Now that all Australian governments, federal and state, are committed to total COVID-19 elimination, regardless of cost, economic, social and psychological until some undefined percentage of mass vaccination is achieved, it is high time we face up to some stark choices. Otherwise, we will continue the descent into hysteria and madness.
The elimination strategy is utter nonsense. Governments pursuing this approach will only dig themselves a deeper hole. The obsession with infection numbers must be replaced with reports on how well our health system is coping with serious and life-threatening illness. In other words, the original objective of “flattening the curve” to ensure our hospitals and health system are not overwhelmed should have been adhered to. Instead, Gladys Berejiklian, along with her fellow premiers and endlessly subsidised by the hapless Morrison Government, is chasing a utopian rainbow at an unacceptable cost to our freedoms and economic survival.
Given that the Delta genie has long escaped the bottle, let me outline my layman’s view of where we now stand. Should I err, medical experts at the coal face, so to speak, are welcome to correct me; bureaucrats in the various health departments can bite their tongues.
First, COVID-19 appears to be a highly anomalous infection. Many “cases” are asymptomatic and most others appear to be mild. But as Henry Ergas reminds us, the minority of cases requiring hospitalisation, including a smaller minority in intensive care, display symptoms often a number of degrees worse than those from seasonal influenza. In other words, the COVID danger is acute for those with compromised immune systems.
By contrast, influenza appears to be a common-denominator infection. Correct me if I am wrong, but I have not heard of asymptomatic influenza infections. Moreover, in spite of the long available annual anti-flu jab, adapted each year to deal with the almost endless variants, annual deaths from influenza, especially among the old and frail, exceeded deaths from COVID-19 right up to the year preceding the pandemic. We might also observe that our hospitals have been able to cope with the annual influx of influenza patients. And despite the dire predictions of academic modellers, hospitals have been more than able to cope with the relatively small influx of serious ill COVID patients.
Those ‘fright porn’ pictures of COVID patients on ventilators, intended to scare those inclined to disobey the lockdown orders, raise the rather obvious question: whatever happened to the other viral and bacterial infections so common in previous years? To say that our health czars are less than open and frank about co-morbidities would be an understatement. Moreover, the federal government ad showing a young woman struggling for breath in ICU is seeking to depict the most unusual as the most typical. Given that there is no clear roadmap back to normal freedoms, the federal health bureaucracy is relying on misleading imagery to scare the young into getting the jab, a campaign rendered farcical by the shambles of both vaccine procurement and rollout.
Given that only two people have died this year, the only realistic strategy now is to treat COVID as endemic and continue to ensure that our health system is well able to cope. Vague talk about 50%, 65% or 80% getting vaccinated — pick a number, any number — can only mean that we are held hostage for months ahead. Right now, the only proper reason for any lockdown is if our hospitals face the serious prospect of nearing capacity. The majority of the frail elderly have now been vaccinated. They comprised the bulk of those in ICU and deaths in 2020.
Meanwhile, chief medical officers seem to have supplanted elected politicians. They are the high priests, the fonts of all wisdom and knowledge, whose “advice” or, rather, dictates must be accepted without question. Yet, when we check the CVs for the likes of Queensland’s Jeannette Young and NSW’s Kerry Chant, we find they are not virologists and are several degrees of separation from clinical practice. Moreover, health bureaucracies tend to be process-bound and rigid when the times demand flexibility, receptiveness and adaptability to new ideas. Worse still, ideology is a barrier to objective assessment of treatments which could mitigate the severity of Covid. Professor Robert Clancy’s positive review of the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin underlines the potential of such treatments to counteract the gloomy numbers game being played out day after day. This surely underscores the need to end bureaucratic inertia and resistance to remedies, espoused by well-credentialed specialists, which could help free us from the empire of fear.
Afterthought: If Gladys Berejiklian and her fellow premiers continue to ignore independent advice and slavishly bow to their chief medical officers, they should give substance to their oft-repeated claims during lockdowns that “we are all in this together”, by taking, at least, a 75 per cent pay cut. John Ruddick, take note. You could be on to a winner!