As the back-slapping of state and commonwealth public health authorities and their politician overlords echoes through the mainstream media the real costs of their misguided approach to managing COVID-19 are starting to emerge. While our politicians and CMO’s daily pronounce their efforts in “flattening the curve” and “saving lives”, they focus as the measure of their self-determined success on two numbers alone — confirmed cases of COVID-19 and associated deaths as the only measures of their success.
The World Health Organisation now concedes the virus is likely to become yet another endemic coronavirus that is here to stay. Antibody prevalence studies from Spain to New York indicate that prevalence of the virus is ten- to twentyfold greater than officially confirmed cases. In Spain this means there are 2.5 million cases, rather than 220,000. To add to the implausibility of containment as a strategy, a whopping 26 per cent of Spanish cases were entirely asymptomatic. The containment strategies have failed and the horse has bolted. Extrapolated globally, this would indicate 50–100 million cases, and that is probably wildly conservative as the virus runs unchecked in many Third World nations. Yet the impact on lives, health and wellbeing through the asphyxiation of the real economy has rippled throughout the whole of Australian society, resulting in an outcome that is profoundly and incalculably negative. The obsession with infections and deaths in assessing the impact of this response is as scientifically absurd as the models that informed it.
As a starting point in surveying the copllateral damage, take the qualified projections of Professor Ian Hickie’s Brain and Mind Centre, whose best-case scenario posits over the ensuing five years an additional 750 deaths per annum due to suicide alone, the projected result of federal and state governments heavy-handed lockdown approach. Hickie’s worse-case scenario would see an additional 1500 deaths per annum, disproportionately claiming younger Australians extinguished by their own hands. It would be remiss to overlook that those future casualties’ self-destruction will have been greatly assisted by the heavy hand of public-health officials and governments pulling out from under them the rugs of economic security and social networks. Not surprisingly, drug and alcohol abuse has soared, as have relationship breakdowns and associated domestic violence.
To date, less than 100 Australians have perished either with or due to COVID-19, the vast bulk of those victims were in the twilight years of their lives with life shortening co-morbidities well established. As if to cling desperately to a campaign of fear justifying the impacts of measures taken thus far, we have the unedifying addition of the most recent deaths of two very elderly residents at Newmarch House being added to the national mortality statistics even though it is on the public record that neither died directly from this novel coronavirus, rather from serious terminal co-morbidities.
The Treasurer’s update to the parliament is just the start of the assessment of the costs of the government response in Australia. The Treasury informs us that the economy is losing $4 billion per week as the lockdown drags on. Estimates of unemployment directly due to government and public health intervention range from 1 million to 1.6 million out of work and that is before years end. Government has racked up over $350 billion in debt with requisite welfare measures that will burden a whole generation to come. Superannuants saw a third of their retirement wealth disappear overnight. Businesses are folding like kites in a gale, many never to reopen, their hapless proprietors saddled with unserviceable debt and no meaningful income. Australians in their thousands with crippling illness have been kicked off elective surgery queues while staff in ICU units sit and wait for those elusive COVID-19 patients to be wheeled through their doors. Fortunately, and against all the predictions of the “experts”, most of those infected recover at home for a week or two from a mild upper-respiratory tract illness less debilitating in most cases than the flu.
The ledger of losses detailed above is but an abbreviated inventory of the true costs of the response thus far. Add to this the very serious erosion of civil liberties under the guise of a public health response, reducing the value of life exclusively to the corporeal at the expense of all other realms of existence, and you have a reshaping of society that verges on the Orwellian in its scope. To suggest such consequences are anything other than the reverse side of the same public-health-minted coin that has informed the response is disingenuous at best.
In aggregate, the effect of over-zealous, status-craving public health officials having been given their head by governments too cowardly to perform their role of making the hard decisions has been a derailing of the economy for years, if not a decade or more, to come. Add to this the increase in suicides and self-harm to levels far beyond the toll of the virus itself, the asphyxiation of sectors of the economy such as tourism and hospitality while crippling all other sectors of the service economy, the rapid erosion of decades worth of superannuation savings, the creation of intergenerational debt, the likely increase in deaths from untreated chronic illness, the foreclosure of thousands of small businesses, the erosion of property values and associated equity and wealth. And finally, a generation of school children falling ever further behind in what was already a sub-standard education system.
On this last point, anyone who thinks reopening all the sectors of the economy and service sectors is a straightforward task will need to think again. Even getting school teachers back to work, a profession one might reasonably regard as essential, has been an ongoing battle. Just wait until the government tries to remove JobSeeker and JobKeeper subsidies!
Lockdown was always the easy option, freeing public health officials too lazy or incompetent to structure targeted isolation measures to set to work with a sledgehammer instead of the surgical scalpel required to prevent, or at least minimise, all the many varieties of damage thus far inflicted.
It may be that CMO’s, public health acolytes and all the political class and mainstream media who bowed before them seek to be assessed only on COVID-19 transmission and mortality outcomes. Even this has a long way to play out as the virus likely simmers below the surface for a period before potentially re-emerging, irrespective of all the lockdown measures. However, I suspect the people of Australia will take a far broader view that won’t be restricted to COVID-19 cases. We mourn as much for those who die by their own hand or due to poverty and hardship as we do those taken by a predominantly mild infection that, yes, does hit already infirm aged more heavily. The same cannot be said for our public health bureaucrats, for whom, clearly the only means of death of any concern is a death visited upon an unfortunate recipient by the Wuhan Flu.
Those who insist there was no other option but a strict and blanket lockdown create a false dichotomy, as if these were the only two possibilities. Sweden has demonstrated that there is indeed a middle road. Authorities there rejected the alarmist models, leaving the government to take control with pragmatic and targeted measures. Contrast this with the lockdown brigades’ early champion, Singapore, which is now set to surpass Sweden in cases within a week from now.
The true measure of all that has been inflicted upon the Australian people will emanate from the above narrow infections/death parameters well after the hysteria around this virus has dissipated. Australians thrown on the scrap heap will not forget. There will be constant reminders of the damage that has been wrought and the misery inflicted, and continuing to be inflicted, upon millions. Public health authorities will not be able to hide behind their corrupted models and their ‘saving lives’ mantras when exactly the opposite is both true and obvious. The attempts now by Australian public health authorities to decouple the ruinous effects of their heavy-handed response from the social and economic fallout will not go unchallenged.