I think it’s time for plan D.
Plan A, as I’m sure you remember, was to “flatten the curve”. For the most part, we were all on board. We didn’t want to see rows of body bags. So we started lathering ourselves in alcohol. We stopped sharing tongs and started bumping elbows. We even stopped touching our own faces. Then we stopped moving at all and had a pretty crap Easter.
But the problem was, plan A didn’t work. And when I say it didn’t work, what I really mean is that it worked far too well and we accidentally flattened the curve until it was no longer even curvy at all.
We’d gone and eliminated Covid from our continent. Which would have been great if the rest of the world had achieved the same thing. But it didn’t, hence…
Plan B was to keep Covid away. It’s easier to control a border than to control a population, because controlling a border involves managing hundreds or perhaps thousands of people each day, whereas controlling a population involves managing tens of millions of people every day.
The initial version of plan B was “hotel quarantine”—a system that kept people moderately happy in a hotel for two weeks to make sure they didn’t have the virus before letting them free among the population. It simultaneously supported our distressed accommodation sector while also quarantining entrants into the country. Ok, so in my opinion, that’s where we screwed up a bit. When our country was Covid-free, it possibly (just possibly) would have made sense to move to a good elimination strategy. Reducing the speed of the spread would save some lives, but eliminating the spread altogether would save more, so was worth doing if achievable.
Covid-19, remember, is not a nice virus. It is highly fatal to elderly people and people with a range of comorbidities, and it can have lasting effects on its survivors. The delta strain appears, according to UK data, less deadly – to the point of being nearly harmless for young people (death rate of one in ten thousand). Even it, however, has killed 1% of people who get it over the age of fifty, and over 5% among the unvaccinated. The data is difficult to use for comparison, so the jury is still out.
Plan B was a good strategy. I’m cautious to second-guess decision-makers—it’s a bit like Monday-morning quarter-backing, or back-seat driving. But even so, I can’t help thinking that we wasted a whole year of opportunity to improve and refine it. Especially when the vaccine came along; the vaccine also would have been much more impactful as a border control than a population control. We could have set up vaccine stations at all our overseas embassies and consulates. Everyone coming into the country gets three choices – either you 1) test positive for antibodies, 2) get the vaccine, or 3) agree to hotel quarantine in Darwin. No more hotel quarantine in any other State!
We could have – but we didn’t. Plan B might have made sense; but it also might not. When would it end? In any case, we never achieved a fool-proof system and possibly we never would have. Hence…
Plan C is used each time plan B fails. Plan C is population control. The aim of this plan is to spare no expense or effort to prevent anyone ever getting the virus. If there is something that may decrease the risk, even if it’s less than 1% effective or never proven, then go right ahead and do it.
At its best, Plan C consists of contact-tracers playing whack-a-mole. At its worst, the police start arresting pregnant mums for sitting on park-benches etc.
The first problem with this is the fundamental difficulty of trying to control society with rules. No set of rules could ever perfectly fit and account for every circumstance, and so every single iteration involved weird nonsense that made everyone lose faith in the intelligence of their leaders.
The second problem with this strategy is the reality of cost. In the real world, all decisions have both benefits and costs. When the decision-maker bears the cost themselves, they can also count the cost and factor it into the decision. But in any situation when person A makes a decision that costs person B, they don’t have a feedback loop to truly assess the value of their decision.
Our leaders made many decisions that cost them nothing but cost us all sorts of things. Not just ‘money’ cost—we’ll happily lose money if it saves lives—but rather all the areas that we accepted losses in order to achieve this one win. Loss of work, health screening, fitness, routine, education, human contact, time with our elderly relatives, sunlight… leading to increased substance abuse, suicides, spiritual decline, ignorance, apathy, relationship breakdown, depressed immune systems, disunity, paranoia, and presumably some University students who are actually a bit thick but no one knows it.
This lacked a sense of proportion. In a normal and balanced approach to health, the health sector knows that it doesn’t actually save lives, it just prolongs them. The curse of Eden always wins in the end. Everyone knows that we will all die, and that life involves risk. But now our health sector has one single goal – to eliminate this specific virus at any cost.
In plan C, as in plan B, we don’t seem to be improving. While we bear the cost of the restrictions themselves, our leaders seem to only see the reputational cost of doing less than they might have. So policy-making becomes systematised plagiarism. A downward spiralling feedback loop between the media and public officials simulates collective neuroticism.
And here we are. Our government has formally adopted the Howard Hughes philosophy of health management. Plan A has become a pathology.
Yet despite all this, the thing that we were ‘holding out for’ is really already here. Seven million people are vaccinated, 2.5 million are two doses down, and these are probably the people most at risk. A strain of the virus is circulating that is harder to contain. Compliance is decreasing and it seems to me that the government has stretched the people just beyond the limit of their tolerance. I think it is time to change setting.
It’s time for plan D.
Plan D requires the reader to remember back to the good old days (2019) when we all managed our own health with the considered advice of our own GP. You see, we have all the ingredients that we need to resume managing our own health. We have masks, hand sanitiser, Zoom, tele-health, Medicare, vaccines, a front door, personal space, GPs, swab tests with a 24-hour turnaround, Ivermectin and other drugs that might just possibly help if you take them early, hospitals with ventilators, a media to tell us where the current outbreaks are, public health ready to issue recommendations for what to do and, if we’re honest with ourselves about our weight, most of us know whether we’re in a “vulnerable” category.
We have everything we need to take our own risks. To bear the cost of our own decisions once again.
I don’t know about you, but the very idea fills me with a sense of inner buoyancy. Uncertainty is a source of fear, but also of wonder and thrill. Risks come with rewards. Sure, I might get the virus, but I can sing!
Plan D involves trust. Vaccine hesitancy has more to do with trust than people being anti-science. The last edition of Edelman’s trust barometer showed that Australians actually have quite high trust in their government and other institutions for a Western democracy, and yet trust inequality (the difference in trust between the educated elite and the general populace) was also very high. Plan D might help this – people will trust you more if you also trust them.
Trust is also higher when it is more proximate. For instance, people more readily trust their own employer than business leaders in general. And likewise, we’ll more readily trust our own GP, who we’ve met, than the national cabinet.
Plan D also acknowledges something that those with a libertarian bent have been increasingly concerned about. Historically, the biggest threats in the world are governments. A government is necessarily powerful, and can be a great source of good—justice, stability, protection. Roads. And yet governments have a monopoly on force and when they go bad things go bad like nothing else going bad ever could.
Our politicians’ fear of doing less than they could when it might save a life is a false dichotomy—they’ve fallen into the trap of thinking they have to be the decision makers. That’s bad. Given a bit of time, that sort of mindset can make a country turn into a really crap place to be.
We, the people, can make decisions. This is a democracy. Hand power back to the people.
So if I want to get vaccinated, let me. If I want to take Ivermectin, let me. If I want to lock myself in my house until 2025, let me. If I want to ignore the whole thing and one day I get the virus and die from it… you have to let me.
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