Sending NATO troops to Ukraine would not be particularly helpful. Russia has complete local dominance in its region (land, sea and air) and would defeat NATO in such battles. But if the West wanted to do more than just send arms and other supplies to the Ukrainian resistance it could certainly cause serious military problems for Putin instead of just making speeches. For example Turkey could and should close the Bosphorous to bottle up the Russian fleet (as could and should have been done over Syria). NATO naval forces would be completely dominant everywhere else and could cut off most of Russia’s revenue from trade. It would be up to Russia whether it wished to escalate from a losing position or would prefer to withdraw quickly. A lot of lives could be saved if the West was not so completely gutless…
If NATO was as gutless as feared, Turkey would not have done it despite the fact that it really is not optional.
But Turkey HAS done it!!! That makes a BIG difference. It suggests that NATO will fight as well as make speeches.
In time of war, Article 19 of the Montreaux convention clearly prohibits warships of belligerent powers from passing through the straits in Turkish territory except to return to their bases (unless permitted by Turkey on the basis that they are assisting a victim of aggression or fulfilling international obligations). This isn’t optional. Russia is a belligerent. Russia’s Black Sea fleet can only return to Sevastapol (eg from Syria if they were based in Sevastapol rather than Vladivostok or Syria).
Russia’s war on the Syrian people did not make it technically a “belligerent” under that treaty since it was not at war with Syria but allied with the Syrian government iagainst the people, just as the US and Australia were not “belligerents” when the US occupied southern Vietnam and attacked the north in alliance with a puppet “Republic of South Vietnam”.
Turkey could, and should, have exercised its options under Articles 20 and 21 to “consider herself to be threatened with imminent danger of war” and prohibit passages of Russian warships supporting the Syrian regime despite Russia not technically being a “belligerent”.
But there in nothing optional about the prohibition under Article 19. Turkey would be actively complicit with Russia if it pretended Russia was not a belligerent in its current war. Turkey is far from being actively complicit this time, and so is NATO. The Syrian people were betrayed. The Ukrainians may not be.
Interestingly Russia’s entire Mediteranean naval presence of 16 ships are currently in Syrian waters headed directly for the Russian base at Tartarus:
Preventing Russia’s Black Sea fleet from leaving and permitting NATO naval forces to enter is unlikely to directly affect the war on Ukraine since NATO is unlikely to actually fight Russian naval forces on their home ground.
But if the West is serious about cutting off Russian trade, it has overwhelming naval superiority everywhere else in the world. A naval blockade would be an act of war but it would be up to Russia whether it wished to escalate from a losing position or accept having its ships searched for prohibited contraband by countries supporting the Ukrainian resistance by sanctions. Without the Black Sea fleet Russia really has no option but to submit to Russian ships being prevented from carrying Russian trade. China might well carry Russian trade by land and sea. But could not get Russian goods through customs in most of the developed world.
Some quick notes follow on other measures recently requested by Ukraine.
2. Requests for munitions are being met. The critical thing will be keeping supplies flowing under Russian occupation.
Ukrainia’s borders with the EU and NATO are nearly 1400km.
An occupation force of 140,000 can be thought of as 1 every 10m (if they did not have anything else to do).
3. A no fly zone has been requested but not yet offered. Over important parts of the border this could be critical for maintaining the flow of supplies as well as for protecting Ukrainian cities etc. It would take some time to establish since the NATO force posture is not prepared for it. A No Fly Zone does actually mean acts of war to shoot down Russian aircraft and missiles. The Stinger missiles already being supplied for use against assault helicopters etc would be operated by Ukrainian defence forces and would not be an act of war by the suppliers. But more effective air defence operated by NATO from NATO territory would be legitimate targets for Russian counter attack and would need to be heavily defended.
I don’t know how long it would take but it should start right now. NATO does at least have a force posture for rapid deployment to the Lithuania-Poland border area known as the Suwalki gap (named after the nearby town of Suwałki), because it represents a tough-to-defend flat narrow piece of land, a gap, that is between Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave and that connects the NATO-member Baltic States to Poland and the rest of NATO.
A no fly zone there would also put pressure on Kaliningrad and Belorussia. It should be extended as rapidly as possible southward to fully cover the border regions close to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Rumania, then North to Latvia (putting further pressure on Belarus). Later consideration could be given to putting pressure directly on Russia by extending to Estonia and offering to Moldova.
As soon as the air defence deployments can be adequately protected from Russian counter attack they should start shooting down Russian aircraft and missiles. That may not be very soon so lots of munitions should be got across the border as fast as possible to be hidden away for long term use.
4. Removal of Russian veto. That has also been requested despite there being no obvious way it could be done since Russia would veto it.
But it can be done by UN General Assembly deciding to form a replacement United Nations that existing members not currently engaged in wars of aggression prohibited by the UN Charter are invited to join. Why not? The UN needs replacement anyway. Would require agreement on other changes to the Security Council of the replacement organization. That is long overdue and may take more time but the process could be started now and would immediately intensify the isolation of Russia long before it was completed. Even if China refused to join it would be sufficient if India joined together with most countries. The old UN would simply wither away along with the Tsarist regime in Russia.
4. The battle for is for democracy, not just in Ukraine. Victory requires democracy in Belorussia and Russia too:
Ukraine’s guerilla war could topple the Tsar of All the Russias.
Ukrainians will fight
And they have interesting competent leadership from a comedian who could also lead elsewhere
Putin’s declaration of war does not mention Belarus. But it does mention Belgrade, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Putin laments the existential threat to the Russian regime from the West, suggesting that Russia must invade Ukraine to avoid sharing the misfortunes of the fascist regimes in Belgrade, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Putin pretends Russia faces a military threat from NATO, and does not mention the EU. But the real threat from “the West” to Russia’s backward Tsarist autocracy is very clear. The threat is that the slavs would prefer to flourish in the EU rather than the life of slaves to Tsarist autocrats.
It is too late to to drag the Ukrainians back to slavery. But it is not yet to too late to delay Belarus going the same way. A joint operation with Belarus to occupy parts of Ukraine could help postpone the next regime collapse in Russia. Maintaining endless conflict and disruption in Ukraine makes Ukraine’s path away from rule by corrupt oligarchs more difficult and slower. It also provides a basis for much harsher repression to keep the people down in both Russia and Belarus. Putin’s war can make Ukraine a less successful and attractive contrast to Russia’s stagnation and the “Western” enemy can be blamed for that stagnation continuing to get worse.
My guess is that’s what the war is about. If so, I would assume Putin would want to occupy areas with as few Ukrainians engaged in guerilla resistance as possible, while posing a constant threat to the rest. Occupying a narrow coastal strip from the Donbas to Transnistra would block Ukrainian access to the sea. That strip includes Odessa, Ukraine’s third largest city. But that is a less difficult proposition than long term occupation of the whole country. It is also easier to exit from if things go badly.
That’s just a guess. It is consistent with a blitzkrieg aimed at surrounding and then seizing Kiev, perhaps with special forces pretending to represent an internal coup from the Ukrainian army to decapitate the current government. But it does not require a capability to maintain a long term occupation with a puppet regime in Kiev. It could succeed if the West actively blocked Ukraine from getting adequate supplies of weapons and other support. But I don’t think the Western acquiescence over Ukraine is anywhere near the level of the current Western betrayal of Syria or the 1930s Western betrayal of Spain. Ukraine won’t run out of ammunition to keep fighting.
The omission of Belarus from Putin’s speech is curious. With only one ally directly participating, surely it would be worth mentioning?
“In the near future we will do what we and Russia need,” Sputnik Belarus quoted Lukashenko as saying. He also stressed that, if necessary, Belarusian troops would be involved in Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. “We will not make excuses about whether we participate or not participate in this conflict. Our troops are not there. But if it is necessary, if it is necessary for Belarus and Russia, they will,” the President of Belarus said.
The troops directly threatening Kiev crossed the northern border of Ukraine from Belarus at its weakest spot, the radioactive and therefore undefended Chernobyl exclusion zone. But most of them remain positioned in Belarus.
Lukashenko’s boasting that he persuaded Putin to keep Russian troops in Belarus for protection against the West has nothing to do with fears of NATO invasion from Poland, Lithuania or Latvia. It reminds the people already rising up against the local fascists that removing them would require more than breaking the local armed forces.
That reminder is realistic. When it falls the Belarus regime will fall more heavily as despised collaborators. But it will take longer to overthrow them than if they were not backed by a Tsarist garrison.
Putin’s speech is also a direct threat to the Russian people. Claims that they face genocide and nuclear attack from Ukrainian Nazis are not intended to convince anybody. Western media keeps repeating how ludicrous such claims are. But there seems to be some assumption that they would look less ludicrous to Russians. I haven’t seen any discussion of the implications of them looking ludicrous to Russians too.
To me these claims are similar to the sort of claims made by the Assad regime when it unleashed its thugs to suppress the Syrian people with nerve gas, Russian support and Western acquiescence. The point is that if you resist you will be crushed, not argued with. There is some support for invading Ukraine among the more stupid and reactionary sections of the Russian people. But not much, even among Putin’s fellow oligarchs. Putin has not even attempted to mobilize popular support and does not have reserves available to mobilize for a long occupation. If the present level of repression was maintained in Russia an anti-war movement would quickly gain majority support and become a serious threat to the regime. The message is that opposition will be far more ruthlessly crushed than previously. The regime knows it will continue to become less and less popular and is declaring that it will continue to rule by naked fascist force, as in China.
I haven’t studied what’s actually happening in Ukraine (or its neighbours) and am relying on quick impressions gained from reading the Australian (ie US) mass media plus the “other side” as linked above. A more nuanced version of the other side is provided from a Russian foreign policy think tank in an interview:
“How are Putin’s actions going down in Russia itself? What do Russians think about this?
It’s not a full-scale invasion as yet. This is something like the Syrian campaign. And till now we see only air strikes, targeted air strikes – something like surgical strikes in the Indian sense. Till now, Putin does not need the people’s support.
In the result of these strikes, there is no news about Ukrainian and Russian casualties. The limits of this operation will be known only by and by, and the level of the resistance from the Ukrainian forces. When you carry out air strikes, you don’t need any great public support – the US didn’t need public support in their campaign against Iraq, for example. Modi did not need public support, did not take Parliament’s support for surgical strikes. So until the [time the] scale is limited, the problem of public support is not an issue, not a question for Putin.
Where do you see it all heading? Will it stop at these strikes, do you see this escalating?
Because of the US and European sanctions against Russia since last year, they were very soft. The Russian economy did not face any problems because of these actions. If it is full-scale sanctions, problems with Swift, problems over our banks, it will be one thing. If these are softer sanctions, meant to find a resolution to the problem, it’s absolutely different. Now, the Russian economy is quite strong, we have very low national debt, we have our own system, we don’t have any great loans from the western market. What will happen further, I can’t say now.
But I don’t think he wants to incorporate Ukraine in Russia because for us, in fact, it needs a political solution. The Ukrainian issue has to be decided by compromise, not by incorporation.”
My impression is that interview is worth studying carefully as an indication of how the Russian foreign policy establishment views the war. I don’t think it’s just covering up an intention to maintain a long term occupation of Ukraine. Rather it reflects a realistic assessment that there is no support for a long term occupation and wishful thinking that the West will somehow actively rescue Putin by arranging a “compromise”.
My take above is that it is a war on the slav peoples rather than just a war on Ukraine.
I haven’t seen that suggested elsewhere so I am throwing it out there.
I may be quite wrong but it makes more sense to me than the ludicrous fantasies about it being some sort of contest between the West led by the USA (with Joe Biden as “leader of the free world”!) and Russia.
Even Greg Sheriden can see the obvious:
“So far, in response to his aggression against Ukraine, the West has hit Vladimir Putin with a swarm of denunciations and a sanctions response that resembles being beaten with a wet lettuce. This bodes very ill for Ukraine.”
The West has made it utterly clear that it won’t fight for Ukraine and won’t do much to help Ukraine fight. So Putin’s fight isn’t with the West. Certainly his fight is with the Ukraine, but I am saying it is also, and even more importantly a declaration of war by the Tsar of all the Russias against the peoples of all the Russias.
On February 18 Sheridan noticed that:
“… the number of Russian soldiers on Ukraine’s borders continues to increase and is now somewhere between 130,000 and 150,000.That is enough to invade Ukraine, given the superiority of Russian equipment, aircraft and firepower. It’s probably not enough to occupy a nation of 44 million people indefinitely.”
But despite that rare flash of insight, Sheridan by 23 February is totally pessimistic and defeatist:
“Here we come upon another intensely strange and paradoxical moral dilemma. The future of Europe may turn on how hard the Ukrainians are willing to fight for their freedom and independence. Yet if Moscow goes for a full-scale invasion, the superiority in quality and quantity of Russian arms must mean eventual defeat for the Ukrainians.
So should they fight or should they just surrender, because the result will be the same in the end anyway?”
Evidently Sheridan has not learned much from having been on the losing side in Vietnam.
Given the superiority of American equipment, aircraft and firepower it wasn’t enough to occupy the small nation of Vietnam indefinitely. That “superiority” just meant the American aggressors did more damage than the French before them. Of course the Vietnamese did not fight when and where the Americans wanted them to. They retreated and hid and fought when it suited them. The American “superiority” did not mean “eventual defeat” for the Vietnamese. Help from the rest of the world was important, especially from the American people and especially from anti-war US soldiers who killed their officers and broke the US army. The key point was that an expeditionary army of half a million was not enough to occupy another nation “indefinitely”.
Sending NATO troops to Ukraine would not be particularly helpful. Russia has complete local dominance in its region (land, sea and air) and would defeat NATO in such battles. But if the West wanted to do more than just send arms and other supplies to the Ukrainian resistance it could certainly cause serious military problems for Putin instead of just making speeches. For example Turkey could and should close the Bosphorous to bottle up the Russian fleet (as could and should have been done over Syria). NATO naval forces would be completely dominant everywhere else and could cut off most of Russia’s revenue from trade. It would be up to Russia whether it wished to escalate from a losing position or would prefer to withdraw quickly. A lot of lives could be saved if the West was not so completely gutless. But the peoples of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine will still win in the end. The long term result will be regime change in Russia again.
The danger from Shambolic Clots in NSW is greater today than ever before.
After seeding the virus throughout Greater Sydney and regional NSW the government has announced just enough steps for an intensified lockdown of the whole State to delay action against it. Contact tracing has already broken down completely with the source of 345 mystery cases “under investigation” out of 466 total. That means most of the infected people who infected today’s cases are still not in isolation and still spreading infection. Recovery from that requires a far more rigorous lockdown with full curfews and rostered hours for collecting supplies and exercise. Each day’s delay is likely to add another week to the necessary lockdown
But the strategy remains unchanged. Instead of aggressively suppressing the virus to eliminate community transmission like every other State in Australia, the NSW Government still intends to just keep vaccinating while the virus keeps infecting. Then they can announce that they have reached 70% “fully vaccinated” in a couple of months and then go to “phase B” and then “phase C” where we no longer bother about infections and only look at the number of deaths.
This is intended to force the rest of Australia into the same policy of opening up like the UK instead of stamping out each outbreak until it is safe to open up because the whole world has been vaccinated, like New Zealand.
If they are very lucky they may “succeed” by avoiding the hospitals being overwhelmed. Vaccination DOES dramatically reduce the death rate at present and so far the UK has been able to avoid mass deaths despite complete collapse of contact tracing and mass infection as is starting now in NSW.
Can they be stopped? Yes. New Zealand has reaffirmed its policy of elimination despite the fact that “allies have thrown in the towell”. Most of the public support the New Zealand policy rather than the media death cult’s campaign.
Public pressure could win in the long run. But we don’t have a long run.
Infections are already growing exponentially and will not be slowed much by today’s steps. If the numbers infected double every week it only takes 10 weeks to multiply by one thousand. Delta can double much faster than that.
There is no way for public pressure to force an unwilling State Government to change policy quickly. It takes many months to organize. A large majority in the UK against the Government policy were unable to prevent it going ahead.
The only people who can stop the NSW Government quickly are the Chief Health Officers (CHOs) of the other jurisdictions. They form the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee (AHPPC) responsible for fighting the pandemic.
They are busy trying to suppress outbreaks in their own States and Territories spread from NSW. But they have not yet done anything to actually support NSW. Instead State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers have merely criticized at two successive weekly meetings of “National Cabinet” and the national “Chief Medical Officer” (who does not actually run any public health system) still describes vaccines as a “circuit breaker” when there is simply no way vaccinations can stop infections faster than Delta can spread them.
It is not clear whether the CHOs on the AHPPC know that it is actually possible for them to intervene in NSW. Most people simply assume it is politically impossible because the Federal Government has no authority over State public health systems and no desire to intervene against a coalition government. If they have time to think about it at all, it is likely that many CHOs have the same assumption. All they can do is close the borders as tightly as they can.
But it is possible for them to intervene. The Federal Health Minister can simply issue a decree under the Biosecurity Act. Formal advice to do so from the AHPPC would be hard to ignore. If the government did ignore them it would have even less chance of surviving the next elections than it does now. That Act provides the same dictatorial powers that CHOs have exercised in their own jurisdictions (including detentions of tens of thousands of people) to overide all other Australian law during a Biosecurity emergency. See my “draft 0” in the second article of this series:
We need lawyers to draft the necessary “legislative instrument” (and perhaps some memos about the penalties for wilful neglect of duties by public officers) and medical doctors and scientists to ensure the CHOs promptly take action to insist on its prompt implementation (and second the necessary officers to lead the NSW public health response).
Everybody knows a doctor and pretty well any doctor is only 2 degrees of separation from a CHO. We can talk to doctors and persuade them to study the relevant documents carefully enough to pick up a phone and persuade a colleague closer to the CHO to do the same. Then it is just one more phone call to reach the local CHO and get them to take the time.
Something similar should be possible to find lawyers who know lawyers that could do the drafting.
A good starting point for reading by doctors and lawyers is the New Zealand Government’s position. Here it is:
Click on “Expand all” and read the speech by the main author of the NZ Government report recommending that they continue to “stamp out” each outbreak as it occurs. Then also download pdfs of the report.
Here’s an excerpt:
Many people argued that elimination was impossible. Well, they were wrong. New Zealand did eliminate COVID-19, and so did several other countries — including China.
There’s no doubt that our elimination strategy has served us well. I often compare us with Scotland, which also has just over 5 million people. New Zealand has had a total of 26 deaths during the pandemic. Scotland has had over 10,000 deaths, and more Scots have suffered chronic illness — the so-called ‘long Covid’. We dodged a bullet — and our social and community life has flourished, in comparison with countries where repeated lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings have made the past 16 months a time of frustration and grief.
But what about the future? Can we maintain elimination, as we re-open our borders (as we must do)? High levels of vaccination should make it easier to stamp out clusters of COVID-19, but new variants like Delta will make it more difficult. If we have to give up on elimination, and allow the virus to become endemic, many New Zealanders will end up in hospital and a sizeable number will die — though a lot fewer than if we had let the virus spread last year.
Our group wrestled with the question. We concluded that, at this stage of the pandemic, the elimination strategy is not only viable, but also the best option. It allows us to enjoy a lifestyle that is relatively unaffected by the ravages of COVID-19, and to protect our health service and our economy.
The UK, after a disastrous year, has had a great vaccination roll-out: 94% of English adults now have antibodies arising from vaccination or past infection, or both. Yet last week they still had 627 deaths from COVID — the equivalent of about 48 deaths a week in our population. And most British people are avoiding contacts with others: social contacts are still down on last summer, and are barely a quarter of pre-pandemic levels. Many people work at home, and about 90% are still wearing a mask when outside the house.
Look at this crowded room. None us of us is wearing a mask, and we are not fearful of contagion. This would be unthinkable in most countries. I hope not to spend the rest of my life shielding from others, especially in winter, and looking at faces covered by masks.
Next, to understand the full horror of the term “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” it is necessary to understand that most of the world is unvaccinated and that a report to the 94th meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies of the UK Government (SAGE) described:
Scenario One: A variant that causes severe disease in a greater proportion of the population than has occurred to date. For example, with similar morbidity/mortality to other zoonotic coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV (~10% case fatality) or MERS-CoV (~35% case fatality).
SAGE considered this report and officially confirmed that it has “high confidence” and is “almost certain” of “higher rates of transmission creating more opportunities for new variants to emerge” and that more severe disease is a “realistic possibility”. (See paragraph 37 and 39 of Minutes below).
The Minutes omit the reference to up to 35% case fatality but that is what was described as a “realistic possibility”.
The UK Government opened up the UK to unlimited infection on July 19 (“Freedom Day”) in the full knowledge that this is likely to unleash a “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” both in the UK and worldwide.
They expect that pretty well everybody will get infected since Herd Immunity is unfeasible and that there is a “realistic possibility” that up to 35% will die. That’s more than 2 billion people!
The UK Government’s crime has been denounced by more than a thousand medical doctors and scientists in a politely worded statement:
The UK Government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.
Although politely worded the accusation of “unethical experiment” on humans happens to be considered a “crime against humanity” over which courts in many countries exercise “universal jurisdiction” regardless of where and by whom such crimes are committed.
We can leave aside consideration of what motivated the UK Government and what motivates the NSW Government until they are put on trial either by their own courts for “reckless endangerment” and “misconduct in public office” or by the courts of other countries affected by their crimes against humanity.
The point right now is to stop them by doing whatever we can to prevent mass infections while vaccinating the world (and developing a future “sterlizing vaccine” that actually eradicates the virus).
Below is the authoritative minutes from SAGE.
But there is more that doctors and lawers should be studying closely and that science journalists should be explaining to a wider public. Here is a starting point:
It explains clearly the precise mechanism by which “vaccine-driven” virulence evolution has a realistic possibility of killing 2 billion unvaccinated people while being “unlikely” to threaten immunized populations.
How might COVID-19 vaccines alter selection for increased SARS-CoV-2 virulence, or lethality? Framing current evidence surrounding SARS-CoV-2 biology and COVID-19 vaccines in the context of evolutionary theory indicates that prospects for virulence evolution remain uncertain. However, differential effects of vaccinal immunity on transmission and disease severity between respiratory compartments could select for increased virulence. To bound expectations for this outcome, we analyze an evo-epidemiological model. Synthesizing model predictions with vaccine efficacy data, we conclude that while vaccine driven virulence evolution remains a theoretical risk, it is unlikely to threaten prospects for herd immunity in immunized populations. Given that this event would nevertheless impact unvaccinated populations, virulence should be monitored to facilitate swift mitigation efforts.
Vaccines can provide personal and population level protection against infectious disease, but these benefits can exert strong selective pressures on pathogens. Virulence, or lethality, is one pathogen trait that can evolve in response to vaccination. We investigated whether COVID-19 vaccines could select for increased SARS-CoV-2 virulence by reviewing current evidence about vaccine efficacy and SARS-CoV-2 biology in the context of evolutionary theory, and subsequently analyzing a mathematical model. Our findings indicate that while vaccine-driven virulence evolution in SARS-CoV-2 is a theoretical risk, the consequences of this event would be limited for vaccinated populations. However, virulence evolution should be monitored, as the ramifications of a more virulent strain spreading into an under-vaccinated population would be more severe.
Rather more than “monitoring” is required, we have to vaccinate the world.
Doctors and scientists should be able to find the relevant technical literature from seeing what recent papers have referenced the earlier papers listed in that preprint.
Lawyers should be able to prepare the necessary criminal indictments – but first we need the legislative instrument that helps NSW rejoin the rest of Australia in following the New Zealand path of maintaining elimination instead of the UK path of spreading infection.
Below is the relevant part of SAGE 94 minutes: Coronavirus (COVID-19) response, 22 July 2021 Published 6 August 2021
Long-term viral evolution
It is almost certain that the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 is related to the amount of circulating virus, with higher rates of circulation and transmission creating more opportunities for new variants to emerge (high confidence).
There are a number of possible scenarios which could lead to the emergence of a variant which is more transmissible, causes more severe disease, or has a degree of immune escape.
A variant which causes more severe disease could emerge through recombination, where it is produced in an individual infected with two separate variants or acquire other genetic material from other viruses or the host (realistic possibility). Current vaccines are highly likely to continue to provide protection against serious disease for such new variants. However, since no vaccine is completely effective, there would likely still be an increase in morbidity and mortality from such a variant.
An immune escape variant could emerge in several ways. This includes through antigenic shift, where natural recombination events change the spike glycoprotein of the virus (realistic possibility). It could also emerge through animals becoming infected, the virus mutating within that population and then later this new variant infecting humans (realistic possibility). A new variant could also emerge through antigenic drift, where antigenic variation eventually leads to current vaccine failure (almost certain). These could occur over different timeframes. It is unknown how levels of immunity change the risk of the establishment of such a variant.
Reducing transmission, increasing vaccination levels, monitoring new variants and preparing to update vaccinations would mitigate the risks of such new variants.
A new variant could emerge that evades current antiviral strategies. Reducing the likelihood of such a variant emerging requires careful use of antivirals. This includes taking particular care in the treatment of immunocompromised people, or others infected for a long period, in whom viral evolution is more likely to happen. In particular, those working with infected immunocompromised individuals should take extra precautions to prevent onwards transmission.
Although unlikely in the short term, in the long term it is a realistic possibility that variants will arise that are more transmissible but with reduced virulence. This reduced virulence, along with high population immunity, could eventually lead to the virus causing a much less severe disease.
As antiviral drugs become available it will be very important to use them in a way that does not induce viral escape from their effects, for example using them in combinations.
Impact of international vaccination
The biggest threat to the UK’s health security and response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is the emergence (and establishment within the UK) of variants that either have increased transmissibility, increased severity, escape prior immunity or a combination of these characteristics (high confidence). At this point in the epidemic, with a high degree of population immunity, an immune escape variant would be of particular concern (high confidence).
Substantial global circulation of SARS-CoV-2 will lead to the evolution of new variants and continued risk of importation to the UK (medium confidence). Reducing prevalence globally will therefore reduce the risk to the UK. Multilateral coordination will be important in achieving this.
Increased international vaccination (for example by sharing of doses or supporting increased manufacture) has the potential to reduce the appearance and establishment of variants internationally, as well as the risk of their importation to the UK (medium confidence). There are also strong ethical reasons for supporting international vaccination efforts. Targeting international vaccination efforts (for example to countries where there are higher numbers of immunocompromised people, for example due to HIV infection) may be particularly beneficial.
The choice of vaccine is likely to be important and may change over time. Although using single doses would allow more people to be reached with limited supply, it may also result in more people having partial immunity which may increase the risk of an immune escape variant developing or spreading.
Border measures may also reduce the risk to the UK, though these will delay rather than prevent the importation of variants. Reducing global prevalence may lessen the need for border measures. Strengthening global surveillance of variants (as well as continued surveillance in the UK) will be important in understanding the risk. SAGE strongly supports the need for effective surveillance systems in the UK (UKHSA) and the presence of a global surveillance system as envisioned in the G7 communique. In addition to sequencing, studies on biology including transmission fitness and antigenicity will be required to understand which variants may become dominant.
I am sure lawyers could produce a much better draft, along with any appropriate backup drafts for a referendum to amend the Australian Constitution and the composition of the High Court.
But the following ought to establish that any failure to prevent NSW falling is not due to lack of legal powers to intervene.
Consequently at any future trials for misconduct in public office or incitement of such misconduct it should not be assumed that only officers of NSW would be defendants.
Of course before actually exercising in NSW the dictatorial powers that the Chief Health Officers of the other States are already exercising in their own jurisdictions (including detention orders for tens of thousands of people), the AHPPC should first spell out what it requires NSW to do and what assistance other jurisdictions will provide to do it.
They are the only people in a position to decide what is necessary and how to go about it.
I would assume that an out of control Delta outbreak that has already been allowed to reach half the level of Victoria’s second wave would require a much more drastic “stage 5” lockdown than was needed for several months in Victoria. Essentially a 24 lockdown curfew with rostered hours for exercise and distribution of essential supplies. Supermarkets would be stocked from interstate. That would give hope within a couple of weeks and could be eased back to “stage 4” levels within a month or so.
My assumptions are irrelevant as are those of any other commentator. But the CHO of NSW stated weeks ago that there was a national emergency and the people who will be held responsible for failing to implement the measures that only they are competent to decide on are the CHOs of the other States.
This is the second article in the series I promised on “shambolic clots”. In later articles I will explain the significance of including the W.H.O. recommendations numbered 3 and 9. The failure to enforce in NSW necessary measures specified in recommendation 1 should be self-explanatory. The CHOs of the AHPCC and ATAGI should already know the relevance of recommendation 3 to the disgraceful behaviour of both Commonwealth and NSW governments. I doubt that they have thought about the possible use of powers under recommendation 9 to counter the massive public misinformation campaign that their opponents ae engaged in.
Anywhere here is “draft 0”:
Whereas the Governer General has determined that a Human Biosecurity Emergency with respect to covid-19 exists under section 475 and the Health Minister is satisfied under section 477 of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015  that the emergency requirements specified in the attached schedule 1 are necessary under the following subsections:
(1) (a) to prevent or control: (ii) the spread of the covid-19 listed human disease from parts of New South Wales to all other parts of New South Wales and other Australian territory (b) to prevent or control the spread of covid-19 from Australia to any other country; and (c) to give effect to the recommendations identified as "critical for all countries" that have been given by the World Health Organization under Part III of the International Health Regulations by decision of the eighth meeting of the W.H.O. Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic which took place on Wednesday, 14 July 2021  as follows:
1. Continue to use evidence-informed PHSM [Public Health and Social Measures] based on real time monitoring of the epidemiologic situation and health system capacities, taking into account the potential cumulative effects of these measures. … The use of established public health measures in response to individual cases or clusters of cases, including contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, must continue to be adapted to the epidemiological and social context and enforced.
3. Achieve the WHO call to action to have at least 10% of all countries’ populations vaccinated by September 2021. Increased global solidarity is needed to protect vulnerable populations from the emergence and spread of SARS CoV-2 variants. Noting that many countries have now vaccinated their priority populations, it is recommended that doses should be shared with countries that have limited access before expanding national vaccination programmes into lower risk groups…
9. Address community engagement and communications gaps at national and local levels to reduce COVID-19 transmission, counter misinformation, and improve COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, where applicable. This will require reinforcing messages that a comprehensive public health response is needed, including the continued use of PHSM alongside increasing vaccination coverage.
(2) The requirements specified in schedule 1 are determined as a legislative instrument that is not subject to disallowance under section 42 of the Legislation Act 2003 
(3) These requirements apply to:
(a) persons, goods or conveyances when entering or leaving any place in New South Wales; (b) the movement of persons, goods or conveyances in or between any place in New South Wales and any other place in New South Wales or anywhere else in Australia or elsewhere; (c) the evacuation of any place in New South Wales; (d) and any measure required for the purposes of giving effect to the International Health Regulations recommendations specified in 1(c)
(4) The Health Minister is satisfied of all of the following: (a) that the requirement is likely to be effective in, or to contribute to, achieving the purpose for which it is to be determined; (b) that the requirement is appropriate and adapted to achieve the purpose for which it is to be determined; (c) that the requirement is no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the circumstances. The circumstances that require the sudden and immediate exercise of extreme and intrusive restrictive dictatorial powers are that failure to aggressively suppress covid-19 in New South Wales would result in catastrophic collapse of hospital systems throughout Australia with massive deaths; (d) that the manner in which the requirement is to be applied is no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the circumstances; (e) that the period during which the requirement is to apply is only as long as is necessary.
(5) The requirements determined apply despite any provision of any other Australian law and in particular apply despite the provisions of sections 479(5) and 545(2) of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015 and any provision of any law of New South Wales and any provision of any law that gives jurisdiction to any Court or Tribunal to hear and determine any matter.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) shall take charge of all aspects of the public health response to covid-19 in New South Wales and shall draft directions from the Minister under s478 of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015 to aggressively suppress community transmission of covid-19 in New South Wales and to implement the specified recommendations of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.
The Governor of New South Wales, the Ministers of the NSW Government, both houses of the legislature of NSW, the courts of NSW and all other officers and employees of New South Wales shall actively implement all such directions by all means available to them including legislation, legislative instruments, appointments and dismissal of officers and employees and directions under NSW law.
All States and Territories of Australia shall provide maximum assistance to the people of New South Wales by emergency supplies of essential goods and services at the expense of the Commonwealth.
No person may enter or leave any place in New South Wales for any purpose except in accordance with the public health directions drafted by the AHPCC and given by the Health Minister under section 478 of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015.
s479(5) would otherwise prevent a direction under subsection s479(1) to an officer or employee of a State, Territory or State or Territory body unless the direction is in accordance with an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State, Territory or body.
s545(2) would otherwise not permit the Director of Biosecurity to authorise an officer or employee of a State or Territory body to be a biosecurity officer unless an arrangement is in force under section 547 in relation to the officer or employee.
The penalty under section 479 for not complying is five years imprisonment or 300 penalty units or both.
We face a global pandemic. Excess mortality was 3 million last year and will be much greater this year. The attack rate is still growing.
Given that Observation we must first Orient, then Decide and Act. This “OODA loop” has to be repeated continuously. Events are moving too rapidly for our decisions and actions to keep up.
But first comes basic Orientation. Are we going to join together to fight this common enemy of all humanity?
One way a community binds together is by singing.
We have a suitable global anthem, from Paul Robeson’s “Hymn to Nations” sung to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the anthem of the European Union:
Build the road of peace before us Build it wide & deep & long Speed the slow & check the eager Help the weak & curb the strong None shall push aside another None shall let another fall March beside me, o my brothers All for one & one for all.
Superficially, the final amendment to Australia’s “National Plan” has been made more consistent with that. Instead of promoting a competition between the Australian States as to who can open up fastest, it specifies vaccination thresholds that must be reached by all States before any one of the States that have reached that threshold can move to a lower level of restrictions.
The point is to speed the slow and check the eager – with none letting another fall.
But that same “National Plan” pretends that Australia can be safe while a global pandemic rages through the rest of the world. It rests on seeking to push aside other nations that more desperately need vaccines, in a mad scramble to get to “the head of the queue”. Every available dose of AstraZeneca must be shoved into Australian arms, whether willing or not, lest it be “wasted” by donation to other countries.
The plan to stop worrying about infections after phase A is simply ludicrous and would contribute to more deadly variants emerging more rapidly. It isn’t even a thought bubble without a thought like the “Labor” party plan. It is just a Trumpian expression of utterly childish self-absorbed thoughtlessness.
Supposedly we can let India and Indonesia fall while Qantas resumes tourist trips to Bali! Even from the most narrow viewpoint Australia is within swimming distance of New Guinea which has a border with Indonesia.
I will leave a detailed analysis of this “plan” to a later article. There is a more urgent problem. The situation in New South Wales means Australia is on the brink of abandoning its existing “phase A” achievements. We must act fast to not let NSW fall.
Because this “National Plan” does promote vaccination and that does save lives, many public health people have remained silent about the global situation so as to focus on getting “more jabs in arms”. They have not sounded the alarm at the absurdity of NSW proposing to rely on vaccinations rather than tighter Public Health and Social Measures (PHSMs) to deal with the slow exponential growth in cases not contained by Test, Trace, Treat, Isolate and Quarantine (TTTIQ). Also they can take comfort from the fact that the plan advocates whatever level of PHSMs are needed to avoid collapse of the hospital system, rather than simply announcing a “Freedom Day” like the UK.
By now public health experts should not just be critical of the fact that the New South Wales government is still promoting delivery in September of “freedoms” that could only result in collapse. If they did their duty they should have already stepped in to fix the “national disaster” already announced from NSW. The NSW Premier told the National Cabinet meeting last Friday that NSW would not take the necessary action. But the other States did nothing at all about this direct threat to the whole country
Australia is currently in the same position as New Zealand and China. Proposing that the aim of vaccination is to ABANDON that hard won achievement so that we can enjoy MORE infections and MORE deaths is so utterly bizarre that the media has to breathlessly report “the conversation” among politicians and pundits advocating it non-stop and simply pretends there is no other view.
But what goes around, comes around. New South Wales was held up as the “gold standard” for opening up faster than other States. It rushed ahead eagerly and nobody checked it. Now it is on the edge of falling and the other States are letting it fall. That will come back around to those who let another fall.
If New South Wales falls then Victoria and Queensland will be subject to almost continuous lockdowns to suppress repeated incursions of infection across the border. Perhaps Tasmania and Western Australia could maintain the same level of covid elmination as New Zealand but it would be very hard for South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT.
But its worse than that.
The media death cultists are actively campaigning for New South Wales to fail, precisely because they actually WANT to bring down Victoria and Queensland and thus restore “calm and reason” to Australia as a whole . Here’s Chris Kenny, Associate Editor of “The Australian” in the weekend’s edition (p16-17 August 7-8):
Some readers were dismayed when I wrote last month that it might be a good thing if the NSW lockdown failed because it would force the nation to learn to live with the disease. That seems to be what is playing out – incrementally and reluctantly perhaps – but it is happening.
The lockdown fetishists portray this as welcoming sickneses and deaths, as though there is another option. The day the virus arrived on our shores from Wuhan we were going to have to deal with these morbid realities, it is all about picking a sustainable, least worst path. As I have argued in this column for more than a year, there is no option but to find a way to live with Covid.
He is right, that is playing out “incrementally and reluctantly perhaps – but it is happening.” Most processes require incremental responses so decision makers are naturally slow to respond “disproportionately” and “suddenly”. Public health officials with the same outlook are dangerous. Any incremental growth of an epidemic has to be dealt with disproportionately and suddenly. That is the hardest concept to get across even when people claim to understand exponential growth. There simply is no such thing as holding steady. It is either fizzling, exploding or teetering between the two. Two out of three of those possibilities require immediate and disproportionate action to avoid disaster.
Actually of course most of the virus arrived here from the USA and UK where governments followed the policies promoted by the Wall Street Journal and its local affiliates, the Daily Telegraph and The Australian (now joined by Channel 9 Entertainment’s newspapers and the ABC). The US and UK responded incrementally and reluctantly so they are now “living with” with the highest global death rates from covid-19 while the fascist regime in Wuhan, like the New Zealand government, stamped it out and are again stamping it out after Delta arrived from Europe.
We are very lucky not to have been defeated long ago by the incremental and proportionate responses favoured by Commonwealth Chief Medical Officers. Fortunately they do not actually run any of the public health systems in Australia and all State Chief Health Officers that actually do had a better understanding, except for NSW which was repeatedly praised by the Commonwealth for taking risks that eventually resulted in a “national disaster”.
Australian States did stamp out each outbreak until now, despite the Commonwealth’s and NSW’s ineptness. Like New Zealand and China we can keep doing that provided we don’t let NSW fall. There is another option instead of “welcoming sicknesses and deaths”. If it requires stamping on death cultists like Chris Kenny, so be it.
I’m not a lawyer but I do have sufficient knowledge of the law relating to incitement to have been able to “remain at large” despite numerous trials for incitement to riot or to assault police during the Vietnam war.
The people who breached public health orders by protests recently suppressed by NSW police would certainly take comfort from the ideas promoted in The Australian and it’s fleet of tabloids. But I am sure there is no case that these newspapers “incited, urged, aided or encouraged” them.
But what about “misconduct in public office”?
According to wikipedia that is:
“… a criminal offence at common law which dates back to the 13th century.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. It is confined to those who are public office holders, and is committed when the office holder acts (or neglects to act) in a way that constitutes a breach of the duties of that office.
The (UK) Crown Prosecution Service guidelines on this offence say that the elements of the offence are when:
A public officer acting as such. Wilfully neglects to perform one’s duty and/or wilfully misconducts oneself.
To such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder.
Without reasonable excuse or justification.”
Isn’t that precisely what Chris Kenny and his publisher are urging, aiding and encouraging?
It is the duty of the public health officers in every State to protect the public from infectious disease. It is the duty of the Ministers to see to it that they do so. Wilfully neglecting to perform those duties “because it would force the nation to live with the disease” is clearly criminal.
The victim of that crime is “the nation” against whom deadly force is being advocated. We have the legal means to deal with such attacks – forcefully by imprisonment.
The Earl of Strafford was beheaded for proposing to “reduce this Kingdom”. After signing his death warrant, Charles I himself waged war against the people and was duly tried for treason by the High Court of Parliament. His head was removed from his shoulders with the Crown still on it, but without the Royal assent.
Lawyers are not usually as relevant to policy issues as some might think.
For stamping out the virus world wide, virologists developing a sterilizing vaccine will be central. They need to be publicly funded like basic research since private research by Big Pharma is naturally more attracted to ongoing sales to “live with” an ongoing disease than to actually ending the disease.
After all, what contribution does smallpox make to anybody’s “bottom line”, now that it has been stamped out?
Also very relevant in the meantime are pharmaceutical and other engineers to rapidly accelerate vaccine manufacturing capacity to reduce deaths and infections and prevent emergence of more deadly variants. I will write about that too in a later article.
But right now there is locally an urgent need for lawyers.
New South Wales is on the brink of falling because its government does not intend to actually carry out the agreed phase A of aggressive suppression to eliminate community transmission.
It would be difficult to prove the conduct is “wilful” rather than merely incompetent. As Chris Kenny slyly points out, what they are doing is being done “incrementally and reluctantly perhaps”. The level of incompetence is so extreme that a jury might be convinced by expert evidence that they were not merely reluctant and slow to do their duty. But as Chris Kenny hints with the coy ‘perhaps’ there must be a reasonable doubt. How could any Australian jury unanimously have no reasonable doubt that some Australian politicians were not “perhaps” simply incompetent shambolic clots?
Fortunately it might not be necessary to prove that the responsible Ministers are committing a crime in order to prosecute Chris Kenny and his newspaper for urging and encouraging that crime.
Nor need it be necessary to accuse the Ministers of crime in order to remove them from office. The simple fact that they are failing to aggressively suppress the virus is sufficient. Necessity trumps everything else when people recognize in time that something has to be done. Removal of obstacles to what HAS to be done is only “impossible” afterwards when the necessity was not understood at the time.
My understanding is that legally the duty of removing the incompetent NSW Minister’s from office falls on the Governor of NSW whoever that might be (I have no idea and do not believe it matters). In practical political terms the initiative must come from elsewhere (and it should not come from the Commonwealth government).
Perhaps a formal request from the Chief Health Officers of the other States, backed by declaration of various regions of NSW as biosecurity threats and appointment of regional biosecurity commanders by the Commonwealth? The Commonwealth does have constitutional responsibility for “Quarantine” and TTTIQ which includes Quarantine is breaking down in NSW. It would be better if the initiative was led by States with Coalition governments – South Australia and Tasmania.
Already the degree of damage done will require much more intense restrictions on essential work and other movement and for much longer than has been needed elsewhere. Curfews and rostered hours for exercise and collection of essential supplies may be necessary. Neigbourhood committees will be needed to help support people in isolation, organize supplies and tactfully encourage compliance with extremely onerous public health orders in their districts. Other States will need to provide both essential supplies and competent leadership staff for the NSW health service.
Of necessity this process of extending support to prevent failure will have to grow into replacing the functions of the current NSW government. Early involvement of lawyers is merely to make the transition as smooth as feasible.
Anyway, the processes will take some time, so lawyers should get to work on it right now. The virus moves fast. Exponential growth starts gradually and then explodes suddenly.
Unless we can first prevent New South Wales falling we cannot contribute to the world wide fight to prevent other countries falling.
There is a worldwide fight and it does have a global leadership – the World Health Organization. W.H.O.’s “International Health Regulations” are binding international law agreed to by all 194 member States.
That isn’t much, but it’s what we’ve got, and what we have to build from in dealing with a global pandemic. Its strength resides in the respect that people everywhere have for public health officials as opposed to politicians and pundits.
W.H.O. and the various agencies coordinating global vaccination have put out a clear warning and call to action:
“No one is safe until everyone is safe”
Everybody can and should follow what they say unfiltered by the local media by going directly to the W.H.O. web site for guidance on all aspects of fighting the pandemic. Here’s the regular media briefings regularly ignored in Australian media:
It spells out that the developed countries are following an exactly opposite policy to W.H.O. They will use all available manufacturing capacity to give additional “booster” shots to their “fully vaccinated” people as new variants become increasing virulent in a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” raging throughout the rest of the world where not even the front line health workers and the 10% most vulnerable have been vaccinated.
Here is the WHO Director-General with the very minimal request to just postpone booster shots for another two months so that some supplies can reach the 10% that need vaccines most desperately. His message is “None shall push aside another”.
Here is the replacement for Donald Trump rejecting that polite request, but with more “inspiring” verbiage than the previous “leader of the Free world”:
Whereas Trump prohibited all exports of vaccines and raw materials from the USA, Biden will condescendingly “donate” a few hundred million NEXT YEAR to a world that needs billions of doses RIGHT NOW.
In direct opposition to the warning promoted by WHO, Australia’s Government is running a vaccination campaign with the slogan:
“We’re not safe until we’re all safe”
Find out when it’s your turn and where you can be vaccinated at australia.gov.au
KEEPING AUSTRALIA COVIDSAFE
This explicitly replaces “everyone” with “we” and explicitly defines “we” as “Australia”.
Here’s an “Explainer” from Australia’s national broadcaster:
“If you’re vaccinated against COVID-19, how protected are you from catching the virus?”
After a cheery introduction pretending that the whole world is being vaccinated, “our ABC” explains that “we” will be “safe” because “we” will join the US, Israel and UK by simply no longer worrying about the number of infections (that lead to more deadly variants) and only focus on the number of Australians in hospital (reduced by vaccines):
It enthusiastically “explains” that:
“In the US the CDC has so little concern about these (rapidly increasing) cases that they aren’t even counting them any more…” [at 5’18”]
“Driven by the Delta virus, cases in the UK have actually been increasing, and they’ve been increasing sharply. However authorities there are not that worried. Contact tracing has been done away with and reports of daily case numbers are a thing of the past.” [at 7’0″]
Here’s a warning about what happens if we follow the ABC and other media’s siren song and just allow NSW to fall:
I’m working on an eventual series of posts on above theme but currently focussed on current pretence at preparing for mRNA vaccine production in Australia that requires catching up on technical details.
Meanwhile Dominic Cummings started a twitter storm on 17 May, fully documenting from inside just how Shambolic the UK response was.
The 59 tweets (so far) are well worth reading and thinking about carefully.
It also includes some responses on his own responsibility for helping promote that government.
More immediately relevant is a warning from Cummings that UK preparations for dealing with variants could be likewise shambolic and that transparency is vital to enable earlier reversals of wrong policies protected by official secrecy.
Naturally the “business case” for mRNA manufacturing in Australia is beiing witheld and an 8 week “process” is being rushed through to ask local manufacturers to confidentially provide detailed costings for know how and supply chains they don’t have. An engineering task needs to be recruited immediately (from anywhere, worldwide) to actually work out what can be done and who needs to be recruited and trained to do it. That will be difficult but is the obvious first step which simply is not being taken. They are instead talking to managers of the non-existant Australian BioPharma industry to fill out forms about matters they know nothing about.
Meanwhile here’s the text of the 59 tweets, although it is better to read them with accompanying graphics at links above:
1/ Covid… Summary evidence on lockdowns. For UK political pundits obsessed with spreading nonsense on Sweden/lockdowns, cf. SW econ did a bit WORSE than Denmark which locked down, AND far more deaths in Sweden:
One of the biggest misunderstandings, spread by political pundits even now, is the ‘tradeoff’ argument. Fact: evidence clear that fast hard effective action best policy for economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering 4/ Best example: Taiwan. Also shows that if you REALLY get your act together not only is econ largely unscathed but life is ~ normal. But SW1 (Remain/Leave, Rt/Left) = totally hostile to learning from East Asia 5/ There’s a general western problem based on nonsense memes like ‘asians all do as they’re told it won’t work here’. This is what many behavioural science ‘experts’/charlatans argued, disastrously, in Feb2020. This nonsense is STILL influencing policy, eg our joke borders policy 6/ Another confusion re Sweden: data shows despite no official ‘lockdown’ behaviour changed enormously. The closer your measures are to ‘welding people inside homes’ (per Wuhan at peak) the >> effect on transmission. Semantics of ‘lockdown’ obscure this really simple point 7/ If you are going to have to do measures ≈ lockdown to avoid health system collapse then the harder/earlier the better & the sooner they can be released. Pseudo ‘lockdowns’ w/o serious enforcement are hopeless: econ hit & people die anyway, nightmare rumbles on 8/ Waiting room, 1st jab. Remembered Vallance 24/3 amid disaster: will u support taking vaccines out of DH & a new Taskforce, we need different leadership & skills to drive it? CABSEC supported divvying up DH tasks. If not, normal Whitehall process, probably normal result
9/ Success seems to have blinded SW1 to important Qs. a/ We did it much better than Brussels, obviously, but Brussels is not a good comparison. How well did we do relative to ‘how well wd General Groves who ran the Manhattan Project have done it?’ 10/ I think we’ll conclude we shd have done Human Challenge trials immediately & cd have got jabs in arms summer. This is not criticism of the VTF which has been constrained in ways they shdnt be. It’s cnctd to b/ where is the public plan for how the VTF will deal with variants? 11/ One of the most fundamental & unarguable lessons of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe. Openness to scrutiny wd have exposed Gvt errors weeks earlier than happened 12/ So why are MPs accepting the lack of a public plan now for VTF viz variants? Especially when rumours reach me that the silent entropy of Whitehall is slowly turning VTF back into a ‘normal’ entity? 13/ The best hedge re a variant escaping current vaccines is PUBLIC SCRUTINY of Gvt plans. This will hopefully show it’s been taken seriously. If not, better learn now that the Gvt has screwed up again than when ‘variant escapes’ news breaks 14/ I can think of no significant element of covid response that wd not have been improved by discarding secrecy and opening up. This was symbolised by e.g how COBR cd not be used: a constrained STRAP environment cd not cope with the scale/speed, another important lesson
15/ Having watched classified elements of covid response, Gvt cd make the vaccine plans 99% public without risks, ‘national security’ almost totally irrelevant to the critical parts of the problem, a few things cd be withheld while publishing all crucial parts of the plan 16/ These issues are relevant to c/ Who is writing the plan for ‘how we deal with something worse than covid?’ If we get this right now, we do not need to have this sort of disaster again. We’ll also be hedging vs future bioterrorism risks: cf:
Andy Weber on rendering bioweapons obsolete and ending the new nuclear arms race Bioweapons are terrifying but scientific advances leave them on the verge of becoming an outdated technology. https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/andy-weber-rendering-bioweapons-obsolete/ 17/ The covid plan was supposed to be ‘world class’ but turned out to be part disaster, part non-existent. I urged inside Gvt to do a review of other contingency plans for more dangerous things than covid, a largely open process with e.g @wtgowers helping. Happening? 18/ MPs shd force publication of vaccine/variant plan & require mostly open review of other contingency plans before we find out the hard way they’re as ‘world class’ as the covid plan… 19/ Such reviews shd seek out those were right & early on covid. Such people are more likely to spot that other plans have errors, gaps, that institutional planning has blind spots, failure to look at crucial operational details etc. E.g @MWStory 20/ P Vallance & I supported opening up SAGE much earlier than it happened. I argued before 1st lockdown to open up the CODE of SPI-M models for scrutiny. Barrier = SW1 cultural hostility to openness & this barrier means SAGE still too closed & too little of its workings public 21/ Looking at minutes does not give good insight to reality of discussions. E.g looking at minutes of crucial 18/3, which I attended, does not convey true situation, discussion, atmosphere, effects 22/ With something as critical as variants escaping vaccines, there is no justification for secrecy, public interest unarguably is open scrutiny of the plans 23/ This point is critical re Groves/Manhattan/vaccines & wider covid & wider issue of gvt performance: our civilisation is abysmal at seeking Groves/Bob Taylors & getting them into critical roles, bureaucracies exclude & expel them, as they did with Groves/Taylor! Image 24/ The public inquiry will at no point ask: how does the deep institutional wiring of the parties/civil service program destructive behaviour by putting the wrong ppl in wrong jobs with destructive incentives? It will all be about relatively surface errors 25/ If SW1 wanted to ‘learn’ there wd already be a serious exercise underway. The point of the inquiry is the opposite of learning, it is to delay scrutiny, preserve the broken system & distract public from real Qs, leaving the parties & senior civil service essentially untouched 26/ J Phillips, a brilliant young neuroscientist I recruited to no10, argued for immediate Human Challenge Trials, as did others. We were far too slow to listen to such advice. The science ‘misfits’ who urged this early were clearly right, the ‘ethicists’ disastrously wrong 27/ So true from @paulg, it’s amazingly rare to find people who deeply care about results at senior levels in politics/gvt, those who do are seen as mad/unreliable & are weeded out. SW1 incentives are ~all about rewarding process + fake signals. V relevant to covid fiascos Image 28/ Of the 20 ppl who I saw do most to save 1000s of lives, it’s striking how many gone or leaving or planning to leave, & how many who were disastrously wrong/useless been promoted to jobs they can’t do/given honours etc 29/ @pmarca on the west’s covid failures (‘the harsh reality is that it all failed’) & the General Groves mentality needed, influential in no10, 4/20, as we pushed thro the vaccine taskforce
IT’S TIME TO BUILD – Andreessen Horowitz Every Western institution was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, despite many prior warnings. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, … https://a16z.com/2020/04/18/its-time-to-build/ 30/ Crucial data generally ignored by those who want to downplay covid danger, many 1000s will have serious health problems for years because of our failure to act faster/harder in Feb/March & Sep. Those who predicted this issue wd be ‘Gulf War syndrome bollocks’ were wrong Image 31/ There was a PHE exercise called Exercise NIMBUS in a hypothetical future 14/4/20 with mock COBR slides. Assumed peak week 13/5 and >33M cases over 16 week wave, hospitals full by 14/4, >800K deaths, schools told stay open(!!). A/one know when exercise happened (think 3/20)? Image 32/ This, evening of 31/10 re lockdown2, from @wtgowers who was ahead of the game in 3/20, was spot on. If mass testing had been developed properly earlier in year as cd/shd have been, wd probably have avoided lockdowns 2&3 while awaiting vaccine Image 33/ True but also UK gvt did v badly, turned out we cd/shd have had these tests at millions p/day scale by Sep latest, instead of seriously starting in Sep, which wd have greatly changed q42020. Those screaming from ~Feb/March were ignored, months/lives/£ needlessly lost Image 34/ Mass testing same story as elsewhere: some brilliant/dedicated relatively junior officials (e.g Alex Cooper) + great young scientists (e.g @gaurav_ven) + entrepreneurs held back by senior management/DHSC/PHE (particularly awful) & Whitehall legacy procurement & HR horrorshows 35/ Even tho the PM/CABSEC/I all told 9/20 most senior HR & procurement officials to treat mass testing ‘like a wartime project’, ignore their usual bullshit multimonth processes, mass testing hugely hampered by Whitehall’s optimisation for ‘[awful] process over results’ 36/ So much ‘lockdown’ confusion. Obv they’re ‘destructive’. But if you have to do it cos alternative is 100s of 1000s choking to death + no NHS for months for everybody else + econ sunk cos everybody hiding in terror then earlier/harder is better for health AND econ 37/ If we’d had the right preparations + competent people in charge, we wd probably have avoided lockdown1, definitely no need for lockdowns 2&3. Given the plan was AWOL/disaster + awful decisions delayed everything, lockdown1 became necessary 38/ Media generally abysmal on covid but even I’ve been surprised by 1 thing: how many hacks have parroted Hancock’s line that ‘herd immunity wasn’t the plan’ when ‘herd immunity by Sep’ was literally the official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings until it was ditched 39/ Yes the media is often incompetent but something deeper is at work: much of SW1 was happy to believe Hancock’s bullshit that ‘it’s not the plan’ so they didn’t have to face the shocking truth. Most political hacks believe in ‘the system’… 40/ In week of 9/3, No10 was made aware by various people that the official plan wd lead to catastrophe. It was then replaced by Plan B. But how ‘herd immunity by Sep’ cd have been the plan until that week is a fundamental issue in the whole disaster 41/ All those referring to the Sunday Times story 22/3/20 re me dramatically ‘changing my mind’ at SAGE on 12/3: there was no SAGE on 12/3! It’s an invented meeting & invented story repeated for a year by political hacks as ‘fact’ 42/ No10 decided to lie: ‘herd immunity has never been… part of our coronavirus strategy’. V foolish, & appalling ethics, to lie about it. The right line wd have been what PM knows is true: our original plan was wrong & we changed when we realised 43/ Lots of hacks have lost their minds. Herd immunity wasn’t ‘a secret strategy’, it was THE OFFICIAL PUBLIC EXPLAINED ON TV/RADIO STRATEGY! Halpern, on SAGE, literally explained it on radio explicitly, 11/3/20, as did others!! 44/ The whole ‘flatten the curve’ plan A was to get herd immunity by summer & avoid 2nd peak during annual NHS winter crisis. That’s why our official graphs had ONE peak over by summer! COBR docs/graphs describe herd immunity as ‘the optimal single peak strategy’ etc 45/ What happened is a/ panic about the phrase, ‘comms disaster’. b/ We ditched the herd immunity plan and shifted to Plan B, suppression, which previously the Gvt said/thought would be worse cos it wd lead to a 2nd peak in winter 2020 during the annual NHS crisis 46/ A COBR doc from week of 9/3/20 explains official thinking behind Plan A: ie. suppression either won’t work or wd lead to 2nd peak during NHS winter crisis, so the advised herd immunity approach was what DHSC/Cabinet Office described as ‘single peak optimal strategy’ Image 47/ In that week it became clear neither Hancock/CABOFF understood herd immunity effects: 100s of 1000s choking to death + no NHS for anybody for months + dead unburied + econ implosion; so we moved to Plan B: suppression + Manhattan Project for drugs/vaccines + test&trace etc 48/ Critical as I am of the PM in all sorts of ways, it’s vital to understand the disaster was not just his fault: the official plan was disastrously misconceived, DHSC/CABOFF did not understand this or why, & a PlanB had to be bodged amid total & utter chaos 49/ Jenny Harries told us, the same week herd immunity was the official plan, masks are a ‘BAD idea’, ‘we don’t want to disrupt people’s lives’, acting ‘too early we will just pop up with another epidemic peak later’. So Whitehall has promoted her, obviously 50/ ‘Herd immunity’ was officially seen as UNAVOIDABLE week of 9/3. It wd come either a) in a single peak over by Sep, or b) in a 2nd peak in winter. (a) was seen as easier to manage & less of a catastrophe so it was Plan A. Cf SAGE 13/3: ‘a near certainty’ suppression>2nd peak Image 51/ It was in week of 9/3 that we started to figure out Plan B to dodge herd immunity until vaccines. Even AFTER we shifted to PlanB, COBR documents had the ‘OPTIMAL single peak strategy’ graphs showing 260k dead cos the system was so confused in the chaos, see below Image 52/ Hodges = wrong: there was neither an intention to lockdown nor as of Fri13/3 any official plan for doing so. The SAGE minutes show the opposite of what Dan says they say… Image 53/ Dan says the SAGE minutes show ‘The strategy was to wait for the optimum moment to lockdown’. No. SAGE said literally the opposite: lockdown = suppression = ‘near certainty’ of 2nd peak & this was thought to be much WORSE than single peak/herd immunity by Sep, hence graph Image 54/ On 14/3 one of the things being screamed at the PM was ‘there is no plan for lockdown & our current official plan will kill at least 250k & destroy the NHS’. Cf the graph: ‘optimal single peak strategy’ with 3 interventions. That was the official plan, which was abandoned 55/ Another reason we ditched Plan A was it became clear the official system had given ~no thought to all the second order effects of 250k dying, almost all without ICU care. True deaths wd clearly be much >250k cos there would be no NHS for anybody for months 56/ On 12/3, the most surreal day of 18 months in Gvt, it was argued to the PM that a/ individual isolation be delayed (‘we’re not ready’), b/ we might not do household quarantine at all, c/ given Halpern’s interview on 11th, the PM shd publicly explain the ‘herd immunity’ plan 57/ Re D Halpern: a/ on 11/3 he was simply explaining the OFFICIAL plan, not freelancing; b/ unlike many he supported the switch to Plan B in the next week & told the CABSEC & DHSC that… 58/ NB. Even at SAGE on 18/3 it was not all clearly agreed ‘must do national lockdown ASAP’. Halpern supported it with others. Senior DHSC officials were saying even on 18/3: lockdown just means it pops back up again in 2nd wave so why change strategy? 59/ Even at SAGE on 18/3 some argued: even if lockdown needed, delay, finesse timing. Others argued: there’s no alternative so sooner must be better. The latter were right (I think) & that argument prevailed • • •
It is more than two months since the “insurrection”. Many things still up in the air but some have landed so an update is overdue.
I expected SCOTUS to hear some cases on unlawful changes to election rules. I was wrong about that. SCOTUS just refused to hear the last of the Trump campaign disputes (Wisconsin).
That has lots of implications which have not yet landed, so I won’t start analysis now.
Trump’s recent speech confirmed his complete domination of the GOP with much the same orientation as before plus a focus on making it harder to vote in battleground States where GOP still controls the legislature but lost to Biden. Effects of that campaign and Federal legislation still have not landed.
As I expected anti-Trump opposition within GOP has basically fizzled. A large majority of GOP Senators and a majority of GOP in House of Representatives oppose Trump but they won’t fight and Trump will. So the GOP will become a right wing populist party led by Trumpists with a large, militant and angry mass base and substantial representation in Congress.
The calibre of Trump’s opponents in the GOP is well illustrated by the fact that they want to use Trump’s brand to raise funds for defending GOP incumbents against Trumpist challengers:
That is a significant change to the US political system the results of which will become more clear after the 2022 primaries.
Another significant change is the full commitment of Democrats to batshit craziness. It is now compulsory to believe that Trump incited an insurrection to overturn the last elections. Not one single Democrat in the House or Senate voted against that. The results of that, and of the efforts at media censorship, are also still up in the air.
In particular there is not yet any indication that the question of who decided not to protect the Capitol from an openly planned break in by militia groups will become an issue.
There is still a race between vaccination and the new strains of covid-19 both in Europe and North America. Rest of the world still not likely to get vaccine quickly enough. Likely outcome still looks like at least several years of a new endemic disease. Less likelihood of hospital systems actually collapsing in developed countries but they are still trying to open up far faster than is justified by the levels of vaccination. Effect of that on US politics still up in the air along with general impact of new administration.
As noted in previous post, the UK and USA are both engaged in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible before their hospital systems get overwhelmed by the more infectious strains of covid-19 that are now becoming dominant worldwide.
Both are in dire straits and taking extraordinary and risky measures such as prolonging the interval between the two doses required and hoping to be able to catch up using different vaccines for a second dose if necessary.
In the UK they do at least seem to now be fully aware of the situation and starting to lockdown seriously.
Europe is in a similar mess and all the developed countries are competing for emergency supplies ahead of the poorer countries that need them even more desperately.
My impression is that the US public is still not aware that they could be facing double the current numbers of deaths following Biden’s plan for 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days and that this period could be the very worst part of the pandemic rather than the tail end currently expected.
There are reports sounding the alarm but I have not yet seen signs of the new administration taking even the sort of lockdown measures now belatedly taken in the UK.
Here for example is a current alarm sounded by a member of Biden’s covid-19 transition team, so the US government presumably does know:
27/01/2021 8:47 PM AEDT | Updated 28/01/2021 9:11 AM AEDT
Infectious Disease Expert Warns Next 6 To 14 Weeks May Be ‘Darkest’ Of COVID-19 Pandemic
By Lee Moran
Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm said Tuesday that he fears the United States is about to enter its “darkest weeks” of the coronavirus pandemic yet.
The director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who served on President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board during the presidential transition, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that there could be another potential explosion in new cases if mutated, more contagious variants of the virus take hold nationwide.
“We’re down now to 150,000 cases a day, which seems down,” he continued. “Remember when 70,000 or 32,000 cases a day seemed high? And if this variant takes off here in North America like it has throughout Europe, I think we could be seeing numbers much, much higher than we’ve had to date.”
Osterholm said an eruption in the number of infections could hinder the work of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We just won’t have enough out in time,” he said. “If we vaccinate everybody that the government has said the vaccine will be available for through April, that’s only about 12% of the U.S. population. This variant could do a great deal of harm in that time.”
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he concluded. “I sure hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does it’s going to be a long few weeks ahead of us.”
Osterholm echoed those fears on MSNBC, telling anchor Stephanie Ruhle on Tuesday that “the very worst of the pandemic is yet before us,” citing the “enormous challenge” of the new variants. (Watch the clip below.)
“I’m not at all optimistic,” he said.
The coronavirus has now killed more than 425,000 people nationwide. There have been 100 million confirmed cases around the globe, with more than a quarter of them (upwards of 25.4 million) in the United States.
The New Virus Variants Make the Next 6 Weeks Crucial
By Ezra Klein Opinion Columnist
Jan. 28, 2021
I hope, in the end, that this article reads as alarmism. I hope that a year from now it’s a piece people point to as an overreaction. I hope.
Coronavirus cases are falling. Vaccination numbers are rising. We are already jabbing more than a million people a day, which means President Biden’s initial goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days was far too conservative. In California, where I live, Governor Gavin Newsom lifted the statewide stay-at-home order. It feels like dawn is breaking.
And that is what makes this moment dangerous. The B.1.1.7 variant of coronavirus, first seen in Britain, and now spreading throughout Europe, appears to be 30 to 70 percent more contagious, and it may be more lethal, too. It hit Britain like a truck, sending daily confirmed deaths per million people from about six per million in early December to more than 18 per million today. The situation in Portugal is even more dire. Daily confirmed deaths have shot from about seven deaths per million in early December, to more than 24 per million now. Denmark is doing genomic sequencing of every positive coronavirus case, and it says cases involving the new variant are growing by 70 percent each week.
“What we need to do right now is to plan for the worst case scenario,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told me. “And when I say ‘worst case,’ I’m potentially talking about the most likely case. Let’s not wait until we wrap the car around the tree to start pumping the brakes.”
America is doing embarrassingly little genomic testing, but even the paltry surveillance that is being conducted has confirmed epidemiologists’ fears: B.1.1.7 is here, too. And there’s evidence of another super-contagious strain developing in California. It will take some weeks or even months for these new strains to become dominant, but virologists tell me there is every reason to believe they will. The results could be catastrophic, with hundreds of thousands dying before vaccinations neutralize the threat.
This is the part of the horror film where a happy ending seems in sight, but it is obvious, to those paying attention, that the monster is not dead, and that the worst may be yet to come. We cannot let ourselves be taken by surprise.
Paul Romer, the Nobel laureate economist, told me to think about it this way: The coming months are a race between three variables. There is the contagiousness of the virus itself. There are the measures we take to make it harder for the virus to spread, from lockdowns to masking. And there is the proportion of the country with protection against the virus, either because they’ve already caught it or because they’ve been vaccinated. If contagiousness is rising fast (and it is), then the measures we take to stop the spread or the measures we take to immunize the population need to strengthen faster. Romer’s modeling suggests that if we continue on our current path, delivering one million vaccinations a day and growing fatigued of lockdowns and masks, more than 300,000 could die in the coming months.
But calamity at that scale is a choice, not an inevitability. And so I’ve been asking health experts the same question: If you knew, with 100 percent certainty, that the coronavirus would be 50 percent more contagious six weeks from now, what would you recommend we do differently?
The most immediate danger is that optimism and exhaustion will overwhelm our common sense, and we will reopen just as the new strains are quietly building momentum. “Just in the last week or 10 days,” says Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, “a lot of state officials are looking at data of numbers coming down and asking me, ‘When can I reopen my restaurants to 75 percent? Bars have been closed for months, can I reopen bars now?’ It is true things are coming down but we are at a very high level. This is not the time to start letting up. This is the time to hunker down for what is likely to be a very difficult two or three months.”
With that introduction, one might expect the rest of the article to be explaining the need for prompt and drastic lockdowns, using whatever it takes, up to and including martial law.
Instead, it continues by assuming agreement against lockdown and pretending that testing provides some magic solution:
Let’s agree that total lockdown is the most ruinous of all options, and the one we’d like to use least. We have tools we could deploy to avoid it, but we’d need to start quickly. One is rapid, at-home testing. The technology exists to produce tens of millions of cheap, at-home antigen test strips each day. These strips are highly accurate during the period that matters most — when we are infected and contagious. Used widely, they’d let all of us check, daily, if we were potentially infected, so we could then isolate and avoid infecting others. “This is a public health issue and if we don’t empower the public to deal with it we won’t be able to defeat it,” Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard, told me.
The problem here is the Food and Drug Administration. They have been disastrously slow in approving these tests and have held them to a standard more appropriate to doctor’s offices than home testing.
I was going to write about the absurdity of pretending that cheaper and less accurate tests could be a substitute for lockdowns rather than a minor supplement when that idea was suggested here in a link to a podcast advocating them. But it did not seem worth the effort. It still doesn’t. Blaming the FDA for not being able to do it fast enough won’t work either.
Quite simply the oped takes it for granted that the only known effective measure is out of the question and proposes nothing but wishful thinking.
Some back of the envelope calculations in support of this from Paul Romer indicate the problem.
Despite having a Nobel Prize in Economics, Paul Romer is by no means stupid. Yet he looks for solutions by tripling the vaccination rate and doing lots of testing and contact tracing (without any optimism). Apparently locking down hard enough just isn’t worth analysing in the USA as they cannot do it any more than India or Indonesia could (but China, Vietnam, New Zealand and Australia did).
The likely extent of the disasters elsewhere are difficult to estimate in many places that lag behind the more developed countries where people came in contact with the virus more quickly. They have much less capacity for their health systems to cope when the levels of infection do catch up.
The lockdown just announced in Western Australia lockdown for the whole city of Perth and nearby is lucky for Australia:
There are certain to be ongoing leaks of the new strains from quarantine facilities.
Most people want to do whatever it takes to suppress them immediately rather than risk community transmission exploding as it is doing elsewhere.
The ruling class wants to take that risk. As far as I can make out this is sheer irrationality on their part. Naturally they put their asset values ahead of other people’s lives. There are bound to be sectional interests, like tourism, airlines and hospitality that could reasonably imagine that they would actually benefit from taking more risk. But all the evidence shows that the risks they loudly campaign for do more damage to the economy as a whole than the costs of not taking those risks – and therefore damage the overall interests of the ruling class as a whole.
The problem is that most “business leaders” here do not make any independent analysis. In most of the world it is simply not possible to avoid community transmission so “opinion leaders” on behalf of the ruling class are attempting to optimize the situation for their asset values without having that option. The “business community” here mostly looks to the same opinion leaders from North America and Europe rather than thinking for themselves about their own interests.
In Australia, like New Zealand, it is quite possible to avoid another wave but becoming more difficult with the new strains that are more infectious and will therefore escape more easily from quarantine and isolation facilities that were able to more successfully contain less infectious variants. Once they have escaped they are more likely to overwhelm contact tracing quickly.
Fortunately WA is in the middle of an election campaign. The government has responded in the same way that South Australia did when it wrongly believed a case of community transmission was from a more infectious strain. That over reaction in SA was an entirely necessary reaction in WA where they are reasonably certain that it is in fact a more infectious strain. They will be accused of doing it to pander to voters in an election. But whether that is the case or not it will make it much harder for the pressures from the Commonwealth Government, the media and “business” to intimidate other State governments from doing what has to be done.
So there is a still a good chance Australia could reach herd immunity through vaccination without going through another wave like Victoria’s, let alone anything as bad is happening in Europe and North America. It just depends on how incompetent they are.
It really is “touch and go” since, as I mentioned on December 2, we were then only half way through the emergency declared in the middle of last March. That was 8.5 months of the way through. Another 8.5 months would take till mid-August this year.
Although there is still talk of completing vaccination in Australia by October it looks increasingly unlikely that there could be herd immunity by then, let alone before September. As predicted, Europe and North America will not be exporting much in the way of vaccine supplies until they have dealt with the collapse of their hospital systems. That is likely to take all year by which time the disasters elsewhere will certainly be higher priority than Australia.
So apart from importing small amounts, Australia will be relying on its own new manufacturing facilities that were started late for AstraZeneca (and possibly others). Significant volumes may start to be available to the general public in April but will take many months to cover everyone who wants to be vaccinated. The small amounts imported earlier will be useful to help maintain isolation of quarantine and health workers in the frontlines. That will further reduce the risks of another wave before herd immunity, but will have negligible impact on reaching herd immunity.
There is currently no reason to expect that complete vaccination with relatively inefficient vaccines will result in herd immunity this year. However it could still result in an end to the State of Emergency before October. With a large proportion vaccinated subsequent clusters and outbreaks would be relatively easy to contain by contact tracing (in more or less the manner that the vicious liars opposing emergency restrictions now pretend is the case already). We would then just have the “normal” risks of just another endemic infectious disease until the whole world achieves herd immunity. That could be done quite quickly with rational international cooperation but there seems little chance of that so it looks more likely to take years with major disasters still unfolding in many places.
The problem the USA faces is that they already have huge numbers that are close to overwhelming hospital systems and the vaccine will not have much impact in the first few months when more than 80% of the population remain susceptible compared with the impact of new more infectious strains. That is not the situation in Australia.
No doubt Australia will keep selfishly demanding priority vaccination ahead of places that desperately need it. No doubt the Australian manufacturing plants will not give priority to saving lives in neighbours like Indonesia but it is safe to assume European and North American plants will eventually join China, Russia and India in supplying developing countries rather than diverting urgently needed supplies to countries like Australia whether the Australian government complains or not.
Biden got more votes than Trump largely because of Trump’s catstrophically bad leadership on covid-19.
Trump was very good at provoking enough insanity from deranged liberals that he looked like getting a second term simply based on being hated by deranged people rather than having actually delivered anything.
The Democrats were so hopeless that despite running against a Trump who could be blamed for many of the 400,000 deaths they nearly lost in the Electoral College and there are serious doubts as to whether their victory was lawful.
The Biden administration has just released a 200 page strategy for covid-19:
I have only skimmed the first half. I could not bear to even skim the second half which had chapters on “equity” and “US leadership” plus the full text of Executive Orders to implement the strategy.
As far as I can see the strategy document adequately highlights the fact that the current wave is spreading uncontrolled across the USA and will get worse, with hospital systems already starting to be overwhelmed. That is better than Trump and a necessary preliminary to having a strategy.
But I did not notice any plausible strategy. As with Trump the focus is largely on the vaccine. Various measures are proposed to accelerate delivery but I did not notice any that could achieve even a parabolic acceleration, let alone catch up with exponential infection. For example great stress is placed on delivering 6 doses from each vial originally intended to ensure 5 doses with allowance for wastage. That is merely an insignificant blip, not even a plan for constant linear, let alone parabolic acceleration.
The target of 100 million doses in 100 days is comparable to the current level of bungled delivery (900,000 per day). Proportional to population it is substantially slower than what the UK is currently delivering. That is probably realistic and reflects how disfunctional the US health system is. If achieved it could substantially reduce mortality both by protecting many of the most vulnerable and by keeping most of the health and aged care workforce functioning so that staff sick, dead or in quarantine are not the main bottleneck on health and aged care.
But I did not see any calculation suggesting that vaccination of less than 1 in 6 Americans could avoid continued exponential increase resulting from the more infectious strains becoming dominant with the current levels of shutdown. Continuing at that rate would take more than a year to reach herd immunity if it was not reached by infection first.
Instead of plans to tighten lockdowns what I did see was a goal to open up kindergartens and schools within the same 100 days and focus on “testing” to open up rather than immediate mobilization for more severe lockdowns.
In other countries that opened schools too early so as to get parents back to work too early, the pretense that children do not transmit infection has been dropped and schools are being closed as an emergency measure to help keep hospitals open.
The USA is still headed in the same direction as Trump, the opposite to what is needed. So is the UK and so is most of Europe.
A worse disaster can be expected in most of the developing world. Hopefully they may get enough vaccines to protect their relatively small healthcare workforce. But they won’t receive vaccines before Europe and North America so herd immunity will take much more than 1 year with no realistic prospect of overtaking the exponential growth of new strains.
On December 2 I wrote:
This is not just a half baked, but rather a quarter baked article on the current situation with covid-19.
My guess is that Australia is about half way through the state of emergency that began in mid-March.
Current indications are that a vaccine will start to be available here from about March or April, with full availability and likely herd immunity by the end of next year.
That should mean Australia goes to the back of the queue for vaccination. There is currently no urgent need here and major disasters elsewhere, so it should take much longer than the end of next year to vaccinate Australia.
But its far more likely the poorer countries that are likely to eventually get hit very hard will come last and Australia will be in the middle. I would be surprised if the production plants in Europe and North America divert supplies from the disaster unfolding around them until they have that under control. So the initial vaccinations here could also be later than March and April.
Anyway there is plenty of time before next March to analyse the recent news re vaccines.
A lot more information will be available in a few weeks so I am not attempting to analyse this further now. The disasters in Europe and North America are still unfolding and far worse is to come in the rest of the world, but it will be a lot easier to analyse in a few weeks than it is right now.
I am just dashing this off quarter baked because I expect to be paying more attention to US politics over the next few weeks.
A few weeks later there is no doubt a lot more information available. But I am still focussed on US politics and have not caught up on covid-19.
We are still in the silly season and a lot of things are up in the air and have not yet landed – both for US politics and covid-19 (of my three main topics last year, only Brexit has “landed”, with the expected whimper not bang).
As far as I am aware covid-19 has developed pretty much as I expected. But the new virus strains could make things considerably worse than I was expecting. Anyway here’s another “quarter baked” update.
The UK hospital system has now been in crisis for several weeks. The explosion in case numbers was inevitable due to catastrophic government failure (worse than in USA) but it has been confirmed that new virus strains are indeed significantly more infectious and are pretty certain to spread worldwide.
That is not an unexpected development. Natural selection favours survival of those viral strains that are more infectious.
Unexpectedly there is now preliminary data from the UK indicating that the strains expected to become dominant worldwide are also more deadly. Natural selection does not usually favour survival of viral strains that kill their hosts more quickly since dead people spread infection less than when alive. It is suggested that the mechanism which makes some new strains more infectious is stronger attachment between the virus spikes and host cells, which results in both a higher viral load that is more infectious and a more intense immune system response that is the main cause of death.
It is tempting to speculate that greater mortality could instead simply be due to collapse of the UK hospital system with government announcements naturally preferring to blame nature. But there is no doubt the preliminary data is based on serious statistical analysis by authoritative sources, not from Public Relations spokespeople.
Here is some commentary from outside experts followed by link to the technical paper that was just released:
I am not competent to evaluate any of this, but it seems likely to be important.
Both the US and UK are engaged in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible as fast as possible to get their hospital systems back under control.
That seems to me an inherently implausible strategy. We know that the new strains still grow exponentially under the levels of lockdown imposed so far. A plausible strategy would move immediately to a severe enough level of lockdown to actually stop transmission despite the greater infectiousness. That would require only really essential workers allowed out of their homes to work on delivering food, electricity and other essential supplies and services direct to households (as in Wuhan).
We also know that the rate of manufacture and delivery of vaccines cannot grow exponentially as vaccinations do not produce more vaccinations in the way that infections produce more infections. Extreme acceleration of vaccination can only be parabolic, like the acceleration due to gravity, not exponential, like a “viral” epidemic or a nuclear “chain reaction”.
Of course it is possible that even a constant linear delivery of vaccinations could reach herd immunity before the virus infects everybody. But it is very much a short term race with unfavourable odds.
The emergency already justified “emergency use” authorizations without the length of studies usually required and accelerated parallel development of manufacturing facilities. There are health as well as financial risks in both. These are now compouded by lengthening the period between initial and follow up doses so as to maximize short term numbers and permitting use of untested combinations of different vaccines for first and second doses when supplies of the vaccines initially available (mRNA) cannot keep up and manufacturing plants for others (eg AstraZenaca) do come on stream.
One risk already visible is that those for whom vaccination is most urgent – frontline health and quarantine workers – are also the most aware of the risks and about a quarter of healthcare workers in the UK are already hesitant about getting vaccinated.
That will presumably be met by media campaigns and lots of reassuring pronouncements by authorities that could induce actual panic given the perceived trustworthiness of authorities and the media.
Another risk strikes me that I have not read any technical papers about. Partially vaccinated people could be an ideal breeding ground for new strains that are harder to get rid of. My understanding is that people given a course of antibiotics are required to complete the full course to avoid the survival of those more resistant bugs that were not completely killed off by the initial dose.
I gather the effects of triggering the immune reaction are sufficiently unpleasant (nausea, fever, headaches etc in a small but not negligible proportion) that the dominant reason for two doses is to reduce that impact. Indeed recent evidence from Norway suggests that enough frail elderly people are getting killed by the effect of the vaccine to make it possible that the more frail residents of aged care facilities are better off just relying on the vaccination of staff, visitors and other residents rather than getting vaccinated themselves.
If the severity of those effects is the main reason for two doses, it seems possible not enough attention would be paid to the danger of breeding new strains by delaying a second dose in an emergency situation where there really is desperation to outrace collapse of the hospital system. I would of course not be capable of becoming competent to make that judgment.
So far the level of blithering incompetence in Australia has been less fatal than elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether Australian governments will act quickly enough to prevent the new strains escaping from quarantine. I have no way to judge whether they will or won’t. So far they have not. But things are already desperate enough elsewhere that it is reasonable to expect that they will.
I am not commenting on the dispute about whether AstraZeneva should be paused in Australia because it is unlikely to deliver herd immunity. As far as I know the simple fact is that mRNA plants in Europe and North America are not going to deliver supplies needed in a race to save their hospital systems to countries that are worse off, let alone countries that are better off, no matter how selfishly the Australian government demands it and how high it bids up the price. My impression is that even Paul Kelly makes more sense than the competent virologists who started and then backed away from that dispute. That unfavourable impression of competent virologists is not an endorsement of Paul Kelly. But it does strengthen my lack of confidence that people who should know what they are talking about actually do.
This official explanation from twitter speaks for itself and needs no comment.
On January 8, 2021, President Donald J. Trump tweeted:
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
Shortly thereafter, the President tweeted:
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Due to the ongoing tensions in the United States, and an uptick in the global conversation in regards to the people who violently stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, these two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks. After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service.
We assessed the two Tweets referenced above under our Glorification of Violence policy, which aims to prevent the glorification of violence that could inspire others to replicate violent acts and determined that they were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
This determination is based on a number of factors, including:
President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets (1, 2) by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an “orderly transition” on January 20th.
The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a “safe” target, as he will not be attending.
The use of the words “American Patriots” to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol.
The mention of his supporters having a “GIANT VOICE long into the future” and that “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an “orderly transition” and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.
Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.
As such, our determination is that the two Tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.
If that had been written as a parody it would have been unconvincing.
But its real.
Of course Trump announced that his own platform will be rolled out shortly.
But Google took a more serious step. It won’t distribute apps for other platforms unless they meet its requirements for enforcing “better moderation”. (In Australia they would have said “safety”).
Since they have a near monopoly with semi-locked phones it could actually take a few days of email forwarding for most people who care to learn how to download and install apps from other sources such as those listed here:
The resilience of the networks behind those sites was massively hardened during the explosion of scientific collaboration bypassing commercial publishers resulting from covid-19.
Now of course Google, NSA et al are thoroughly aware of and indeed contributors to all of that.
It would certainly be possible to shut everything down in an emergency. What’s missing is the ability to just make peoople disappear. That is far simpler, quicker and more effective. No actual fascist regime tries to impose such breathtaking levels of censorship as that being announced without being able to rely on just locking people up.
Meanwhile the main effect is just to drive people into narrower circles that can be more easily monitored – eg if they end up imagining that the Tor encrypted networks funded by the US Navy are some sort of way to avoid US government surveillance.
But the side effect is far more important.
Raising the general level of paranoia is certainly “likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021”.
Suppressing that is likely to inspire some actual “domestic terrorism”.
Is that the aim?
Possibly for some. But my guess is the corporate liberals have just lost the plot.
Some Republicans really are stupid enough to imagine they could survive the primaries in two years by prohibiting Trump from running for public office.
If just 17 GOP Senators join the Democrats in impeaching Trump in order to impose that penalty, we would be in quite an extraordinary situation. Not worth analysing unless it actually happens. I have no way to guess whether there are that many who are that desperate and stupid.
But it is certainly plausible that there will be enough Democrats to start the impeachment process. They already did “the Russia thing” and they already impeached Trump once. What harm would they see in helping to intensify the fight that Trump has already unleashed in the opposing party?
So everything possible is being done to increase the relevance, support and enthusiasm of a large mass based right wing party with both a substantial Congressional representation and a militant extra-Parliamentary wing.
Moreover the complete desertion of basic democratic principles by Trump’s opponents forces others to unite with Trumpists on the simple issue of whether we want to be told what we are allowed to think and say by corproate liberals (who Trump calls the “radical socialist, Marxist left”).
I honestly cannot guess what the people at Twitter who signed themselves “Your official source for what’s happening” think will now happen.
My guess is it will be a lot easier to get along with the Trumpists in a united front than with that lot.