Recently I wrote a column on Flat White (Speccie online) about the dishonesty of the political class in this country. In that piece I strongly critiqued how, as a group, our politicians have handled this pandemic and how they’ve at times lied to us voters and deliberately tried to scare us. But that sort of failure of politicians’ courage, competence and honesty wouldn’t matter nearly as much in a country that had a sceptical, inquisitive press. I refer here to a press and corps of journalists that took nothing on authority, investigated minority views, compared Australia’s actions and results to those in countries trying different things, expected government to perform with about as much competence as it normally does – in short, a press corps that did not overwhelmingly give the impression of thinking and acting as though it were the PR arm of the country’s chief medical officers; a journalistic caste that did not look about as sceptical and questioning of heavy-handed, despotic government as some latter-day version of Pravda. I speak in general terms you understand. There are clear exceptions. But not many.
Take one of the Gladys Berejiklian press conferences I watched last week. The questions the journalists asked were all along the lines of ‘why didn’t you lock down harder, sooner, more despotically, with more checks on citizens’ freedoms, more heavy-handed policing than you did?’. All of the journos – every one of them – asked questions along those lines, even the Sky News reporter. There was not a single, solitary question that came from the vantage of ‘hey, maybe you politicians are being a bit heavy-handed about all this; maybe after a half-dozen brutal lockdowns in Victoria this is starting to look like the triumph of hope over experience’. In short, not a note of scepticism of our lockdownista political and chief medical officer caste. Not a fragment of a scintilla of a soupçon! So to say there is something of a market opening here for good old-fashioned hard-nosed, sceptical journalism would not be over-stepping the bounds of the plausible, would it?
Or take this point. For weeks now we’ve been hearing about how Australians can start heading back into the green, verdant, freedom-filled uplands of normal life once we get to a specified percentage of vaccinated Australians – or rather of a usually unclearly defined portion of Australians, maybe of all adults, maybe of all past childhood, maybe of everyone. Those in the press scrums will ask all sorts of questions about the denominated percentage. ‘Isn’t 70 per cent too low?’ ‘Can’t we use compulsion to get up to 85 per cent?’ That sort of thing. But here’s what you never, ever seem to hear in this country. You never hear any questions that indicate an inquisitive, sceptical mind that has all the current data at the questioner’s finger tips. For instance, on 10 August the UK Telegraph ran a story by its science editor, Sarah Knapton, on how top scientists in Britain are now telling government the Delta variant is easily enough transmitted by fully vaccinated people – yes, people who have had both jabs transmit Covid and they do so not much less than the unvaccinated, the difference (if any) still being in dispute – that herd immunity is impossible. Or put bluntly, suppresion of the virus by means of it not being able to move around the population is impossible. Knapton quotes Professor Sir Andrew Pollard (who led the Oxford vaccine team) as making this precise point. Knapton also noted that Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases, was clear that the vaccine will not stop people being infected. Its worth is in stopping deaths, and less so hospitalisations. That being so, Professor Hunter said ‘we need to start moving away from just reporting infections’. Get it? Covid will never go away. Or look at Iceland and Israel where some 75 and 65 per cent respectively are fully vaccinated and yet reported cases have shot way up. It is now plain that what should be reported are Covid deaths, nothing else. And various British experts now condemn even testing asymptomatic people. What’s the point? (Again, a serious question given the above facts.)
So back to Australia’s reporters. Why has not a one of them asked this seemingly obvious query – ‘Why does it matter in any way at all whether Australia hits 85 per cent of the population vaccinated, or 70 per cent, or 50 percent, or any specified number?’ That’s a completely serious question. What is 70 or 80 per cent vaccine coverage supposed to be buying us? Until recently I had assumed that the idea was that once we reached some magical percentile number (plucked out of thin air by a lifetime medical bureaucrat chief health officer, or by some focus group serving as the chief advisor to our Prime Minister – pick 70 per cent, pick 80, pick 73 if you dislike the metric system, it doesn’t matter) then we would be able to open up because infections would spread much less slowly after that. Why? Because of herd immunity having then been reached. But now that the US, Britain, Israel and Iceland all show that simply will not happen, that the vaccine won’t stop the spread to anywhere remotely close to the degree needed, why are we aiming for any percentage number? What is the underlying goal? Honest question. Fully vaccinated people have protection against dying, their odds improve. They seem, though, to have little protection against catching it and spreading it.
So once everyone who wants the vaccine has had it, why can’t we fully open up? What benefits are we waiting for? Seriously, I’d like to know. If the goal was herd immunity, and that ain’t on the cards now folks, what in the name of creation are the decision-makers in this country doing? Or thinking? More to my point this week, why can’t a single reporter ask a sceptical question like that? Remember, the vaccine helps you ward off death. It does little to stop you catching and spreading it. So why do you care if other people have the vaccine? That’s not a rhetorical question either. What, exactly, is it you as a vaccinated person are missing out on when Joe Blow across the street does not get vaccinated. You can spread Covid as much as he can. You can catch it too. Your odds are better of not dying. So I don’t understand the compulsion to tell Joe he has to vaccinate. Or given what’s come out of Britain and Israel, why the government wants to ban the unvaccinated from events, bars, what have you. You can cut down your chances of dying if you get it (mostly for the elderly, obese and otherwise ill). Make that message clear to people and then leave them to make choices. Isn’t that what a John Stuart Mill liberal government is supposed to be committed to?
And why are our journalists so sheep-like, pro-lockdown, and wholly insouciant about the worst erosions of our civil liberties in this country’s entire existence? The universities churning out these journalists have a lot to answer for.
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