When Panic Is Mistaken for Policy

On Friday, March 20,  I was due to fly from Sydney to Adelaide for a much anticipated family wedding.  Four days earlier and after much thought, my wife and I, being in the age-related ‘at-risk’ group for the Wuhan virus, decided to do the responsible thing and cancel our trip.  I doubt that, among the threatened cohort, we were alone in protecting ourselves, and, indirectly, the health system from what by then was recognised as a pandemic.

On Wednesday, March 18, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with the support of the National Cabinet, announced the first tranche of what has turned out to be a rolling series of restrictions.   Essentially, these initial measures involved the still-novel term ‘social distancing’, hygiene rules, a limit of 500 people at outside gatherings and no more than 100 at inside gatherings,. Schools were to remain open, despite calls that they be shut. All these measures were based on what, at the time, was billed as the best medical advice available.

On the March 19, my wife and I travelled to Sydney for a small family gathering (nine of us) at the Kingsgrove Hotel for my grand-daughter’s second birthday.  At 5pm the hotel’s main lounge  hosted no more than 30 people. We sat in a separate lounge with an open roof and dutifully maintained observed 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.  Looking back, it seems to me that even so early in the ‘lockdown’, people were pretty much “doing the right thing” — the encomium with which all of Australia would soon become endlessly familiar.

On March 24, PM Scott Morrison announced Stage Two of the restrictions:

# Food courts, nail salons, museums and libraries are among those ordered to shut

# Weddings have been limited to the couple, celebrant and witnesses

# Funerals of more than 10 people are no longer allowed to take place

# Australians are also banned from travelling overseas under a further crackdown

On March 25, I noted in the comment thread beneath my own Quadrant Online article, “Death, Where is Thy Swing“, there were already signs of improvement:

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.

In other words, there is evidence the early measures, those of March 18, were already kicking in, a downward trend that we have seen has continue.  Even the government, primarily at the urging of an increasing number of commentators, experts and agencies, is now talking about easing restrictions at some point, although the messaging is still very mixed.

Now let me advance the timeline to April 7, the day the government released the modelling used to justify the response.  The projections were based on data from overseas, which is fair enough, since we had none of our own at that point.  It was, however, an anodyne exercise that essentially compared and contrasted the infection and death rates thought likely to arise from a do-nothing approach with the results projected for ‘social distancing’.  This was modelling solely from the perspective of health professionals. There was no mention of the economy.

Had we had remained at Stage One restrictions, our economy would still be largely intact.  We might also be exactly where we are today in terms of infections and death.  On the other hand, we may have suffered, say, 20,000 infections and 200 deaths by now, but we would still be able to congratulate ourselves on a remarkable achievement in comparison with Italy, the UK and the horrendous headlines now emerging daily from New York. You may argue that 20,000 infections and 200 deaths is mere speculation on my part.  ‘It may well have been more’, you might say, and ‘we’ll never know.’ And you would be dead right, which is my point: we did not allow nearly enough time – a scant six days – to judge the efficacy of Stage One measures.

Instead, prodded by advice that focused solely on the health aspect of the pandemic, we torched the economy.

Contrast the government’s response with that of researchers working to unlock the secrets of the Wuhan virus. Researchers, rightly, stress the need for a calm, methodical approach that will eliminate, or at least minimize, the possibility of unintended consequences.  They recognize that the longer the process takes, the more people will get infected and the more lives COVID-19 will claim. We accept that unfortunate reality as a fact of life.  Even in the case of chloroquine, which is a known and safe drug (I took it every week for three years in the early 60s), a proper testing is regime is being followed.

By contrast, the government response to managing the economic impact of the crisis has been anything but methodical. Indeed, it has been a shambles of ad hoc decisions and policy made on the run. Let me give you one example– the JobKeeper allowance.

JobKeeper is available to eligible businesses that continue to trade.  If such a business can demonstrate a 30 per cent reduction in turnover in a single month, compared with the same month of a year earlier, it will be eligible to receive $1500 per fortnight for all eligible employees.  Take my brother as an example. He runs a car dealership in Canberra and is working hard to keep trading.  His workshop traffic greatly assists in this regard, but car sales are a problem, as people are much less likely to buy a car in these times and every potential customer is precious. However, he points out that the lack of sales, not just in his business but generally, is not helped by messaging from every corner that citizens — you, me, all of us — may only leave our homes to buy essentials, take exercise or seek medical treatment.  My brother tells me the Motor Trades Association of Australia has received written advice that it is permissible to leave home to shop for a car,  but he complains that no-one is telling the public as much. Worse, police enforcing the restrictions seem to have no idea themselves what is and isn’t permitted, leading to people being booked for washing their cars, giving driving lessons and surfing.

With these measures not merely crimping but strangling businesses that might otherwise be eking out a living, the Jobkeeper allowance seems a palliative for a curse that need never have been made so bad in the first place. Some 700,000 business have registered, and if each has only one employee we are talking $12 billion over the projected six months. Do the maths: if those businesses average five employees, we are up to $60 billion.  Admittedly, if businesses close, their employees will go onto JobSeeker allowance, so the money will go out the door anyway.  That said, if the government’s objective is to keep businesses trading and suppress rising unemployment, policymakers might want to clarify the messaging.

The tragedy of all this is that, when it is all over and we analyse the response with the benefit of hindsight and a view to determining what worked and what didn’t, we will not be able to sort the wheat from the chaff.  The essence of scientific experimentation is to change only one variable at a time, an approach which also should have been the method shaping responses to the Wuhan virus.  Yes, even at the risk of more infections. We already knew that the death rate was very low in terms of the overall community, so our governments could, and should, have embraced a little more clinical detachment. This is particularly true since we knew the vast majority of cases involved returning overseas travellers and those who came in close contact with them.

Even as I write, the powers that be are doubling down. The deputy chief medical officer has conceded we are close to the virus dying out but adds that we are likely to see a second wave of infections as winter takes hold, thus social distancing rules must remain in place for six months,  as The Australian reported

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the government would not lift social-distancing rules in the next six months, unless under advice from health authorities, in response to plans by the NRL to play matches as early as May 21 and pleas from business heavyweights to reopen the economy sooner. “Nobody would be more excited than us if restrictions could start to be lifted sooner … the only way that would happen is if the medical advice indicates to us that it is safe to do so,” he said. “If that (shutdowns) is no longer required based on expert medical advice, then of course we would be making relevant adjustments at this time. The sooner the better, again, of course. But we are not going to do this unless the advice is that it is safe to do so.”

What is so magical about six months?  We know we won’t have a vaccine by then, so what do the authorities think might have changed by September? Like the origin of the Wuhan virus, the logic behind the flow of edicts and measures from on high remains an ongoing mystery.

  • en passant

    Clowns to the Left of me, Lite-Green Liberals to the Right of me – and a wonderful opportunity for a ‘Big Brother’ totalitarian ‘One World Government (Read Agenda 2030) to test how easy it is to control the population ‘for their own good’.

  • Peter Smith

    In the Imperial College report it was estimated that the effect of suppression measures would take three weeks to become evident in the data. What we have is this kind of thing which I regularly get in my inbox. Victoria shuts schools as the death toll rises. Yes, indeed, one or two more deaths; and think about it, death is so final that the death toll can never fall and is almost bound to rise. Governments jump at shadows in panicky responses. Unfortunately, the kind of considered, well-rounded, intelligent and brave leaders we need in a crisis such as this are most unlikley to be thrown up by our political processes. A Churchill comes along infrequently. I still have hopes for Trump – we shall see.

  • Peter OBrien

    Peter, it seems to me that, in our case, the effects became evident in under three weeks, but your point is , of course, correct. The government should have allowed at least that period before jumping into new measures. The only reason to ramp up the restrictions within that timeframe would be if there was a drastic increase in the rate of infection (allowing for the fact that we knew it was exponential not linear) or deaths. That was not the case. They panicked and we are now paying the price.

  • Alice Thermopolis

    “The logic behind the flow of edicts and measures from on high remains an ongoing mystery.”

    When life becomes a Theatre of the Absurd with the script written by “medical experts” and a government that apparently believes the economy can be switched on and off like a light-switch, the only logic seems to to be “we have to destroy lives (and livelihoods) to save lives, whatever the cost”.

    The PM is already rehearsing his defence: “things are nowhere near as bad as they might have been if we have done nothing.”

    As for data, extraordinary to learn the modelling driving the Great Closure was: “not based on Australian data. It does not predict what would happen in Australia. It is based on a theoretical – you have heard that word a lot this morning – epidemic.”

    Journalist: “When will we see predictive modelling based on Australian data?” (ABC PM, 7 April, 2020)

    Answer: “Soon….”

    As a character laments in The Plague (Camus): “Weariness is a kind of madness. There are times when the only feeling I have is one of mad revolt.” (Bondi Beach, anyone?)

  • Tezza

    All very true, Peter. It is strictly speaking true, as you say, that
    “The tragedy of all this is that, when it is all over and we analyse the response with the benefit of hindsight and a view to determining what worked and what didn’t, we will not be able to sort the wheat from the chaff. The essence of scientific experimentation is to change only one variable at a time, an approach which also should have been the method shaping responses to the Wuhan virus. ”

    However even in the shambles in which we are now mired, it is possible to discern that the later, panicked restrictive measures were the most costly and the least effective. This is because it is impossible for a restriction today to cause a decline in the number of infections recorded tomorrow.

    Consider the time that it takes for a restriction in social interaction to have direct effect on measured new cases of infection: about 5-6 days from behaviour change reducing infection rates to a decline in the rate of symptoms showing up in those still being infected, and about the same again from symptoms showing up through testing to the result of a new infection showing up as a confirmed new daily statistic of COVID-19. Say these lags are about 10-12 days in total, which Jo Nova notes is about the standard international lag from a meaningful policy restriction to a measured infection decline.

    In addition to these direct effects, there are the indirect effects you note of people spontaneously becoming more careful in their social distancing as a result of general information from overseas (eg excess deaths in Italy, Spain, France, the UK and the US) and the publicity given to tightening Australian restrictions.
    If for these reasons of lagged cumulative direct and indirect links one lags the announcement of new restrictions to the level of recorded new daily infections about 10-12 days later, one can see the measures up to the 18 March that you note were responsible for the collapse in the daily rate of new infections from about 28 March onwards. All the draconian forced closures of particular businesses and the discretionary powers created for police to harass and fine citizens not obeying house arrest were subsequent to the effective measures, and were both redundant in effect and particularly costly in terms of the economy, employment and liberty.

    This analysis offers an obvious path forward for progressively removing the most onerous restrictions starting right now. With citizens now well understanding the case for some limits such as 50/500 on indoor/outdoor gatherings subject to interpersonal distances of 1.5m outdoors and 4 square metres indoors, we have plenty of scope for fine tuning measures to control the inevitable occasional flare up of infection rates, well within the enhanced capacity limits of our health system, while letting community resistance to SARS-CoV2 build comparatively harmlessly.

  • rosross

    In terms of your experience with chloroquine, I would simply say, that was your experience. Having lived for decades in Africa and India and in three serious malaria zones, the advice we had from medical professionals and research was as follows:

    1. such drugs will not do much harm in the short-term but can do serious harm in the long-term. Most expats never touched them.

    2. in addition, these anti-malarial drugs, the real experts, South African doctors told us, often mask the symptoms of the disease and you can be dead of malaria before you know you have it.

    All drugs are toxic and have side-effects and rushing to find a quick fix in the case of Coronavirus is unlikely to end well.

    Beyond that, some sensible words here.

  • March

    It’s Government by hysteria at present. A good comparison will be recovery of Sweden vs Australia in longer term.

  • Peter Smith

    rosros, the FDA has authorised the “emergency” use of hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients. The treament guidelines specify double the normal dose on day one and then the regular dose for from 4 to 7 days. The potential deleterious effects of long-term use are irrelevant. By all accounts the incidents of this drug causing harm are extremely low. It is now being used in numbers of countries by many doctors who, having considered the evidence to hand, obviously think it may do some good. Of course, the results of the clinical trials which are now being undertaken will be defining. But they will take months to complete. In the meantime, if I were to fall sick, I would insist, as best I could, on being given this drug together with the recommended antibiotic, and also zinc, I understand. But maybe here I would be denied it and die – sorry can’t give it to you until the trials are complete.

  • Guido Negraszus

    Leaders in Western democracies have lost the plot long ago. Endless debates about climate change, same-sex marriage, equality, gender and so on. All non-essential issues to use a new term. They lost focus on what really matters to the majority of the people, like being prepared for a REAL crisis. Then comes COVID-19 along and bang, PANIC. Scott Morrison, still bruised from the bush-fires, couldn’t afford to apply common sense or rational approach. So he opens the bureaucracy cage and hands over to the experts. From that moment he was free of responsibility since he is only following the advice from the experts. Morrison did fine until the day he closed the economy. Unnecessary, unexplained and way over the top. Amazingly the latest Newspoll suggested that he was doing a great job. Not in my books. Also, will we ever regain all of our freedoms? Federal and state leaders really seem to enjoy it.

  • Peter OBrien

    Tezza, yes we could go back to Stage One restrictions (with a few tweaks) tomorrow.

  • Peter Sandery

    I have had a gut feeling all along that Morrisson and his team are showing admirable leadership in this matter, but your article Peter O’B has enlightened me; Whilst they listened to the medical advice there was either no advice tendered, or if tendered, taken no cognisance of, in relation to the economic liabilities of their proposed and now implemented policies, that they forgot that the primary characteristic of sound political leadership it to balance all consequences in a way that is most beneficial to the whole , not a small proportion of the commonweal.

  • Greg Williams

    All of these pandemics, from ebola to SARS to any of the multiple corona viruses that have impacted on humanity over the years follow a pattern. When the virus is new, it collects all the low hanging fruit, in this case, the elderly with morbidity issues. Then it starts to run into people who have stronger immune systems and no co-morbidities. At this point, it starts to fail to replicate, and then eventually either dies out or becomes a non-issue. The problem with suppression, IMO, is that we are saving a whole pile of the “low hanging fruit” (of which I am probably a member to tell the truth, given my age) and as soon as the suppression is lifted, there is another wave of deaths plus proliferation of the virus.

    I think governments and very rich people, like Gates, Buffet, etc, like to keep the hoi polloi in a state of fear. We are much more compliant if there is an existential threat around that only governments can protect us from. We have had 20 years of being told the ice caps will melt, the seas will rise, the earth will self immolate, etc, etc, etc unless we stop using cheap electricity. The climate change hoax is running out of steam, and even Gates (now advocating modular nuclear) and Buffet ( buying up big in fossil fuels again) are jumping off the band wagon, having made a squillion from all the subsidies for renewables. Along with a truckload of others, including in Australia, Flannery, Turnbull and Unions. It’s no accident that Julia Gillard, for whom my respect goes up and up given her demeanour since losing the prime ministership, said there will be no carbon tax under any gov I lead, suddenly and then suddenly did a u-turn on that promise. I suspect she was forced to by the unions whose super has been heavily invested in renewables. It’s no accident that Turnbull is such an advocate of renewables given his son, Alex, is a major shareholder and operator of Infigen Energy, a wind farm company. You can bet your bottom dollar that the billionaires around the planet will have huge investment into pharmaceutical shares, and when the right medicine is found, they will get more billions. The only thing these guys want, despite presenting a veneer of philanthropy, is to distance themselves financially from the hoi polloi. Keeping us scared does a lot to achieve that.

    Call me cynical or deluded, but I have been around long enough to have seen

    (a) existential threats are never that
    (b) the very rich keep getting richer
    (c) governments only want control over us, and the bigger they are the more control they want.

    Take a look around and see what is being sacrificed in the name of this CV. Just me personally, I can’t visit my nearly 100 yo mother. Nor can any of my younger siblings now. I can’t visit my grandkids. The ones in Busselton are in another region, which I am not allowed to cross over to, and the other one has parents who are still young enough to be scared stiff and so they tell me not to turn up. I can’t go to Mandurah for a surf this weekend because that would be classified as non-essential travel. I can’t go to Jacobs Ladder because the gates are locked, and Manning Steps are out of bounds too. If I was in Victoria, I wouldn’t be able to go out into the middle of Port Philip Bay in a tinny, kilometres from anyone else, and fish. We are virtually prisoners in our own houses. These are very basic civil liberties that are being more strongly policed than if we were in North Korea. And because we are all terrified, we are being compliant.

  • ianl

    From the viewpoint of the various govts and public health advisers, there can be no “exit” strategy since any notion of allowable deaths has now become electoral poison and when the external borders (planes, ships) are re-opened, C19 will be re-introduced to a biologically naive population.
    A vaccine ? Coronaviruses mutate rapidly – 2 or 3 times in a week for this one, the virology labs have determined – so even if a vaccine is developed in a relatively short time, it is as likely as not to be outmoded within a month. Of course, eventually a mutation will occur that our immune system will cope with, as happened with SARS, MERS, HiV, the various Ebola strains and even the Spanish flu from about 100 years ago. None of those ever had an effective vaccine developed, but their more virulent strains simply became extinct in the normal course of their evolution.
    As previously noted, watch the Swedish experiment, now well on its’ way. An obvious factor that has helped the Australian effort is the cultural habit of the 1-acre separate suburban house. This is an example of “social distancing” (actually, anti-social distancing) that is fortuitous in the immediate welter. I have read, but cannot guarantee the accuracy, that about 50% of the Swediah population lives alone.

  • ianl

    I meant to add that a new approach to vaccine development is being undertaken by some of the research labs in that they are trying to understand the precise nature of the atomic/molecular structure of C19 in an attempt to develop a vaccine that may well anticipate the still lethal muations that occur. I certainly hope so.

  • David Stewart

    A possible solution to deaths caused by complications from COVID 19.
    Why not use high doses of intravenous or liposomal vitamin C as a first resort for all those who are in intensive care because of COVID 19.

  • DG

    On the police: I’d imagine they have been poorly briefed. A friend was stopped travelling to his home in the bush (evidenced by a rent notice that the cop discounted because it was ‘conveniently’ on his phone: by email, of course, that’s how the notice was sent!). He was preparing it to be let (a permitted activity). The cop turned him around, suspicious that my pal was on holiday because his family was in the car. His family would be working with him on the property. They were not going on holidays, they had all their food with them so would not be shopping. A few clearing questions from the cop and they could have been on their way, but they instead received a string of illogical questions and conclusions bereft of any reference to the regulation and an order to return to the wife’s home.

  • ianl

    Which state ?

    #3407642, posted on April 12, 2020 at 4:39 pm
    Catallaxy. I fear the comment has a point.

  • Doubting Thomas

    As I have said before, blaming governments or, worse, individuals like Morrison and Trump is futile. They can only do what is constitutionally and politically possible. As the American and, to our shame, recent Australian experience has shown, at crucial times in the early days of this type of emergency, the cacophony of mixed messages from the “experts” and the highly partisan media, together with the politically heterogeneous states with conflicting interests, will drown out and effectively prevent any rational planning. And thereafter, the increasingly rapid spread of the virus, means that governments and health authorities are condemned to play hopeless catch up games.

    Nobody knows what will happen next, but harassing governments about what they woulda, coulda, shoulda done is a game best played in the blinding light of hindsight when the emergency is over. All else is just pointless distraction.

  • Peter OBrien

    Part of the problem is that government and all its cheerleaders are conflating ‘social distancing’ with commercial activity as if the two were mutually exclusive.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I agree with that, Peter, but I can’t see an alternative that would be manageable given that human nature is inherently undisciplined and unpredictable. Give an inch and they’ll tend to take as many miles as they think they can get away with.

    I must admit that the heavy-handed police harassment of people maintaining their distance from others in parks is something that goes way beyond anything reasonable.

    If we ever get caught so underprepared again, it will be entirely our own fault.

  • Farnswort

    ianl, it is my understanding that coronaviruses do not mutate particularly fast compared to other viruses like influenza.

    I do, however, agree with your view that developing an effective long-term vaccine is probably more difficult than is being let on.

    Other coronaviruses in humans tend to only confer short term immunity after infection. That’s the reason people keep getting colds throughout their lives. The antibodies just don’t seem to last.

  • Peter OBrien

    As I understand it, there has never been a vaccine developed for a coronavirus and if it happens this time it will only be because every lab in the world is working on it. And as you say, who knows how long it will take. Which brings us back to depending on effective treatment rather than prophylaxis.

  • Peter OBrien

    On the subject of chloroquine, here is an extract from a WSJ article that appears in today’s Australian:

    “Since March 27, the French Regional Centre of Pharmacovigilance in Nice, which is in charge of tracking hydroxychloroquine cases across the country, has received notifications about 54 COVID-19 patients who developed serious heart problems while taking the drug, according to the head of the centre, Milou-Daniel Drici. Seven of those patients suffered cardiac arrest and four died, Dr Drici said. In most cases, the heart issues were clearly linked to the use of hydroxychloroquine, which is well known to cause specific heart malfunctions, he said.”

    The article is titled “Donald Trump’s drug of choice killing the sick”. That alone should give anyone pause before placing any credence in this claim, which, frankly, beggars belief. Millions of people have been taking chloroquine for over 50 years and yet 54 hear problems emerge in a three week period in a population of only thousands?

    There is another agenda at work here.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Peter, I absolutely agree with you. I took chloroquine as prescribed for years in PNG and Malaysia without ill effects then or since. I am aware of two deaths in those years from overdoses, one suicide , the other accidental. But this from National Review sums up the other agenda neatly.


  • SB

    Speaking of messaging, I just checked the Motor Trades Association of Australia and if there is confirmation from the government that new-car shopping is ‘permitted’ I COULD NOT FIND IT ANYWHERE ON THEIR SITE!
    To quote from the above article:
    “My brother tells me the Motor Trades Association of Australia has received written advice that it is permissible to leave home to shop for a car, but he complains that no-one is telling the public as much.”
    On the MTAA website, there is a lengthy monologue on why they themselves BELIEVE car dealerships are an essential service, but nothing confirming that government has given a ruling on this.
    I urgently need to shop for a new car. How can I be assured that I won’t end up in a gulag for doing so? I expect nothing from any government, other that it acting self-servingly, but how about it, MTAA: why don’t you publish on your website the advice you have received from government.

  • norsaint

    Ten years or so ago, Christopher Booker and Richard North co-authored a book titled “Scared To Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares Are Costing Us The Earth.” Amongst the media-hyped non- existent threats were Salmonella poisoning, Listeria, Foot and Mouth disease, Mad Cow disease, E coli in Meat & Cheese, the Belgian Dioxins Debacle, the Millenium Bug, Passive Smoking, Swine Flu, Sars flu, etc al. This virus worshipping is all of a piece. Why we’re taking any notice of our ludicrous officials is beyond me.

  • pgang

    … chernobyl, the ozone layer, the bomb, smoking in general, alcohol consumption, meat, of course ‘speeding’…

  • pgang

    …riding bicycles without a helmet (in my opinion this one really got the ball rolling)…

  • SB

    I just spoke to someone who works for a state politician. He told me that their office has been inundated with calls from people wanting to know what they can and cannot do. They have contacted both the state police and the federal health department and were told by both that it is at the discretion of the police officer. Just great, isn’t it! We just have to hope that self-interest kicks in when politicians realise how annoyed people are with the current regime.
    In this country, we don’t have any power over what government does, so all we can fall back on is voting out incumbents.

  • Trevor Bailey

    Perhaps Quadrant readers could rally in Canberra under the banner “Give me Liquidity and Give me Death!”
    Two metres apart, of course, considering our average age…

  • lloveday

    pgang wrote: …riding bicycles without a helmet (in my opinion this one really got the ball rolling)…
    You’ve hit one of my hobby-horses, and while it’s tangential to the article, I seldom get an appropriate forum to expound, so….
    Compulsory helmet legislation was introduced to SA at the behest of Bob Hawke’s mate Dr Henderson on threat of funding cuts, without any analysis of efficacy and with a 3 year twilight deadline.
    A report was commissioned by parliament before deciding to extend the law past the twilight, and that report indicated that while there had been a large reduction in head injuries, that was statistically consistent with the massive decline in cycling – teenage girls gave up en masse (hair considerations) and parents, taking notice of the government’s irresponsible “melon busting open” advertisements banned kids from riding to school and started driving them, to the detriment of health and the environment. There was no statistically significant reduction in head injuries due to helmet use.
    Australia is one of only 3 countries in the world with compulsory bicycle helmet laws, and, partly in consequence, has a low rate of bicycle. A photo of a previous Mayor of Adelaide cycling in Europe without a helmet was published in The Advertiser in an article wherein he argued for greater cycle use in SA. Are we so right and the other 200 countries so wrong?
    Compulsory helmets have caused a substitution into cars causing rationally indisputable increases in pollution, depletion of non-renewable resources and decreases in fitness, and an increase in car accidents. I gave up cycling after being booked and ordered to walk 50km home because I was not wearing a helmet; I beat the police charge in court SELF-REPRESENTED, but never resumed riding as the court case took too much time and effort.
    Helmets are uncomfortable, particularly in hot weather, and hence cyclists wearing them can have consequential concentration lapses.
    There is a problem with theft of helmets – where do you store it, how do you get home with your bike when it is stolen – aggravated by the government’s abdication of policing of “petty” crime.
    Far more lives would be saved by making helmets compulsory in cars (25-30 times as many car occupants die as cyclists), as they do in racing and rallying, but then pollies would have to suffer the inconvenience and discomfort they force on cyclists – and imagine making QE2 wear one – so it won’t happen. A Transport Minister wrote to me that while it was obviously true that many more lives would be saved by car occupants wearing helmets, there was no public consensus for helmets for car occupants! Well Minister, there was no consensus from cyclists for helmets, just from non-cyclists, and there is no consensus for so many other legislative measures.
    Motorists drive closer to helmeted cyclists than non-helmeted when overtaking them (on average).
    Helmeted cyclists feel safer and take more risks than non-helmeted (on average).

  • ianl

    Well …


    I swear I had not read this article, nor knew of it, when I commented previously. It’s very eerie.

    As far as the mutation rate (evolutionary rate of change) for C19 goes, the virology labs from South Korea are reporting a change 2x or 3x a week. So far, these new strains appear to have the same or similar potency as that which is damaging European populations.

    My point still stands. The only real exit is a mutation to a dominant strain that does no real damage to homo sapiens. Timetable not known.

  • pgang

    The mutation rate is not the evolutionary rate of change. It is the mutation rate. The virus is not evolving into something that isn’t a virus. As it mutates it adapts to different environments, and that is the end of the story. Eventually the adaptations will weaken the virus population because it will have lost part of its core information library.
    This is the same reason we need to hang on to original natural stocks of commercial cereals crops. Once we start engineering something for a specific purpose we have most likely decreased adaptability and increased the likelihood of information break-down through the fixing of already present mutations. This is why highly developed dog breeds break down so easily.
    Incidentally the vast majority of viruses are harmless and most likely essential to life.

  • Peter OBrien

    SB, my brother noticed your comment and advised me that the advice he referred to is at this link:


    Getting to it is a bit convoluted but, no doubt, it is intended for member organizations not the general public. I guess the MTA will be expecting its members to make that ruling public to its customers.

  • gardner.peter.d

    Australians don’t know how lucky they are. At least Australia is still a sovereign nation state. The first change required in UK, even before the coronavirus pandemic is over should be repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. Had the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic started 6 months earlier you can be sure parliament would have changed it so that the fixed five year term was replaced with a flexible term to be decided at the discretion of parliament alone (a similar idea had already been mooted); the EU Withdrawal Acts would have been repealed and the notice to the EU of UK’s withdrawal would itself have been withdrawn. UK would have been consigned to supra-national technocratic government by the EU for the foreseeable future. UK had a lucky escape from a tyrannous parliament that was overwhelmingly subservient to an unaccountable foreign expansionist imperial power.

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