Dan O'Heirity

Here I am in this Covid-19 world, feeling somewhat nonplussed by the fact that around three quarters of a million people across over more than 200 countries and regions have become infected by the virus. And then of course, we have also seen around 30,000 deaths. It is disconcerting to sit here, typing away, whilst being only abstractly aware that people are suffering.

My secondary personality disorder I suppose. A distinct inability to have empathy or sympathy for others. The others. They are at a remove from me. I see them as objects in my environment, objects conditioned by their circumstances, a fact that has become even more obvious to me in the current infectious and oftentimes deadly climate. I remained detached and dispassionate with respect to human impact of the virus. Still, this does make for an ability to simply engage in research without being distracted by the human dimension of it all.

I shall turn to the daily statistics before reporting on some of the more interesting news stories. According to my first data source – which is updated in real time for the number of confirmed cases worldwide and for the number of new cases and deaths with these latter figures being reset at GMT+0 each day – we currently have a total of 735,821 cases worldwide. There have been 34,845 deaths.

I remember the early days of the virus when the talk was of a death rate of around 4-6% of cases. The death rate according to this data source currently stands at 18%. The United States has seen an increase of 333 cases bringing the total number of cases to 142,793. There have been 6 new deaths bringing the total number of deaths to 2,490. In this respect President Trump has come under fire for his response to the virus which can only be expected given that he seems to have referred to the virus as a “hoax” in the early days of the outbreak.

Italy has registered no new cases and no new deaths and so the total number of cases in Italy remains at 97,869 and the total number of deaths remains at 10,779. Spain has now taken its place above China in the Covid-19 league table with 5,085 new cases giving a total number of cases at 85,195. There have been 537 new deaths in Spain with the total number of fatalities standing at 7,340.

China continues with its miraculous containment of the virus reporting 31 new cases giving the total number of cases at 81,470. There have been 4 new deaths in China bring the total number of deaths to 3,304. Germany will likely be the next country to register more cases than China with the total number of cases in Germany currently standing at 62,435. The number of fatalities in Germany stands at 541.

For those who wish to do so, pause and reflect that there will soon be 4 countries that have registered more Covid-19 cases than China. If the pattern around the world continues as it is, we shall likely see a lot more countries overtaking China. Australia registered 82 new cases giving a total number of cases at 4,245. There was one more death bring the fatality rate to 18.

Australia’s numbers have prompted talk in Australia today of the curve flattening out with the Chief Medical Officer saying, “we have had a somewhat slowing of the growth in epidemiology curve but it’s not enough. We have to slow it further“. However, as I mentioned yesterday with this news story, the more tests that you carry out the more likely it is that you will find positive cases and the testing rates in Australia are so abysmally low that Australia actually has no real idea whether or not it is flattening the curve.

For example, the State with the highest testing rate, South Australia, is only testing 1,423 people per 100,000 of the population. It therefore seems to be a nonsense to say that the curve is flattening out. It is equally possible that there are thousands and thousands of cases in the 998,577 who are not being test per 100,000 of the population.

In the case of testing in the United Statesa lack of testing gave a false picture of how many people across the country were infected” and this shows exactly what can happen when testing is not carried out on the required scale. Granted there was also the fact that Trump continually told the American people that the virus was under control and even that the virus would “go away” which is not a problem that we are having in Australia. Australia, accepts the reality of the virus.

Granted also that Australia has not faced the same problems that America faced with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deciding to develop its own test which whilst not a problem in and of itself, did lead to problems. The reason for this is that testing for Covid-19 in the U.S requires Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA eventually granted the CDC the first EUA which meant that were only a very limited number of test centres in the first instance. Furthermore, the criteria for testing were ridiculously strict with tests only being available to those who had returned from Wuhan or to someone who had been in direct contact with a person who had been confirmed to have the Covid-19 virus.

It was not until “Feb. 29, the FDA lifted restrictions on labs, issuing a new set of significantly less restrictive protocols. On March 3, the restrictions on who qualified for a test were dissolved. At that point, 13 people in the United States were recorded as having died of covid-19.” Four weeks later on March the 28th, the United States had only carried out 2,250 tests per million, a rate significantly lower than the testing rate in South Korea which, remember, has had previous experience with pandemics and likely knows what needs to be done in order to contain a virus.

The article concludes by saying that the lack of testing “means we may never have a true count of how many Americans contracted the virus.” And this is exactly my point with Australia. Testing rates are so low that Australia will never have an accurate picture of how many Australians actually contract the virus. However, the testing failure has been far more fatal in the United States with the virus spreading through communities due, in part at least, to the lack of testing in the early stages of the virus. The same does not appear to be true in Australia but it would, I think, be fair to say that Australia has simply been lucky in this respect.

Australia continues to battle with the fact that Australians cannot be relied upon to do the right thing with Queensland police given new powers with respect to people who breach quarantine conditions. The number of people allowed to gather in a home in Queensland has been reduced from 10 people to 2 people. Really, over two months into the virus a State in Australia was allowing up to 10 people to gather in a home. In a second story, police again had to move people off a beach in New South Wales because they were in breach of the social distancing regulations.

The same article is warning that young adults can also catch the Covid-19 virus. And still on the same theme a business owner in Australia has been fined for failing to close his business in compliance with the new emergency measures. Well hurrah. And to the last piece of News, New Zealand is experiencing the same problem with stupid and selfish people flouting the lockdown laws. However, as with Australia, the New Zealand police are taking the approach of educating offenders so that they understand what they need to do. They understand. They just don’t comply. Throw them all into a crowded jail cell.

First Published March 30th, 2020

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