A bewildered man under pressure

This is the picture of a man under pressure. He looks bewildered.

Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, 7 July 2020

He has just announced the reintroduction of hard lockdown rules to apply to all of metropolitan Melbourne and one neighboring municipality. Back to square one. Covid19 lockdown strategy, here we go again in the State of Victoria.

The initial hard lockdown was implemented in April 2020. The Premier at that time was overtly authoritarian – he banned all sorts of activities that clearly had no justification in terms of public health risks: golf, tennis, sitting on a park bench, fishing off a pier and even surfing. The local police force even fined a 16 year old girl out on a learning to drive trip with her mother. In their own car. Out on the open roads. On top of that, small businesses almost everywhere in tourism, hospitality and entertainment were forcibly shut. He imposed the harshest lockdown of all the Australian states, and wagged his finger disapprovingly at so many Victorians. He positively reveled in his power, his dictatorial edicts, his command and control. If you play golf, people will die. That sort of ludicrous statement. He took it upon himself to define personal risk mitigation against catching a virus as a matter of Government policy, requiring enforcement by the police and a criminal charges for failing to adhere. My mother taught me about how to avoid flu. But due credit to her, she never threatened me with $1,600 fines or imprisonment for failing to obey.

The lockdown curbs were eased progressively. Then, the cases started to re-emerge.

Now, in July 2020, we are back at square one. The first lockdown strategy obviously failed. Otherwise, we would not be here again. This time, the Premier, as is obvious from the above photograph, is not so confident. He looks bewildered. He looks out of his depth. He looks haunted and panicked. And so he should, in my view.

But are we actually back at square one? I think not. This is likely to be good news for our bewildered dear leader, which he should understand soon enough. For while the cases of Covid19 have been on the rise for weeks, the deaths have not. This is the same pattern happening in many countries around the world. As restrictions have eased, cases have risen. Yet deaths have not. Even allowing for a two week lag between case identification and mortality, it is a legitimate question to ask: where are the deaths? A case is not the same as a death.

There are a number of plausible reasons to expect that the rise in cases will not lead to a corresponding rise in deaths. Firstly, the incidence of testing has been ramped up. The more tests, naturally the more infections will be detected, especially among the asymptomatic. Secondly, the first round experience has taught aged care centres how better to look after the elderly and the frail – no more repeats of the New York aged care residential centre deaths, I expect (I hope). Thirdly, case treatment is improving and despite what the anti-Trump media say, hydroxychloroquinine is an effective treatment. Overall, it seems highly likely that the recent rise in cases is skewed towards the younger demographic, many of whom will barely notice their symptoms and mortality rates will depart from case rates.

In 3 weeks time, we will have seen rising cases for about 6 weeks. If there is no corresponding increase in deaths, Premier Andrews will get his swagger back, and he will then claim that he, through these tough decisions, has saved hundreds of thousands of Victorians from a gruesome death. Just watch. It will be enough to make you sick.