Dan O'Heirity

I shall start today with some statistics which are, quite honestly, frightening. According to my preferred data source – which is updated in real time for the number of confirmed cases worldwide and for the number of new deaths with these figures being reset at GMT+0 each day – we now have 488,426 cases worldwide. This represents an increase of 17,458 cases over yesterday. There have been 789 new deaths giving a total number of 22,067 deaths.

The United States has seen 383 new cases which brings the total number of confirmed cases to 68,594. Italy has had no new cases so the total remains at 74,836. There have been no new deaths so the total number of deaths in Italy remains at 7,503. Spain has seen 6,673 new cases giving a total of 56,188 cases. The Spanish death total stands at 4,089 with 442 new deaths. It will not be long before the United States, Italy and Spain all surpass China in terms of the total number of cases and the total number of fatalities. Australia, the country where I live, has seen 12 new cases giving a total number of cases at 2,799. Australia has recorded 2 new deaths giving a total of 13 fatalities.

I have a good news shopping story. Well good news for me at least. I headed to the supermarket earlier this morning because I needed to get on with my work day and wanted to get my shopping out of the way. Thus far I have avoided early shopping because I imagined that there would be lengthy queues of panicked shoppers. Not the case. There were plenty of car parking spaces and the supermarket was relatively empty. And then it happened. I was wandering past the toilet roll shelves and spotted a dozen packs of the stuff. Unbelievable. I actually got toilet roll after around 5 weeks of finding the shelves empty. It is not that I desperately need toilet roll. However, it is somehow pleasant to now have a stock of it that will last quite some time.

I generally report each day on some form of stupidity in Australia and today there was no shortage of stories. Police carrying out random Covid-19 isolation checks found that 7 people were not at home. Heavy fines can be levied in cases such as these but have these fines been applied? No, and according to Police Commissioner Ashton here’s the reason why.

We haven’t fined anyone yet because people we have found that haven’t been complying haven’t understood it, haven’t got it, deeply apologetic and they’re doing the right thing now.

Seriously, we’re two months into a pandemic that has infected nearly half a million people and we are taking the excuse that people “just hadn’t got it”.

My next story concerns a man who spat on a police officer after he was stopped for a random breath test. The man was charged for driving without a licence, driving under the influence of alcohol, refusing to take a breath test and serious assault of a police officer. The article refers to the “attack” as “sickening” which is an appropriate way to describe such heinous behaviour. Other adjectives might include “disgusting” and “despicable”. Sadly this was not an isolated spitting incident. A second man spat on Surf Life Saving Queensland Patrol captain who was trying to enforce social distancing regulations at Mooloolaba beach in Queensland.

A story about Sydney airport has appeared in multiple places on the web. Basically, hundreds of travellers returning to Australia were crammed into confined spaces at Sydney airport such that there was no way that social distancing regulations could be followed. One traveller brought the hazardous conditions to the attention of a Border Force Security Officer. The officer told the person who had raised the issue that it was not his problem. It was the problem of Bio Security. I have made this point repeatedly. There are three variables that will impact the spread of Covid-19 in Australia and elsewhere. Widespread testing, social distancing and good hygiene practices. Those 400 people crammed into Sydney airport could be the cause of thousands of new cases of the virus in Australia.

I was reflecting today that living in Australia means that I have the freedom to write whatever I wish to write. In other words, I can voice my opinions without worrying, for example, about any consequences that might follow should I choose to be critical of Australia’s handling of the Chinese virus. However, if I were still living in Hong Kong then I would be somewhat fearful of what might happen to me as a result of what I am writing about China’s responsibility for the Covid-19 virus, even though I am not writing anything particularly controversial. This fear would not be unfounded as the reach of the Chinese Secret Service extends into Hong Kong. If I were living in China then I would even more afraid with respect to what the Chinese government might do to me because of what I am writing. After all, citizen journalists have disappeared in China whilst trying to tell the truth about Covid-19.

I suppose my abstract interest in having the freedom to write lies in reflecting upon writing as an act of telling the truth, an act of preserving the truth, an act of ensuring that Chinese lies do not ultimately carry the day. I know our clever postmodernists will talk about “whose truth” and “which truth” and “your truth” and “relative truths” but lets not go down their path otherwise we shall lose ourselves entirely. There are fundamental facts about the Covid-19 virus, including the fact that the virus originated in China. There are statistics showing how the virus has spread across the world. There are statistics showing the number of people who have become infected by the virus. And there are statistics that tell us how many people have died from the virus.

People will of course argue that news stories are contestable and that statistics are open to interpretation. Both of these points hold true. For example, whilst the Covid-19 virus certainly originated in China, there are a number of different explanations about the exact origins of the virus. Secondly, whilst statistics evidence hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases of the Chinese virus along with thousands of deaths, it is certainly the case that these statistics do not present a wholly accurate picture. One of the reasons for this is that hundreds of thousands of people have likely had the virus without ever being tested. For example, people with the asymptomatic strain of the virus.

Thus, we might say that the “truth” is open to interpretation but this does not mean that there are no truths. Rather it means that there are different perspectives on the truth. People will put different interpretations on the origins of the virus in China and people will will interpret the Chinese virus data in different ways. Note, however, that the fact of the virus remains as does the fact of hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases and thousands of confirmed deaths from the virus. These facts need to be captured over time and on the basis of ongoing research that will provide evidence to substantiate any claims made with respect to the Chinese virus. In this way the truth will be surfaced and substantiated as a counter narrative to Chinese lies about the origins and spread of the Chinese virus.

First Published March 27th, 2020

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