Australians are an adaptable mob, but we have an intolerance of being treated like the proverbial mushroom, kept in the dark and fed BS.
Regrettably, the management of the pandemic has been accompanied by another plague, namely false and misleading information. Falsehoods have come not just from whacky fringe-dwellers who can be ignored, but from our senior official authorities, both international and local.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is supposedly preeminent in international health issues. On 14 January 2020, the WHO published advice which echoed propaganda from China stating there is ‘no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus’. This happened at the most critical time and may well have caused many countries to delay implementation of precautions to contain or reduce the spread.
By late 2019 and into early 2020, Chinese propaganda was already in overdrive. The denial of human-to-human transmission was made in December 2019 and some Chinese doctors who communicated otherwise with colleagues internationally were censored in disciplinary procedures, forced to sign confessions of spreading rumours or completely disappeared. The first Chinese medical whistleblower, Dr Li Wenliang, was reported to have died of coronavirus in the Central Hospital of Wuhan on 7 February 2020. He was just 34. It is exceedingly rare for someone so young to succumb and what a coincidence that it should happen to the first doctor in China to call out warnings of a new dangerous virus.
When the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the initial outbreak, was locked down, domestic flights were stopped but international flights from Wuhan were permitted including to Australia. There has been no plausible explanation from China of this decision. It came as a surprise to no one that after being stalled for 15 months the joint WHO-China investigation into causation reported nothing of significance.
Communication from Australia’s federal and state governments has been nothing short of baffling. Some public relations genius provided the first slogan We’re All in this Together – what rot, and an insult to our intelligence. Just ask small business owners around the country, particularly those involved in hospitality or tourism, or owners of a commercial property investment forced by government decree to reduce their rentals. But public servants at all levels have suffered no loss of income and ABC staff squealed loudly when the government suggested deferring a pay rise.
Then the next slogan was rolled out and we were told that significant closures and restrictions on our work and lifestyle were necessary to ‘Flatten the Curve’. Our governments explained this was required so our health system would not be overwhelmed and unable to cope. The lie in this message was laid bare when health system capacity lay unused, cases in Australian hospitals fell to very low numbers and yet restrictions continued.
In April 2020 the federal government was spruiking its COVIDSafe app. Readers of The Spectator Australia’s Flat White online magazine may have seen my articles at the time explain why the app was never going to deliver what the government promised. Prime Minister Scott Morrison in urging us to download the app assured it’s the ‘ticket’ to easing restrictions. He even likened the app to ‘wearing sunscreen outside’. Australians on the strength of these promises responded and in the first few months there were over 6 million downloads. Then came reports that it was not actually detecting any cases and the restrictions continued.
It is most unusual that Australian doctors should be prevented from using established safe medications according to their own professional judgement. We hold the sanctity and independence of the doctor-patient relationship as a foundation of our health system. Yet our doctors are either legally prevented or frankly too scared to use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin triple therapies to treat Covid-19 patients. There are now in the order of 120 studies, some peer reviewed and published in prestigious journals, which show that when used early in combination with zinc and an antibiotic such as azithromycin, the treatment is effective in reducing hospitalisation and deaths.
As if he was following a script from George Orwell’s 1984, US President Joe Biden included in one of his numerous executive orders a ban on referring to Covid-19 as ‘China virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus’. His order instructs federal agencies to scrub and edit references to the virus’s origins in documents and statements that pertain to the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no prohibition in use of any other geographical viral identifications such as UK or South African strains and you are free to make historical comparisons with diseases like the Hong Kong flu. What is the public to make to this real-life Orwellian double-speak?
Victoria provided the majority of Australia’s coronavirus cases and deaths as well as lockdowns imposed largely due to an incompetent hotel quarantine system. We are asked to believe that no one made the decision to hire poorly trained private security and no one is to be held accountable, least of all Premier Daniel Andrews.
Why does this all matter? The confidence of a significant proportion of the Australian public has been lost by repeatedly providing false and misleading information. The vaccine roll-out began this week but for the first time in Australia, the anti-vax advocates have real traction.
I’m a life-long supporter of vaccines and have served on state and federal advisory bodies, but I am worried the effectiveness has been oversold and the government has bet everything on the vaccine being around 95 per cent effective. That is extremely optimistic given current and future viral mutations and no real experience of the longevity of induced immunity. The annual flu vax is assessed around 60 per cent effective, worth having particularly for the elderly and medically vulnerable. If the Covid-vax is eventually around 60 per cent effective over time in real life, there will inevitably be ongoing periodic outbreaks.
At present the only government reaction to outbreaks is panic lockdowns. Where’s Plan B? For ongoing management of life with coronavirus there must be a restoration of public confidence. The first step is honesty with information.
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Dr David Adler is a former deputy medical secretary of the Australian Medical Association
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