Dan O'Heirity

Using my preferred data source – remembering that the figures for daily cases and deaths are updated in real time GMT with the data for new cases and new deaths being reset at GMT+0 – I’m going to give yesterday’s full day figures for Australia. Australia saw an increase of 145 confirmed cases giving a total of 5,895 confirmed cases. There were 8 new deaths bringing the total number of fatalities to 45. The same data source today – reported at 10.15 PM AEST which makes it 1.15 PM GMT – reports 13 new cases in Australia giving a total of with 5,908 cases with 3 new deaths bringing the total number of fatalities to 48.

The question that occurs to me concerns what this means for “flattening the curve“, a term that refers to the attempt to ensure that new Covid-19 cases are spread out over time rather than occurring en masse in a very limited time frame. The need to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 virus has a lot to do with ensuring that hospitals are not overrun by huge numbers of people all requiring emergency care over short time frame. Measures that can “flatten the curve” include testing and isolating people who have contracted the virus and instituting social distancing measures. If these measures were to work then not only would we see new infections spread out over time, we would also see fewer new cases because people would not be spreading the virus.

Whilst “flattening the curve” is obviously important, I have for quite some time had a vague suspicion that talk of “flattening the curve” of the Covid-19 virus may not be telling the whole story about what is going on with Covid-19 in Australia. The reason for this is that Covid-19 data can be represented in a whole host of different ways. One way is to show the daily number of new cases as a percentage of the total number of cases to date. This presentation method is the one that is used when talking of “flattening the curve“. However, presenting the data in this way can lead to a false sense of security because the percentage graph can trend downwards even though the virus is still widespread. For example, the number of new cases relative to total cases could consistently drop by say 10% per day. However, there could still be hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 cases. Talk of flattening the curve should, therefore, not be accepted uncritically.

Although our politicians would have us believe that Australia has got Covid-19 under some kind of control, I remain confused about the various predictions for the rate of the spread of Covid-19 in Australia. I remain equally confused about whether or not social distancing measures in Australia have slowed the rate at which the virus is spreading or “flattened the Covid-19 curve.” If the Chief Medical Officer for Australia is to be believed, then the Government has done a most excellent job in putting social distancing measures in place to slow down the rate at which the virus is spreading. However, if political commentator Andrew Bolt is to be believed, then the dangers of the Covid-19 virus have been greatly exaggerated in Australia and the Australian government has over reacted causing economic and social chaos that need never have happened.

The report from Andrew Bolt includes a video clip of the Health Minister telling Australia that the country is getting on top of the virus thanks to social distancing measures. Thus, the Health Minister not surprisingly concurs with the Chief Medical Officer on the effectiveness of Government measures to slow down the rate of the spread of the virus. There is a second report in which the Health Minister is again cited talking about how Australia has “flattened the curve” for Covid-19. However, thankfully, the report also includes a comment from Dr Jeremy McAnulty from New South Wales Health stating that it is too early to talk of “flattening the curve” because we need data from a longer time frame and because we cannot assume that people actually are obeying the social distancing rules which are crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.

There are many unknown assumptions that have to be inputted into data models predicting the rate of the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Whether or not people are following social distancing measures is one such variable. Given the fact of so many variables, my judgement about these models would therefore be that any attempt at predicting the course of the Covid-19 virus is pretty much guesswork. This would account for why data models can vary so significantly. For example, I reported yesterday on one model that suggested that the Covid-19 virus could be contained in Australia by July, 2020 whilst another model predicted that Australia could be in lockdown until January 2021. A story from today also presents diverging predictions for the course of the virus in Australia contingent on variables such as the extent of testing and whether or not people follow social isolations rules.

Countries around the world are importing medical equipment and medical supplies from China including the United Kingdom which is set to receive 300 ventilators. Until today Australia had not received any medical supplies from China. Things have now changed with masks, gowns and ventilators coming into Australia on board a flight from Wuhan, where lock down restrictions were eased a day or so ago. I have reported some astonishing stories since the Covid-19 pandemic began, but this story defies belief. Australia is actually importing medical supplies from the virus epicentre, a fact which symbolizes so much that Australia has got wrong in dealing with this pandemic, including allowing Australia to be pillaged by the Chinese for medical equipment and medical supplies such that Australia now has to import supplies from China.

By importing medical supplies from China, Australia is dealing with a regime that has covered up the Covid-19 outbreak, continually lied about the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in China and vanished people who have tried to speak out about the virus. The news continues to report this cover up giving some very concrete information based on confidential reports that the first case was identified in China in November 2019, 6 weeks before China reported the virus to the World Health Organization. The report also suggests that around 5 million people left Wuhan before the lockdown and it therefore seems inconceivable that the cases reported in China have, as far as we can see, been restricted to Wuhan.

A truck driver in Wuhan has revealed that he delivered 5,000 funeral urns to a single funeral parlour, more urns that than the total number of deaths reported by China for the Covid-19 virus. Consider also that there are 8 such funeral parlours in Wuhan a fact which would tend to lend some credence to a claim by a health data researcher that it is more likely that there have been around 300,000 Covid-19 cases in China along with 30,000-60,000 deaths. An article in “The Lancet” in January had already pointed in this direction, suggesting that cases in Wuhan might be around 75,815 whilst also pointing to the fact that the Covid-19 virus would likely have spread to other Chinese cities in sufficient numbers to start local epidemics, a fact that might account for the estimate of 300,000 cases in China.

As I have said before, China has consistently lied about the origin and spread of the virus and must be held to account by the world. However, my fear is that talk about holding China accountable for the spread of the virus will amount to little more than “sound and fury signifying nothing” and that the world will, in a post Covid-19 landscape, once again find itself part of a global economy where considerations of right and wrong are eclipsed by economic necessity. To put this another way, the fact that countries around the world have had no choice but to import medical supplies from China symbolizes the fact of a particular necessity – the need for medical equipment and medical supplies – taking precedence over the ethics of dealing with China.

As is the norm for these pieces I shall present a few stories about Australian stupidity and, worse still, racism in this Covid-19 world. Police in Western Australia have charged 10 people for failing to obey self-isolation or quarantine orders, something that is all too common in Australia to the extent that an Australian teacher in Wuhan has said that she feels safer there than in Australia because Australians are “just not getting” how dangerous the virus really is. People have been fined for “blatantly” going for a drive something that is not allowed under the lock down regulations. In another story, a man who was supposed to be in self-quarantine at a Perth hotel, forced open a fire door so that he could escape to visit his girlfriend.

Another man faces a $1,600 fine for making use of outside gym equipment of the sort found, for example, in public parks. A woman has been fined for ignoring a social isolation order. The same story reports that a man has been charged for deliberately coughing and sneezing repeatedly at nurses whilst undergoing treatment for a respiratory condition. Thankfully, a news story today has reported that a person could face life in prison if they were to cough over a health worker who later died from Covid-19. The undercurrent of racism amongst some Australians has come to the fore with the Covid-19 pandemic and we have another case with a woman of Asian descent being spat on whilst being verbally abused.

First Published April 7th, 2020

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