Dan O'Heirity

As I mentioned yesterday I shall not be looking at statistics again until the number of confirmed cases rises above 1,000,000. As of today that figure will likely be reached either today or tomorrow with the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany and China all make significant contributions to the 1,000,000 figure of confirmed cases worldwide. That said, China continues to report virtually no new cases and so other countries are rapidly approaching the same number of confirmed cases that China has reported.

Rather than presenting statistics, I will today take a look at a few news stories to see what I can make of them. I’ve already reported on the fact that Patient Zero in Wuhan was identified as a shrimp seller in one of the local markets. Today, the first report came in of how the virus came to Australia. A 58 year old man flew in from Wuhan and five days later it was evident that he had the Covid-19 virus. Two days later a 21 year old woman from Wuhan studying at the University of New South Wales tested positive. At the same time – and I remember reading about this story – a tour group from Wuhan flew into the Gold Coast.

The article concludes that,

Coronavirus was here, and though it was inevitable that it came to Australia from China, coronavirus expert Dr Norman Swan told the program, mistakes, fiascos and mishandling since had caused it to spread.

An example of such a fiasco would be allowing passengers from the Ruby Princess Cruise ship to enter Australia without taking adequate medical precautions, a fact which, it is claimed, led to hundreds of infections in Australia. Interestingly, seven cruise ships remain floating off of the coast of New South Wales with a total crew count of 8,500 people for all ships and a total passenger count of 9000 people for all ships.

There are confirmed Covid-19 cases on five of the ships including passengers and crew and Australia seems to be having a bit of a problem deciding what to do with passengers. However, Australia does seem to be clear that they will not be allowing 9000 passengers to disembark because of the Covid-19 risk and because the health system could not cope. The latter point re the health system not coping is worrying given the potential number of cases that we might see in Australia.

Continuing the train of thought about mistakes and fiascos – and I have reported on these in past journal entries – it seems odd to me that there was a report today March 30th 2020 claiming that

Two graphs tracking the daily number of coronavirus cases in New South Wales and Victoria show we could be winning the battle against coronavirus.

Only two weeks ago on 18th March 2020 there was debate around whether Australia would follow the pattern in Italy with respect to number of projected cases and fatalities. I am reminded of President [sic] Trump who downplayed the virus in the early days of cases in the United States, even calling it hoax. Today, however, he is predicting that up to 240,000 Americans could die of the disease.

I am not saying that Australia will end up in the same position as Italy or the United States but it does seem to me that Australians are not being given the whole story with respect to the spread / potential spread of the Covid-19 virus. It also seems to me that politicians and leaders are being reckless in the way that they are talking about the situation in Australia, particularly when, as I will argue below, Australians do not seem to be taking the Covid-19 virus with the degree of seriousness that is warranted. To conclude this paragraph, this does not really seem to be the time in Australia, or indeed in any other country in the world, to be talking about “winning the battle against the coronavirus“. The reason for this contention, as I shall argue in the next paragraph, is that the current evidence would not seem to support such an argument.

I get that the rate of increase for Covid-19 cases has slowed and that this fact could be a direct result of Australia’s efforts to enforce social distancing measures which have been necessary for a host of reasons including the fact that Australians were just not getting the Covid-19 virus. I have cited many reports over the last two weeks in this respect including referencing stories of people congregating en masse at beaches and holding house parties. There will be more examples in the final paragraph, just to maintain in peoples minds that Australians are being dumb and seemingly doing their best to ensure that the Covid-19 virus does spread in Australia.

So back to the claim that we could be “winning” against the Corona virus. If we assumed that all things are equal and that less people are turning up for Covid-19 tests and / or testing positive for the Covid-19 virus as a result of the social distancing measures then perhaps there would be grounds for claiming that social distancing measures have had some sort of impact. Note, the claim at this stage would not be that we are winning against the virus because that statement goes too far. The trouble is that “things” have not remained equal.

And here’s why,

Experts caution that this slowdown is likely to be due to a drop in travel-related cases, and local transmission rates need to be carefully monitored and suppressed.

This means that it is equally plausible that the apparent decline in confirmed Covid-19 cases could just as well be due to the more stringent restrictions on travel to Australia along with more stringent border controls – including forcing people travelling into Australia to self-isolate in hotels for a period of 14 days after arrival – meaning that social isolation regulations may have nothing to do with the current slowing of reported Covid-19 cases. Note too that the quotation refers to carefully monitoring local transmission rates. This seems to me to be a grey area in Australia.

I have provided data in the past that Australia is testing only a very small percentage of residents in each State with the percentage rate ranging from around 1.48% per 100,000 residents down to less than 0.5% of residents per 100,000 of residents. Those who are tested are people who have turned up at testing centres – whether having paid attention to Government testing guidelines or not – in the belief that they may have contracted Covid-19. Even then, there are very stringent conditions on who might receive a test.

For example, this revision to the testing criteria, reported on 26th March 2020, over three months since the Covid-19 outbreak, specifies that

As well as health and aged care workers, the statement said testing will ‘be expanded to include hospitalised patients with fever and acute respiratory symptoms of unknown cause, at the discretion of the treating clinician’“. The new criteria would also include “aged and residential care, rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, detention centres/correctional facilities, boarding schools and military bases with live-in accommodation.

Note, however, that testing would be conducted only where there are “two or more plausibly related cases in these settings“. OK. The point has been made that the extent of testing in Australia is ridiculously low and there really is absolutely no basis for making the claim that Australia might be winning in its battle against Covid-19. Rather, an accurate depiction would state that based on extremely limited testing, conducted according to very stringent criteria, we can report that there has been a slowing of the rate of increase of Covid-19 cases in Australia. The trouble with that statement is that it is not news headline worthy.

There is a very logical conclusion to be drawn from Australia’s woefully low testing rates. There may be thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people in Australia with mild symptoms or, as is the case with the asymptomatic strain of the virus, with no symptoms. These people would not be turning up to ask for a Covid-19 test and yet they would represent confirmed Covid-19 cases if testing were carried out extensively. And there is the point. One might argue that the data in Australia for the actual number of cases is, and always has been, flawed because it is based on a low testing rate.

If you really wanted to know how many people had contracted the virus – and you would want to know this because people with mild symptoms or no symptoms may pass the virus to vulnerable members of society – then you would carry out proactive testing at a much higher rate than the testing that is currently being carried out. I mentioned in the first paragraph that Australians do not seem to be taking the Covid-19 as seriously as they should be.

Too many Australians continue to flout social distancing rules with police having to break up house parties along with a rooftop party at a hostel. The latter story reports that despite police having powers to impose fines, the revellers were let off with a warning. Come on Australia. What, they didn’t know about the social distancing rules? Rubbish. They were knowingly flouting the rules and putting people at risk from their stupid and selfish behaviour. However, on the positive side of law enforcement, a Darwin man was fined for failing to obey a 14 day self-quarantine order that had been imposed because he had returned from overseas.

It is not just individual who are flouting the Government’s Covid-19 regulations. Today, a brothel owner was fined a reasonably substantial sum for continuing to run his brothel under restrictions that required that brothels, amongst many other businesses, close their doors. The police were alerted to the case because the street where the brothel resided had become so busy that there traffic jams. Now that is funny. As with other cases, the man claimed that he did not know that he should have closed his business. Bollocks. The same story reports that, other

People were fined for drinking in the street, breaching the gathering limit in households, driving around without justification and in one case driving around to obtain drugs.

Next, the day would not be complete without a story about an Australian spitting on someone. This time the victim was a police officer enforcing social distancing rules. The story goes on to say that,

Police around the country have seen a disturbing rise in incidents of members of the public spitting on officers enforcing social distancing rules.

Finally, panic toilet paper buying further explained. Basically the sense of not having control leads us to try to do small things over which we feel that we have some control. In this case buying toilet paper. O.K. I get that idea but why toilet paper?

As I have written many times before, no one has been stock piling water during the first couple of months or so of this pandemic when we can only survive for around 4 days without water before our internal organs start to suffer damage. Me, I bought a lot of water and a lot of food so that come the final apocalyptic melt down where billions have died from a virus more virulent and more deadly than Covid-19, I will be able to survive in my home for six months. Of course, this may be essentially pointless because, really, what would the world look like when I emerged from my home after six months of hiding out?

First Published April 1st, 2020

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