According to Henry of Huntingdon when Cnut the Great was King of England, Denmark and Norway he had his throne set upon the shore and commanded the tide not to rise upon his land.
A modern take on Cnut’s doomed undertaking is found in the only iron rule of economics: Stein’s Law. If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.
When Stein’s Law intersects with Hofstadter’s Law—it always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account that everything takes longer than you expect—you arrive at Davies’ Corollaries:
1 Things that cannot go on forever, go on much longer than you think they will; and
2 Corollary one applies even after taking into account corollary one.
Which brings us to Victoria’s—indeed, Australia’s—approach to covid-19.
Governments only do four things (1) make laws, (2) impose bureaucracies, (3) spend money and (4) be violent. None of those things have any anti-viral qualities.
It is only human behaviour and pharmaceuticals that affect viral behaviour, so the Victorian government outlawed human behaviour and made vaccination mandatory for anyone who wants to behave like a human. Despite a promise by Daniel Andrews on 1 April 2020 to spend $1.3 billion to establish an extra 4,000 ICU beds the Victorian Government forgot to spend that money. Then the Victorian Government used Victoria Police to violently suppress human behaviour.
The outlawing of human behaviour has involved a lot of laws. In Melbourne right now it is necessary to read the 34 pages of well-drafted legalese in the Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 28) before leaving the house. An announcement on 17 October 2021 that most (though not all) of Melbourne’s movement restrictions will be eased from 22 October 2021 only means that there will another set of directions. Regional Victoria is governed by a different set of rules: the 25 page Stay Safe Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 13).
And that is just to leave the house. There are also the Area Directions (No 26), Restricted Activity Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 21), Restricted Activity Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 14), Workplace Directions (No 51), Workplace (Additional Industry Obligations) Directions (No 50), Diagnosed Persons and Close Contacts Directions (No 28), Hospital Visitor Directions (No 37), Care Facilities Directions (No 46), COVID-19 Vaccinated Activities Directions (No 3), COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Workers) Directions, COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Specified Facilities) Directions (No 6) and the Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions (No 33). These change so often that this list will be out of date by the time you read this.
All of those directions are made under a state of emergency initially declared for four weeks on 16 March 2020 but which has since been extended 20 times and is unlikely to end for months.
Officially the Victorian Government has pursued a policy of “aggressive suppression”. Though shortly after she quit in disgrace, former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos tweeted “We are well on the way to eradication.” Daniel Andrews tweeted images of himself drinking whisky to celebrate donut days.
In practice, it is difficult to see the difference between aggressive suppression and elimination. How more restrictive could Victoria’s public health response have been? It has already involved the house arrest of millions and less-than-lethal ammunition.
The cruellest blow is that the Victorian Government could not even get its over-reaction right. The vast majority of Australian covid-19 deaths to date have been in Victoria; mostly in Victorian nursing homes from an outbreak that escaped a failed Victorian Government quarantine scheme.
Joseph Ibrahim, Professor of Health Law and Ageing Research at Monash University was quoted in The Lancet: “Homer Simpson could have seen the catastrophe in aged care coming with covid-19 because it was there in your face”. Daniel Andrews and Jenny Mikakos weren’t even up to Homer Simpson’s perspicacity.
Instead of rings of steel around Melbourne and Victoria, Victoria needed rings of steel around hotel quarantine and aged care facilities and got neither.
It was certain by mid-2020 that SARS-Co-V-2 was globally endemic and that the reproductive value of the virus and all its variants could not be kept below 1 forever. Sooner or later everybody on the planet will get infected.
Even with the fortune of 20 vaccines for SARS-Co-V-2 in record time, nothing in the previous paragraph changes or at least not by much. Globally, the vaccines will never outrun the virus and all its inevitable variants. The moment Australia opens its borders—including to its own citizens stranded overseas—it will import the virus and all its variants.
Like a rising tide, some level of SARS-Co-V-2 community transmission is inevitable.
There are really only two alternative policy options:
1 Maintain an emergency public health response; or
2 Move to a long term management strategy encompassing:
a Protection of high risk populations;
b Protection of high risk settings;
c Improving treatment protocols; and
Option 1 cannot go on forever, so it will stop. At the moment Davies’ Corollaries are playing out in Victoria so it is impossible to say when that will be.
Cnut at least had the humility to pull his cunning stunt intending to fail—he was demonstrating to his barons that his earthly power was nothing as to God’s. Kingly demonstrations of piety mattered in eleventh century English/Scandinavian politics.
Daniel Andrews’ Cnutish response to SARS-Co-V-2 has not displayed the same subtle humility as his forbear. The elimination-in-all-but-name strategy pursued in Danmark was always doomed to fail. The tide was always going to come in.
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