Australia needs an urgent reset of its pandemic policy

This was the first article I had drafted after my resignation on 9 September 2020. I sent it to The Australian and thereafter (after receiving no response even to a reminder) to another paper. There has been no response from either of them.

In the meantime, the AFR accepted and published my second article which was then picked up in a few news outlets. I don’t want this first article to go waste, so publishing it here, so at least some people will see it.

===THE TEXT==

To treat the coronavirus as the only thing that matters is not hard. Anyone can do that.

But to steer the course so Australia can face the vast range of threats to its future, including geopolitical threats such as from China but also maybe another pandemic or even a coronal mass ejection or the resurgence of Islamist terrorism – with composure, takes hard work.

I came to Australia 20 years ago after quitting a senior executive role in the government of India, tired of India’s corruption and bad policies. I took Australian citizenship 15 years ago, working as a professional economist in the Victorian government.

But this year something has gone very wrong. By 9 September 2020 it became clear that the Victorian and Australian governments have lost their way. We are seeing some of the most self-destructive policies mankind has ever imposed, including mass restrictions on liberty without the slightest scientific reason. So, to fulfil my duty of citizenship and to defend our shared future, I have resigned my public service role to be able to raise the alarm.

No one in Australia should try to claim that this situation has been caused only by the coronavirus. No, the situation reflects the most extreme over-reaction imaginable.

First, this virus is around two orders of magnitude less lethal than the Spanish flu, a fact that can be readily ascertained now – almost a year after the virus first emerged in China.

The Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people worldwide in 1918 when the global population was 1800 million. Proportionately, to be as lethal as Spanish flu, a virus would have to kill at least 210 million people today. Instead, only around 0.9 million have died so far (compare this also with the 60 million who ordinarily die each year).

What about a second wave? There has never been a second wave that is hundreds of times bigger than the first, so we can be confident that this virus will never become a Spanish flu. Instead, also based on the dramatic tapering off of pandemic deaths in most countries, we know that while this virus will create further ripples, its ultimate magnitude will end up in the range of the 1957 Asian flu.

To be doubly sure we can look at much-maligned Sweden where covid deaths rapidly declined from mid-April and came to a grinding halt from late July. Over the course of an average year, around 90,000 people die in Sweden. This year, around 6,000 have died of coronavirus but because many were those who would have died this year anyway of old age, the overall impact of the virus on Sweden’s total deaths this year is hard to distinguish when compared with the past five years.

But even if this pandemic had been as big as the Spanish flu, lockdowns could never have been justified.

Science rejects outright the idea of lockdowns for a flu-type virus. The WHO’s October 2019 report, “Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza”, recommends face masks and internal travel restrictions for major pandemics but says that contact tracing and quarantine of exposed individuals is “not recommended in any circumstances”.

Lockdowns can never eradicate flu-type viruses, only limit their short-term spread. A recent cross-country study has reconfirmed that “full lockdowns, border closures, and high rate of COVID-19 testing were not associated with reduced number of critical cases or overall mortality”.

Worse, by increasing other types of morbidity during the lockdown, we end up with much higher mortality in the long-term, as Professor Martin Kulldorff of Harvard Medical School has pointed out. We are seeing signs of that in data from across the world. For example, suicides in India more than doubled in some of its cities during the lockdowns.

There can be no reason why public health regulation must be exempt from the analysis to which all other regulation is subject. Pandemics do not constitute an emergency. It is possible to contemplate various scenarios and prepare for them in advance.

We know this because Sweden has managed this pandemic without the slightest panic and without brutalising its people. The Swedes were provided relevant information and chose their preventative actions voluntarily. And while Sweden’s economy has suffered a little (it will still likely escape recession), the police was never used against its citizens.

The Victorian Guide to Regulation states: “It is not possible for governments to provide a completely ‘risk free’ society, or to prevent every possible event that might cause harm”. Further: “the direct and indirect costs imposed by regulatory approaches may not be … immediately obvious. Risk regulation that is poorly targeted or costly will divert resources from other priorities”.

For 15 years I have advised governments in Victoria based on these long-established principles but this time around they have been trashed, as if they did not ever exist. Neither in Victoria or anywhere else in Australia have we seen any signs of risk-based regulation, evidence-based policy or cost-benefit tests. I must add that epidemiological models do not constitute policy analysis. Policy analysis considers an enormous range of trade-offs and unintended consequences.

From day 1 of the pandemic we needed detailed analysis (updated regularly) that considered the implications of regulatory options under a range of scenarios, for example, scenarios in which a vaccine is found and others in which it is not. But we have only seen ad hoc prescriptive rules which make no sense either from the health or economic perspective. Public policy practitioners always caution against knee-jerk reactions; this time we’ve seen mind-bending, society-destroying over-reaction.

Underpinning the civilised approach of Sweden is its Constitution which does not allow the suspension of liberties except in war. As Behrang Kianzad has explained, “the Constitution protects Swedish citizens from blanket limitations of freedom of movement or general stay home orders”.

The use of emergency powers in peacetime can never be justified. I call upon Australia’s political parties to commit to a constitutional amendment to prohibit peacetime powers that diminish our Constitutional liberties. The executive’s actions must always be reasonable, proportionate and justiciable in the court of law. Else we will end up – as we have done this time – with tyranny, not just a recession.

 

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43 Responses to Australia needs an urgent reset of its pandemic policy

  1. Brett Hilder

    The good bureaucrats can’t stay in the job forever. Thank you for speaking up.

  2. Astrid van den Akker-Luttmer

    Totally agree.

  3. Hay Stockard

    I’ve live through a number of epidemics.
    This is the most overreach in reaction to one I could only have imagined some years ago.
    I blame poor parenting.

  4. rickw

    Not going to get a reset.

    The entire establishment are parasitic cock heads.

  5. Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.

    said someone else long ago.

  6. WolfmanOz

    I was a little concerned, that as an ex-public servant, it might have been a bit verbose, but it’s succinct and to the point.

    Thank-you, Sanjeev – excellent post !

  7. Rabbi Putin

    Our politicians (and the media who SHOULD HAVE defended our freedoms against this police state but instead CB PSE to defend the oppressors) have irreparably broken something in the Australian psyche because of this. It feels more like North Korea with sunny weather now.

  8. Rabbi Putin

    Our politicians (and the media who SHOULD HAVE defended our freedoms against this police state but instead chose to defend the oppressors) have irreparably broken something in the Australian psyche because of this. It feels more like North Korea with sunny weather now.

  9. Chris M

    Excellent writing Sanjeev, makes sense.

    The use of emergency powers in peacetime can never be justified.

    If there were a war situation it is unclear which side Mao Tse Dan and his legions of hired goons would be supporting. And I don’t joke – it really isn’t that clear. Definitely he would not treat – let’s call them ‘foreign power sympathetic visitors’ the vicious and thuggish way he has treated white protestors and ordinary Australians attempting to go about their lives.

  10. thefrollickingmole

    I think a large part of the corruption we are seeing is a result of government ad buying. Endless ads for this or that little giveaway or “ we will look after you” health ad.
    It’s made media gun shy about doing much which might stop that little stream of gold.
    Eg: the Feraldton local pale has 2 full page colour spreads a week on council matters. Coincidentally few stories of council Buggery make the news.
    Most of our medi is like that now.

  11. Arky

    So, to fulfil my duty of citizenship and to defend our shared future, I have resigned my public service role to be able to raise the alarm.

    ..
    Thank you for your honesty and integrity Sanjeev.

  12. JC

    Sorry to say, but I don’t think a yes vote would win in a referendum. This Australia where the goberment tells you what you’re allowed to do and where the punters ask permission for pretty much every activity and action.

  13. You can write that, and we can read it, and we know it’s true, but we’re still locked up.
    When did we bacome so timid.

  14. pat

    Sanjeev – thank you.

    it is shocking, but not surprising, that you had trouble getting your first piece published.
    kudos to AFR for publishing the second one, which I read and sent to friends.

    it was shocking how MSM attacked Sweden’s path almost daily – it was as if the media was desperate to ensure there would not be a control group, which could be compared to the rest of the world (I realise there are a couple of other countries – Taiwan, Japan, which either didn’t lockdown or had a late, soft lockdown), but media decided to target only Sweden.

    it’s ironic taxpayer-funded ABC should be considered “essential”, when they churn out endless. deceptive drivel, such as the following, which is based on a McKinsey “study”!

    21 Sept: ABC Analysis: Why harsh COVID-19 lockdowns are good for the economy
    by Ian Verrender
    PIC: The harsh lockdowns in Melbourne by Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and Premier Daniel Andrews could be a saviour to the state’s economic recovery.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)
    The popular argument is that harsh measures such as lockdowns are overly expensive — that future generations will be forced to bear the costs.
    But there are costs associated with taking no action or insufficient action, particularly if health systems are stretched beyond capacity.
    When intensive care and emergency units are overloaded, people with medical conditions other than COVID-19 suffer and die, productivity plummets and confidence dives…

    A recent study by McKinsey, the New York based global management consultant group, found that it’s not lockdowns that have caused a global recession — it’s the pandemic.(external link)…

    Sweden, which had a lax approach during the first round of the virus, performed only mildly better than New Zealand’s economy, which pursued the toughest strategy of any nation…

    When the first round of the virus was raging through Europe a few months ago, Germany’s central bank noted that uncertainty among consumers and businesses was the major driving factor behind the economic collapse.
    Worried about their jobs, consumers stopped spending, which then fed into a rapidly rising jobless rate…

    Killing the virus comes at enormous cost — doing nothing will cost more.
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-21/why-harsh-covid-19-lockdowns-are-good-for-the-economy/12683486

  15. tombell

    the Trots are the only ones who arc up. That’s the problem.

  16. W Hogg

    Sweden’s economy has “suffered a little”? It’s a Great Depression level contraction.

  17. Nob

    W Hogg
    #3593451, posted on September 22, 2020 at 12:58 am
    Sweden’s economy has “suffered a little”? It’s a Great Depression level contraction.

    In your dreams.

    All countries, smaller ones especially, are suffering due to the downturn in world trade.
    This will happen regardless of how many or how few cases they get. It will happen a lot harder to resources-led economies like Australia that locked-down hard as well.

  18. notafan

    Thoroughly agree that ability to use emergency powers during peace time needs to be abolished.

    Never again.

  19. Steve

    When some ignorant twit says ” hey lets vite for socialism”…remind them that they are living under communism currently and this is what it truly is like.

    Also…when a high up plod called anyone who dared think outside the square “batshit crazy”, it appears to be a dehumanizing attempt. Bad stuff is coming. When boks are burned so too are people burned…

  20. min

    Sanjeev thank you for taking an ethical and moral stand I am wondering why so many Victorians have lost their way . I would like to see a poll comparing your behaviour with that of the Premier’s as 62% approve of his handling of the 2nd wave. I do not blame Stockholm Syndrome, their behaviour is more akin to what happened in Nazi Germany in the 30s or with the Stasi after the war.

  21. Steve

    The whole basis of the lockdowns is incorect.

    This US CDC report shows that of all “covid deaths” only 6% actually died from the virus. 94% died from pre existing medical issues.

    No medical emergency = no need for lockdowns.

    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm?fbclid=IwAR3-wrg3tTKK5-9tOHPGAHWFVO3DfslkJ0KsDEPQpWmPbKtp6EsoVV2Qs1Q

    This also worries me as a possible scenario :

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vuRUlqveNYg

  22. Cyril Scuttlebutt

    Sinc, why don’t you resign?

  23. PB

    That The Australian wouldn’t even acknowledge this speaks volumes about just how Private media really works hand in glove with public policy-makers to deceive and misdirect, and just how deceptive and untrustworthy they all are.

    We are going to need a lot of rope.

  24. Scernus

    Well done Sanjeev.
    About time that a public servant gave unbiased advice based upon fact.

    It’s a pity that the elected members can’t do their job of evaluating all of the advice and making a decision. Let alone being accountable for their decisions.

    What we are seeing is decisions being made based on one minor factor of health, ignoring economic impact, freedoms, mental health ………

  25. Zatara

    This US CDC report shows that of all “covid deaths” only 6% actually died from the virus. 94% died from pre existing medical issues.

    And here’s one of their “6%”.

    GHOULISH FRAUD: Youngest “C19 Victim” in Michigan Actually Died from Birth Defect where Baby is Born with Intestines Located Outside its Body

    Recently Michigan officials listed a 2-month old as the “youngest C19 victim in the state.” The TRUE cause of death “was a birth defect called gastroschisis, a condition in which a baby is born with intestines located outside the body.”

    The Left, where honesty and integrity went to die, of COVID in this case,

  26. Boambee John

    Thank you for your honesty and integrity Sanjeev.

    It would be nice to hope that some of your native born colleagues would follow your example, but sadly this seems most unlikely.

  27. Tel

    What’s the best indicator of quality in an Australian public servant?

    The resignation letter.

  28. Rob

    How disappointing that The Australian cannot even acknowledge such an important and selfless act.
    It’s the ABC and the rest of our media that have scare-mongered and terrorised an ignorant population.
    I have friends and family members that approve of Andrews’ abhorrent behaviour – beyond comprehension.
    Becoming infected with Covid-19 is not a death sentence and the virus does not have the claimed fatality record.

  29. Dr Faustus

    Neither in Victoria or anywhere else in Australia have we seen any signs of risk-based regulation, evidence-based policy or cost-benefit tests. I must add that epidemiological models do not constitute policy analysis. Policy analysis considers an enormous range of trade-offs and unintended consequences.

    And the result has been Australia’s seamless cascade through contradictory policy positions: Flatten The Curve, suppression, through to elimination – all supported by the cargo cult assumption that a plausible vaccine would arrive from somewhere to fix the political problem.

    This policy Babel and its a-scientific support has been apparent to all thoughtful observers (and discussed in detail here over the past six months). So it’s particularly telling that Sanjeev stands out as a lonely public contra voice from the government sector.

  30. RobK

    Sanjeev,
    Thank you. Excellent work.Well executed.

  31. Sinclair Davidson

    Sinc, why don’t you resign?

    What? Give all the numpties who have tried so hard for so long to get me fired from my job the satisfaction of seeing me gone?

    I don’t think so.

  32. Andre

    I have lived and worked in Australia for 45 years and retired 6 years ago intending to stay in Queensland and finish my days alongside my wife.
    The last years of state and federal government incompetence, poor policy making and focus on climate change scams, race based virtue signalling and political correctness has now gone onto peak stupid with the almost unbelievable COVID reaction so elegantly set out in this article.
    When the international borders open we will be leaving for an Asian location, probably Malaysia. Asian governments may be corrupt in many cases but at least you know where you stand unlike with the morons in charge here.

  33. DD

    But we have only seen ad hoc prescriptive rules which make no sense either from the health or economic perspective.

    Then they must make sense from another perspective.

    How about this?
    There is a world war in progress with the COVID as the first international means of attack. Such a thing has never happened before.
    All the world’s governments reacted as required by the UN’s WHO in a way that has never happened before.
    All the world’s peoples, or most of them, are now under wartime regulations regarding movement and rationing of food and supplies in one way or another.

    The three tiers of government in Australia have been toeing the UN line for decades. Agenda 21 has informed most decisions. The interests of Australia and its peoples are paid lip service. The economy has been treated with contempt, money has been borrowed and spent like a drunken sailor.

    They did not care because they all knew what was coming just not when.

    They did know what to do. They are doing it now. Good and hard.

    You may think this is paranoia but have you ever heard such silence from politicians.

    Infiltration not invasion.

  34. Lizzi55

    Experts are now saying that the covid test effectively has 90% false positives – because the number of PCR cycles required to produce a positive is so high. See details here:

    https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/coronavirus/growing-body-research-indicates-many-confirmed-covid-19-cases-might-not

    This means Australia has less than 100 people who have died with (or from) covid.

    And only 6% of these had no comorbidities (CDC data)

    In other words the true covid death toll in Australia, for the year to date, is less than 6. And I bet their average age is greater than the average lifespan.

  35. Makka

    Good find Lizzi. I’ve posted on the Open Thread also.

  36. Roger

    Sweden’s economy has “suffered a little”? It’s a Great Depression level contraction.

    Sweden’s economy contracted c. 8% in the second quarter.

    Compared to the UK (-20%) that’s actually a good result.

    Sweden will bounce back, whereas the UK is now facing the inevitable calls for a second lockdown as case numbers rise again.

  37. Tezza

    Great piece, Sanjeev. Congratulations on your courage in resigning in order to speak out.

    I remain at a loss on how to cut though to an apparent majority of our fellow citizens who have bought the context-free panic mongering on Covid.

    Unsustainable policies ultimately have to stop. Probably we await the economic disaster associated with trying to keep the double dole and JobSeeker running.

  38. Steve

    DD

    Ive heard it suggested that the USA is so heavily infested with marxists at all levels of govt ( including parliament ) and society that a war with China seems inevitable, if nothing else to “fumigate” society to dig out the marxist/communists and jail them, or quite possibly the locals cound well just execute them in local gun fights. While I never endorse violence, it may be that civil war 2 in the U S could be normal people vs the ugly hard left and whats needed under the cover of war to save the US from communist infiltration.

    The reason too you see so little push back here, could be the same problem…..look at victoria…

  39. Eyrie

    I call upon Australia’s political parties to commit to a constitutional amendment to prohibit peacetime powers that diminish our Constitutional liberties.

    Australians have Constitutional liberties? News to me.
    Free trade and movement of people between States is in it, as is voting. Can’t see anything else about liberties.

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