authorities. It is true to say that the ratio of deaths to known cases is 0.008. However it is not true to say the ratio of deaths to infections is 0.008 because the number of infections is unknown. Meanwhile the reckless vandalism of the Australian economy, and the destruction of businesses and livelihoods, proceeds apace. I’m afraid the politicians have been manipulated by the media (as usual) and badly misinformed by scientists whose incompetence is truly staggering. But then it was scientists who gave us the climate ’emergency’.

  • lloveday says:

    pgang wrote: No Christian could possibly preside over the forced closure of churches.
    No true Christian could do that, in my opinion. Maybe some would say no true Christian would have been drinking in a bar yesterday, but I was, and the owner’s son (owner not present) told me how the family used an audio to listen to and pray that morning; I told him I prayed alone. No particular problem to me, I like “aloneliness”, but it was clear he (and I’m sure his father who raises money for Christian charities through his bar as he is able) missed their normal congregational gathering. Much more than they feared being infected.

  • en passant says:

    Two paragraphs from my comment on Peter Smith’s article of 30th March (a lifetime ago …):
    “This is the economic destruction of the West (and Australia) that the globalists, climate Cultists, Fabians, Totalitarians (of every ilk) and Socialists have dreamed about since forever. Greta can now go back to skool as the capitalist world has deliberately suicided at the behest of our politicians.” Let me add that despite the Victorian roads being nearly empty, the total AUSTRALIA-WIDE death toll associated with the Wuhan Chinese virus has still not come close to the VICTORIAN road toll for this year. I drove down our local restaurant strip (which has about 50 restaurants. There are now six ‘FOR LEASE’ signs up (that’s 12% gone forever for the arithmetically challenged i.e. people like politicians) + the men’s hairdresser I have used since 1984. The suicide rate will begin to spike soon – and nobody will be able to work out why ….
    “We have destroyed the Australia I knew because 1,800 (now 6,500 out of 25M) people are known to be infected and 16 (now 60) have died.
    The look of self-satisfaction on ScoMo’s face at the destruction he and Parliament have wrought on Oz beggars belief. Why not add a super-tax to our last productive industry and finish the job? Kill off mining and we will have destroyed Oz and saved the planet.” Does it get any better than that?

  • Peter Smith says:

    Today I did some legal food shopping at Woolies before visiting a local gift store which has a selection of interesting toys, many made in France (apart, of course, from the inevitable Chinese made stuff). I bought a spinning top and a talking monkey, which will stand me in good stead for upcoming grandchildren’s birthdays. At the end the lady behind the counter thanked me for shopping, which was nice of her; cos I was breaking the law, which forbids you to go shopping for non-essentials, even though all of the goods in this shop, which was legally open, only sells non-essentials. Go figure. I suppose this is what being in a loony bin feels like. That is the way to think of it Geoffrey. Soon nursy, looking disconcertingly like Scott Morrison, will come along, give us a sedative and strap us down for the night.

  • ianl says:

    Stephen Due
    > “… scientists whose incompetence is truly staggering. But then it was scientists who gave us the climate ’emergency”

    Great arm-waving, but no real point.
    How do you decide which expert to listen to ? I am not scientifically illiterate so I do have a real choice here. That does not mean that my choice counts in the maelstrom of our public rookery in full throat. But I do *resent* illiterate comments such as (paraphrased): “All scientists are disingenuous”.
    The real issue is that scientifically illiterate people, when presented with some sciency-sounding proposition, cannot tell if it’s real or spurious. So their gullibility is rewarded …
    An egregious example of this in the current wave of hysteria is the grating use in the MSM of the word “epicentre” to describe some current infectious hotspot. Epicentre is a very exact geoscientific word with a precise meaning which almost no MSM journalist or editor has any care for, or knowledge of. The end result of this ignorant foolery is that the concept of epicentre is debased, losing its’ precision. There goes 300 years of carefully built geoscience in understanding tremors, eruptions and tectonics, lost in a welter of “look at me, I’m so knowledgeable” shallow MSM glitter.
    And you expect accuracy in the hysteria of a pandemic ?

  • DG says:

    1. Christians drink alcohol. Don’t confuse us with 50s wosers. The Bible enjoins the drinking of strong liquor in the Old Testament and clearly indicates divine approval for it at the miracle of Cana in the New. I for one enjoy beer, wine (as long as it contains alcohol) and spirits (only the good ones…although Aldi’s whisky is surprisingly drinkable). I have a distinct distaste for non-alcoholic communions!
    2. When a modeller brings out his model, ask to see the sensitivity analysis and, the error bands and outcome ranges in various probability bands. If these aren’t available, it’s not modelling its propaganda.

  • Peter Sandery says:

    pgang, you write that you “don’t expect agnostics to acknowledge that” – I may be getting senile but my understanding of an agnostic is a person who actually believes in a superior being but is not sure of the road to get to her. I think the word you really should have used was “atheist”. Many people make the same mistake.

  • pgang says:

    Peter Sandery I tossed up which word to use. Atheists – obvious. But most agnostics I think would struggle to acknowledge anything sinister going on behind the scenes, thanks to the prevalent humanism of our time.

  • Max Rawnsley says:

    Whether the modellers and National Cabinet’s advice is 100% accurate, who really knows. Risk management is a relatively conservative activity, as it should be. This seems to be how the Govt has acted with state’s support. The outcome in Sweden is a prime example of under reaction as is the USA and others.
    Geoffrey L says it’s a reaction doing untold damage to the economy. Agree but it’s a level of reaction in a soft western democracy very used to ‘no worries’ and a false living standard. Comparisons with the Depression era are too simple. Circumstances have been irreversibly altered by technology, education, overseas travel, social media, multi racialism etc. We have not ever come to terms with how to compete in the Sino-Indian century. Free trade agreements and the globalisation mantra have created a myth about our (economic) place. They are the commercial equivalent to the climate change hysteria, both promoted with religious fervour, often by self-interest with little, if any, recognition of outcomes outside the shouty belief system.
    The bill will likely run past $1T, not something we would have ever imagined. And not one we are even remotely prepared to manage. One side of politics is debt deaf, the other has a very slim majority. The Senate is controlled by cross bench senators, of dubious ability. May 2022 election will be a real shot for the socialistic agenda that Labor and the Greens have long coveted. It will be shrouded in all manner of ‘fair go’ etc and a weakened community may grasp it.
    Our trading partners are generally no better off with the likely exception of China now back at work it seems but it needs the now dormant markets too.
    Our real concern needs to be the reality of debt in a damaged world economy with China and a few others readying themselves to increase their influence and invade our sovereignty. I suspect its already underway via the ASX and proxies, aided by the many fellow travellers in our midst. FIRB is too often oblivious to this creep. Inertia in the recovery phase will be a serious blunder and lead to political instability. A breeding ground for socialism and debt purveyors.

  • T B LYNCH says:

    We are becoming the Argentina of the South Pacific. No need to repay lenders, just default like Weimar Germany.

  • lloveday says:

    ” Christians drink alcohol. Don’t confuse us with 50s …..
    In case that was directed at me, I was referring to being in a bar pretty well all day Good Friday rather than at Church; a very close friend died the day before and I was commemorating his life and celebrating the HCA decision so I “had to” drink twice as much as normal. Wife reckons they were just excuses.

  • James Falkiner says:

    On current projections the cost of saving the lives we have likely saved is running probably somewhere between $20m and $50m/life. Where else in our health system is the implied value of a life anywhere near that rate?

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