Flat White

If you want reliable reporting on the corona crisis, don’t bother with the(ir) ABC

22 April 2020

7:11 PM

22 April 2020

7:11 PM

The(ir) ABC likes to portray itself as the all-knowing, all-seeing receptacle of truth. It spends vast amounts of energy (and other peoples’ money) pushing the agenda that ‘fake news’ is something other, especially conservative, media outlets partake in while it remains above the fold. In relation to the coronavirus pandemic, its go to sage of all things medical has been long time non-practising physician (although he never mentions that) and journalist Dr Norman Swan. Before I cut to the main focus of this article I will spend a paragraph on Swan as it is illustrative of the culture of a complete lack of self-reflection at the(ir) ABC. 

Listening to Swan’s daily contributions to the coronavirus pandemic has been an exercise in a bi-polar roller coaster ride. I think we all accept that there is much that is unknown about the Wuhan virus and the situation has certainly developed very rapidly, so mistakes, misunderstandings and contradictions in this context are understandable. Possiblywhat grates most with Swan is the absolutist authority with which he delivers his prognostications. After weeks of near berating his listeners around the supposedly infallible practice of good hygiene and social distancing in preventing the spread of such upper respiratory tract viruses, he himself came down with an upper respiratory tract infection, which fortunately was not COVID-19. It raises the obvious question; arethere other components to the transmission of such viruses that have been largely overlooked? Perhaps, greater persistence in the surrounding air of enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces is a highly likely candidate. Swan was certainly not willing to go there lest it undermine his authoritarian posture, and by extension that of the(ir) ABC. Now add to this the fact that for weeks, Swan has been advocating for hard and fast totalitarian lockdown measures to combat the virus pointing to Singapore as the gold standard in implementing such measures. In the last week, in relative terms, Singapore caseload has exploded placing it in the top 10 fastest growing infection rates in the world with well over 1000 new cases in the last 24 hours. Will we see Swan address this white-anting by the facts of his absolutist positions on COVID-19? Don’t hold your breath. 

Swan, who has much that’s constructive to contribute, is only the tip of the iceberg, however, for the agenda-driven coverage that ripples to the far edge of the ABC pond or should that read swamp in relation to its overall coverage globally of the Pandemic. One can easily discern this through the disproportionate focus on ideological grounds, on coverage from the UK and the USA. While both nations have suffered deeply through this pandemic, there are many similar countries who, it seems by virtue of their left-leaning government get little or no coverage and analysis. As the Wuhan virus made its first significant landing in Italy, then Spain, most reporting understandably focused on those two nations, however as the virus has spread rapidly since then to be truly global the(ir) ABC coverage has become increasingly Trump and Boris centric.  


Significant coverage of both is warranted given the damage wrought across all realms of their respective societies. However, we get little coverage which focuses predominantly on either, Merkel’s Germany or Macron’s France and things are especially silent from Trudeau’s Canada. While the first two nations, most notably France had some early attention as things kicked off in late January, again attention soon waned. It’s interesting to look at data for all three nations, none particularly of which could be held aloft as successes under the contain then eliminate mantra. Germany has 148 0000 cases, France 158 000 and Canada 38 000 despite all three instituting lockdown measures comparable to Australia. The last in the list, Canada is an interesting comparison with Australia, not just because of their other underlying cultural similarities but also due to the fact that both countries recorded their first cases in quick succession, january 23 and 25 respectively, and initially shared a similar trajectory of spread until Canada departed ways around late March. Through most of the weeks prior to that, both countries went toe to toe on a daily basis, in regards to, the rate of growth in confirmed cases. On March 7, Australia had 64 cases, Canada 60. On March 16 Australia’s cases had grown to 401, Canada 441 by March 22 Australia was recording 1609 cases while Canada 1470. However, within a few short days things were to take a fairly dramatic turn for both nations with 7424 cases in Canada by months end, a figure that already surpasses Australia’s current caseload. From there it has mushroomed. To give it some international context, Canada’s confirmed death toll of nearly 1200 from just over 38 000 cases (as of April 17) is a case fatality rate (CFR) of 4.8 per cent. The US has a CFR of 5.5 per cent. Canada has a population of just 10 per cent of that of its neighbour, the US, yet despite this and the imposition of hard borders and domestic lockdowns, the land of the maple leaf is on a trajectory in relative terms to be more severely affected than the US. Predictably, there has been little if any coverage emanating out of the(ir) ABC on this with the accompanying analysis of where “Golden Boy” Trudeau has gone wrong 

All three pin-up progressive countries continue to record steady growth in outright case numbers, again with Canada still rising steeply, while France and Germany, both far further advanced along the curve, have commenced to flatten their respective trajectories. Merkel’s Germany has recorded the greatest number of cases (148 000) in Western Europe outside of Spain and Italy and appears to be tacitly accepting widespread transmission throughout its populace as it begins to contemplate relaxing some current domestic quarantine restrictions even while in a steady state of new infections. It is, however, outperforming the other nations discussed in terms of mortality outcomes, with a CFR of just 3.4 per cent. It is hard to imagine with a likely infection rate, including mild and asymptomatic cases, well into the millions across Europe and North America, the cat is not already out of the bag.  

Perhaps the only hope for a really dramatic drop in transmission across the Northern Hemisphere is the encroaching summer, which is known to douse the seasonal influenza on a regular basis. If this is to occur and there is a significant pool of herd immunity in the aftermath, we may see the beginning of the end of this iteration of COVID-19. Of course, the idea of herd immunity is an anathema to some in this debate, however those who mock the concept delegitimise population-wide immunisation programs in the same breath, which achieve their public health goal through exactly the same means – herd immunity. Clearly, vaccines are generally a safer option for imbuing that immunity but the point is we don’t have one and won’t anytime soon. This also raises the spectre that many Northern Hemisphere countries will come out the other side of his with an immunologically challenged and hardened population while Australia’s population will remain naïve to the novel virus and therefore far more susceptible. Under such a scenario, international travel and Australia’s hard border will be in place far over the horizon. 

Whatever the future holds for Germany, France and Canada in their respective challenges with the Wuhan virus, it is certainly the case that if you do want some alternative analysis and discussion on coronavirus strategies and outcomes outside the targeted ‘conservative Anglo-American’ sphere then you will not find it on the(ir) ABC. They will be too busy trying to score political points against Trump and Boris and defending China’s culpability to their graves. 

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