By Mike Canavan.
Welcome back to part four of “What will our world will be like after the Coronavirus Pandemic”.
In this piece I thought it would be mindful to focus on the human state and the effects that Covid-19 has had on our community — on our lives.
In doing this I remembered something I read many years ago. It was part of an address that was delivered by the then Prime Robert Gordon Menzies on 22 May 1942 — another period in history when our nation was under great stress. The speech was to become known as “The Forgotten People” address. In part he said:
“I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole”.
It would do our political masters well, to take into their hearts the sentiments that Mr Menzies articulated so wonderfully, 78 years ago.
So much has changed since he spoke in those extremely troubled times. Yet in a cruel twist of fate so much has remained the same — or has it?
Are we building a better world today for the future? Sure technology has dramatically effected society. However the substance of what Mr Menzies spoke of surely should be at the heart and soul of our nation. Is it? If not, it certainly should be.
So what of the future; should the lessons of the past be ignored and the arrogance of a more secular, technologically developed community be exchanged for the values that truly made our Nation great.
Today we rely heavily on experts and advisers, consultants and bureaucrats, far greater than in simpler times.
We build our future in many ways on modelling. In so many ways we rely on modelling to determine how our future will evolve. Modelling on economics, modelling on weather patterns (global warming), modelling on population and immigrations trends, on economic and business models that project future prosperity (or that’s what they promise) to name just a few. Modelling that looks into not just next week, next month, or next year, but to the next 50 and the next 100 years.
Given recent trends one must ask, what value do this modelling really achieve?
Let us first focus on the disastrous failures of the Coronavirus models.
Australia was has shut down because scientists say their models told us that we must. The loquacious Dr Paul Kelly (the deputy chief medical officer of Australia) claimed his modelling told him that 150,000 Australians would die from Covid-19. That was in late April 2020. To date, since his alarmist predictions, 95 unfortunate souls have died with it. Has he been removed from office for his incompetence ? No. He is still a trusted adviser to the National Cabinet of our Nation, and he has not been held to account for his reckless scaremongering.
But fear not, here in Australia we are not alone. In Britain, a Professor Neil Ferguson who is the Professor of Mathematical Biology at the Imperial College, London. He has been instrumental in forming the UK government’s response to the coronavirus and other crisis.
In 2001, his modelling predicted 150,000 people would die from Mad Cow Disease. He so advised the government. There were fewer than 200 deaths.
In 2005, he said up to 200 million people will die from the Bird Flu epidemic — 282 people did.
On Swine Flu, in 2009, his advice to the government was that the disease would lead to 65,000 UK deaths. It killed 457 people.
He is nothing if not consistent with how catastrophically he gets things wrong.
It’s alarmism like this that leads governments into economic and social black hole policy making.
In Australia the wildly fluctuating models have frog marched us into an economy and social melee with consequences so shocking, destructive and catastrophic both socially and economically that future Australians yet to be conceived will be forced to pay and live with the decisions of today for generations yet to come.
It’s science, we’re told; and mere persons such as you and me mustn’t challenge it — after all what would we know?
I believe that this admission from an eminent American Professor says it all.
“Even though there’s a huge amount of resources being poured into modelling… [the forecasts are] going to be wrong,” said Irwin Redlener, Professor of Health Policy and Management and Paediatrics at the Columbia University Medical Centre, who is currently working on the coronavirus pandemic in the USA.
He went on to say: “Forecasts predicting the total number of deaths from COVID-19 may be wildly inaccurate because we do not know key information about the virus. This includes how many people have had it, whether people who recover will develop lasting antibodies to protect them from it, how well people are observing social distancing measures — and how long they will be willing to do it for”.
One has surly have to ask, then why do we listen to them at all?
Every death diminishes us as a community. In this new society of the 24-hour news cycle, and with social media bombarding us hourly, one has to wonder what role mass communication has played in the community’s panic and our political masters reactions.
They mitigate the appalling inaccuracies by telling us: “The models attempt to create a representation of reality and are not intended to perfectly predict our future — only what might happen”. Is this acceptable?
Would you accept a builder or a tradesman who gave you an estimate for a project and then that got the final figure wrong — but not a bit wrong, he got it wrong by 1765%. I’m not joking that’s how wrong the modellers were.
The trouble is the modellers can’t lose. If their worst predications come true; they can say, “See I told ya so, that it would be horrible.” If their predications flame out and a lot fewer lives are lost than they forecast, they can say, “See I told ya so; by shutting down (i.e. ruining) the economy as we said you had to do, it wasn’t a bad as it could have been.”
The data that was fed into the models was, in a word, garbage. As in, “garbage in, garbage out.”
The major issue is that, Dr Brendan Murphy (Australia Chief Medical Officer) and Paul Kelly (his deputy) should not get to decide when we emerge from lockdown, and from all accounts it appears they are. They should not be running the Nation. For example, in a recent interview Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said: “the more people who downloaded the app,( COVIDSafe App) the more bold the government would be in easing restrictions”.
We decide, for better or worse — our leaders. It’s called democracy. They are tasked with balancing the risk to public health with the risk to the economy, taking into account the advice of scientists. That does not include economists who see ruination in the cards no matter what we do. Let’s us not forget the therapists who must treat mental illness exacerbated imposed isolation. And the managers and business owners who must protect their employees while satisfying their creditors. And many more.
Yet given the nature of politics — our leaders are blackmailed into taking them (the Modellers) findings as if they were handed to them from a burning bush on the slopes of Mt. Sinai. What does this say of the political judgment and courage of our leaders today?
In Australia there are some 6570 registered clubs and associations. They employ 96,000 people. Within the industry there is strong conjecture that 40% of clubs will never reopen post Covid-19. This means that some 38,000 individuals will have no place to work. Not to mention the social dislocation that the closure of these clubs will have on the community at large. Many senior Australians rely on their club for social interaction, and sense of community. It is the place where they go to stay in touch with friends and loved ones.
This does not take into consideration how many hotels and restaurants will fall by the wayside. There are 6,500 pubs and Bars employing 86,165. And there are more than 85,000 places to eat out in Australia employing approximately 188,102 on a margin of between 2 and 4% in net profit turnover. Should they follow the diabolical predictions of the club industry there will be an additional 149,706 desperate and unemployed workers.
Then of course there is the retail sector, we have already seen prior to Covert-19 the closure of a number of iconic fashion wear brands. Jeanswest is the latest in a line of Australian retailers that have gone into administration.
The list also includes Bardot, Topshop, and Ed Harry, to name a few.
In Sydney if you really want to know how bad things are take a walk from Darlinghurst up Oxford Street to Paddington. Fear not, you won’t be crushed by shoppers rushing for bargains. Almost every third store is empty. There are almost 140,000 retail businesses in Australia, accounting for 4.1% of GDP and 10.7% of employment of our population. How will it recover post Covid-19?
The Arts and Entertainment sectors have been decimated in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Governments around the world have unequivocally acknowledged the economic, cultural and social value of the work of artists and arts organisations contribute to the community at large.
The Arts and Entertainment community employ more than 600,000 Australians, generating an estimated $3.2 billion in export revenue and contributing $47.4 billion to national GDP every year. Before the COVID-19 crisis, creative industries’ employment was growing at a faster rate than the rest of the economy. But it all came to a screaming halt with the restrictions been bought in by the Federal Government in early March.
On 12th of March, two weeks after Australia declared the Covid-19 would become a pandemic and 47 days after the first case in Australia was detected in Melbourne. The Melbourne organisers of the Australian Grand Prix were scrambling to keep the event open despite an 11th hour order from Victoria’s chief health officer that they could run the race but had to turn spectators away. It would be the first major event in Australia to be cancelled by the coronavirus. Within 24 hours, almost every other flagship event planned for the next several month would follow suit.
Indicatively the majority of people working in these events industries are freelance and or casual workers. With lockdown laws banning all gatherings, shutting down all clubs, pubs and cultural centres; most have found themselves on the unemployment scrapheap of the Nation. Many do not qualify for any of the government’s rescue packages.
Sadly today Carriageworks, the cultural centre based in the historic Eveleigh rail yards, has become Sydney’s first major arts company to call in administrators as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks further havoc across the industry. In a statement, Carriageworks said the sudden cancellation or postponement of six months of activities due to restrictions on public gatherings had resulted in an “irreparable loss of income”.
If the Arts and Entertainment community follow the same trends expected as the Club industry, there would be an extra 240,000 Australians permanently unemployed.
Unemployment, it is a big ugly word and we are going to hear about it a lot more in the years to come, long after the COVID-19 crisis has become a distant memory.
Even with several enormous -stimulus packages from the Federal Government and some from state governments, unemployment due to the virus caused shutdowns is set to rocket from 5.1% to double digits by the middle of this year, with some predicting it could even rise as high as 20%.
That is a massive problem on many levels because the one thing we have learned from previous recessions with high unemployment is that jobs do not simply spring back like an elastic band.
One thing that is virtually guaranteed is that there will be a considerable amount of corporate restructuring being planned for when the economy begins to recover, with shell-shocked businesses of all types, large and small, trying to bolster their battered balance sheets by reducing head counts.
It is not a matter of arguing that this time things should be different because the virus is an unexpected external shock – the cause of the unemployment is almost immaterial to what happens afterwards.
While there may be some businesses that react in an opportunistic “never waste a crisis” fashion and take advantage of picking and choosing between returning employees, the brutal reality is that many companies will not be able to support the same number of workers.
I believe that the Prime Minister knows employers will lose touch with employees. You can see that Mr. Morrison is well aware of the size of the unemployment crisis because of his repeated pleas for employers and employees to remain in contact.
He knows all too well that once that nexus is broken and the holiday pay runs out, the chances are that some of the temporarily unemployed will become unemployed for much longer.
A look at previous recessions is instructive. Unemployment remained high long after previous recessions. Back in the recession in the early 1980’s, the unemployment rate increased from 5.5% to 10.5% over two years. It then took a further six and a half years for the unemployment number to slowly work back to where it started.
During Australia’s most recent recession in 1990-91, unemployment kept rising long after the economy returned to growth. The unemployment rate went from around 6% to a peak of 11.2% in late 1992 and remained above 10% until April 1994.
It took around a decade for the unemployment rate to return to its former level.
In simple terms, the spending power of public and private employers will have been damaged by this crisis and it will take years for it to return.
Virus restrictions and the lockdown are bleeding $4 billion a week from the economy — draining wealth 12 times faster than the 1990 recession. This was admitted by the Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg
Today at the National Press Club.
Today the Prime Minister admitted the following staggering facts. 1,527,500 lost jobs and climbing, all due to the government actions, regulations and lockdowns.
Professor Michael Levitt
There have been some immensely critical of the draconian lockdown laws that have been put in place in our country. One of the world’s top scientists Professor Michael Levitt, who won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2013, has branded lockdowns a “huge mistake” and called Australia a “standout loser” for “massively” damaging its economy and society without obtaining immunity to COVID-19.
A Professor of structural biology at Stanford University, he said “panic” stemming from “incorrect numbers” had prompted lockdowns whose damage “will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor – there is no doubt in my mind”.
He said “the standout losers are Austria, Australia, Israel, which have had strict lockdowns without many cases. They have damaged their economies, society, harmed the education of their children but not obtained any herd immunity,”
Herd immunity happens when so many people in a community become immune to an infectious disease that it stops the disease from spreading.
This can happen in two ways:
Many people contract the disease and in time build up an immune response to it (natural immunity). Take Peter Dutton, Tom Hanks and Richard Wilkins for example.
Many people are vaccinated against the disease to achieve immunity.
Herd immunity can work against the spread of some diseases. There are several reasons why it often works.
The real question that is yet to be addressed is what will happen if a second wave of the virus was to strike? There is no vaccine, nor are we likely to have one in the foreseeable future. Best estimations for a vaccine are somewhere between 18 months to 2 years away. There are some encouraging signs, but these that these things need to go through rigorous testing and clinical trials before they can be released to the public.
Before we head down the path of congratulating ourselves and our politicians on what a sterling job that we all have been doing beating the coronavirus; it might be more important to consider what are the horrific social implications of their decision-making process. And how many lives- not deaths that they have destroyed.
The challenge now is to create a plan to deal with and remediate, the social destruction of these “necessary” decisions. But most importantly what is the plan if it was to strike again?