“Every day is like Sunday. Every day is silent and gray.” So sang Morrissey in the 1980s. He was envisaging nuclear winter but in doing so comparing it to the typical Sunday of the times. Sundays were different then. Shops were closed and churches were open. Even fuel filling stations were mostly closed. The streets were quiet, families had a cooked lunch together at home and grandparents may have been visited in the afternoon.
Melbourne seems to have returned to the Sundays of old, but with some differences. The churches are no longer permitted to admit worshipers. Visiting grandparents is discouraged by the arbiters of assumed state power. The police force is harassing couples on the beach* trying to enjoy the last sunshine of the late summer. Citizens are bullied into a state of hibernation, jobs forcibly removed from many yet they cannot go hunting for new work.
The panic displayed by political leaders stems from two fundamental causes. The first is that over time, people have allowed governments ever increasing powers over our daily lives. The fear of being seen to be doing nothing has replaced the fear of doing something damaging in the mind of the politician. The mainstream media and social media has encouraged this shift. The second cause is a fundamental error in making predictions about the outcome of an exponential growth process. The predictions are wrong, badly so. The error stems from the inability to model the behavioural changes that people make in the face of risk. The risk of infection from social contact with an infected person is not constant over time. It reduces. This is because people change their behaviour. Those models that attempt to show how one infected person infects 2.5 others who each infect another 2.5 persons and pretty soon the whole country is infected and the deaths will be in their millions are wrong. Yet it seems public policy is conducted based on such fears.
There is another side to this pandemic not receiving sufficient attention and that is the fatality rate. Firstly, it is being expressed as a case fatality rate, not infection fatality rate. Case rates are always going to be much higher, yet infection fatality rates are what matters to the population. Second, the rates should be broken down by age band. This data appears to be hidden by authorities, but what is available shows that the mortality rates are heavily skewed to the elderly. Why should an economy be sledgehammered when the workforce is no more badly affected than any other flu season? Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the key point is not the number of deaths from COVID19 itself, but the net increase in deaths from all causes. In other words, are deaths being labelled as COVID19 deaths rather than heart disease, pneumonia, respiratory failure, stroke, etc. By the time that people get to their elderly years, they usually have a number of underlying medical conditions. Which one is it that should be recorded as the cause of death? It seems that practices are differing in different countries. Germany, it is reported, is not counting a death where there is a number of underlying issues, including COVID19, as caused by COVID19. Italy counts every death where COVID19 is present as a COVID19 cause. When all is said and done, what matters is the total deaths (per time period) compared to the typical number of deaths split by age and gender. If the totals are not changing, then COVID19 is a relabelling exercise. Despite the wholly unsatisfactory analysis of the data, our way of life, civil liberties, economic wellbeing have been damaged immensely. It surprises me that more people are not complaining in the streets. Civil unrest will emerge eventually if these draconian restrictions are not removed.
Update: Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Anyone in NSW who leaves their house without a “reasonable excuse” could spend up to six months in prison and face an $11,000 fine under an emergency ministerial directive gazetted overnight.” The politicians are out of control and seriously risking public disorder.
Attentive readers will note that On the Beach was a movie made in Melbourne in the 1950s about nuclear apocalypse. I’m on a roll, here.