covid-19 Teetering at the Rubicon

Perhaps Australia is teetering on the edge of the Rubicon rather than having crossed it.

The pause in rollback of restrictions in Victoria suggest at least a certain hesitation about actually crossing.

My view was and is that a flat rate of daily infections implies that the rate is likely to start rising.

That is because the declining numbers from incoming travellers are presumably being roughly balanced by the increasing numbers of “community transmission” from untrackable local sources.

I wrongly thought that the week or so of roughly flat numbers at around 50 marked the bottom of the trough, but in fact that was a temporary blip and the numbers continued to decline.

But restrictions were lifted while there was still community transmission so I assumed the relevant authorities were aware of the consequences and fully committed to a much higher rate of infection (while also committed to not risking the hospitals becoming overwhelmed).

Now I’m not sure what’s going on. Victoria’s Chief Health Officer mentioned that the virus is doubling every week. I haven’t attempted to analyse the statistics and last time I looked some of the necessary information was not available (proportions “under investigation” that end up classified as “community” or “known source”). The raw numbers more than doubled over the past week but I assume he was referring to a more relevant estimate of the underlying effective rate at which each infected case generates another one before becoming non-infectious or dying (taking into account that many are isolated and unable to infect others while others transmit before ever being isolated or while ineffectively isolated).

If it is doubling every week under the present level of restrictions it would obviously be necessary to impose much tighter restrictions to prevent the hospitals eventually being overwhelmed.

Perhaps the local restrictions are intended to prepare the way for that and help neutralize the massive campaign that has been waged from “business” to reopen regardless.

But perhaps not.

Perhaps there is still some lingering belief that a “sweet spot” exists in which the level of restrictions and behavioural adjustments just keeps the virus “under control” with a relatively small number of sporadic outbreaks. each of which can be contained. It might be hoped that local lockdowns and the “pause” would tip the balance of behavioural changes sufficiently.

That doesn’t make sense to me. “Eradication” is the only such “sweet spot” – when the numbers are so low that new cases are merely “sporadic” outbreaks. That was not attempted in Victoria or New South Wales. I am not competent to say whether it was feasible but if they were going to attempt it they would need to maintain a much longer period of tight restrictions and I cannot estimate how long that would have needed to be or how feasible it would be to maintain restrictions for so long. Also far more would need to be done to ensure that subsequent sporadic outbreaks could not get out of control (eg the contact tracing app would have had to be mandatory).

The alternative to Eradication was and is successive “waves” of infection. Each time the restrictions are lifted the virus comes back at first gradually and then quickly so that another shutdown has to be introduced. That alternation continues until a vaccine.

But the current “pause” seems to indicate some sort of “teetering” between fully accepting a policy of successive waves and actively seeking to replace it with a policy of Eradication.

I don’t see how local lockdowns could prevent ongoing community transmission within a city like Melbourne. Such measures could only work against “sporadic” outbreaks. It will be interesting to see whether it can work in Beijing.

But perhaps others who know more about it than I do think it is at least worth trying. If so, perhaps they could still go in either direction – continue crossing the Rubicon or attempting Eradication.

covid-19 Inspiring Black Rights Matter Protest

The Melbourne rally and march was really enormous.

I stayed on the outskirts to keep about 8m away as most protestors were far closer than 1m. Unfortunately masks do make people feel too “safe”. So I missed out on the speeches, perhaps fortunately. But I did not miss out on the size or nature of the crowd as it went past while I waited to join in at the end.

It took more than two hours to go past! The usual suspects were hardly noticeable in such a large crowd of mainly young people, enthusiastic and lively.

The mass media campaign against it was a dismal flop and they are now just admitting that there were more than ten thousand present. There certainly were. I cannot estimate but two hours stretched across Bourke St is bigger than anything since the Vietnam moratoriums and a LOT more than just ten thousand.

Youth are on the move again.

Inevitably it simply was not possible for protestors to be properly organised for social distancing the first time. But it clearly is just the first time as lots of people who turned up will now know how strong they are compared with the mass media’s lies.

So it will be necessary to seriously prepare for spreading people out at far less than 1 person per four square metre. The same preparations can ensure the police remain just as absent from disrupting future smaller protests as they wisely were from this one. A self-disciplined crowd spread out can be even harder to suppress than one that blocked the entire CBD for two hours because it was just too big to avoid doing so.

The police prevented trams going down Collins Street for many more hours, perhaps out of frustration, more likely just stupidity. But it was obvious to anybody that this blockage was caused by a police van parked on the tram tracks rather than the protestors departing from the demo.

No doubt when the infection rate rises from the successful media campaign to loosen restrictions prematurely they will blame the protestors. But that won’t impress many.

With even the Courts and police knowing better than to try and suppress huge mass demonstrations reflecting popular feeling, the demands for suppression from the newspapers of Channel 9 and Murdoch have just highlighted both their hypocrisy and their impotence.

An international solidarity movement has just been born. It took a LOT longer to reach this level in the 1960s.