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Government could have avoided severity of COVID-19

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While our government has done its best to protect us, there have been many ways in which it could have done better (Image by Dan Jensen)

The warning signs of the pandemic were there but our Government acted too late, despite faring better than many other countries.

The following article contains language that may offend some readers.

GIVE ME a fucking break.

Social media is kind of like a democracy. There is a massive over-subscription of loud mouth know-it-alls (guilty as charged, by the way). That’s the yin part; the yang is that if you watch it closely enough you can get a strong feel for how the sentiments of the population drift over time.

Recently, I have noticed a shift in the public perception of the way the Government has been handling the COVID-19 thing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has become a true leader, they say. That is a pretty big leap from the dithering idiot who snuck out for a Hawaiian holiday while the nation burned.

I can kind of understand it. Australia has certainly performed well in flattening the curve. People are feeling safer, more comfortable and more optimistic. All of which has happened on Scott Morrison’s watch.

We seem to have averted the tragedy besetting Europe, Asia and the Americas, but I think we should be less emotive and a bit more analytical when we apportion credit for the outcome.


Here’s a theory: The single biggest factor that saved Australia from succumbing to COVID-19 in the way Italy did, wait for it... wait... it was fucking Italy.

We saw the horror on our TVs and digital news services. We watched Italians die, then the South Koreans and Iranians. And it scared us shitless.

The Chinese, the Italians, the Iranians, the French, the Spanish. The citizens of those countries were completely blindsided. They did not know the potential of this disease and, as a result, the population were not overly concerned. They thought it was a storm in a teacup.

Social distancing

Try implementing social distancing to contain something as simple as the common cold. Or even the flu.

Social distancing is a fundamental change in the way we interact in society. It goes against the fabric of our being. We are social animals. There are actual hormones (oxytocin) that are released in our bodies when embrace that make us feel good. And I am not talking about a sexual embrace.

There is no chance you could successfully implement such a drastic change to the way we live if there were no dire consequences to maintaining the status quo.

We knew the consequences of not acting, so we acted.

When the PM stood before us and steadfastly refused to shut down schools, a significant number of us kept our kids home in spite of his advice.

I think those people deserve credit over the PM. Strike one.

Hong Kong

In early January, we had some friends over from Hong Kong and they explained to us what was happening there. Companies were splitting their workforce into shifts, where team A would use one elevator to enter the building and team B would use another. When the team A shift was over, they left by the same elevator, a cleaning crew went through and disinfected the office space before team B would enter through their lift.

This was the first thing my practice adopted when the pandemic hit Australia. The PM played no part in that.

The most chilling thing they told us was that during the recent uprising it became illegal to wear a face mask in public because it concealed your identity. Within a month of the pandemic hitting Asia, it became illegal not to.

The Chinese Government had become more concerned about the virus than they were about the uprising. That should be enough to send chills down anyone's spine.

And still, it was left to the states to close schools. Strike two.

All at sea

The Ruby Princess. Strike three, four, five and six.

Fucking useless and fucking disgraceful.

The Chinese

If you look up the definition of “scapegoat” on Wikipedia, you’ll see a picture of the Chinese flag. In fact, you probably won’t as I just made that up, but it should be.

I was watching Q+A a few months back and they showed the Chinese police forcibly removing people from their homes as they had contracted COVID-19, but refused to leave their home. The panel was brutal in their assessment of this footage. They portrayed these actions as the diabolical actions of an authoritarian regime. They rounded on the Chinese bloke on the panel.

At the time, I was disgusted and deeply concerned by the actions of the Chinese regime.

I wonder how they would react to that footage now? I know my opinion has changed.

The point I’d like to make here is that the signs were there. We had footage of an authoritarian regime taking decisive action against a viral threat, but rather than assess it, we dismissed it as the oppressive actions of an authoritarian regime.

Ground zero: Wuhan, China

How do you think a disease outbreak occurs?

We know that the majority of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic at worst. Let’s have a glance at the numbers.

Let’s use 10%. If 10% of the infected require respirators, that would mean that ten people need to be infected before one person hits an emergency room. Would a single person presenting at a hospital in respiratory distress raise any concern? I don’t think so.

So to raise any concerns, you’d need a cluster. Let’s, for argument sake, say a cluster is five people. Five people showing up in respiratory distress would represent 50 people infected in the population. At that point, you might then think that there is something going on.

But no one is dead yet. You have an outbreak, but for all you know at this stage, it could be next year's cold.

A fatality rate of 0.2%. That means that there needs to be 500 infections to have a single death.

Now 500 people are infected, 50 of them in hospital, and one of them is dead. You have an outbreak of a serious nature.

Five hundred people in the population carrying a deadly virus, but you don’t know what it is or how it’s transmitted and you don’t have a test for it.

I could continue this line of argument, but I’d rather just make this point.

The Chinese were fighting enormous odds to prevent this thing from spreading.

When it hit Australia, we knew the enemy. We had testing available from day one. We knew how it could be transmitted. We had modelling available from other countries. We are girt by sea.

We’ve done well to contain the threat, but we can probably ease up a bit on the Chinese. Their task was orders of magnitude more difficult than our own.

I have no love for the Chinese regime, but I know scapegoating when I see it.

Feeble men with feeble minds

And that brings us to the good old U-S of A.

The COVID-19 pandemic is merely a trigger. The calamity that will ensue can be traced back to 8 November 2016.

I have a great deal of sympathy for those who voted against Trump in 2016. I’m less sympathetic to those who voted for him and now regret it.

I pity those who still support him. Feeble minds.

Back to the point

Is Scott Morrison really the messiah or just a very lucky dithering idiot?

You tell me.

Dr Kyle Mervin is a former neuroscientist with post-doctoral experience working at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research (Neurobiology department).

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