In the world of covid roulette, there are three broad choices in dealing with the disease.
The first choice is the ‘do nothing’ and let the disease roll through your population. Kind of like the Swedish model which is a variant that attempts to protect the elderly and those who are compromised with co-morbidities. The Swedes took some other measures (social distancing etc) but were more ‘hands off’ than virtually every other country. Despite their efforts, a number of elderly or ill have died and the death rate per million is relatively high compared to most of the world. Despite that, a significant number of Swedes agree with the government’s handling of covid.
The second choice is to ‘manage’ the infection. This is also called ‘flattening the curve’ and accepts that some will die but the health system will cope for the majority. The important factor is management – meaning that the government accept that the disease will impact the population and restrictions, of varying severity, are imposed from time to time to try and exert some downward pressure over the rate of infection. It is a balancing act to accept significant societal and economic disruption without adopting either a hands-off approach or imposing debilitating totalitarian restrictions. This is particularly relevant in Europe given its history and porous borders. That approach also acknowledges that a moderately high percentage of the population will be asymptomatic and/or will have little adverse reaction to the disease when infected. Coupled with an eventual vaccine, the economic and population damage will be somewhat less but is effectively accepting the premature death of some. In the broadest sense, this is the classic ‘pro bono’ approach – for the greater good.
The third choice is what Australia eventually went for. Originally, Australia took the ‘flatten the curve’ second choice but when it appeared that there was an opportunity to eliminate the virus, the government pounced. Unfortunately, they didn’t think it through.
As a consequence of our geography, Covid did not do a lot of damage initially. We had some deaths but prior to the Victorian nursing home debacle, and since, deaths have been quite rare. With increasingly emboldened governments reinforced by the local police and a compliant media browbeating the population, movement restrictions were ramped up to the point that elimination became a viable proposition. And it came to pass, like NZ and a handful of South Pacific nations, Covid has been effectively eliminated from our shores.
It didn’t have to be this way of course. Many Cats and others wrote, emailed or telephoned their elected representatives and the media with reasonable and thought-out alternative options that were, generally, a hybrid of choices one and two. Regardless, the government pressed ahead and therein lies our problem – we are now totally reliant on a vaccine. Our population is defenceless with virtually no broad exposure to the disease and the full cost of our global isolation is yet to become apparent. We know that Covid has cost the Treasury some $580Bn and counting, but that is just the known measurable cost to date.
The most recent debacle of vaccine availability and rollout displays our vulnerability with the Astra Zeneca version effectively withdrawn from the bulk of the population. Yet, whilst we await the Pfizer or Novavax versions at the end of the year, the world moves on. As of 10th April, the UK had vaccinated 48% of their population, the USA 35%, Canada 19% whilst Germany, Austria and Belgium are all around 18% and growing quickly. Australia is 0.6%.
Our governments thought they were terribly clever and that our isolation was our greatest asset. Other than some recalcitrants at the Catallaxy Files and a few other websites, they managed to cower the bulk of the population with little effort and their mission was a resounding success.
But was it? Australia bet on the vaccine saving us yet it is probable the majority of the population will not be vaccinated for another year, at best. With Australia effectively marooned into the foreseeable future, what remains to be seen is the extent of the fiscal and social disruption awaiting us as the months tick by.