Earlier in my career, in a very different world, I lived in China. It was possible, then, to stand on Tian’anmen Square one day and on Bondi Beach the next. I often marvelled at how these two places could exist on the same planet. Soon after disembarking from my flight, I would often make a point of heading to our most iconic beach for a swim. It became a kind of personal tradition: a way of purging where I had just come from and reminding oneself what living in a truly free country felt like.
Perhaps that is why, when this all began, I reacted so viscerally.
It was not just a longstanding instinctive reaction of mine against media-driven pile ons. They happen sadly all the time. It was not just that, on its face, what I was hearing seemed so illogical: How could it possibly make sense for sniffling Canberra bureaucrats in poorly lit cold Canberra offices to be telling young fit suntanned beachgoers that hanging out in direct sunlight, in open salt-filled air, on a warm sunny day was an “unacceptable” health risk to themselves and others? (I see last month health authorities confirmed they still have no evidence “a single case of COVID-19 in NSW has been transmitted in an outdoor setting”.)
No, it was something else. The hectoring scolding dogmatic tone. The alarmism and stoking of fear in the population. The repetitive slogans and the message that an “invisible enemy is out there”. The atmosphere that had been created reminded me of a Beijing-style press conference where not only reasonable questions could not be asked, but that somehow asking them was disloyal or a threat to national security.
Yet there remain, even after all this time, many such reasonable questions that should have been asked and certainly are now well overdue to be asked.
We now know, for example, the average age of death attributed to Covid in Australia is higher than the average life expectancy. That is also true globally. That is not what happened during the Spanish Flu.
We know now the UK had no worse all-cause total deaths on a per capita age-adjusted basis in 2020 than in 2008. And India (home of the much-hyped “Delta” variant) has far fewer per capita deaths from Covid than the UK. That is demonstrably not what a “once in a 100-year pandemic” looks like.
The predictable response then comes: the numbers would be much higher if we hadn’t introduced Chinese-style restrictions! There remains limited hard evidence for such a position. It bears repeating that Sweden, which famously followed the World Health Organization’s pre-Covid pandemic plans and only implemented at best mild restrictions (no lockdowns, no bans on international travel, no general mask mandates, etc.), suffered no worse overall all cause deaths on a per capita age-adjusted basis in 2020 than 2015. In other words, nothing particularly exceptional in its recent history and certainly nothing that would justify the exceptional measures we have been subject to.
Yes, deaths were often higher than average in many countries last year, but there have been above average years in the past where we did not react this way. The mainstream media certainly didn’t. Most of us barely noticed.
The figures cited above (and there are many others) are not personal opinions. They are statistical facts. Stating them and other numbers which undermine or dissent from the official government narrative should not be censored for political reasons. Stating them should not be treated as akin to a hate crime. We should still have the freedom to state that two and two make four (including on Facebook).
I do not doubt the caring nature motivations of many of the chief medical officers who have come to dominate our lives. Doctors, like those in my close family, care and want to save every life and I admire the work they do. But most have no greater expertise in interpreting data than competent non-medical people, and in many cases far less so. They certainly have no expertise in weighing up the true costs of the measures they have recommended. What value do they put on family breakdown or a cancelled wedding? On denying grandparents the ability to see their grandchildren? On preventing children from going to school? How exactly are these things accounted for in their cold bureaucratic ledgers?
Those of us who have been making these points publicly and privately over the last 18 months do though need to understand that however true these metrics are, highlighting them alone will not get out of this mess. We were led here by emotion – primarily fear but also by a general sense that our governments did not really care for us – and the way out will also involve an emotional response.
We also need to recognize that there were many things wrong with the old normal. These include the terrible epidemic of loneliness, disconnectedness, and precariousness which existed in our modern societies prior to this coronavirus. This is clearly part of the reason why many welcomed lockdowns – it provided a sense of community, and some meaning and a structure to their lives.
We should also recognize that this public policy debacle would not have been possible if our political institutions and civic culture were not far more fragile than we had assumed. We have long been susceptible to being stampeded into this type of action. If it were not a virus, it would likely have been something else.
“Nec vitia nostra nec remedia tolerāre possumus”, the historian Livy wrote towards the end of the Roman Republic. “We can no longer tolerate what ails us, nor its remedy.”
It is easy to get down in the dumps. I’ve certainly been in a funk over the last year. Yet we are not condemned to be forever like the fatalistic ancients who knew no such thing as a loving God, nor like our similar permanently grim-faced health officers. We have within us the ability to bring to defeat pessimism and replace it with joy. To reclaim our lives and rebuild something wonderful and beautiful
To do so we will need a revolution not only on the streets, but in our hearts. It should of course be non-violent but most importantly filled with colour, with music, with goodwill and love. This may seem hopelessly idealistic or unrealistic, but I am convinced this type of mindset is necessary if we are to be cured. We need to know that this could all end tomorrow if we truly wanted it to. Not only because that is what the statistics say, but perhaps more importantly, because that is the world we want to live in.
For some silly reason, I have in my head a vision of a monster party in the near future. TikTok nurses dance recklessly with swaggering “flu bros”. Songs like Paul Kelly’s “Dumb Things” and the B52s “Roam” (or no doubt something much cooler) play too loudly in the background. Some guys jump on tables risking breaking their necks in order to impress their future life partners. Lift is not risk free but they know it. Faint hearts never conquered fair maidens.
Then the next day a couple from this party walk nonchalantly down to the beach. Not a mask in sight. No police drones circle overhead and no armed officials approach to ask for their medical status or whether they are too socially close. They just walk past the sand-covered statues of those who fought for our freedoms in a carefree way like they once did, chatting about nothing in particular, before wading in and paddling out to catch a wave.
Dan Ryan is a board member of the LNP State Executive. He is a former board member of the Australian-China Council and lawyer with over 20 years experience working in Greater China.
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