Oz Blog News Commentary

How many dead are an acceptable cost?

July 18, 2021 - 08:30 -- Admin

I am always amazed by the inability of conservatives to even contemplate the misfortune of others unless it affects them personally. I have been so struck by this, that in my wildest imaginings, I have wondered if this is an incipient speciation event. While that is unlikely, there have been several recent examples which caused this to resurface.

First of all, a year ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said: “The best protection against the virus [is] to live alongside the virus, and to open up your economy. You don’t protect your economy by continually shutting things down.”1,2  It turns out that you do. The best performing economies in the age of Covid-19 are those that have performed best in minimising cases of the virus. Those that allowed open slather have suffered worse economically. There is no trade-off between health and the economy. In fact it is quite the reverse. The nations which preformed worst economically were those generally with the highest Covid-19 death rate – like Peru, Spain and the UK; while those where the economic impact has been modest – like Taiwan, South Korea and Lithuania have also managed to keep the death rate low3. It is also no accident that the economies in Australia which are performing the best are Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)4, and these are the two jurisdictions which have had the longest gap since the last case of Covid-19 in their communities. For Tasmania it is 428 days, and the ACT it is 373 days. The next best is South Australia on 15 days5. Morrison has now changed his tune after New South Wales has been forced to lockdown to prevent the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, which is, at the time of writing (July 17), running at about 100 new cases a day. There have also been three deaths, the first in Australia since April. 

At the end of a long press conference, New South Wales Health Minister, Brad Hazzard said that NSW may never control its current Covid-19 outbreak, and be forced to live with the virus for good6. One wonders if Dan Andrews would throw in the towel as quickly as Hazzard seems to have done. It is no wonder people now refer to him as Health Hazzard. However, Hazzard very quickly backflipped7, presumably after receiving a strong talking to from Berejiklian, in saying that health officials are committed to stopping community transmission of the virus. Perhaps it is all getting too difficult and time-consuming for Hazzard to think about the well-being of his constituents in Wakehurst, on Sydney’s northern beaches8. Perhaps he needs a long holiday.

The very limited Murdoch hack Caroline Overington tweeted on July 15

“Lockdowns don’t work. Meaning, they only work for a while. Then the virus jumps ship, or hotel, or dock, and we’re off again. Is it time for all of us to learn to live with Covid-19?”9

Normally, it would be difficult to understand the stupidity of this statement, but the fact that it comes from Overington is unsurprising. She has form10. Despite what the idiotic Overington said, lockdowns do work and it has been shown by a study undertaken at Imperial College London (ICL) that it decreases the reproduction rate (R number) of the virus substantially. The R number is a numerical expression of how many other people will be infected by the average person infected by the virus. Any R value over 1 leads to exponential growth of the pandemic. Keeping it below 1 means the pandemic will eventually peter out. The closer R is to zero, the faster it peters out. The ICL study indicates that by keeping the R number below 1 using lockdowns has averted the deaths of an estimated 3.1 million deaths in Europe alone. A similar study in the US has estimated that lockdowns in several countries have prevented or at least delayed about half a billion cases of Covid-1911. It is wise to realise that not only does averting infection decrease the number of deaths, but delaying infection can prevent the health services being overwhelmed.

Nick Coatsworth, the federal government’s former deputy chief medical officer says Australia should consider ending lockdowns in November, because by then about 50% of the population should be fully vaccinated. However, he said that in doing so, we must accept some Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths12. The Delta variant is the current strain which is the source of almost all the infections in NSW and Victoria. It is also the variant rapidly increasing in the UK in which, despite 52% of the population being fully vaccinated13, infections have increased in the UK from an average of about 2,000 new cases per day in the middle of May to just under 35,000 two months later. The number of deaths lags the number of new infections by two to three weeks, and it is now also increasing from a low of about 6 in the middle of May to over 35 two months later14.

One question I ask of these people, when I get the opportunity, is how many deaths they would find acceptable. They invariably never reply. That is either because they are too stupid to realise the ramifications of what they propose, or they are too embarrassed to admit that they want to go out to a restaurant, a party, the cinema or a sporting event, and if that costs a few people their lives, it is a small price to pay for their enjoyment.