Flat White

Not all in this together

13 October 2020

6:00 PM

13 October 2020

6:00 PM

When it comes to the coronavirus it is simply untrue, in many ways, to say that we’re all in this together. Leave aside how those in the public service and politicians have seen no drop in their pay at all, or losses of jobs, while those in small businesses in the private sector have been destroyed. Focus instead just on who does and does not die from this virus, because we now know.  And what we know is that the infection fatality rate is that of a bad flu season, nothing worse. That means if you catch it your chances of dying from it are much the same as dying during a bad flu season. For that we have destroyed the economy and seen the worst inroads into our civil liberties ever. 

But wait.  You see the odds of this virus killing you are not even close to being evenly spread across the population. The latest data from the American Center for Disease Control is that if you catch corona your chances of surviving it based on your age group alone are these:  from 0-19 it is 99.997%; from 20-49 it is 99.98%; from 50 to 70 it is 99.5%, and over 70 it is 94.6%. Put bluntly, unless you are over 70 this is simply not a dangerous disease. And if you are, it is still far better to be told you have the coronavirus than any cancer, or a wonky heart, or diabetes, or, well, you get the idea. When Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stands up and says ‘this virus doesn’t discriminate’ he’s either ignorant of the clear and indisputable facts of the matter, or he’s being disingenuous and feeding the fear porn. In fact, there is a thousand-fold COVID-19 death risk difference between the very young and the very old, Mr Frydenberg – that’s discrimination so plain and obvious that even Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner might get that one right.

Or ponder this set of facts. Since American kids of college age went back to some 50 leading universities in mid-August – where these unis set up compulsory corona testing – there have now been nearly 70,000 positive cases. And you know how many of those 70,000 kids have had to be hospitalised? Three. One less than four. And there has not been a single COVID-related death at any of those 50 colleges and universities. For university-aged kids, this is less dangerous by massive amounts than driving to university, drinking too much, drugs, pretty much anything. Oh, and well over half those who tested positive had no clue they had it because they had no symptoms. 

As some of us have been saying since April, we are living through the equivalent of the Salem witch-hunts or the Dutch Tulip Mania. Fear and hysteria have overwhelmed the normal realisation that life is full of risk and that individuals navigate their way through such risks all the time. That is what life is all about. Instead, our politicians, having been overwhelmed by modellers who have got near on everything orders of magnitude wrong, have unduly panicked and become heavy-handed, untrusting of their own citizens and afraid now to admit that they’ve screwed up. But they have. 

And for all those readers who insist on eliding correlation and causation, suggesting it’s all because of the lockdowns, look at Sweden. The models predicted upwards of a 100,000 would die of corona if the Swedish government refused to lockdown and left people to manage for themselves. But the Swedish government, with Taiwan (which did even better) and a few others, ignored these so-called modeller experts and all sorts of screaming from some in the press. To date just under 6,000 Swedes have died. And the yearly total number of deaths for 2020 in Sweden is fewer than in some past years (corrected for population increase) including 2015 – which implies that many who have died would have died of something else in the same year as (see above) they were very old and ailing. 

Meantime here, in Canada, in the US, in Britain, across Europe, the lives and economic prospects of the young have been mortgaged for what increasingly looks like a bad flu season. So when, ask yourself, was the last time you ever heard the press report flu cases – not deaths, but cases? And why do those on the ‘lockdown everything’ side of the argument get to think they’re on the more moral side of this debate? I don’t. Much of our media and virtually of the political class has a lot to answer for in my view. At some point this will dawn on enough people for them to demand answers and to begin to exact some electoral retribution. It will be well-deserved. Our politicians have made a mess of this and they simply cannot admit as much.

I’m with the retired top British judge Lord Sumption, who has noted that over this equivalent of a bad flu season the politicians in the West (outside Sweden) have made the biggest inroads on our civil liberties in our history — and that down the road only Swedes will have any cause to be thankful for their political class. 

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. 

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