COVID-19 lessons learned through needless deaths

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(Image by Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater via

Several countries have learned what not to do during a global pandemic, some of them the hard way. Alan Austin reports.

EVERY DEVELOPED COUNTRY has lost lives to the coronavirus pandemic. No administration can boast a great record in responding to the global crisis. But some have managed it far better than others.

It will take years before we can draw final conclusions in all critical areas. But some lessons can be learned now. In countries still heavily impacted, heeding these immediately will save many lives.

Australia and New Zealand are among the nations which have fared better than most. Of the 51 very highly developed major countries, according to UNDP classification, 12 have kept deaths per million* inhabitants below six.

They are:

  •  Hong Kong 0.5
  •  Kazakhstan 1.8
  •  Malaysia 3.5
  •  Singapore 3.8
  •  Australia 3.8
  •  Oman 4.1
  •  New Zealand 4.4
  •  South Korea 5.1
  •  Slovakia 5.1
  •  Qatar 5.2
  •  Uruguay 5.5
  •  Japan 5.7

These nations prove that deaths in the thousands are not inevitable. In contrast, many rich countries have lost hundreds of citizens per million.

Among the worst-hit are these:

  • Switzerland 217
  •  United States 272
  •  Ireland 311
  •  Netherlands 331
  •  Sweden 364
  •  France 423
  •  United Kingdom 508
  •  Italy 525
  •  Spain 590
  •  Belgium 777

*As noted previously, we assume data is current and reliable, which may not always be the case.

Comparing like with like

One challenge in determining which actions worked and which didn’t is finding states we can validly compare. No two countries are exactly alike.

Two places which share many similarities are Australia and the American State of Florida.

Both have mostly wealthy, well-educated people either employed or comfortably retired, but with significant racial minorities and some poverty.

Citizens in both places enjoy secure democratic political systems and mixed capitalist economies. Both have advanced hospital and health care networks.

They are both a long way from the early epicentres – Wuhan, Lombardy and New York – so had time to see what was coming.

So why has Australia, lost six victims so far this month to coronavirus, while Florida has lost 697? A hundred times more. Why are Australia’s total deaths now at 98 while Florida has lost 1,965?

Australia, population 25.5 million, now has 576 active cases or 22.6 per million inhabitants. Florida, population 22 million, now has 35,208 active cases, or 1,600 per million. That is 71 times higher.

Australia’s deaths per million are now 3.8, Florida’s rate is up to 89.3. That is 23 times higher.

Comparing these two places may help understand the strategies which worked and those which didn’t.

Successes and failures

Already the positive steps taken by “successful” developed countries outside Europe are being identified. As are many mistakes made in the USA and Europe.

Several of these were highlighted in last Thursday’s testimony before Congress by the sacked leader of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Dr Rick Bright.

They include:

  • Failure to implement an effective plan

“The window is closing to address this pandemic because we still do not have a standard, centralized, coordinated plan to take our nation through this response.”

  • Failure to appoint a response team with competent leadership

 “We don’t have a single point of leadership right now for this response and we don’t have a master plan for this response, so those two things are absolutely critical.”

  • Reluctance to heed the early warnings from China and Europe

“It [January 23 meeting] was one of our first meetings that we had about how to address the outbreak and because we had practice, I came in with my list of needs in those lists for money people and viruses. My request was met with a bit of surprise and puzzlement.”

  • Refusal to accept expert scientific advice

“What we do must be done carefully and with guidance from the best scientific minds. Our window of opportunity is closing ... Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”

  • Lying to the American people

“First and foremost, we need to be truthful with the American people. Americans deserve the truth. The truth must be based on science.”

  • Failing to produce adequate medical equipment soon enough

“I pushed those warnings to our strategic national stockpile team who has the responsibility of procuring those medical supplies for our stockpile. In each of those, I was met with indifference, saying they were either too busy, they didn’t have a plan.”

  • Refusal to get samples of the virus necessary for work on vaccines and therapeutics

“From my perspective ... viral samples are critical. As soon as we were aware that this virus could pose a significant threat to human lives, I began pushing for those virus samples and I met frustration and dismissal.”

  • Sidelining critical personnel

“There was no action taken on the urgency to come up with a plan for acquisition of limited doses that remdesivir nor to distribute those limited doses ... I was told that my urgings were causing a commotion and I was removed from those meetings.”

  • Failure to distribute medical needs fairly

“We need to facilitate equitable distribution of essential equipment and supplies.”

  • Failure to provide testing soon enough

“The virus is here. It’s everywhere. We need to be able to find it, isolate it and stop it. We need to have the right testing for everyone who needs it.”

  • Failure to provide adequate tracing and quarantining

“We need to be able to trace contacts, isolate and quarantine appropriately while striving to develop a cure.”

  • Failure to support the World Health Organisation and collaborate with scientists abroad

“Working cooperatively with our global partners, we can and will succeed in finding a cure for COVID-19. But that success depends on what we do today.”

  • Failure to implement social distancing and face protection rules

“We must increase the public education about the basics, washing hands, social distancing, appropriate face covering. They are simple but critical steps to buy valuable time until there’s a vaccine.”

These failures have cost tens of thousands of lives needlessly. Just ask the people of Florida.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and help out by contributing to the crowd-funding campaign HEREAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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