Move along, buddy, you’re holding up the line.

It’s time to get back to the business of life, if only our political masters would permit us. There is nothing to see anymore. The media fascination with counting each new COVID-19 case ought to be over.

What is notable from the next two charts is the shape of the curves. First, some larger countries and secondly smaller, (just to make the data easier to see).

Conclusion: the daily deaths have been falling everywhere, even bad boy Sweden, since the peak in late April. This is despite the rapidly growing number of reported cases globally for the last month.

Next, look at the excess deaths from the continuous mortality study, Euromomo, with 24 participating countries:

Conclusion: the spike in deaths, relative to normal, was 4 months ago. Also notable is that there is a spike in deaths every European winter. In 2017, the excess deaths reached 70,000 per week. In 2018 and 2019, they reached 60,000-65,000 per week. In 2020, there were two spikes: the ‘normal’ winter spike around 60,000 per week and then the COVID-19 spike reaching 90,000 per week.

Time to get back to living, working, schooling, business, socialising and recreation.

Perspective

Where is the global panic about deaths from road accidents? Or HIV/AIDS? Or tuberculosis? Why is COVID-19 worthy of a 6 month on-going panic when TB doesn’t rate a mention?

Currently, the global total death toll from COVID-19 is 562,000 people. Round that out to 0.6 million.

In other news, annual deaths from road accident trauma total 1.2m people, tuberculosis also kills 1.2m people annually and HIV/AIDS is killing about 1m people each year. Each and every year.

Let’s tally up the score over the last three years in terms of aggregate deaths:

  • Combined road trauma, TB and HIV/AIDS: 10.2m deaths
  • COVID-19: 0.6m deaths

Why weren’t economies busted and free people locked down years ago?

Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Pexels.com

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.

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Emu Export

There was a time in the middle 1980s when Western Australia punched above its weight in the Culture Stakes of Australia. Those were the days of Alan Bond, the Royal Perth Yacht Club, America’s Cup and Swan Lager. One of the more famous video clips of Bob Hawke, who had been Prime Minister for only 6 months by the time Australia II became the first challenger in 132 years to win the Cup, thereby breaking the longest winning streak in sporting history, had Bob on breakfast TV looking as if he was soaked in champagne. Still, such was the era that his image was enhanced. Today, one can imagine a craven apology being delivered by a subdued PM guilty of much less wayward antics than merely being soaked in champagne at breakfast.

I was reminded of those days recently while in my local Dan Murphys liquor store in Melbourne when I spotted a beer that I had not seen in over 30 years: Emu Export. The label says ‘Beer for Western Australia’. Well, of course I had to buy a supply. For in my younger days, at the start of my career, I spent two years working in Perth, WA, the State of Excitement as the local car number plates intoned. It wasn’t particularly exciting in those days if your car was low on petrol at the weekend because the filling stations went onto a roster system so that half would shut down for the weekend. This could require some planning in the pre internet days of finding out where the nearest open filling station was. There was no app.

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COVID-19, the economics teacher

COVID-19 is both a virus and a teacher. The virus bit, you know about. The teaching angle is the subject of this post.

We earn a living only by serving somebody else. Everyone in a market economy has a boss, from Company directors to the newly hired casual in the basement, from the small business owner to the freelancer. To do their job, they must organise inputs in some way to deliver outputs to the satisfaction of the end user. COVID-19 restrictions have disrupted those inputs, the production process and sales, drastically so in some cases. It makes not a jot of difference to the principle at stake whether you are the CEO of the world’s largest corporation, or just starting out in the basement on a casual contract. All that varies is the complexity of the process to be restored.

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Re-rigging

It’s time to replace Akala’s rig. This means a new mast, boom, standing rigging, halyards, uphauls and downhauls. It is a big job. It began just before Easter 2020 firstly pulling the old mast out.

Here the boat is at Sandringham marina, the old mast has been craned out, the boat is being lifted. It will stay in a cradle in the yard for measuring and preparation for the new rig. Plus, it will be repainted below the waterline.

The new mast may take some time to be made and trucked in from Sydney. Until it is ready, I will motor the boat back to the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron at St Kilda. Then, back to Sandringham for the new installation.

I am their leader; I must follow them

In an episode of Yes, Minister, Jim Hacker, in a discussion of a serious political issue says to Sir Humphrey that "It is the people's will. I am their leader; I must follow them."

There are signs all around the world of Jim Hacker right now among political leaders fumbling for a way out of this COVID-19 mess. They are looking for guidance from the people.

The severe lockdown restrictions imposed in most, but not all, countries to contain the spread of COVID-19 were a response made in large part through political fear. No political leader wants to be accused of doing nothing. The decision tree is asymmetric - do nothing and if things turn out to be really bad, you are shamed into the political wilderness. Do nothing and things turn out not very bad at all, you are criticised as being reckless and lucky. Whereas, take action and things turn out bad, you are justified. Take action and things are not bad, you claim that your actions saved your country. 

So severe lockdown measures were imposed, in the main. Now, a month or so into the lockdowns, it is readily apparent that the initial predictions of hundreds of thousands of deaths in each country, and millions in the more populous, were wildly wrong. Those predictions were used as the basis for scaring people into accepting the lockdowns. Now the bind tightens - continue the lockdown or ease? Continuing the lockdown is decimating economies. Easing the restrictions risks a second wave of virus infections. 

Governments are clearly unsure what to do. The messages coming out are mixed and incoherent. In some cases, we hear that the shutdown will continue for at least 6 months. In other cases, we hear the governments are working on plans for phasing out restrictions in the next few weeks. There are obviously some individuals in government who have begun worrying that the cure is worse than the disease. They are flying kites signalling possible future courses of action to see which ones get shot down by public opinion. 

The asymmetric decision tree that got the political leaders into the shutdown mode is now showing its asymmetry again, but this time they can't win. They can take one of two courses of action: ease or maintain the shutdown. The outcomes will be either continued reduction in infections as the virus disappears or a second wave of exponential growth and rapid rise in deaths. Now, whichever course of action is followed, the government cannot win - they will be either pilloried or criticised as reckless and lucky, depending on the outcome.

It is little wonder that they are behaving like Jim Hacker and looking for their people to lead him out of this mess.