On Monday 4 October, after 245 days, Melbourne claimed the decidedly unwelcome record of the longest locked-down city in the world. On the same day, Victoria also recorded Australia’s highest daily toll of 1,763 new Covid-19 cases, every single one of them acquired locally inside the state.
Canberra is a long way off that dubious distinction. But it too made world headlines for locking down with just one single case of Covid-19 on 14 August. Apollo, the Greek god of diseases, continues to mock Canberra as well. It recorded its own highest daily toll of 52 cases on two consecutive days on 30 September and 1 October, followed by 38 new cases on 2 October, bringing the ACT total to 977 including 342 still active cases. This is with the ACT 67 per cent fully vaccinated and 93 per cent having been vaccinated with at least one dose. Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman finally acknowledged the blindingly obvious: ‘I don’t think that we will get down to below 20, I think that we’re looking at 30s, 40s, 50s at a minimum moving forward’.
By contrast, Florida, which refused to be panicked or intimidated into mandatory masks and vaccination passports but explicitly chose to ride out the natural rise and fall of the disease curve, continued to record daily improvements (Figure 1).
Florida’s cases began a steep ascent in early July with a matching rise in deaths following a predictable two weeks later. The seven-day average of daily new cases actually peaked on 14 August (the date that Canberra instituted lockdown) at 21,743 and had come down to 4,271 by 3 October. The daily new deaths rose from 264 on 14 August to a high of 369 on 2 September (again, the approximate fortnightly lag from cases) and then began falling to stand at 12 on 3 October.
Resisting the siren calls to act tough against the growing threat and the all too familiar chorus of warnings about mass deaths, Governor Ron DeSantis held firm, insisting: ‘We’re going to lift people up. We’re not locking people down’. He explained on 23 July that individuals had to make informed and proper decisions for themselves without government imposed lockdowns: ‘If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you’re not getting that done in Florida … I’m going to protect people’s livelihoods. I’m going to protect kids’ rights to go to school. I’m going to protect people’s right to run their small businesses’.
An attack ad by a political action committee called ‘Remove Dan’ dubbed him ‘DeathSantis’ but appears to have backfired quite spectacularly. Against a backdrop of menacing music in an airplane cabin, as the captain announces they are about to land in Florida where ‘You have the right to infect whoever you want whenever with Covid-19’, DeSantis features with actual clips from his own pressers where he calmly and authoritatively says ‘we will not be bludgeoning people with restrictions, with mandates, with lockdowns, or any of that stuff’. Instead of trampling on people’s rights, he will leave them to make their own decisions. The ad seems to have converted more people into voting for DeSantis.
Meanwhile Sweden has improved to be the world’s 47th and Europe’s 25th worst performer on Covid deaths per million. Just like Florida, its cases and deaths too plummeted following the natural trajectory of the virus that has stayed flat for three months without having to resort to fresh restrictions. As can be seen in Figure 2, the highest Covid mortality rates have been recorded by some of the most heavily and longest locked down countries in the world.
Figure 2: Covid-19 deaths per million people, selected countries
Consistent with her concession to the reality that coronavirus was becoming endemic even in Australia, Dr Coleman foreshadows changes to the ACT’s contact tracing system as it moves towards accepting ‘a degree of community transmission’. There’s no benefit to trying to pick up every single case or identifying every single contact, she finally admitted. Instead, the focus will shift to trying to identify and find the big-impact cases.
In moving to that policy setting, the ACT and other Australian governments might care to reflect on actual data from the UK to grasp just how misleading and distorted is the reliance on infections to drive policy.
As can be seen in Figure 3, until age 40 the vaccinated have the better record against infection. But then mysteriously vaccines seem to drive up infections quite dramatically. This is simply not credible and just registers the folly of mass testing and using those results to drive the policy of contact tracing and designating exposure sites that cause massive disruptions to daily life without serving any useful policy goal.
Figure 3: UK Covid-19 cases by vaccination status between weeks 35 and 38 2021, per 100,000
Why not go further and abandon the principle and very idea of testing asymptomatic ‘cases’ and worry only about those who actually feel sick and present to a clinic with identifiable symptoms? Who knows, this might even – hallelujah – help to ramp down the fear and panic among the public and point the pathway back to the pre-Covid normal lives we used to live but failed to appreciate and treasure as much as we should have. But in the meantime, we must make sure the infrastructure has been upgraded to be able to cope with sudden surges in infectious diseases, preferably before the WHO awakens from its next prolonged slumber to declare another pandemic.
Canberra’s current lockdown is scheduled to end on 15 October. On that date, the ACT government should terminate this health crisis. Officially. Just do it.
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