QED

That ‘Second Wave’? It Remains a Phantom

Recently, I have written extensively on the topic of the putative ‘second wave’ of Wuhan infections.   The reason the topic intrigues me is because it is the threat of this ‘second wave’ that government is using to keep unproven economic restrictions in place. We keep hearing about the ‘second wave’ in Singapore and Japan that should serve as a warning for us.  I have shown here and here  that those second waves are figments.  I have based my argument that this threat is ephemeral on the daily infection rate graphs of each country as detailed at the Worldometer site.

An article in Wednesday’s Australian gives me to wonder if that source is reliable.  Germany is now the cited as an example of a ‘second wave’ in the immediate offing:

Germany may be compelled to bring back elements of its lockdown amid signs that coronavirus cases could be on the point of starting to multiply again.

The country’s virus reproduction rate, which measures how many people the average person with COVID-19 infects, has rebounded to a value of 1.0, the dividing line between growth and decline, according to epidemiologists.

The chancellor has placed the reproduction rate, also known as R0, at the heart of her approach to the pandemic. Any value below 1 means that the number of cases will fall; anything above 1 implies an exponential increase.

“If we get to a point where each patient is infecting 1.1 people, then by October we will be back at the limits of our health system in terms of intensive-care beds,” Mrs Merkel said. “If we get to 1.2 … then we will hit the full capacity of our health system as early as July.

“And if it’s 1.3, we hit the full capacity of our health system in June. So you can see how little room for manoeuvre we have.”

Two weeks ago, when Germany’s states agreed to partially relax social distancing rules, R0 had fallen to 0.7, from a peak of 1.3 in early April.

On Tuesday, however, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the government’s infectious diseases agency, said it had risen back up to about 1. [my emphasis]

That certainly caught my attention.  Had the no-second-wave case been discredited?  Maybe not.

Here is the daily infection rate graph for Germany:

There is a serious disconnect between the claims made in The Australian article and the graph.  On 2nd April, Germany recorded 6813 new cases.   Since then it has recorded a steady overall decline (albeit with fluctuations on a daily basis) to around 1154 on 28th April.  You can clearly see that since the 23rd April there has been a decline in new cases except for a blip on 28th April.

The article states “on Tuesday R0 had risen to about 1’.  I’m guessing that would be Tuesday 21st. Since that was the start of a upward trend, over four days, from 1388 to 2411.  But after that we have another decline to 1154 cases, the second-lowest tally in the record. This clearly suggests a R0 of less than 1 – it is certainly not 1 as that would show a linear increase, which would have to be for at least a week, I would imagine, to have any statistical significance.

Which to believe?  That’s a tough one.  Worldometer, whose provenance is described here?  Or politicians, whose main aim seems to be to foster and preserve a legacy of saved lives at the cost of a ruined economy — as if saving lives and the economy were mutually exclusive.

No doubt this will be more grist to the mill of the health bureaucrats to whom our governments seem to be in thrall.  How long will it be, do you think, before we hear PM Morrison or Health Minister Hunt quoting Germany as another example of the ‘second wave’.

Although he doesn’t specifically refer to any one country, Greg Sheridan had a very pessimistic article  in The Australian which, inter alia, talks about second and third waves, citing, principally, the experience of the Spanish flu.

Now, I’m not saying we won’t get a second wave, although I note that technology and processes have advanced considerably since the days of the Spanish flu and we haven’t seen that devastating second-wave effect with any of the more recent pandemics such as SARS, MERS etc.  What I am saying is that if it does happen it won’t be because it’s happened in another country.  We already know that the responses and experiences from country to country are vastly different although, ultimately, in each country the virus will take its course regardless.

When we are talking about this so far hypothetical event,  can we please discard the alarmist term ‘second wave’? With what we have already done it will be no more than a resurgence and eminently manageable, even if the most stringent restrictions we have in force are no more than keeping ones distance and appropriate hygiene measures.

28 comments
  • March

    Models used by the government to justify the extreme response predicted that under level 3/4 restrictions we would see peak ICU bed use in week 43 of the pandemic in Australia. That would have been in November! At that stage and even under the extreme lockdowns the models indicated we would still need about 5000 ICU beds.
    Well it’s currently week 14 and the curve has well and truly flattened. Peak ICU beds use was back in week 10 with around 100 a day for a few days.
    With no second wave coming this has got to be the worst example of risk management in history.

  • Tezza

    I too am puzzled by the repeated references to Japan and Singapore as examples of ‘second wave’ problems. When you look at the numbers, they have both experienced just steady or slightly slowing growth in new infections, but no pronounced flattening off of growth as Australia has seen. If anything, they are having one extended steady state with no discernible first wave ending or second wave starting.

    We read that Singapore has a surge of infections localised in high-density residences for foreign workers, but that does not show up in the data.

    I wonder what is really going on? Are those two countries really, quietly, just allowing gradual herd immunity within the capacity of their health system, Sweden-style?

  • Stephen Due

    Wave or no wave, the governments of Australia continue to formulate policy without any rational basis. There is no attempt made to quantify the costs of the regimens they are imposing on the population. What about the predicted excess mortality for other causes? What about the suicides? What about the businesses destroyed? What about savings trashed by the crash of the stock market and the inflation resulting from printing money? What about the livelihoods ruined? What about the unemployment? All these things and more – a health and economic catastrophe purely of the state and federal governments’ making – are costs unaccounted for in the simplistic ‘modelling’ that takes almost nothing into account except the direct effects of a virus.
    And furthermore, if you step out from under the dubious shelter of ethical utilitarianism, which recognises no absolute values except ‘happiness’ or ‘safety’, what happens? You start to consider other values such as personal liberty – not a popular one for socialists of course – and you add that moral cost to the mix. But no. All too difficult. Just go by expert medical advice.
    Personally as an elderly Australian I am ashamed and horrified by this reckless program of war with a virus – an irrational program that trashes our assets, our livelihoods, our investments, our careers, our businesses, our liberty and actually even our health because we are terrified out of our wits and can no longer think clearly or take hard decisions.

  • ianl

    On this general topic, there are several other pointed questions that are not addressed, let alone answered:
    1) What % of these C-19 tests is a false positive, or a false negative ? No arm-waving, just evidence-based numbers, please
    2) Do these tests show a positive for an asymptomatic but infected person ? Are we sure ?
    3) Both South Korea and Taiwan are rightly applauded for their control of infection despite high population densities, even without general lockdown. This is mostly attributed to their very early testing and contact tracing. Ok, but *how* did these countries aquire such a vast number of test kits so early in the pandemic timing, when Aus took several more months ? Accurate, uncensored answer, please.
    Our despicable MSM has gone nowhere any of these issues. Whenever obvious questions are completely avoided, it is because the answers will embarass some self-elected “elite” or other.

  • Peter Smith

    A case. What is a case?. I take it from the WHO that it is a laboratory confirmed infection of any severity; from asymptomatic to critical. So, as testing is being ramped up everywhere a decline in new cases, against that backdrop, is very significant. But what would be of far more interest is the daily number of new infections which require critical care in hospitals. Worldometer doesn’t seem to provide a graph or historical series on this though it does provide a daily snapshot of the stock of serious/critical cases. Nice to have an historical series on new cases requiring critical care. Maybe the decline would be politically inconvenient for the doom-mongers. Terrible article by Sheridan. Just when I think I have found a voice of sanity in the media it turns out he is an idiot; or, to be kind, maybe he just had an off day. Hope so.

  • lloveday

    Brendan O’Neil articulates my thoughts: “Covid hysteria is destroying public spirit. We have to reverse this right now.”
    .
    https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/05/01/unlock-the-people/

  • lloveday

    O’Neill

  • pgang

    lloveday, it is amazing how many people out there are still genuinely terrified of this virus, in spite of the fact that in Australia it has been almost a total non event. It shows how deeply and easily the misinformation and propaganda from the government/media machine has eaten into the heart of national life.
    It seems that we are doomed, whether we are unlocked or not. It is hard to imagine any sort of cohesive national culture emerging from this state of moral decline. How can life return to normal, knowing that we were prepared to give up everything dear to us, including the economic future of the next generation, so as not to be attacked by a shadow?
    The future now rests in ‘government’, as the people have bowed their knee in allegiance and servitude. 3.5 millions of our fellow travellers are willing to be tracked in their every movement by the government as the price of being allowed out of doors. That number will continue to grow.

  • pgang

    Peter Smith, yes Sheridan has been totally at sea on this issue, but I guess nobody is perfect, and let’s not forget that he does live in the media bubble. Creighton, of all people, has been about the only one talking anything close to sense at The Australian.

  • lloveday

    pgang,
    A comment by me in The Australian and the 3 replies:

    LBLoveday
    .
    Will we be able to have family lunches on Mothers Day, May 10?
    .
    Paul
    .
    Reviewing restrictions on May 11 is no accident.
    .
    Dennis
    .
    Who cares? This is more important that Mothers day.
    .
    Kim
    .
    No as it’s May 11th in Victoria the restrictions will be decided on if they will be lifted.
    If we go up in 1 weeks times with higher stats then we know it’s because of you selfish Mum’. Mum’s are no different from the rest of society so live by the rules.

  • Peter Smith

    Apropos my earlier comment, more contrived rubbish by Sheridan in the Weekend Australian. Apparently he has found some centre-right commentators arguing that old people are dispensible. Well, I haven’t come across any of these ‘straw’ commentators, who I suspect don’t exist except in Sheridan’s fevered imagination. The centre-right (and people like me on the conservative right) want the vulnerable protected, Closing down the economy takes away the focus from doing just that. Obviously, the Wuhan virus has seriously affected Sheridan’s mental faculties.

  • ianl

  • Alice Thermopolis

    pgang: “The future now rests in ‘government’, as the people have bowed their knee in allegiance and servitude. 3.5 millions of our fellow travellers are willing to be tracked in their every movement by the government as the price of being allowed out of doors.”

    Covid-19 has become the opium of our political class,
    PM behaving like a folksy developing-world dictator,.
    In a threat that surely will backfire, he urges the people to “come out from under the doona”, but will only let them do so if they sign up for the government’s Covid-app.

  • lloveday

    Most would know of Steve Kates, but here’s his cv in case:
    Steve Kates was the Chief Economist for the Australian Chamber of Commerce for 24 years and a Commissioner on the Productivity Commission. He is now associate professor of economics in the College of Business at RMIT University in Melbourne.
    .
    He has an article on Catallaxy Files ending:
    “Today, with our massive bureaucracies, and with our media unable, or perhaps even unwilling, to explain the major risks we have taken on, we seem to be blundering into a Venezuelan future that may become impossible to reverse”.

  • lloveday

    Peter Smith: “…centre-right commentators arguing that old people are dispensible”
    .
    One very prominent Australian of the centre-left, as I see today’s standards anyway, argued just that:
    “there is a point when the succeeding generations deserve to be disencumbered ,to coin a clumsy word, of some unproductive burdens”.
    .
    – Governor-General Bill Hayden, ex-leader of the ALP, addressing the Royal Australian College of Physicians on the Gold Coast in 1995.

  • lloveday

    When I posted a comment on Sheridan’s article,
    .
    The elderly can be relieved that the ALP of Bill Hayden is not in government.
    When Governor-General, Hayden addressing the Royal Australian College of Physicians on the Gold Coast declared “there is a point when the succeeding generations deserve to be disencumbered – to coin a clumsy word – of some unproductive burdens”
    .
    it was, expectedly, rejected.
    .
    PS, why is “expectedly” highlighted as misspelt? As is misspelt – I know misspelled has become more common, but misspelt is in my 1997 Oxford Concise Australian Dictionary.

  • lloveday

    Alice Thermopolis wrote:
    “In a threat that surely will backfire, he urges the people to “come out from under the doona”, but will only let them do so if they sign up for the government’s Covid-app”.
    .
    This morning Greg Hunt upped the ante and emitted the Tweet:
    “Want to go to the footy?
    Download the app”.

  • pconey71

    Whilst this is another well written article in Quadrant (and thank you for the article Peter O’Brien), I find this and similar articles which heavily criticize governments’ virus responses and significantly downplay the public health risk to be bewildering. Almost all of the authors appear to be political conservatives (which I intend as no criticism) yet there is little, if any, reflection on the fact that many conservative governments in Australia and elsewhere are by and large adopting virus policies which are similar if not the same as those of centrist or left-leaning governments. I am often mistaken but maybe this is because regardless of political persuasion, sensible governments are determining their policies based on the best available medical and scientific advice in order to limit the spread of a largely unknown and currently un-treatable pathogen which has sometimes fatal consequences for not insignificant segments of the community?

  • Michael Fry

    lloveday

    The Comments section of The Australian, like YouTube, are becoming full on Ministry of Truth on matters relating to the virus.

  • Occidental

    Pconey71
    I think the first comment you make regarding the “bewildering” attitude is merely explained by the variety of opinions, regarding the future, held in any society. This site tends to attract liberals, but I think also those, who by their nature are skeptics, though not necessarily in the traditional philosophical sense. The result is likely to be a preponderance of opinion against the action of government(s).

    Your second point which I am sure is fascinating, depressing, and perplexing many on this site is hard to answer. Forget Morrison, even Trump has capitulated to the siren song of authoritarianism. For sure it may be that like all members of the political class conservative leaders are drawn to the exercise of power. But Trump is surrounded by a conservative and truly liberal political class and still he hasn’t explicitly repudiated the scorched earth policy recommended by advisers, and embarked upon by most US states.

    Even more interesting is the fact that notwithstanding the amount of information available to the australian polity they are prepared to acquiesce to the suspension of a liberal birthright as if it were nothing. The beacon for liberals of course has been Sweden, but many of us would have thought numerous other nations would have developed more sophisticated responses to the threat posed by the pandemic.

    As to the implied conclusion, I am sure that the various governments measures in this country and elsewhere to control the virus spread will be successful. At least in the short term. The question is whether in a matter of months or years we all come to the conclusion that we burnt down our home in an effort to rid it of a few cockroaches.

  • Doubting Thomas

    pconey71, welcome to the rather small and exclusive club (until now consisting of me) of those who are similarly bewildered by those arguing against the governments’ actions to date.

    The time to second guess the government is when the emergency is over. Until then those without any responsibility to act, or accountability for their actions, are just BORING.

  • lloveday

    Michael Fry:
    .
    In October 2018, The Australian hired a new comments moderation team because they were “dissatisfied with the level of service we’ve received from our comment moderation team”, “want robust, respectful debate in our comments section, in line with our comment guidelines”, “want our moderators to use a bit of common sense”, they “reject far too many comments” and there is “little evidence to suggest that they make any attempt to understand the context of comment threads, let alone the stories they’re attached to”.
    .
    Good intent, but I’ve not seen any improvement in practice.

    .

  • Rob Brighton

    @Doubting Thomas. You are not alone. I would also add my voice to the refrain, rather than kicking Morrison one should at the very least consider he is acting on the best advice available to him. It seems to me to be tinfoil hat territory to expect a politician to gainsay the medicos employed to advise him in these areas. That and be a wee bit thankful, it could have been much worse, it could be Shorton.
    That said, Peter OBrien has laid out a convincing case for reopening, what I am not hearing is any evidence that is remotely convincing to keep us locked up. That may well be because I am completely ignorant and so I can either listen to professors in a stem field or random people on the internet.
    If it proves to be wrong at a later date then so be it.

    Had it have run the other way we would be forming the lynch squads which is why we are spending our Sundays on our PC’s rather than out in the sunshine.

  • Steve Moore

    I have, twice, had the following comment rejected at The Australian. “Not OK, Boomer”

  • lloveday

    The Advertiser ran a story about arrivals spending 2 weeks in the Pullman Hotel, icluding:

    “Saranye Vijayakumar, and her husband and two going children..”

    I asked a reasonable question as a comment:

    What are “going children”? REJECTED.

  • lloveday

    including

  • pconey71

    Occidental,
    On your second point I think that making policy decisions in response to the virus must be an extremely difficult one for politicians. Most of them probably have a degree of confidence in the social and economic ramifications of the decisions they make, but on the medical aspect most would be novices (although Merkel in Germany apparently has a meaningful medico-science background) and hence they probably feel compelled to rely on the advice of the doctors and scientists. The fact that this whole mess occupies almost the entire political discourse probably makes politicians even more scared than usual of making a “wrong” decision – hence causing them to rely even more heavily on medical advisors. And medical advisors would be, I would think, in the main very conservative/cautious with their advice given that is what they are trained to do. Very testing time to be a politician!
    On your last point I also feel that in Australia and elsewhere the virus will eventually be sufficiently tamed and hopefully after that the powers-that-be do the necessary to ensure that the next time this thing happens (because for as long as we interface with animals it definitely will) nation states and international bodies will more comprehensively have their ducks in a row so the extent of human and economic damage can be more quickly mitigated.
    I have not followed the situation in Sweden in much detail but I do hear that they have had similar if not slightly lower infection and death rates to comparable nearby nations notwithstanding a lower level of lock-down. I must say I find it hard to compare the ‘performance’ of each country because there are so many differences that it makes a straight up comparison hard. The fact that the virus has caused many deaths in some countries and so few in others also baffles me.

  • tbeath

    Mathematics are interesting, but not as scary as the abilities of bacteria, and in this case an even more weird bundle of material a “virus”. Evolution is extremely interesting in thinking about what is going on here. 50-odd years ago, when I studied microbiology, the text described how had a bacterium (I know, not a virus, bear with me -don’t bare)if had adequate food, could expand to the extent that it weighed more than the mass of the world. Old geometric progression I guess.
    The danger with the Covid-19 (not your ideological mythical virus) is that it can hide from detection for several days. In which time, the nasty little bundle of biological activity can enjoy new hosts.
    Do not underestimate it.

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