Covid-19 facts now clear – let’s shout them out

Today in The Australian

Recent polls that show a majority of Australians support tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 may well reflect public perceptions of the risks associated with the disease.

About Henry Ergas

Henry Ergas AO is a columnist for The Australian. From 2009 to 2015 he was Senior Economic Adviser to Deloitte Australia and from 2009 to 2017 was Professor of Infrastructure Economics at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility. He joined SMART and Deloitte after working as a consultant economist at NECG, CRA International and Concept Economics. Prior to that, he was an economist at the OECD in Paris from the late 1970s until the early 1990s. At the OECD, he headed the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Structural Adjustment (1984-1987), which concentrated on improving the efficiency of government policies in a wide range of areas, and was subsequently Counsellor for Structural Policy in the Economics Department. He has taught at a range of universities, undertaken a number of government inquiries and served as a Lay Member of the New Zealand High Court. In 2016, he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia.
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41 Responses to Covid-19 facts now clear – let’s shout them out

  1. stackja

    Recent polls that show a majority of Australians support tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 may well reflect public misperceptions of the risks associated with the disease.

  2. eb

    Read that article this morning in The Australian, unlike some I have persevered with my subscription.

    Henry is a great wordsmith.

  3. Mak Siccar

    Excellent article from HE.

    To borrow and adapt from an American Thinker article, Andrews champions masks because masks acknowledge the rule of fear.

  4. Win

    Recent polls said the Lady Cilento Children’s hospital wanted a name change. They all came from the Health Ministers Office. When the media tell you every one agrees but pictures of close packed people on St Kilda beach and like pictures across the nation it tells you the left wing Australian is leading the gullible by the nose.

  5. Mak Siccar

    I hope Henry doesn’t mind.

    Covid-19 facts now clear – let’s shout them out HENRY ERGAS

    11:00PM OCTOBER 8, 2020 370COMMENTS

    Recent polls that show a majority of Australians support tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 may well reflect public perceptions of the risks associated with the disease.

    Those perceptions were formed when the disease first emerged, with the dramatic scenes in Wuhan and the agony of the passengers stranded on cruise ships giving them tangible form. As hospital systems struggled to cope, terrifying images of overrun intensive-care units made the estimates of devastating death rates all too salient.

    The strong — indeed, unprecedented — reaction of governments, in Australia and overseas, can only have confirmed the public’s fears, transforming vague impressions into deeply held convictions.

    It has, however, become increasingly clear that while COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that can be extremely dangerous for the elderly and for patients with extensive comorbidities, it can be effectively managed. And it is also clear that as the management of the disease has improved, infection fatality rates — that is, the proportion of cases resulting in death — have fallen steeply.

    So have the best estimates of the IFR, with Stanford University professor John Ioannidis, in a paper soon to be published by the World Health Organisation, pointing out that the initial studies focused mainly on the epicentres of the pandemic with the highest death tolls, rather than looking at the full range of countries the disease had affected.

    Correcting for that bias, Ioannidis concludes that the global IFR from COVID-19 is 0.24 per cent, while that in countries such as Australia is as low as 0.1 per cent.

    The contrast with the IFRs used in the modelling that informed our successive lockdowns could not be starker: those IFRs were at least three times Ioannidis’s global estimate, and exceeded his estimate for Australian conditions six times over, as did that used in the modelling Premier Daniel Andrews relied on to justify the most recent Victorian lockdown.

    But although it is widely recognised that fatality rates are far lower than initially thought, public perceptions have remained frozen in time. That is, in some respects, unsurprising. Ever since systematic studies of public attitudes to risk began in the 1950s, researchers have found that new threats are judged to be far more menacing than those that are longstanding, regardless of underlying differences in probabilities of occurrence.

    Moreover, the greater the extent to which risks are viewed as being incurred involuntarily, and as affecting large groups rather than single individuals, the more likely they will be considered more dangerous than they are.

    All those biases have been compounded by today’s media environment. Already in the mid-1980s, Roger Kasperson and his colleagues stressed the “social amplification” of risk that occurs through the media’s focus on catastrophic outcomes at the expense of those instances of a phenomenon that are managed successfully. Now, as the media competes frantically for attention, that process magnifies perceived risks more surely and swiftly than ever.

    It is, for instance, a fact that 92,000 Australians have died since the virus first hit our shores; but although COVID-19 accounts for only some 890 of those deaths, and for an even lower share of the total years of life lost, every new case leads the evening news, reinforcing its image as the grim reaper. One might have hoped that the experts would set the picture straight. Perhaps because they see their goal as being to frighten the public into compliance, they have, more often than not, done the opposite.

    Never was that clearer than when Jeannette Young, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, grievously misinterpreting a simulation undertaken at the University of Glasgow, claimed that “on average, people who died from COVID-19 lost 10 years of life”.

    Since the average age of the disease’s victims in Australia is more than 85, Young’s claim implies that those lost to COVID-19 would otherwise have survived into their mid-90s, despite multiple comorbidities. In other words, were it not for the virus, they would have died a decade after their cohort’s modal age at death — a claim that taxes the credulity of the credulous.

    In reality, the best and most recent study — undertaken by France’s National Institute of Demography, drawing on the actual outcomes of France’s first wave — finds that the vast majority of the virus’s victims were already close to the end of life.

    Overall, the disease reduced French life expectancy by one-tenth of a year for women and two-tenths of a year for men, which, while by no means trivial, is a smaller reduction than influenza caused in 2008, 2012 and 2015.

    None of that means that COVID-19 should be viewed as no more serious than the flu. On the contrary, until a vaccine or a cure become available, the case for prudence remains compelling, as does the need for effective control measures. There is, however, a vast difference between prudence, which rationally weighs likelihoods, and panic.

    Getting that balance right is no easy task, with plenty of scope for error either way. But if exaggerated perceptions of the dangers have dominated, it is not merely because of human fallibility; rather, it is also because they accord so readily with the catastrophic zeitgeist of the age.

    Fuelled by an apocalypse industry that feeds off the fear it spreads, every threat — from bushfires and droughts to viruses such as Zika — portends the end of life as we know it. With nature unleashing its final revenge on mankind, the moment one drama recedes, another rushes in to sustain the sense of impending doom.

    The result is a world view in which the chasms that yawn beneath us are invariably deeper and more menacing than the peaks that beckon us are high and inviting. Lost — or at least badly damaged — is the axiom of progress, the assumption, dynamic in its self-evidence, that although there are terrible setbacks, detours and blind alleys, humanity ultimately moves forward, with Australia advancing more than most.

    But no society can live by dread alone. And a society that stands quaking in the antechamber of its own extinction is condemned to a stagnation that no amount of stimulus spending can cure. Eternally “keeping a-hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse”, it inevitably saps the ambition, aspiration and self-reliance on which sustained growth relies, replacing them with dependence and the desperate search for security. That, and not the staggering debt and unemployment the lockdowns have wreaked, is the greatest threat we face.

    And that is why tackling the fearmongers is so important. The facts, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, are becoming clear; it’s time our governments and their advisers proclaimed them from the rooftops.

  6. sfw

    Yep politicians and ‘medical experts’ around the world have scared the crap out of people. Why? In the case of politicians I can see the motive, a scared population looking for safety is easy to control and will vote for the ‘saviours’. The medical experts, well I don’t know, there are many who have criticised the governments but the most influential are still the ones informing gov policy, I guess that’s a coincidence of interest, the pollies reward the fear mongers and get praised for ‘saving lives’.

    Imagine if Churchill had pulled this sort of thing in WW2, “The Germans are coming! Everyone hide and do as you’re told”. In my daughters school, she says that the majority of students are terrified and think that if they catch wuflu they have a good chance of dying.

    Worst politicians and worst elite medical experts sin history.

  7. flyingduk

    Lets be clear ….Recent polls that show a majority of Australians support tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 may well reflect public perceptions of the risks associated with the disease.

    That support is predicated on the false belief that the control measures work, the disease is worse than it is, and that the government can simply print money forever, without consequence, to pay us all in the meantime.

  8. flyingduk

    Read that article this morning in The Australian, unlike some I have persevered with my subscription.

    You must be very forgiving: I cancelled mine a year ago due to their increasingly censorious attitude to my well reasoned comments.

  9. mem

    Andrews champions masks because masks acknowledge the rule of fear.

    Andrews is a control freak who gets his jollies off seeing people kowtow to him.

  10. Struth

    Name me a poll in recent history that has been correct, anywhere.

  11. RobK

    Thanks,
    A good article by HE.
    That said, McGowan, here in WA, seems to have amassed a large amount of political capital with the perception at least that the mining industry has been able to continue unabated because of the measures taken, powering the economy whilst simultaneously tickling a long existing secessionist fetish.
    Interesting times, not so much for the opposition in WA who seem to barely garner any interest from the punters I meet.

  12. H B Bear

    Anybody waiting for a solution from the W.A. Opposition will be pretty disappointed. This collection of time serving misfits that survived Barney’s wipeout are beyond hope and join Vic, SA and Qld as an irrelevant running joke. They can be safely ignored for the next decade.

  13. Matt

    “So have the best estimates of the IFR, with Stanford University professor John Ioannidis, in a paper soon to be published by the World Health Organisation, pointing out that the initial studies focused mainly on the epicentres of the pandemic with the highest death tolls, rather than looking at the full range of countries the disease had affected.

    Correcting for that bias, Ioannidis concludes that the global IFR from COVID-19 is 0.24 per cent, while that in countries such as Australia is as low as 0.1 per cent.”

    Ahh, the much lauded Ioannidis IFR estimate. This paper was first released as a preprint in May, and revised in June and then again in July, and roundly critiqued each time. If it’s such an important and quality paper, it would have been published already – I wonder what could account for the delay? The fact that it hasn’t been published yet might say something. And ‘correcting for bias’ seemingly doesn’t include his own on this particular issue. It reminds me of a quote by someone – ‘most published research findings are false.’ Now I wonder who said that?

    From the first preprint, Ioannidis also states IFR for influenza of 0.1% (0.2% in a bad year), so even if were were to believe Ioannidis (and I know you all will), then on his own figures it is 2.4x more deadly than influenza. At a minimum.

  14. H B Bear

    Those few that have not chucked in their Teh Australian subscription Chris Merrit outlines a potential legal challenge to Chairman Dan’s lockdown from a Jim’s Mowing franchisee who has seen their life savings wiped out. He sounds pissed.

  15. min

    Classic socialist agenda to defeat Current system to allow a takeover
    1. talk about it emotionally.
    2. Use language and rhetoric to promote fear.
    3. Sow seeds of fear eg pictures of Chinese dead or collapsing in the street.
    4. Urgent need for action
    5. Repeat over and over until it becomes normalised
    6. Only government can fix it private sector useless.
    7. Cite scientists, UN and quote alarming numbers (how many predicted to die initially?) .
    8.Leave it to big government with OTT rules and regulations.
    As Cats can observe the same Techniques used for Global Warming.

  16. H B Bear

    In the business section if you want to take a look.

  17. Roger

    COVID-19 accounts for only some 890 of those deaths

    One would like to see each of those deaths subjected to scrutiny by an independent medical examiner.

  18. Roger

    Never was that clearer than when Jeannette Young, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, grievously misinterpreting a simulation undertaken at the University of Glasgow…

    Well, that is likely to happen when you put someone whose only post-graduate qualification is an MBA in charge of managing the response to a virus.

  19. tombell

    I suspect the number of people in Oz who have died FROM wuhan flu rather than simply WITH it , is in the teens (if that) and that all were of advanced age. Breaking news – we all die from something and a respiratory impairment is a pretty common cause even without co-morbidities.

  20. OldOzzie

    Could children have been our secret weapon against coronavirus?

    The virus appears virtually harmless for kids, so allowing them to become infected was a golden opportunity to build society’s herd immunity

    Yet after Imperial College published a paper a few days later suggesting that 500,000 lives could be lost and the NHS overwhelmed, the Government altered its masterplan (see video below) to complete suppression, and imposed countrywide lockdown measures.

    It is now becoming clear that they should have held their nerve.

    Imposing lockdown on an entire population has not just decimated the economy, but may cost more lives in the long term, if a vaccine is not found quickly.

    Buried in the now infamous ‘Report 9’ Imperial College modelling paper, was a warning that closing schools and asking everyone to socially distance would be deadly.

    It might seem counterintuitive, but the virus is virtually harmless for children, and usually mild for younger people, so allowing them to catch the disease would have built widespread immunity and prevented vulnerable people dying in the second wave.

    Now we are coming into the winter flu season with extremely low levels of population-wide immunity (perhaps just six per cent) and growing signs that this wave will be far more deadly than the first.

    Re-analysis of the Imperial Model by Edinburgh University suggests that more than quarter of a million people could die during the lifetime of the epidemic because herd immunity is not being allowed to build.

  21. Steve

    ROger

    Yes – a coroner report in Victoriastan will never be forecoming as it will expose the massive theatre ( read: massive overexaggeration for political purposes ) covid truly is.

    When they published videos of New York hospitals which were allegedly “awash with covid patients”, in reality the ER was quiet. Hospital after hospital showed this.

    I did the stats for July & AUgust in Victoria – death rate was approx 1.9% average, but 99% of deaths ws in 65+ years age group. Hospitalizations was about 6%, ICU about 0.9%. This was consistent regardless of case numbers.

    Lets be blunt – covid appears to have been used as a trojan horse to sabotage democracy…..

  22. BoyfromTottenham

    The latest WHO ‘probability of survival’ stats give 0-19 year olds 99.9997%, 20-49 yo 99.98%, 50-69 yo 99.5% and 70+ yo 94.6%.
    Has anyone seen these figures published anywhere in the MSM? I thought not.
    I am over 70 with no co-morbidities, and fear of COVID sure doesn’t keep me awake at night.
    I pity the poor sheeples.

  23. Steve

    And now we see NSW dancing the dance of “death of democracy by covid”…..

    Hang on….. people arent panicking enough…..

    Covid = Climate Change….same play book……

    Cant wait for the Nuremberg Trial for all this ……

    https://www.smh.com.au/politics/nsw/mask-use-going-backwards-customers-not-signing-in-complacency-and-apathy-hits-nsw-20201008-p563ce.html

    “Premier Gladys Berejiklian has moved to address complacency towards coronavirus in Sydney, telling businesses they face significant penalties and harsher rules if restaurants and cafes continue to flout COVID-19 protocols.

  24. Leo G

    And that is why tackling the fearmongers is so important. The facts, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, are becoming clear …

    The fearmongers are principally government officials whose fearmongering is enabled by the public and corporate media.
    Maintaining the fear means misleading the public about the degree to which the more serious outcomes from COVID infection are concentrated on our oldest citizens, and concealing the geometric increase in the risk with age.

  25. Tom

    The smashing of the Australian economy and the dramatic escalation of government debt and spending would not have occurred if the news media was the public’s eyes and ears as it originally set out to be.

    Instead, 90%+ of the news media has simply become the state media, whipping up public fear and hysteria on behalf of governments about a crisis escalated by their own public service experts who have been anything but and who have not born a shred of responsibility for their catastrophic mistakes.

    If the news media were really the public’s eyes and ears, the public would be demanding the heads of the public service experts and the politicians who are hiding behind them.

    The news media has become the enemy of the people. The evening TV news services in particular have been reprehensible in selling out the public interest and kowtowing to federal and state governments.

    Thank you, Henry Ergas, for pointing out the obvious and facing the wrath of the rest of academia, which is barracking for Big Government socialism.

  26. harrys on the boat

    From COYS, these figures cannot be highlighted enough.

    The latest WHO ‘probability of survival’ stats:
    0-19 yo 99.9997%,
    20-49 yo 99.98%,
    50-69 yo 99.5%,
    70+ yo 94.6%.

    Basically if you’re over 70, you’re a $1-05 cert to survive. If you’re under 50, you’re immune.

    We’re trying to create a vaccine for this? It doesn’t effect the under 50’s and the over 70’s can be cured by basically over the counter medication?

  27. Fat Tony

    The news media has become the enemy of the people. The evening TV news services in particular have been reprehensible in selling out the public interest and kowtowing to federal and state governments.

    Yes Tom – our real enemy is the media

  28. harrys on the boat

    Reminds me of the brilliant Illuminatus trilogy books. Where a US military lab creates the biological weapon Anthrax Leprosy Pi. It gets out, but only 4 people have it, 3 are dead, leaving one sole carrier – they surmise he’s immune, but a carrier, so lethal.

    So on the say so of scientists who predict with 99% probability that this one immune person will kill everyone the US locks down Victoria style, martial law, abolish the Supreme Court etc. etc.

    The sad thing is it was written in the 70’s as a joke.

  29. Speedbox

    In my daughters school, she says that the majority of students are terrified and think that if they catch wuflu they have a good chance of dying.

    Back in the early days (mid Feb), my youngest daughter (10) came home from school and, at the dinner table that night, asked whether we, her family, could die from the disease. Over a short time, children at her school had worked themselves up over the dangers and the fear had been amplified by an absurdly hysterical MSM.

    I settled her nerves by explaining the reality and setting out the gross exaggeration of the MSM. Her relief was palpable and I know she she went back to school the next day armed with confidence and facts.

    But I was appalled. I was outraged at the ridiculousness of the MSM reporting, the gross over-simplification of the outcome from infection (virus = death) and the total disregard for a planned approach by our Governments. Everyone seemed to be caught up in some kind of ‘stupidity vortex’ where all reason and strategic planning was simply unknown. Scotty from marketing made pronouncements that no Australian would be left behind and lockdowns were on the horizon.

    This topic has been discussed extensively on the Cat and many will remember the early days when we talked about the options available. Targeted specific lockdowns to protect the elderly/infirm, control (as much as possible) the virus leaching into the broader community to promote herd immunity, keeping schools open, business to operate on reduced capacity with rotation of staff……there were many good ideas but not one (that I recall) suggested a full-on Stalinist lockdown. And this was from the participants of a relatively obscure blog. Jeezus, if we can come up with a range of good ideas, what the hell is wrong with the highly paid Government advisers? The so-called experts.

    Donald Trump was correct – he warned not to let the virus cure be worse than the virus itself but most other leaders were already committed to another path.

    Now, we see the voices of reason starting to get some traction. Computer models are being questioned. We have always known that the virus was a serious concern for the elderly or those with co-morbidities if for no other reason than it is common sense, and the very earliest evidence confirmed that view. Children’s apparent immunity was a pleasant feature but that was also known from very early on (although the MSM would rarely mention it). It was blisteringly obvious that this new virus did not have the mortality rates of the Spanish Flu or the plague and those under, say, 60 years, had an infinitesimally low risk if they were healthy.

    Nevertheless, despite a few cooler heads proposing alternative strategies, our political leaders were stampeded by ‘experts’ and almost every country on the planet has caused substantial damage to their national economy. I think we all knew that control of the coronavirus and cost to our economy was never going to be cheap, but nor did it have to be as expensive.

  30. Professor Fred Lenin

    Polls and modelling , they feed in crap and get gold out?
    I dont thinkso !

  31. Kneel

    “…the total disregard for a planned approach by our Governments.”

    My issue from the start was not so much the lockdowns (although I opposed them, there was some justification at the start), but rather that there was no clear “exit strategy”, nothing like “when infections drop below x/day”, “when deaths drop below x/day”, “when ICU COVID is less than x/day” or “… below x %” or whatever. Nothing. Just lock it down NOW, and worry about how and when to open up later, and then never bothered to nail this down.

    If you don’t have an exit strategy, you don’t have a plan, you’re just reacting and vulnerable to those who wish to profit from unfortunate circumstances and media “if it bleeds it leads” bias.

    Plus, it changed from “we can’t stop it, only slow it down to stop overwhelming hospitals” to “must be eradicated completely” with NO discussion, not even an announcement that this was now what was needed. WTF?

    And then there’s the “don’t need a mask” at the peak of infections, changed to “mandatory masks” when it’s pretty much done & dusted and very few are actually dying or even catching it.

    And the conflation of “infections” vs “cases”.

    The whole thing is a comedy of errors – or, perhaps more accurately, a disaster of errors – each one compounding the problem. Aren’t sure, so err to caution. No defined exit strategy. Changed goals. Ignoring real-world data in favour of models and fear. Pollies handing decision-making to narrow-field “experts”. Ignoring their own dictats for political reasons (BLM vs lockdown protests). No clear chain of command. No clear lines of responsibility. Failure to consider economic consequences of the response. Media cheer-leading “we’re all gonna die!” instead of soberly reporting facts and questioning Gov strategies.

  32. gafa

    Everyone seemed to be caught up in some kind of ‘stupidity vortex’

    Proliferation of reality tv + Zombie apocalypse movies + social media = gullibility

    The gullible idiots want to be part of the big exciting 2020 apocalypse, something for the few remaining survivors to tell the grandkids.

    The movie Idiocracy seems more of a documentary than a comedy.

  33. John snowy Bowyer

    This poll would be the people who told us Labour would win the last federal election? In fact the left and Labour win every poll which is why I never trust them.
    How about all the bedwetters can give up work, play and enjoying life and leave me the eff alone?

  34. PB

    Polls tend to be QI for propaganda operations anyway.

  35. egg_

    Polls and modelling , they feed in crap and get gold out?

    Feeding in mulch and crap and hoping for growth?

  36. egg_

    From the first preprint, Ioannidis also states IFR for influenza of 0.1% (0.2% in a bad year), so even if were were to believe Ioannidis (and I know you all will), then on his own figures it is 2.4x more deadly than influenza. At a minimum.

    The clown who made dire predictions for the First Patient dares show his face?

  37. egg_

    then on his own figures it is 2.4x more deadly than influenza.

    Based on “comorbidity” rubber figures.

  38. Ozman

    Henry Ergas:

    None of that means that COVID-19 should be viewed as no more serious than the flu. On the contrary, until a vaccine or a cure become available, the case for prudence remains compelling, as does the need for effective control measures

    Trump has killed the vaccine idea. He always knew therapeutics were the way out–Regeneron. The Plandemic was put in place a couple of years ago. And can you believe that in 2017 and 2018 – two years before COVID-19 – hundreds of millions of test kits for COVID-19 were distributed worldwide

    Ergas ought to do some investigation and follow the rabbit trails by starting at the link below, he would be surprised at where the man behind the curtain lives.

    https://stateofthenation.co/?p=30117

  39. Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

    This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible. Learn more

    A total and complete sign off from White House Doctors yesterday. That means I can’t get it (immune), and can’t give it. Very nice to know!!!

    2:39 AM · Oct 12, 2020

    Amazing that the fact checkers went for this one. How would a vaccine work if one cannot build immunity after suffering?

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