Dan O'Heirity

Victoria’s Response to the Coronavirus Continues to Annoy Me

The state of Victoria, Australia remains in a state of emergency and a state of disaster which means being restricted to one family member being able to shop once per day. We are allowed to exercise for one hour a day. Mask wearing is mandatory and you can be arrested and fined for failing to comply. There is a police enforced curfew running from 8 PM to 5 AM. God help you if you are caught breaking that curfew. So, to ABC News which reported yesterday that, “There have been five straight days with under 300 new [coronavirus] cases“. Whilst ABC sees these figures as a cause for optimism, my first thought was that the figures per se are all but meaningless.

For example, if the testing rate had dropped by half, then we would be finding less cases. And, lo and behold, further on in the story ABC reports that until this week Victoria was testing 20,000 per day. This week the number of tests per day dropped to as low as 15,000 tests. The highest number of tests carried out on a single day was 18,000. I’m no mathematician but honestly, less tests means that you will very likely find less cases. The other point regarding the coronavirus figures is that you need to look at week on week averages for figures in order to determine a trend and Victoria has been in lockdown for less than three weeks meaning that a trend in cases cannot be determined.

The other point that I would note in the ABC News story is that the Australian press continues to publish alarmist headlines. Here, the ABC has a headline in the story that reads, “Fears of a Third Wave”. However, there is not a single piece of content about a third wave of the virus. Rather, the headline is followed by a video of the Premier Daniel Andrews. Andrews reports with great sadness that 376 Victorians have “passed away” from this virus. This represents an increase of 13 fatalities over the previous day. In terms of a breakdown the deaths were as follows: 1 male in his 70s, 6 females in their 80s, 5 females and 1 male in their 90s. I know I lack compassion but, once again, the deaths have all been amongst the elderly.

Furthermore of the 4,864 active cases in Victoria, there are 753 health care workers with Covid-19 and 1,811 active cases are in aged care facilities. This means that 52.71% of all active cases are accounted for by health workers and people in aged care facilities. The rest of the report which, remember, was titled “Fears of a Third Wave”, simply reviews what the drop in the number of new daily cases of Covid-19 might mean. So there we have it. The state of Covid-19 in Victoria. I fear that would sound like a broken record were I to mention, for example, the hundreds of thousands of seasonal influenza cases that we see in Australia each year. So, I will stop at this point.

Human Stupidity Accounts for Why Victoria Has Returned to a State of Lockdown

In what is not startling news for anyone who lives in Australia, “The Age” reports that, “More than 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Victoria’s deadly second wave have been traced to a family who arrived back from overseas in May and were quarantined at Melbourne’s Rydges on Swanston hotel”. The remaining 10% of the cases have been traced back to three travellers who were quarantined the Stamford Plaza in June, 2020. The short story here is that security at the quarantine hotels seems to have been contracted to private security firms and the accusation is that these firms then subcontracted the work to other firms.

The whole situation is still under investigation as per the video above but it seems likely that contractual requirements were not followed by the primary security firm. It also seems likely that the guards at the hotels were not adequately trained. Thus, in the case of Melbourne’s Rydges on Swanston hotel the virus passed from the family of four to hotel staff and contracted security staff and from there the virus to the wider community . It is worth noting in this respect that authorities have not been able to “pinpoint” the exact “transmission events” at either of the hotels. Think about this fact. How on earth can contact tracing be effective when authorities can’t determine how the virus was transmitted in the confines of a hotel with a very limited number of people coming into contact with the infected travellers.

The Covid-19 Facts Increasingly Show That Victorians Are Living in a Totalitarian State

I have never been a great fan of Sky News Host Alan Jones but I have been warming up to him of late because he is one of the few political commentators who fundamentally questioning what is going on with Australia’s management, or mis-management of Covid-19. Jones, quite rightly I think, takes the view that Victoria is now a totalitarian state and that there is absolutely no justification for the draconian measures that have been imposed on Victorians by the state premier Daniel Andrews. Jones has also got much better at supporting his contentions with legitimate academic research. Towards the end of this video he quotes from a research paper by renowned epidemiologist Professor Donald Henderson. The paper is called “How a Free Society Deals with Pandemics”.

Jones quotes extensively from the paper to show quite comprehensively that the reaction of Australia to Covid-19 has no basis in the recommendations of Professor Henderson on how to effectively manage a pandemic. I am an academic and so I know that an argument cannot carry the day based on a single research paper. However, a single research paper can provide the basis for questioning a particular position and for opening up avenues of questioning and research. Here is an example of a question. What sort of society are we living in when the police are using spy drones to monitor us?

China Continues to Try to Bully Australia Through Economic Coercion

Comity has never been one of my strengths in writing about China and today is no exception. There is now a long history of China trying to bully Australia through economic coercion into kowtowing to Beijing. The bullying continues with China talking of investigating Australian wine making on two counts. First, China will investigate whether Australia is “dumping wine” at prices lower than those in the domestic market. Secondly, Beijing will look at the extent to which the Australian wine making industry is subsidized.

Unfortunately, as is the case with so much of Australia’s trade, Australia is significantly dependent on China for its wine exports with China importing $1.2 worth of wine each year from Australia. This represents 37% of Australia’s wine exports. The figures are even more alarming if you break down Australia’s wine exports by state. China accounts for 46% of wine exports in Victoria, 46% in Queensland 43% in South Australia and 41% of exports in Western Australia. So, fair to say that Australia would be hard hit should China follow through on its threats. However, and I know that this suggestion might appear simplistic, Australia has to look at these threats as a wake up call and another reason to reduce its trade dependency on China.

China’s Woes Continue and I Am, Well, Extremely Happy About That Fact

China seems to be running into problems on a number of fronts. First, natural disasters including flooding are devastating regions including China’s North West Region which has been particularly hard-hit by floods. OK, no one should be happy about that fact. However, if this were any other country in the world, then the world’s leaders would be responding with offers of aid. Not so with China because China is basically closed to the rest of the world. Furthermore, Beijing would not want to turn the world’s attention towards its troubles.

There is also mention in this video of possible food shortages in China and Xi Jinping has apparently launched a “Clean Your Plate Campaign”. The idea seems to be to stop food wastage, particularly in restaurants, but I can’t quite see the logic of how cleaning your plate is going to stave off possible food shortages. Lastly from this report, if Gravitas is to believed, and the last 6 months of my covering the Covid-19 pandemic would suggest that this is the case, then 2 million companies in China have gone out of business. There could be a whole host of reasons for this fact. For example, a decline in exports as a result of the global economy collapsing.

I Will Never Be a Fan of Donald Trump but I Do Enjoy Watching What He Does to China

China’s imposition of a new security law on Hong Kong has been much reported with many commentators believing that the new law essentially brings Hong Kong under China’s control. The US has instituted a whole series of measures to remove Hong Kong’s special trading status and now Trump has apparently decreed that goods manufactured in Hong Kong will from September 25th, 2020 have to be labelled has being “Made in China”. Hong Kong’s Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau is going to appeal Washington’s decision to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the grounds that Hong Kong’s status is that of a separate WTO member.

The interesting point here concerns what Trump hopes to achieve. As the article points out, Trump has said that he wishes to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy and yet this act, which right now is just a labelling issue, would seem to actually undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy by linking Hong Kong production with Chinese production. This is, I suspect, the point of it all. It’s a labelling issue today but in the longer term all Hong Kong manufactured products would likely be defined as Chinese made. Any sanctions Trump decided to impose against China in the future would also be sanctions against Hong Kong. Furthermore, the same logic might apply if other countries decided to put an embargo on Chinese goods as the embargo would include goods produced in Hong Kong.

First Published August 22nd, 2020

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