A Plague of Authoritarian Fat-Headedness

“We are going to find out just how strong we are,” the Prime Minister said some time back. Well, let me tell you, Mr Morrison, you know nothing of the struggles of ordinary Australians thrown out of work; of their spouses, of their children. You are not one of them. He should have said we are going to find out how strong you people are who I am going to throw out of work and whose businesses I am going to crush. Now that would have been on the money.

“We are all in this together,” is another annoying trope polluting the airwaves, delivered by people who are distinctly not in this at all. I imagine instances of depression and suicides must spike each time it is replayed – ad nauseum being an appropriate descriptor. When I hear it coming, I mute my TV and recommend you do the same, if you value your sanity and peace of mind.

Apparently, Scott Morrison’s popularity has soared along with that of most premiers. I don’t share in the adoration. Mr Morrison showed himself to be an authoritarian by nature in his dismissive reaction, when Treasurer, to objections to his impoverishment of tens of thousands of part-pensioners, and to his capricious taxation of the major banks. The latter providing an attractive template for future Labor governments. And, true to form, he appeared ready to make his intrusive and probably useless app compulsory before backing off.

I have said it often enough. The blunderbuss policy instituted by the Australian government and by most governments was reactive and overblown. No proper and rigorous consideration was given to the consequences; to the joblessness, to the misery and to the health and wellbeing problems it would cause. But I am sick of me saying that.

Over to professors Gershon and Lipton from the Jerusalem Business School and Professor Levine from the School of Public Health, all at the Hebrew University. The pointed title of their research, published on April 23: “Managing the Covid-19 pandemic without destructing the economy.” A sensible aim indeed; too sensible evidently for those in charge. This is a small part of what they say:

We analyse an approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic without shutting down the economy while staying within the capacity of the healthcare system. We base our analysis on a detailed heterogeneous epidemiological model, which takes into account different population groups and phases of the disease, including incubation, infection period, hospitalization, and treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU)…The main conclusion is that countries, which enforce reasonable hygienic measures on time can avoid lockdowns throughout the pandemic provided that the number of spare ICU beds per million is above the threshold of about 100.

On these figures Australia would require around 2,600 ICU beds. So far as I can find, having ramped up, we have 7,000 of them. More than enough. What is interesting though is the outlandish modelling guiding decisionmakers. “IMPACT OF COVID-19: Theoretical modelling of how the health system can respond,” was issued by the Australian government on April 6, though the modelling would have been done earlier.

 The initial modelling shows a scenario of an uncontrolled outbreak. In that scenario, peak daily Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed demand is 35,000, which would greatly exceed Australia’s expanded capacity of 7,000 ICU beds. With isolation and quarantine, demand is reduced to 17,000 ICU beds at its peak, still well above expanded capacity. With isolation, quarantine and social isolation daily demand is reduced to below 5,000.

Notice the last bit. Below 5000? According to Worldometer there are currently (May 1) 34 people in Australia in a serious or critical state. Are the modellers still employed? What earthly use are they? Or, more pointedly, what a menace they are?

Jon McCloskey writing in The Federalist on 27 April sums it up for me.

For COVID-19, the relevant question is not, “How many people will die?” a divisive and impossible question to answer, but “What can we do to avoid, reduce, and mitigate this disease without destroying our economy and civil rights?

To reiterate, I suspect that this question was never asked and certainly not seriously considered by the powers that be. Best to remember that our prosperity and freedom are linked not only to our peerless Judeo-Christian culture but also to our political system, within which government is challenged at every step by a forceful opposition. Predominantly, in this case, whatever the restrictions on freedom imposed by governments, they will be supported by political oppositions and questioned only as to whether they go far enough. Effectively, we are witnessing the authoritarianism and fat-headedness of one-party states.

Mediocre politicians no longer constrained by rules of engagement have been freed to demonstrate untrammelled incompetence. I go too far, you say. Really? Take the deadly experience of those in nursing homes across any number of countries.

“Coronavirus related deaths in New South Wales aged care homes account for more than one-third of the state’s total tally,” 7News 29 April.

“A potential coronavirus “catastrophe” could be unfolding in care homes across the United Kingdom, after the British Government revealed there have been COVID-19 outbreaks in 2,000 facilities,” ABC News 16 April.

“It is, effectively, two epidemics. One in the wider population that is coming under control and one in care homes that is raging,” BBC Website 1 May.

“New Jersey, officials revealed that infections have broken out in 394 long-term facilities – almost two-thirds of the state’s homes – and that more than 1,500 deaths were tied to nursing facilities… More than six weeks after the first coronavirus deaths in a nursing home, outbreaks unfold across the country. About a fifth of U.S. virus deaths are linked to nursing facilities,” NYTs 17 April.

“As many as half of all coronavirus deaths in Europe are residents of aged care facilities, the World Health Organization (WHO) say,” ABC News 24 April.

Those of us favouring a targeted approach would have allowed the economy to go on working (with a prescribed level of hygiene) while putting maximum effort into augmenting health resources and, critically, into protecting the vulnerable, none more so than those in aged-care accommodation. We would not have put any effort at all into chasing healthy people off beaches and out of parks. Lack of focus has cost lives. It is as simple and as evident as that.

It’s worth saying again. Closing down the economy and introducing pointless rules is far easier than steering a measured course. Now, to justify their ill-made decisions, and to keep us compliant, governments and their (blinkered) public health advisers talk about fearful new spikes and tout the likelihood of a second (and even third) wave of the disease.

There no evidence at all to back this scare talk. It is sheer speculation. And, ominously, as it is speculative and unanchored in any contemporaneous data, it can be wielded at will to keep populations compliant. Disappointingly, I see that Greg Sheridan was parroting the line in The Australian on April 30. Just when you think someone is sensible, there they go and spoil it. And, moreover, and vitally, if there were to be a so-called second wave, the way the first wave (the ripple in Australia) has been tackled provides a lousy blueprint.

And, to finish, if we do end up with second waves, they will have been seeded by restrictive lockdowns preventing a spread of the virus through healthy populations. What a joke!

11 thoughts on “A Plague of Authoritarian Fat-Headedness

  • March says:

    Peter regarding those junk models…

    On April 7 the Federal government released its epidemiological modelling of the Covid19 outbreak in Australia. The models were used to justify strict quarantine and isolation measures enforced by Federal and State governments that will see Australia experience its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

    The rationale behind the government’s “flatten the curve” strategy was to enforce strict physical distancing measures to ensure enough ICU beds were available to handle the caseload.

    Under the government’s model peak ICU demand with strict Level 3-4 Quarantine + isolation + social distancing measures in place was predicted to occur in week 43 (see graph at the link below) which would be well into November 2020 with nearly 5000 ICU beds required, about double our capacity before the outbreak.

    It seems reality played out quite differently.

    The first case of Covid19 was reported in Australia on 25 January and around 14 weeks later at the end of April it seems the “curve” has been well and truly flattened with only a handful of cases now reported daily. We never reached more than 5% of ICU bed capacity with maximum daily use being around 100 beds way back in week 10 in early April prior to the effect of level 3-4 measures being felt and the release of the Government’s epidemiological modelling. The pandemic for us is well and truly over and we now face the social and economic consequences of a completely disproportionate response. Handling of the Covid19 pandemic by Australian Governments at all levels has been perhaps the worst example of Risk Management in history.


  • sfw says:

    Nobody remembers the Spanish Flu, Hongkong Flu, Sars or all the other similar viruses but everyone knows about the great depression, we’re well on the way to another one and it’s entirely of our politicians making.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Thanks Peter you’ve nailed it nicely in my view, keep it up. I’ve been following the serious/ critical numbers myself for some time, as it seems obvious these are the only people who would need intensive care, and have seen how tiny they are compared to more dramatic total cases lists, many if not most of which would be asymptomatic or minor. We have many,many more ICU beds available than the highest total I’ve seen. Even in New York I think there seems to have been a disconnect with these figures and ICU requirements, with the Military Hospital ship President Trump arranged hardly being used at all.
    Also I agree with you on P.M. Morrison’s performance.

  • ianl says:

    > “But I am sick of me saying that” [quote from the article]

    Yes. The repitition has made no difference. Nor has the question of who and how in the sanctimonious realm of “protecting the vulnerable” been answered.

    Some weeks ago, I pointed out that the virus was likely inadvertently leaked from the Wuhan lab, where experimenting with bat viruses had progressed from the SARS-1 epidemic (published peer-review papers from that lab have detailed this). It is also likely to be a hybrid – not concocted gene by gene – but essentially spliced from a bat corona RNA core and HiV protein spikes. Not a bioweapon as such, since it is so indiscriminate, but more detached curiosity that became dangerous through carelessness. Now, the MSM is full of this, as if it’s some new idea. I’m not scientifically illiterate, as the MSM is. Perhaps cynical, yet those naifs labelling me as such are constantly surprised at how things just “tumble” out.
    If we stay hiding (with Ardern NZ for company – so depressing), then our best mid-term bet is evolutionary process throwing out a viral strain our immune systems cope better with. Else, waiting for Godot.

  • March says:

    Models used by Government to justify level 3/4 lockdowns were from the Doherty Institute. I have sent the following email to learned professors there…

    I am writing a piece about failure of Covid19 models developed for the Federal Government by the Doherty Institute that played a major role in determining the State and Federal Government’s response to the Covid19 pandemic. The model was used to justify the level 3/4 lockdowns that have produced a major economic shutdown in Australia with associated major detrimental effects. The effect has been likened to the Great Depression.

    The graph attached (see link above) shows your model of ICU bed use and actual cases to end of April 2020. It seems that the pandemic has played out very differently to the model predictions.

    Arguably measures beyond level 2 did little to abate the pandemic but have had a dramatic effect on our wellbeing and future capacity to fund the health system and other government programs.

    According to the Doherty Institute’s covid 19 model given Level 3-4 lockdown was enforced we were to be seeing a peak in ICU cases in November with close to 5000 ICU beds required. In fact the peak occurred in early April with just 100 ICU beds a day required for a short time. At time of writing there are less than 30 ICU beds in use.

    Can you please answer the following questions:

    1. Can you confirm Doherty Institute models were used by government?
    2. Why did the Doherty Institute get the model so wrong?
    3. Does the Doherty Institute take any responsibility for the failure of the models and the impact that decisions based upon them have had in destroying the livelihoods of millions of Australians?
    4. What lessons have been learnt to avoid similar poor outcomes in the future given high likelihood of similar pandemics in the next decade?

  • Stephen Due says:

    Australian politicians are unbelievably lazy in my view. Worse still is the shocking intellectual torpor that emanates from our parliaments. The net result is serial incompetence that in any business would be dealt with on its merits.
    All the Australian governments have sought and acted on bad advice about the virus from local ‘experts’ whose opinions just happen to mollify the hysterical demands of the mass media. Yet anyone could have gone online at any time during this lamentably flawed process and discovered, in an hour or so, that there were alternative approaches to the sledge-hammer battering that we have been subjected to.
    Several world-leading epidemiologists (e.g. Johan Giesecke) were recommending relatively simple strategies that did not involve blanket stay-at-home orders. A number of them posted long videos basically pleading with governments not to lock people in their houses and not to implement a police state. All to no avail.
    Sadly we are governed by professional politicians for whom basic democratic principles evidently mean little – as shown by the instant suspension of parliaments the moment there was the slightest risk to themselves, and at precisely the time when government decisions needed to be debated and subjected to scrutiny. Not only that, but they actually had the temerity to order people to stay in their houses under impromptu regulations that appeared to have been framed by an idiot.
    The massive toll of economic and social destruction inflicted on the Australian public by the ‘leaders’ who strut and fret their hour upon the stage of public life in this country will take generations to repair. But for the lad over the road from me, who promptly lost his job when the lock-down was imposed, and soon afterwards tried to commit suicide, that will be too late. For the family up the road whose sole breadwinner was sacked immediately the lock-down was announced, and who are now in dire straits, that will be too late. The list could go on.
    The worst part of all is that we Australians are going to continue to be subjected to mindless strictures imposed by incompetent ‘experts’ and politicians for weeks and possibly months to come. Daniel Andrews, whose lust for power and contempt for the public seem to be limitless, has still got Victorians locked in their houses! And the bad advice on which he is acting will not be corrected, because there is now too much at stake politically for the ‘authorities’ to admit they were wrong.

  • pgang says:

    ‘Mediocre politicians no longer constrained by rules of engagement have been freed to demonstrate untrammelled incompetence.’ Yup.
    Apparently this is all just BORING to the readers who disdain your attempt to speak out against pointless tyranny.

    Vivian Darkbloom, commenting over at Spiked, has this to say in answer to such an outlook:
    ‘Protect yourself then; do not let “our” NHS shunt you into a care home because they need the beds; care homes where the virus has been introduced when these places should have been the focus of the lockdown rather than the dumping ground they have been turned into…
    From what you’ve written it seems freedom and autonomy are not high concerns for you but we are in danger of losing hard-won liberties. I’m quite old and I do not want my children to live the rest of their lives in a fascistic control-state, tracked and monitored like cattle on a Chinese social credit model. They were born in a free country under the aegis of Magna Carta.

    We are not all the hysterics of your imagining. I am an ordinary person but I am not getting by and I am not hanging in there and nor are my family. Having said that we might be an ordinary family but we are all bloody articulate and are vocal in our concerns over loss of freedom and agency. One of my kids has had a serious mental break-down; I have lost my job, cannot find another, and have no income; we are living off my partner’s pitifully small furlough as a special needs assistant; we live in a small cramped flat on a HA estate in central London without even a balcony. Our 80-year-old neighbour who we look out for is showing worrying signs of mental collapse. I don’t want to make this all about me but I know there are many in our situation. What class do you belong to? Middle, bourgeois, comfortably off? Do you have a garden to walk in? A commodious house? Then rejoice, consider yourself lucky and accept that people have diverse opinions and the right to hold them and bear no ill will towards you. It’s not all about me and it’s not all about you. Having said all that I wish you well.’
    I would add that a Swiss relative of mine, a scientist who has worked all his life for the big drug companies, also sounds close to mental collapse over what he views as an approach to the virus that is not only anti-scientific, but dangerously opprobrious for the scientific profession. He cannot reconcile any of this political tyranny with actual science.

  • Occidental says:

    I don’t want to hijack everyones discussion, but when you get a chance I suggest that those interested should start looking at the data available in respect to SEA countries. No doubt you are all aware of the living conditions of the masses in these countries. I mean west java has a population of 50 million in an area the size of Tasmania. There has been a very light touch by government simply because the public have no fat to fall back on. Yet the deaths from the virus according to the official data are almost non existent. Its almost impossible to practice social distancing in Jakarta, yet total deaths in Indonesia (pop.248 million) are 580 or so.For sure there must be tens of thousands of infections which are not diagnosed, but you can not hide the dead. What is happening?
    Whilst looking for an explanation to this phenomenon I came across this Al Jazeera article,


    But really the same questions could be asked of The Philippines, and Thailand. I am fairly familiar with both, (I have lived in the slums of Manila) so I know how difficult it would be for millions of Phillipinos to practice social distancing. For all of Duterte’s repressive policies they simply should not be able to contain a virus which is easily transmissible. The articled I linked is about Bali, but really if you look at the data it could be about Jakarta, Manila, or Bangkok.

  • lloveday says:

    Bali has compulsory mask wearing outside one’s home, enforced by gangs of blackshirts on the government payroll (typical punishment is not a $1000 fine, but 50 pushups), beaches are off limits (but the beachfront shops, bars and restaurants are allowed to trade!). All schools are closed.
    It is estimated by some that 80% of Bali’s economy is derived from tourism, and there are all-but zero tourists so without being ordered to, most Denpasar and environs bars, restaurants, hotels are closed and the staff without pay, and the few choosing to open are sparsely patronised. But at least you can get a drink and a meal (if you have money).
    There are no welfare payments and the food distribution is restricted to holders of Bali ID, so some of the many Javanese there are doing it really tough.
    Despite the lack of deaths, Bali may be headed for deep poo.

  • Lo says:

    We are all in this, but certainly not together.

  • Lo says:

    I am beginning to believe that quite a few people are getting some pleasure from this. Opportunities to be angry, to instil fear in others, to control, to inform on, to be afraid, to feel virtuous.
    To see delight on the face of a politician as he threatens that stage four could be imposed I find alarming.

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