Notes on Trump 63 – Collapse of anti-Trump GOP

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/542210-trump-ramps-up-battle-with-republican-leadership

That is a significant change to the US political system the results of which will become more clear after the 2022 primaries.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

covid-19 – The next strain

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.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/michael-osterholm-warning-coronavirus-pandemic_n_60112bc5c5b6b8719d888159

Here’s a very recent New York Times oped:

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.

https://mobile.twitter.com/paulmromer/status/1355049460225765378

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:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-31/covid-quarantine-hotel-worker-tests-positive-in-perth-wa/13106968

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.

Notes on Trump 62 – covid-19 and Biden

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:

Click to access National-Strategy-for-the-COVID-19-Response-and-Pandemic-Preparedness.pdf

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.

https://c21stleft.com/2020/12/02/covid-19-quarter-baked-half-time/


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.

Report 42 – Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Lineage B.1.1.7 in England: insights from linking epidemiological and genetic data
https://www.imperial.ac.uk/mrc-global-infectious-disease-analysis/covid-19/report-42-sars-cov-2-variant/

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:

expert reaction to suggestion made in Downing Street press conference that the new UK variant may be linked to higher mortality than the old variant (NERVTAG paper also now published)

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.

covid-19 Gold Standard again

As expected the weekly “Gold Standard” lottery in NSW has won a prize.

Tolerating non-zero “mystery cases” to avoid lockdowns was welcomed by the Federal government and its health advisors as “textbook” performance in Victoria to avoid lockdown.

With the media clamouring against lockdown the Victorian government delayed and attempted a limited local lockdown instead.

Naturally that failed. You cannot confine a pandemic to parts of a major city while people are still allowed to go to work.

Odd that anyone ever thought it possible. New Zealand’s success was because it went immediately into lockdown at the first case of community transmission and stayed there until the last.

But people do only learn from experience.

South Australia did learn from Victoria’s experience and locked down promptly.

The Federal and media campaign against Victoria’s lockdown was so intensive that it successfully avoided any attention being paid to the major blunder that led to it being so prolonged. That was not the (hardly unusual) blundering with Hotel Quarantine but the failure to act promptly and decisively as soon as “mystery cases” developed.

So NSW never did learn the lesson and is now repeating Victoria’s mistakes.

They got away without lockdowns despite having a small amount of community transmission and this weekly “risk management” lottery was held up as a shining example that contact tracing could make lockdown unnecessary.

Now that NSW has 30 cases in one day it is reluctantly and slowly moving towards a Greater Sydney lockdown.

But first it has to exhaust every other alternative.

They are following Victoria’s abysmally stupid example of first trying to lockdown a few suburbs.

Who knows, it might work.

But why would anybody be stupid enough to risk it?

Other States are also taking a risk by only declaring the Northern suburbs of Sydney a hotspot.

They should send a clear message by restricting travel from NSW and then limiting that to Greater Sydney once NSW has established controls protecting regional NSW and especially border regions with other States from any outbreaks in Greater Sydney.

Just after I drafted the above I heard Victoria closing border to all of Greater Sydney.

Unlike NSW there is no pretense that this might conceivably end by Wednesday.

Victoria’s expectation is that there will be more clusters outside the Northern beaches area of Sydney.

Victorian Chief Health Officer just gave clear explanation of why.

Did learn from experience. NSW did not. How could they with the Federal government and its health advisors praising their “gold standard” approach?

covid-19 Quarter Baked Half Time

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.

Victoria is now perhaps the safest State in Australia. Despite relaxing restrictions more rapidly than planned Victoria has been far more successful at eliminating “mystery cases” than I expected.

The prompt response to a recent outbreak in South Australia suggests that lessons have been learned and the long delay that resulted in a second wave in Victoria won’t be repeated anywhere. So there is a pretty good chance of only occasional sporadic outbreaks, especially after priority vaccinations reduce the risk of escape or leakage from quarantine or from hospitals.

Public Health authorities are correctly warning that it isn’t over. That is especially important for people more vulnerable.

But it looks like the risks of becoming severely ill as a result of happening to get infected before a sporadic outbreak is detected are now similar to those for any other accident that can be mitigated by taking sensible precautions.

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.

There’s only a week or so until an important deadline in the US electoral process and I expect things to heat up a lot before then. The December 8 deadline could be the end of it or could result in things remaining very hot right through to early next year.

It is impossible to follow the numerous court cases, some of which I expect to end up in the Supreme Court very shortly:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-election_lawsuits_related_to_the_2020_United_States_presidential_election
https://healthyelections-case-tracker.stanford.edu/

Some aspects were covered here:

https://c21stleft.com/2020/11/27/notes-on-trump-53-ascertaining-the-apparent-president-elect/#comments

I expect to be looking at other aspects before returning to the pandemic.

covid-19 Update mid-November 000

I am still reading and not yet able to write a persuasive article.

But here’s my tentative view on current developments.

Victoria having zero “mystery cases” over fourteen days is a significant milestones achieved earlier than hoped for in the original “Roadmap”. Far more significant than the other two zeros – daily average cases and deaths. But 000 is still an “emergency”, although no longer a “disaster”.

The problem is that while things remain “as good as it gets” and even after the numbers start to rise, more and more people will act as though the emergency is over and ignore the monotonous repetion of official advice that it isn’t.

I did not expect zero “mysteries” over 14 days would be reached at all, because partially lifting restrictions in October would slow down the reduction in transmission prolonging the lockdown until it was abandoned without having actually eliminated community transmission.

I still think that happened – the restrictions were lifted too early so that the risks were not minimized. If lockdown had been maintained until 28 days with no “mystery cases” we could be significantly more certain of having eliminated community transmission.

But it is now plausible that 28 days could be achieved despite opening up. Even if 28 days was achieved there would still be some risk but it would be reasonable to describe as “minimal” in a context where the risk of outbreaks seeded from elsewhere would be much more important.

I still don’t expect that we will reach 28 days. But they have certainly achieved what they setout to do with an “aggressive suppression” strategy far closer to New Zealand’s elimination than the national framework.

The risk is now minimal in the sense that outbreaks that end up in a third wave that needs another lockdown are more likely to start in other Australian States than from residual local transmission in Victoria.

That may well be “as good as it gets”.

Certainly it is a good time to enjoy the opportunities available outdoors. (I have even had my annual haircut and beard trim!).

But precisely because people will indeed do so and opening up will accelerate, it is reasonable to expect that any residual transmission chains will become much harder to suppress when they eventually do become visible. It won’t get better over time.

While it is possible there may currently be none at all, I think it is far more likely that the remaining transmission chains would simply be harder to detect.

For example asymptomatic cases among school children could continue for quite a few generations before eventually some older person such as a parent or teacher becomes ill enough to get tested. If it happens to be a household in precarious employment, living in a community with a high proportion of other such households, it could be a few more generations before anyone gets sick enough to turn up at a hospital where they would certainly be tested. Because nobody has turned up at a hospital or other testing in 14 days we can be reasonably confident the numbers out there are quite small. With small numbers the stochastic character can either result in transmission dying out completely or exploding to higher numbers. The more the small numbers are in contact with others because restrictions have been lifted the higher the chances of transmission exploding.

Contact tracing works very well during lockdown because people have few contacts and know who or where they are.

After opening up it becomes a repeated game of “whack a mole” as in the “gold standard” of NSW. Note also today’s “mystery” in South Australia.

With greatly upgraded contact tracing and testing efforts, as well as slowly decaying compliance with physical distancing, registration etc, it will be quite feasible to deal with occasional, sporadic outbreak with a minimal risk of it spreading.

Then it is simply a matter of how many weeks you repeat taking that “minimal risk” before you end up needing to go into “surge” mode after more than 4 new confirmed cases (not in quarantine) per day per million population. Then how many times you repeat that risk of a surge before ending up exceeding surge capacity at 10 times that rate of new cases (40 per day per million) and having to go back into lockdown. See targets in:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/national-contact-tracing-review

I don’t think there is much risk of Australia ending up in the same situation as Europe or North America, let alone the rest of the world. When an Australian surge gets out of control at 40 cases per day per million, there should still be plenty of time before hospitals become overloaded for another lockdown to prevent that. (Victoria came nowhere near hospital overload despite delay in locking down resulting in 800 deaths from a peak of 750 cases per day).

How likely such a third wave is depends on how long before a vaccine has sufficient impact on transmission to eliminate the risk. (It also depends on many other factors, many hard to model).

Recent announcements suggest Australia could achieve herd immunity from vaccines by the end of next year.

It will certainly take a lot longer than that before the whole world has achieved eradication. I will discuss that and other issues such as testing etc in later articles.

I am certainly not in a position to estimate the probabilities of a third wave and lockdown in Australia better than the public health advisors who have been doing so.

But from what I have seen published about the models, I seriously doubt that they are in a good position to estimate either. Certainly their commitment to “stay open” hinders accurate estimation of when it becomes necessary to lockdown again.

That will also have to be for a later article.

Meanwhile, it is worth remembering that we are much less than half way through if it ends by the end of next year.

Some reduction in risk of transmission would result from the first tranche of vaccines targeted at Health and Aged Care workforces and others likely to be exposed and to expose others. But don’t assume a production line for vaccine and vaccine imports will produce a steady output of vaccine imports until herd immunity is achieved by the end of next year.

In fact the pilot plants for phase 3 testing have already continued production and some supplies may be available (elsewhere) as soon as approval is rushed through, perhaps even this month. The first mass production plants will also come onstream shortly after. But the requirement is for literally billions of doses.

I would assume there would be a classic “acceleration” as plants are first built to produce machines (bioreactors etc) and raw materials and train high tech workforces for new plants. Risks of a third wave might be significantly reduced when only half the population has immunity.

But don’t assume that occurs half way through next year. If the exponential growth doubles output each month then the half way point could be November next year with 100% following a month later.

Priority in deliveries should go to the poor countries that will be in a desperate situation by then. Australia with relatively few cases has major reponsibilities to assist others far worse off in our region, such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

More likely the queue will be allocated supplies according to capacity to pay rather than need. Certainly individuals who can pay premium prices will be vaccinated before those given free supplies as a public health measure. There will be free distribution as a public health measure within capitalism, but there won’t be fully prioritized distribution according to need.

But the plants located in Europe and North America will have plenty of demand from local States that have far greater need than Australia and also have the capacity to pay for what they need.

covid-19 – Notes on Trump 52 – “platitudes matter”

After predicting a landslide against Trump and getting a 10% increase in his vote as well as a reduction in the Demcrat majority in the House, the mainstream media has now officially given up on Trump voters.

Trump disputing the election and challenging it in the Courts (as announced in advance and expected) is being described as a fundamental assault on democracy.

In fact it is so outrageous for a candidate to dispute the results of an election and go to Court that his “baseless” claims must not even be reported.

This stuff should not be surprising from the people that reacted to Trump’s original election by denouncing him as a Kremlin agent and demanding that the intelligence agencies summarily remove him in a coup d’etat.

That went on for literally years, but the same clowns seem to imagine soothing platitudes about “healing” are going to prevent large numbers of people who voted against the swamp remaining hostile to it.

Here’s an explanation of the grave responsibility the media has taken on itself to protect the American people from Trump’s “baseless claims”.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-07/conversation-to-stay-or-cut-away-as-trump-makes-baseless-claims/12859062

Here’s a good rendition of the way the adoring media has portrayed the new healer:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-09/joe-biden-us-election-donald-trump-reality-check-stan-grant/12862038

[…]

And with that, Donald Trump suddenly seemed like yesterday’s news.

The appearance of Joe Biden as president-elect flanked by his vice-president Kamala Harris has immediately swept away the Trump years.

Not that Trump disappears or that his followers no longer matter — they do as much as ever — but the spell has been broken.

Donald Trump alone with his petulance and lies now looks small, like the Wizard of Oz — just a little man behind a big microphone.

Biden, dismissed by many — the man who had failed in two previous presidential campaigns — now looked and sounded presidential.

In Kamala Harris — the first female vice-president, African-American and the daughter of an Indian immigrant — Biden announces the next generation of the Democratic Party.

Moments matter and this was a moment: an historic moment.

Words matter, and these were words of healing and unity.

They are just platitudes but they are what a battered country needs to hear right now.

Stan Grant goes on to say that the platitudes the media thinks “a battered country needs to hear right now” are unlikely to work.

Another surprisingly perceptive article from the same ABC journalist is here:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-08/us-presidential-election-trump-biden-divided-democracy-in-action/12855936

Both are well worth reading in full.

So is the full text of the platitudes from Biden and Harris.

The 76 million who voted Democrat are congratulated because:

“You chose hope and unity, decency, science and, yes, truth”.

As for the 70 million hopeless, disruptive, indecent, irrational liars who did not make that choice, it seems unlikely that they will be as impressed by the healing platitudes about unity.

We are again at a turning point that makes it impossible to predict how things will develop.

I still see no signs of a left emerging. But there is an opening for a movement that really does unite people against the populist demagogues on both sides.

I don’t claim to have much understanding of how things are developing in Australia, let alone America.

I won’t try to respond in detail to the points made here.

https://c21stleft.com/2020/10/31/understanding-america/

I don’t believe either the Universities or media were ever oriented towards telling the truth, nor that they have recently been taken over by some alien force antithetical to their previous orientation.

I think corporate liberals are just continuing to be corporate liberals.

Its just that this is becoming increasingly ridiculous.

A movement that expressed the same disgust that corporate liberals have for celebrity con artists like Trump and that Trumpists have for the corporate liberals should be able to form a very broad united front.

What’s still missing though is an actual program as to how things should be changed.

There are pressing issues in the USA that will come to a head quickly.

Biden has announced a task force to prepare an action plan to deal with both covid-19 and its economic consequences immediately on taking office on 20 January.

The epidemic will be much worse by 20 January. It would make sense to start implementing that plan immediately in Democrat States willing to accept his leadership and declare martial law and a national lockdown on taking office. But I would be surprised if that happened. I haven’t seen any sign of Biden proposing a lockdown at all.

Instead I expect that Trump will not be a “lame duck” President until January 20, but more like a “wounded bull”.

Majority control of the Senate will be determined by the outcome of two runoff Senate elections in Georgia, on January 5. The next day a joint session of both Houses presided over by Vice-President Pence meets to count and finalize the Electoral College results. That is the day the election results get finalized, not when the media “calls” them. If any disputes have not been settled by December 8 they may end up fought over then, during the height of an epidemic wave.

If all goes unexpectedly smoothly we will either be back to the usual Washington gridlock in which President Biden can blame the Senate for his inability to do anything just as Obama did for 8 years with Biden as his Vice-President. Or else Democrats do get both Houses and the Republicans and pseudo-left Democrats can blame Biden for his inability to do anything despite having control of both Houses and the Executive.

I would expect either of those to be an optimum situation for Trump, who will do far better posturing against the swamp from opposition than as President. I expect that Trumpists will still dominate the Republican primaries and could be swept back to a majority in the mid-terms if the platitudes continue as I expect they will.

It is all far too complex and murky to predict as opposed to just having vague “expectations”.

But for the record, I do predict that the Supreme Court will declare the Pennsylvania ballots that arrived after election day invalid. I haven’t seen any evidence either supporting or rebutting media claims that this won’t effect the result. If the numbers are as small as they say and if they were kept separate from the other ballots as ordered and as claimed, the court would not have an excuse to invalidate enough Democrat votes to affect the result.

But I would not assume the media claims are correct about that any more than I would be surprised at the rather notorious party machines in Democrat run cities encouraging voters dead or alive to vote often as well as early.

It is after all the plain duty of every red blooded American to do whatever it takes to prevent the monstrous Trump from continuing to pollute the White House. So why on earth would Democrat officials faced with the danger of a racist, fascist Kremlin stooge again disrupting national unity NOT rig the election, if they could?

The judgment I expect will be based on the Supreme Court reaffirming the well established principle that State legislatures have plenary power over Federal elections.

I do not expect that the Republican legislatures and Governors in Arizona and Georgia might take the opportunity to exercise that plenary power and decide to choose the State’s electors themselves and so reverse the results.

But the monotonous bleating from the media about how unpatriotic and undemocratic it is to dispute the media’s announcement of who won, suggests they are very worried indeed about something.

They are usually wrong but one cannot assume that they are always wrong.

covid-19 – Third Wave

According to Victoria’s Chief Health Officer there is now a “minimal risk” of a third wave.

There are two senses in which that could be true:

  1. The decision to open up may have been taken at an optimal time. Only a few days earlier the CHO said frustration was at “boiling point” as he confronted a baying pack of journo jackals foaming at the mouth against a 24 hour delay to actually look at the most recent test data before capitulating to business, media and national government demands for an immediate opening. Perhaps he thinks that any benefits of further delay would be outweighed by the outcome being a clear cut victory for the denialists as the State government and public health authorities were eventually forced to back down by local and national government pressure. He might believe that by choosing a moment when a significant outbreak had just been successfully contained, with zero cases after thousands of test results, the wave of relief and confidence may well be optimal for not losing control when it does again become necessary to impose restrictions in order to prevent a third wave. He might also be right about that.
  2. The risk in Victoria might now be less than in any other State or Territory of Australia. Apart from New Zealand, that is about as good as it gets for comparable countries. In most of the world there is no possibility of actually eliminating community transmission (“mystery cases”) before a vaccine. There is no debate about that. It is hard enough trying to avoid collapse of the European and North American hospital intensive care systems in the face of the obvious difficulties of locking down early and long enough to avoid being overwhelmed. Prolonging a lockdown in the hope of eliminating “mystery” cases would be seen by nearly all “experts” as an absurd fantasy. Again, the CHO could be right about the risk being “minimal” in that sense. But being perched on a slightly less explosive powder keg than the rest is not especially comforting. Almost the entire population of every State is still completely susceptible and the more confident they are in contact tracing the more complacent they will get.

But there is a third sense which I doubt that the CHO or anyone that knows what they are talking about could possibly believe and yet will be widely believed by many people.

Most people who don’t expect a third wave believe it will be prevented by greatly enhanced contact tracing combined with other changes since the first wave including enhanced community awareness of the need for physical distancing, masks etc, serious regulation of workplaces and enhanced capacity for testing, isolation and treatment.

The CHO could not possibly believe the risk is now “minimal” in that sense. But others will assume that is what he is saying.

Not long ago Victoria had a roadmap with a target of:

“no new cases for 28 days and no active cases (state-wide) and no outbreaks of concern in other States and Territories.”

That is a reasonable description of the conditions for “minimal” risk of a third wave. The remaining risk would be that some subsequent sporadic isolated outbreak (as in New Zealand) might get out of control (prevented in NZ by an immediate lockdown when the first cases were detected, not by relying on contact tracing). In China measures to maintain elimination of mystery cases have so far included testing EVERYONE in three large cities.

I thought, but did not write, that this target was not intended seriously. If it had been serious the hardest stage 4 lockdown would have been maintained until it was achieved. The planned relaxation at the end of October would inevitably result in progress slowing down drastically so that the November target could not be achieved.

In fact the target was openly abandoned when the revised roadmap was published on 18 October.

So the CHO knows perfectly well what is actually required to minimize the risk in that third sense and knows that it has not been achieved. That is what he means when he stresses that it isn’t over until there is a vaccine.

According to all the editorial bloviating, everyone must cooperate to intensify their vigilance in order to stay open.

Since that is logically impossible it logically implies that there will be a third wave. It is simply illogical to expect any other result from opening up while there is still ANY community transmission bubbling away. Appealing for everybody to do the right thing is as effective a strategy as the power of prayer..

The CHO does not seem to know how to explain the situation to others and to rally support.

Neither do I. That is why I have not been writing.

In my view the media has been quite successful in convincing most people that the solution is contact tracing. Since they were demanding an early opening after the first wave they could not have admitted that contact tracing inevitably gets overwhelmed if you don’t lockdown quickly enough and stay locked down until mystert cases are eliminated. The State government could and should have admitted that its failure to respond to the rising mystery cases by locking down was the critical factor that turned ordinary ineptitude over Hotel Quarantine into a “State of Disaster”.

Explaining that is critical for ensuring that the next lockdown comes quickly enough to avoid a third wave that could be bigger than the second (which was far short of overwhelming the hospital ICU capacity, unlike the current situation elsewhere).

The biggest danger I see is from contact tracing. They now have a capacity to delay a necessary general lockdown for quite a long time by locking up a large proportion of contacts and contacts of contacts. That does not significantly increase the capacity to trace and isolate the upstream sources of new cases. That becomes much harder when things are opened up so the proportion of “mystery cases” can be expected to grow from the present very low level of about 1 every 5 days. From such a low level the growth will be slow for a long time. But when it starts growing fast again it will take much longer to eliminate than it would have if they had finished the job this time.

New Zealand’s contact tracing capacity was exceeded at only 100 cases per day in March. That is what forced them to lockdown quickly and hard. Their success came entirely from locking down quickly, not from contact tracing.

The same campaign that forced abandonment of the roadmap in mid-October is likely to prolong ignoring a slow growth in “mystery cases” and pretending that it can be reversed by intensified contact tracing and isolation of only downstream cases.

I will try to write something persuasive later.

Meanwhile I am just getting this off my chest as another half-baked article.

covid-19 Senior Constable Vogon of Fitzroy Police Station

This afternoon at 16:16 I had a 12’27” call to Fitzroy Police Station to inform the Sergeant about the conduct of a Senior Constable whose name was not Vogon.

The call was handled professionally so I hope the problem will be dealt with. I was asked at the end whether I would like to be called back with any follow up. I said that would not be necessary as I am merely informing the Sergeant about behaviour that should be confirmed by the other officer present and would be likely to be part of on an ongoing pattern. But I am available to provide evidence if needed.

These notes are not about the call but concern the incident I was calling about, while the facts are still fresh, in case there is need to assist further. I have added humorous embellishments for the benefit of other readers.

A little after 15:30 pm this afternoon I was sitting at a table in a public park close to my current accommodation eating a cookie and reading channel 9 Entertainment’s daily newspaper. My face visor and walking stick were clearly visible on the table, as was the cookie.

I saw two police officers approaching and put on both the visor and an N75 mask in view of the likelihood that they intended to come close enough to speak to me and therefore too close. They did.

One of them introduced himself as a Vogon seconded from the Vogon constructor fleet to assist the Murdoch press in discrediting the Victorian police. He did this by requesting that I remove my face mask so that he would be able to hear me speak clearly.

I’m not sure that I emphasized that clearly enough in conversation with the Sergeant. Just think about the newspaper headlines in “The Sun”. Dictator Dan’s police patrol public parks demanding that people remove their face masks! This isn’t some ordinarily incompetent bullying SC, but somebody quite “special”. He is either being paid to provoke people or he cannot help himself.

He made this quite breaktaking request in the manner of an exceptionally polite Vogon. I had no difficulty in suppressing my amusement and responding politely that I would keep my mask on and he would be able to understand anything I said.

My best guess is that he had been rather looking forward to lecturing me about the need to have my mask on and then exercising “leniency” by just giving me a warning and felt frustrated about my having put the mask on before he arrived, jumped to the conclusion that I had done so to avoid the lecture rather than because I would do so before conversing with anybody at all and was just too dumb to figure out some less bizarre opening remark.

A much less plausible theory is that if I had removed the mask he could then have delivered the lecture and issued an infringement notice that would inevitably be challenged. That would require actual collaboration from the other officer. I saw no sign of that. There was no direct intervention by the other officer. Whoever was senior, it would not be unusual for officers to avoid intervention against each other in public despite bizarre behaviour. It is interesting to encounter one officer behaving like SC Vogon, but two actually supporting each other in asking people to remove their masks so they could issue infringment notices for not wearing them seems a lot less likely.

Anyway, the other police officer avoided any potential escalation of the absurdity by professionally asking for my name, address and date of birth. I mentioned that I walked to and from the park for exercise, wore my mask only when entering shops and had removed the visor for eating. I was told that they were looking for somebody else involved in an incident nearby who matched my description. I complied, with the request, also mentioning that my name was not the same on my driver’s licence and that I was very young at the time of my birth and was only repeating what I had been told since.

SC Vogon stood further back while this was proceeding. I would guess this is standard infection control procedure and it was certainly welcome.

But when the other officer had finished and was prepared to leave he stepped forward and took over, demanding to know why I was in the park. I responded that I had already given the other officer the information required. He said that there were only four valid reasons to be out and I was required to leave immediately. I told him that I had downloaded and was thoroughly familiar with the CHO directions of July 19 and was in full compliance with those directions.

“Stay At Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 3):

  1. Leaving premises for exercise or outdoor recreation
    (1) Note 1. …Examples: Outdoor recreation includes sitting in a park…”

SC Vogon said that he was requiring me to pack up and leave immediately and that if I did not do so he would issue an infringement notice. I said that I would be making a formal complaint about him and would not be leaving until he provided his name and number. He did so before leaving and his Sergeant now has them.

If the other officer is truthful the Sergeant will know that SC Vogon engaged in two criminal offences:

  1. Abusing his membership of the Police Force to demand removal of the face mask of a person he knew to be over 70 and especially vulnerable to covid-19. Nobody stupid enough to go around asking anybody at all to remove their face masks in response to a directive requiring face covering should remain in the police force.
  2. Threatening to issue an infringement notice to a person sitting in a park by themselves, knowing that he had no authority to do so whatever. Nobody up themselves enough to go around doing that should remain in the police force.

I am in favour of rigorously enforcing public health directions in a pandemic emergency. Doing so requires removing saboteurs like SC Vogon from the police force.

It would be surprising if this behaviour is not part of a pattern that others can confirm and that any random Sergeant in any police station would want to stop.

So I am leaving it to the internal administrative processes.

But if there is some subsequent inquiry as to why SC Vogon was not dismissed before he caused real damage, my contemporaneous notes of what was known to his Seargeant about him as of today will be available.

covid-19 – Strategic Direction – “No Community Transmission”

https://www.health.gov.au/news/australian-health-protection-principal-committee-ahppc-statement-on-strategic-direction

“Our strong public health advice is to pursue no community transmission, which many areas of the country have achieved. A goal of no community transmission has been a part of our suppression strategy from the start of the pandemic. AHPPC recommends that this now be more strongly pursued.

This involves knowing that single cases will occur. Success will rely on finding new cases early and stopping chains of transmission. If new chains appear, it is important to quickly find, contain and stop them.”

That statement on July 24 is worth reading carefully in full. Taken at face value it implies a strategic switch to “Elimination” despite being worded to obscure that. The wording avoids objections from the media campaign against Elimination, that Australia cannot be completely shut off so there will inevitably be some new chains.

Accountability for the previous policy and the pathetic claim that elimination of community transmission has been “a part of our suppression strategy from the start” can be left until later. It would be sufficient if the Chief Health Officers of the AHPCC now know that opening up while there was still community transmission in the largest States was a blunder even if they don’t want to spell it out.

But eliminating community transmission does require that WHEN (not “if”) new chains of transmission appear the capacity exists to “quickly find, contain and stop them”.

Acquiring that capacity requires first acknowledging that it does not currently exist. Instead of wording intended to obscure that and pretend continuity from the start it requires open and frank explanation of the difficulties and mobilization of the resources needed to overcome them.

On the same day, the following came:

“National Cabinet agreed to a new set of data and metrics to ensure that the Commonwealth, states and territories all have access to transparent up-to-date jurisdictional data on contact tracing, tracking and other metrics to ensure health system capacity. This will better help guide the public health response and support the coordination of efforts by the Commonwealth, states and territories…

National Cabinet recommitted to the suppression strategy to address COVID-19. The goal remains suppression of COVID-19 until a point in time a vaccine or effective treatments are available, with the goal of no local community transmission.”

https://www.pm.gov.au/media/national-cabinet-24jul20

Presumably the obscure wording from the AHPPC is intended to assist “National Cabinet” sliding in “the goal of no local community transmission” while proclaiming it has “recommitted” to the “suppression strategy” that produced a surge in community transmission.

In updates to my post of 31 March I pointed out that Australia had no serious modelling capability as demonstrated by the release of toy models supposedly representing “the science” guiding policy:

https://c21stleft.com/2020/03/31/covid-19-four-corners-looks-back-ignores-urgent-need-for-quarantine-accommodation/

In April I provided some links about contact tracing KPIs here:

https://c21stleft.com/2020/04/29/covid-19-roadmap-to-recovery/

Despite this I was reassured by news (Update 6) that the need for quarantine accommodation to isolate at least people known to be infected so that they would not infect others in their household had been endorsed by the Tasmanian AMA and would inevitably percolate through to government action.

Now I know that did not happen. The necessary preparations to cope with the much larger numbers that now need to be isolated (including contacts and others waiting for test results) simply have not been made in the months since. Even infected Aged Care residents are being kept in their existing residences to infect others and police were used to confine confirmed cases in the “vertical cruise ships” instead of escorting them to quarantine accommodation to prevent infecting others in their cramped “public housing”.

There are large numbers unemployed and an enormous amount of work for them to do. Apart from lots of front line workers that need to be trained in proper use of PPE while testing, isolating etc there are many other tasks such as ensuring adequate ventilation of essential workplaces. Mobilizing the public has not even begun.

Recent announcements make it clear the situation with modeling is far worse than I thought. Not only do they not have the capability for models to guide policy but they do not even have metrics for the Key Performance Indicators that need to be monitored for acquiring the necessary data for models. I thought they just didn’t want to release the sort of KPIs that New Zealand released because of their hostility to public scrutiny. The National Cabinet announcement indicates that the various governments did not even have adequate “data on contact tracing, tracking and other metrics” themselves!

On the positive side they will now get those metrics, which is a necessary step towards actually being able to carry out any policy whatever, whether it is called “Suppression” or “Elimination”.

It ought to be self evident that there has been a breakdown in contact tracing from the massive blow out in numbers of cases “under investigation”.

Instead of a plan to deal with the problem we got a speech from the Premier of Victoria complaining that 90% of people who were confirmed as infected did not get tested within 3 days of having symptoms and more than half of those tested did not isolate themselves while waiting for test results. The three lags between symptom onset and testing, results of tests and full isolation are absolutely critical KPI metrics that should have been monitored continuously.

The links I provided showed that pre-clinical transmission before people even develop symptoms can be about 90% of the minimum necessary to generate an epidemic in the absence of restrictions. Isolating an infected person within 24 hours of developing symptoms may not be fast enough. Hence the need for continuous tracking and automatic notification of contacts. But currently test results are taking an “average” of two days (with many taking far longer and difficulty prioritizing correctly). Adding 3 days for getting tested means five days of transmission without isolation, which is most of the usual infectious period. That means failure to “quickly find, contain and stop them”.

Today’s speeches about the latest record breaking numbers did at least have a start at preparing for the possible imminent further blow out in numbers. Training reserves of ambulance drivers is an essential step to prepare for large numbers of paramedics being unavailable due to isolation together with an increase in cases. Using paramedics already in isolation to help with contact tracing also makes sense. Likewise beds are being prepared etc.

What makes contact tracing possible is the fact that stage 3 restrictions sharply reduce the numbers of contacts that each infected person has.

Those restrictions were not first introduced until the very same day the Grand Prix was about to start with tens of thousands of spectators. Large crowds mean there is simply no way to trace the people an infected spectator came into contact with. The point of restricting “gatherings” to two people is to enable contact tracing. That worked in the first wave but has not been sufficient to suppress the second wave.

Most developed countries gave up contact tracing as already too difficult at much lower numbers than Victoria is still attempting to handle, so it isn’t that the Victorian Public Health officers are not working hard enough.

It just isn’t possible to keep up with the case load at the current level of social distancing restrictions. That was clear when the numbers continued to increase after locking down several suburbs to stage 3 and it remains clear two weeks after locking down the whole of Melbourne to stage 3. The AMA called for a move to stage 4 about a week ago.

Any plan has to start with shutting things down to the point where contact tracing can keep up. If governments won’t do it, local Committees of Public Safety will have to step forward.

The difficulty pointed out by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer is that most of the current transmission is connected with essential workplaces that would remain open in a “stage 4” lockdown. That increases the urgency of drastic measures to reorganize those workplaces as well as a more thorough lockdown elsewhere. But instead it has resulted in simply hoping that masks will turn out to be sufficient. They might, but wait and see is not a proactive policy for dealing with an outbreak when flying blind without adequate statistics about what happened weeks ago.

A policy of “wait an see” whether quaranting individual suburbs of a large metropolis could work merely allowed the case load to double.

The current plan is to “wait and see” the results of mandatory masks. But we already know the first two weeks of stage 3 restrictions has not stopped exponential growth and is close to overwhelming the test and trace capability. We also know that the original source of seeding has been cut off by diverting incoming travellers from Melbourne while quarantine hotels are tightened up.

That means the continued growth of cases is entirely local. The fact that numbers “under investigation” has blown out means most of that continued growth in local cases is “community transmission”. It doesn’t really matter if those numbers are eventually epidemiologically linked to a known local outbreak when the link is made too late to actually do much isolating either upstream or downstream.

Instead of waiting to see, a pro-active policy would be to do whatever it takes to bring the effective Reproduction number well below 1 and keep it as low as feasible until “No Community Transmission”.

Such a policy must be spelled out sharply as a break with the past, not obscured to avoid offending the pro-death advocates of sacrificing lives to save asset values for the owners.

The current situation is that most public discussion is basically uninformed about epidemics and contact tracing.

See for example the comment on my last article:

“The growth is not exponential and I suspect R0 is around 1, or less, given the extensive testing going on. Here is a graph” (linked to a search on Bing)

According to both the current Victorian guidelines (v23, July 10) and the National guidelines (SoNG 3.4) :

“Estimates for the basic reproductive number (R0) of SARS-CoV-2 range from 2–4, with R0
for confined settings, e.g. cruise ships, at the higher end of this range. Estimates of the
effective reproductive number (Reff) vary from between settings and at different time points
are dependent on a range of factors, including, public health interventions such as isolation,
quarantine and physical distancing to limit close contact between people (5, 6).”

Reference to R0 instead of Reff indicates that the person making the comment could not possibly have an informed opinion as to whether the growth was exponential, even if they were looking at accurate current figures and were able to notice when the graph they are looking at is simply a Bing bungle.

Suffice to say that there were 0 new daily cases at the start of June, rising to a record of 459 before the end of July.

Technically that is an infinite rather than merely exponential increase. But a glance at the actual curves for the first and second waves in Victoria enables anybody with their eyes open to see that the second is already much larger and still growing faster than the “exponential” period of the first wave.

Many people have their eyes firmly shut. This does not prevent them from pontificating about what they “suspect” after looking up “trends” in Bing.

https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus-covid-19-daily-update

https://www.covid19data.com.au/victoria

It makes sense for conservatives to keep their eyes firmly shut and just hope things will sort themselves out. Conservatives naturally have faith that the authorities know best. There is no need for conservatives to propose detailed measures for mobilizing people to deal with problems. Simply thank them for staying home. “They also serve who only stand and wait”.

But anybody on the left will have less faith in the authorities and will be studying what needs to be done to mobilize people to tackle the problem. It is ludicrous to pretend to have confidence that people will transform capitalist society after an economic crisis while not being interested in concrete policies for dealing with a health crisis and just demanding that governments Eliminate the problem without proposing how to do so.