The descent into Darkness of the UK and Victoria. Quo Vadis?

[Bottom line: the conflicting forces now being created in the UK and Australia are truly frightening.]

The UK government has just announced a nationwide return of one of the most destructive elements of lock downs: mandatory social isolation. Gatherings of more than 6 people are banned from next week onwards, not just outdoors but also in private homes. So no family X-mas, the one social outing the locked-away elderly had to look forward to. Also no outdoor raves, no dance events, no normal student life, no fun. An extreme form of puritanism is now with us in the UK, even with advice on how to take the fun out of casual sex: we are told to keep a mask on at all times!

The state of Victoria in Australia, which has almost an identical bureaucratic system to that in the UK, has had even worse restrictions for months now. People in Melbourne are only allowed out of their own home for an hour per day. Group gatherings of any kind, unless they are by the police or “essential services”, are subject to police brutality and a state premier who boldly states that protests are unlawful. To be fair, new lovers are allowed to go shag each other, but presumably only with masks on.

This ban on being human is but the latest in a creeping totalitarianism that, in the West, is seeing its worst expressions in the UK and Victoria. One is now fined and potentially locked away in both places for organising open protests, one of the most basic civil liberties in our political systems. Governments in both places rule by decree, with very little parliamentary oversight and almost no realistic chance of judicial review.

Its been a descent into darkness in both places. There are no other places in the West quite as bad, creating underlying forces quite as sinister. Yes, many American States have fanatical lock down supporters and most universities there have their own anti-fun police too, but you can escape. You are allowed to leave a State you don’t want to stay in and there is a vibrant opposition that you can join. You might think that opposition in the States is largely made up of conspiracy loonies (and you would not be entirely wrong), but at least there IS an opposition and they are not prevented from demonstrating, partying, and moving around. Freedom of speech and assembly are serious things in the US, even in lock down land. Their extreme partisanship has protected them.

Elsewhere in the West, the places that had their own totalitarian moments, such as France and Italy, are slowly returning to sanity. They have found out that they simply can’t afford totalitarianism, which is one of the deep points of history: totalitarianism fails not because it is unpopular – quite the opposite! – but because it is spectacularly inefficient. Eventually, people vote with their feet towards greener and freer pastures, though that is not possible in Australia, which is the only country in the West that has effectively banned its citizens from leaving, something we haven’t seen since the days of the Berlin Wall. That Wall crumbled because totalitarian communism couldn’t deliver.

What is remarkable is that this deep point of history is plain to see in both the UK and Victoria. Their economies are collapsing spectacularly in front of them, worse than elsewhere, with brave aristocratic commentators pointing this out in the UK, such as “Mervyn King”, the governor of the bank of England, or “Lord Sumption”, a former judge of the High Court. In Australia such things are pointed out by the odd brave economist like Gigi Foster, or a few hundred Victorian doctors. They find themselves in the unlikely company of Tony Abbott, Adam Creighton, and Alan Jones. But no-one in parliament of either major party.

In both the UK and Victoria, governments are trying to run a Soviet-style economy and failing miserably because bureaucracies cannot run whole economies. Both places are hiring armies of new civil servants to enforce the Covid mania, such as in their track and trace programs or covid-officers for the many workplaces. Lots of new vacuous change managers and covid-strategists too, of course. This whilst easily 30% of the workforce is sitting at home with no real job, kept docile by free government handouts. It’s like the Soviet system of full state employment with lots of people not doing anything at all. Hundreds of thousands of businesses are slowly dying in both places, only nominally kept afloat by massive government subsidies.

You can buy off public dissent by borrowing for a while, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that it can’t last. The unseen problems just keep building. We know what happens next: governments print money to keep going a little longer (think of the Republic of Weimar, Zimbabwe, Russia in the 1990s), making the collapse even more spectacular when it comes. This is what the UK is now facing if it continues on the path it is on, with the Bank of England whispering it and the reformed marxist Peter Hitchens shouting it. Australia is already starting to see a bit of capital flight, a classic sign of unsustainable government borrowing and spending. The smart money doesn’t make a noise but is the first to leave.

Victoria is not in charge of printing money in Australia, so it cannot on its own drag the whole of Australia into Zimbabwe-territory, but it can blackmail the rest of Australia for quite a while to allow it to spend money that it doesn’t have. The prospect of an Australian state going bankrupt, which basically means civil servants and anyone getting payments from that State no longer being paid, is a nightmare scenario the federal government in Canberra will want to avoid as long as possible, even though the government is now projected to borrow around 100% of GDP before covid mania is done. I fear that is starting to look like the optimistic scenario.

Most extraordinary, while in most other Western countries sanity is slowly returning, both in the UK and in Victoria there are strong signs of lock-in. In both places, their governments promise an end to the misery somewhere in the future, but in both places things are actually getting worse quite rapidly. Not merely is the totalitarianism getting worse and worse, but there is also a rapid expansion of the groups that benefit from the totalitarianism, locking both places into increased covid mania. It is eerily reminiscent of the Death cult that typified Nazi Germany in the later stages of WWII: as the war was being lost, control was extended and fatalism spread.

Consider the trends in political power: in the UK, the covid mania industry now includes tens of thousands of contact tracers, health and safety officers that inspect workplaces, the police force that increasingly sees covid-compliance as its job (including all the way into private homes), the increasingly powerful and busy testing-labs and vaccine-companies, and a whole medical-regulatory layer inside public institutions. They are helped by the majority of the media which has been fanning the hysteria for months now and has a strong vested interest to keep going. That media too is now committed.

The government of the day in the UK is similarly committed, plunging headlong into new battles it can only lose, like Brexit fights with the EU, whilst bunkering down on its covid-policies. To be fair, my reading of the lack of any major stock market or currency market movements in the last week is that the latest announcement that the UK government will not follow International Law is not serious but just a deliberate distraction. Bojo and Cummings have form when it comes to this, most spectacularly at the end of 2020 when they first announced they would screw over the Irish Catholics, just before they signed an EU deal wherein they totally screwed over the Irish Protestants.

On covid though, its been a one-way descent into darkness. Disagreeing top civil servants were sidelined early on or have just given up and resigned along the way. The UK government is, like Nazi Germany in its dying days, pushing salvation stories of a miracle weapon (a vaccine) and miracle alliances (trade deals with the US) that will supposedly turn its losing war and collapsing economy around. Anything rather than admit the war was futile to begin with. Very tellingly, the main opposition is now from within the UK Conservative Party, such as in the form of Sir Brady, the chairman of the 1922 commission saying as politely as he can that the government has gone bonkers. Make no mistake, the knives are being sharpened in the Conservative Party.

In Victoria, things are possibly even worse. Thousands of additional covid-officers are being recruited right now to dream up more regulations and enforce them. What do you think they are going to do once employed in the system? Advocate for their cushy jobs to be axed or think of new ways to keep the “war of elimination” going? Do you really think they will win the war? That Oxford vaccine some were pinning their hopes on has seen its trial halted because they found the vaccine didn’t agree with someone. Not a magic weapon after all, what a surprise! Ominously, I read 60% of all those vaccinated had side-effects. Bit of a fever, bit of a headache, the odd person getting paralysed. Not a problem for 99% of the population, but if you’re over 80 and have a couple of other health problems already, well, those extra issues can be fatal. You know what I’m saying? Don’t worry if you don’t: the new covid-police forces will tell you the vaccines are not ready yet, so you need their constant presence and regulations to help you comply!

What’s extraordinary is that in the UK, covid was over 3 months ago. There have been no excess deaths since late May, and the number of hospital admissions from covid are essentially zero. The new cases are mainly young people for whom covid is a slight cough and whom you’d want to gain immunity anyway. New cases are just used by the covid-industry as the excuse to keep their jobs going.

Quo Vadis: how is this going to end?

I cannot think of another example in the last few centuries where totalitarianism became institutionally entrenched so rapidly via a new group of profiteers. The 14th century plague is the closest historical example I know of a peace-time economic and social collapse of the speed and magnitude we are now seeing in both the UK and Victoria.

Totalitarianism and democracy do not go together for long. It’s one or the other. I am confident that in the UK, democracy and some semblance of common sense will re-establish itself because of competitive forces (jealousy of neighbouring countries, deep hatred of Bojo and Cummings within the government) and a vocal high-status opposition that will eventually successfully blame the covid-industry for the economic and social collapse.

So yes, I do think there will be a reckoning in the UK, but there will be a lot of damage before we get to it. Still, several newspapers are now openly calling for the awakening needed to get to the reckoning. Along the way I think we will get regicide in the Conservative Party and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cummings ends up in jail, blamed for everything. I suspect Bojo and Cummings are feeling this heat and are trying to start new fronts (like the EU) to postpone the reckoning. Its a strategy that worked for Mao, but I don’t think it will work for them.

In Australia, it is less clear what to expect. It might evolve into something relatively benign, with only the huge damage I and others have documented previously as the main loss, but I fear that point is now past. Way more pain is to come, with the increasingly bellicose attitude towards Australia’s main trading partner a mere hint of the forces now unleashed. Here is my main scenario.

The economic and social devastation that is growing beneath the surface is getting bigger and bigger. The repressive industry is getting bigger and bigger. The debt and inequality is getting bigger and bigger. When the music stops, a large part of the population will find they have no job and little future. Masses of young students in particular will find they have been royally screwed. When that happens, the compliance that has been drilled into the population from child-care onward is going to give way to real anger. The Covid-industry gelled them into a crowd. Desperation will turn that crowd into an angry mob. Democracy will then seem their weapon.

At that point, the current political elite might panic and look for ways to escape the beast they have suckled. Yes, Australia has compulsory voting, strong federalism preventing the center from assuming power, and strong constitutional powers preventing the States from going alone. But will that be enough to contain a panicking political elite and their vastly expanded totalitarian apparatus? I am really not sure. Dark scenarios I till recently only held possible decades into the future suddenly look possible for the next 5 years.

The forces that are now being created in Australia truly frighten me. As in the picture above, the Furies are taking off.

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112 Responses to The descent into Darkness of the UK and Victoria. Quo Vadis?

  1. John Wormald says:

    I can’t think of a sillier statement than this. There is a major pandemic. In fact, the British government was slow to impose a lock-down. But this was accepted as necessary by the overwhelming majority of people. Almost everyone acted responsibly. Only recently has there been too much of a slackening of attention, people seeming to think the battle was one. I have little time for Boris Johnson and his government but the lock-down was absolutely necessary. Sometimes the collective interest has to come above the private one, whatever loopy ideas there may be about individual rights. My children and grandchildren live in Victoria. I’m glad the Victoria government has imposed its own restrictions, for the good of everyone.

  2. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    The only thing sillier would be to do nothing and allow the virus to permeate society and see what happens.

    A soviet economy eh? Good to see hyperbole is blowing hard.

    • what would you call an economy wherein the vast majority of businesses and workers get their incomes directly from the government in return for (not) doing their job? Sure ain’t capitalism.

      • Conrad says:

        Even in full lockdown this isn’t true.

        Also, I’m not sure when you got to Australia, but around the late 80s and early 90s, the state of Victoria was almost broke, as were some of the now to-big-to-fail banks (like Westpac). The official unemployment got to over 11% if I remember correctly, which is worse than now, and there was no obvious fix (like covid disappearing). So whilst the situation now might look grim, it isn’t the end of the world, and I’m not sure that proposing doomsday scenarios is useful. For example, even if Australia lost 30% of it’s income, we would be no worse off than NZ now, and that certainly isn’t the worst place in the world to live.

        • sure, but in the same breath you could say the 1920s Italy that gave rise to Mussolini was richer than 1880s Italy or 1920s India. You could say most Germans survived the second world war. You could there was no large unemployment in the Great Depression because it wasn’t properly measured then (the unemployment statistics were made up decades later, often counting weird groups as unemployed like government workers), just like now.

          Are you saying you believe Victorians and Australians will largely be fine, apart from the immense unnecessary suffering inflicted by lock downs on the most vulnerable groups? I certainly hope so but I am not so sure. I really don’t like the look of the current political trajectory.

          • Conrad says:

            There will be some pain. I don’t see the politicial trajectory as anything out of the ordinary in Australia. If anything, our politicians actually got better in terms of co-operating and finding solutions. It is also the case that most people can dream of the end thanks to vaccines (unlike other causes of depressions), and if the numbers stay low, everything will more or less return to normal (as it has many places). In the worst case with Victoria, all that will happen is people will move to other states in Australia, as they did last time the place almost went bankrupt (when the population growth went negative for a short time). This is what kiwis did for decades as they all moved to Australia, but NZ is still a good place.

            That being said, I suspect some places will be worse than others. The UK has post-reality Brexiteers running the place and I assume they will learn about reality the hard way. The US had massive social inequality and uncontrollable government spending on things that didn’t help them even before Covid, and having trade wars with China et al., in bad times is clearly a stupid thing to do. But other places don’t have these problems.

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        is the state making their business decisions?

        you need to understand what capitalism is??
        It sure aint a soviet economy

        • paul frijters says:

          “is the state making their business decisions?”

          last I looked, yes. It is deciding what an essential job is, where the jobs can done. It is also making lots of micro-decision on how assets can be used, like when house owners are no longer able to decide who lives in their house. Those decisions are not left to bussineses or consumers as in a capitalist economy.

          Aren’t all jobs essential to those who have them?

          Just think whose job and business is now largely dictated by the state: all the welfare claimants, all the civil servants, all the unemployed, all the job keepers, all the job seekers, all those businesses forced to close but in some of form of compensation, all the contractors working for the state, etc.

          I am yet to come across an authoritative figure on the % of the workforce and business this includes, but I’d guess it must be up to 80% in Victoria. Apart from mines, farms, and some retail, who is still going as normal?

          • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

            The government is not making the decisions of the business.
            It is merely enabling a very good policy measure to ensure household incomes stay steady until the worst of the recession is over.

          • desipis says:

            “[The government] is also making lots of micro-decision”

            The government makes lots of micro-decisions for business all the time. For example:
            * The minimum amount to pay employees
            * What qualifications are required for certain jobs (electrician, doctor…)
            * What is done to ensure a safe environment for workers and the public

            These regulations don’t mean the Australian economy has become socialist in nature.

            • paul frijters says:

              indeed, its a matter of degrees, which I why I pressed the vital point of who is the source of most of the income.

              I am glad to see you and Homer dont want to make this temporary Soviet-style economy a more permanent fixture. Neither do I.

  3. Conrad says:

    You have another logically inconsistent story about vaccines. If you look at the trade-off, even if the vaccines were harmful (and reports of one person getting sick isn’t exactly evidence for anything — the base rate of correlated symptoms happening is of course far more than zero), then they would still do good overall. For example, if one person died of a vaccine and 100 got saved from covid, then that’s exactly the type of trade-off you are on the other side of the fence with with lock-downs (1 person dying of covid, and 100 being saved from the future). But either people don’t understand this sort of trade off or they don’t think things like covid and vaccines should be evaluated like that (probably both). This presumably includes high-risk groups.

  4. hc says:

    All states in Australia except Victoria have managed to keep the virus at normal levels with fairly normal economic activity – including intra-state tourism – occurring. Victoria today had 55 new cases. The national death toll is 788 or about 31 per million. In the UK the death toll is 42,000 or 612/m and in France, it is 30,794 or 472/m. Australia does not seem to have done too badly in terms of managing the disease.

    In economic terms, the recession is bad in Australia but only 4 countries in the OECD have outperformed us (S. Korea, Finland, Denmark and China). Again Australia has not done too badly economically by comparison with others in relation to the economy.

    You would probably argue that the recession has been an unnecessary one that has resulted purely from measures to control the virus rather than the virus itself. I don’t know if that is correct or not but I do think that outside the international tourism sector nationwide the only area in Australia that is really doing it hard now is Victoria and an endpoint seems in sight. We had 725 new cases per day two months ago. Now the figure is 55. At this stage I’d prefer (as a Victorian) to follow Dan and try to get infections down to at most single-digit levels and then reopen.

    It is tedious living in Victoria at present – particularly the rules governing freedom of movement. But at my age anyway I’d prefer to put up with the tedium if that means I can escape the impact of a virus that could easily kill me given my preexisting health conditions. I have plenty of suggestions on how things might be done better than by following Dan’s policies but if I have to choose between opening up now and following Dan, I’ll selfishly follow Dan.

    • Hi Harry,

      thanks for engaging.

      Australia’s economy dropped a little later than those of the others but is now projected to drop 7% GDP over the whole of 2020. That’s about the middle of the pack in Europe (Sweden is projected to have a lower drop). The self-inflicted pain in terms of forced loneliness and mental health problems is also probably in the middle of the European pack (well above Sweden).

      Yet Australia has no immunity to show for that pain. It’s at base zero when it comes to the virus. The virus is done in most of Europe, with the main left-over problem there the covid-industry and its profiteers who in most places are slowly losing the fight to hang on to their positions. In Australia, you have the same pain, worse covid-industry, worse erosion of civic freedoms, and no immunity to show for it.

      On top of that, the starting position was with huge existing inequality, a frighteningly large and invasive security apparatus, and top-heavy corrupt bureaucracies all over the place. You might say Australia in Jan 2020 was ripe for social unrest. Then came the biggest swift economic crunch in peacetime engendering a further expansion in the repressive machinery and a large army of effectively unemployed young people.

      Sound familiar to you?

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        you have to compare mental problems now compared to previous recessions.
        The only metric I know is suicides which contrary to ‘expert’ i opinion did not rise and has yet to rise.
        this of course has not led to any fessing up of said ‘experts of why they got it so badly wrong

    • Saupreiss says:

      “In economic terms, the recession is bad in Australia but only 4 countries in the OECD have outperformed us (S. Korea, Finland, Denmark and China). Again Australia has not done too badly economically by comparison with others in relation to the economy.”

      This seems an obviously problematic statement. If you want to compare at this early stage you also ought to control for the timing, (degree of) lockdown, and fiscal stimuli measures (for Australia for example at least three times as large as for Sweden and counting).

    • Dugald says:

      I understand your concern but I think there’s been way too much fear about pre-existing conditions. In Australia at least, Covid has not seemed to have caused many deaths among those with heart disease, diabetes, those doing or who have completed chemo, etc. I realise many with those conditions have self isolated which may have helped, but one needs to be VERY isolated to avoid covid.
      By far the biggest risk factor for covid death is obviously being in an aged care facility. These are people who likely have pre-existing conditions but ALSO:
      – are in the oldest age groups
      – likely have severe vitamin D deficiency, mainly due to being locked in a ‘care’ facility
      – I believe many could have moderate or severe malnutrition
      – have been isolated from family and friends and likely to be lonely and depressed. Not good for immune function.

      More evidence emerging that vitamin D is a big issue. Interesting that if you start in Queensland and drive towards Melbourne, covid mortality seems to get steadily worse.

  5. There are some interesting developments with the Plan B people in New Zealand. The British Medical Journal, one of the top medic journals, has just allowed them to state their case against elimination, something also highly relevant for Australia (

    At the same time, a Kiwi economist called Martin Lally did a very similar calculation to my March 2020 one “the corona dillema’ one and came to the conclusion that the price New Zealand is now paying per life year via covid restrictions is 190 times what they normally pay for a life-year (meaning that if you’d take the same attitude to every health risk, you’d have to shut down all schools, police stations, any form of non-health government: nothing else is then worth doing).

  6. Pingback: Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation, The Terrible Cost of Panic. – In The Frame Journal

  7. Paul
    If Victorias systems can get their act together re effective suppression containment ( admittedly a biggish if).And get to a situation similar to that of NSW then your prognosis for Australia at least is too dark. While far from brilliant in NSW it’s hardly midnight either.

    The danger of a explicit policy of elimination is its really based on just one modelling tool : imposing severe restrictions of movement on the whole population.

    For Australia a technologically advanced society , with a deep tradition of very effective self organising groups ( think of John Monash “discipline based on individualism is the best “) the options on how to manage this problem are much wider than you seem to think.
    Peace be with you.

  8. Paul feel that the situation for Australia is not as dark as you think.
    If Victoria can get its act together on effective tracking testing and quarantining ( admittedly a significant if) then they should be able to achieve a situation similar to NSW, which while not perfect is hardly at darkest midnight either. Realistically achieving that is probably about as best as is politically possible for the moment.

    Seems the main problem is that elimination as a basis for policy is that based on only modelling one of many possible policy tools : severely restricting the movements of everybody. Australia can and will learn to do it better and smarter than that crude stick.
    BTW I’ve read that the only nation too actually achieve elimination to date is Taiwan , does anybody know how Taiwan has dealt with the quarantining of returning expats and the like?

    • Sorry I thought my first effort had failed to load hence the rough duplication

    • Conrad says:

      People can blame the Victorian some of the things that went wrong, but the reason they had to use a harder lockdown than tracking was because people didn’t want to be tracked. Remember the App the government released that no-one used? Imagine how much simpler life would be now if people did use it. Similarly, I assume possibly incorrectly that under state of emergency laws they can fish through the records of companies like Visa or at least request information. Apparently, if you piece together this info it is pretty good. But this is not politically palatable too. So the hell in Melbourne is partially people’s own fault.

      Also — I doubt the federal government is going to force Victoria to do anything (especially because the cases are pretty low now and diminishing — so it seems the lockdown has more or less worked). It seems pretty obvious that if they did take over it and the cases went up again, that would be the end of them at the next election. Given the massive random component which people seem to ignore (like the government has 100% causation in terms of what happens…), that’s a big risk.

      • Conrad
        Can’t believe that the people of NSW are on average that much better behaved than Victorians. Nor that the people on the ground actually charged with track and trace in NSW are on average that much better at their jobs than their Victorian counterparts.
        The difference has to be in the quality of the respective states comand control and general leadership.

        Hopefully that will change.

        • Conrad says:

          Or just random variation and luck. People blame and give too much credit to governments.

          • I’m not saying your wrong -the null hypothesis is my favoured option always.
            However it follows from that ,if sincerely believed, that there is no basis for any claims that the apparent effects of lockdowns (or anything else done by government )is anything other than just “random variation and luck”.

            I thought you sincere ,in good faith , now not so sure.

            • Conrad says:

              John — you and Paul are the ones claiming lockdowns have no effect, when, if all you care about is reducing cases clearly isn’t true. You arn’t even willing to admit that despite clear cut evidence to contrary (Australia, NZ etc..)

              There is also clearly lots of randomness in super-spreader events. For example, if someone didn’t walk onto the Ruby Princess with Covid, it would have never have happened and people would have been talking about how well NSW managed the problem (it’s not like all states in Australia had great policies on this). Indeed, almost all cases of covid don’t go on and cause huge amounts of spreading. I believe other places in Australia used the same security company and didn’t have these problems. If there wasn’t randomness, we should all thus have had the same outcome, but that clearly is not the case. So the correlation between what happens and what you do is not as strong as people seem to imagine nor what governments would like you to believe. The problem of predicting outliers is of course a problem in many areas, and it is especially difficult with the type of spreading distribution covid has. This is not to say policy doesn’t matter, but it clearly doesn’t cause perfect causation.

              This is a standard problem of safety critical systems. You need determine at what level of safety you want (which is what the government does) but you can still be unlucky, especially with humans doing stupid things. Try looking up the cause of Chernobyl, and then see how many reactors were more or less the same. You’ll find out that they had bad luck due to stupidity at Chernobyl, but all the other places didn’t despite more or less the same reactors and the same policies. So there is clear cut randomness in these sorts of events. One outlier and boom.

              • ” if all you care about is reducing cases”

                that’s not something I care about. Indeed, instrumentally I want maximum cases, minimum deaths as a means of getting to herd immunity with minimum loss.
                what I’ve set as the goal is the wellbeing of society. All the rest is instrumental. What other goal would you advocate?

              • btw, I try very hard not to ascribe bad motives to people like you I disagree with. I sometimes fail, but I dont want to “declare enemies” as it were. In some way, I have to live with you for years to come as you will have to live with me, whomever is deemed to be “right” by our society at some point in time. Also, I essentially see all of us as murderers in terms of the outcomes we support as voters and tax payers, which you might see as cynical but once you accept it as a fact is also liberating. None of us can possibly be the ideal our society asks for but we can try to improve.
                On covid, I hope you will join my point of view, as I presume you hope I join yours. Make the case persuasively and who knows? :-)

  9. Michael Baker says:

    Even if you don’t believe Victoria is heading toward totalitarianism, there are some really disturbing signs that government institutions in the state are being distorted and/or growing too powerful. For example, when it came to light that Andrews had decided himself to impose the 8pm-5am curfew, he told the media that the reason he had done so was to make policing easier. I don’t know why, in a democracy, the leadership is making decisions based on what makes it easier for the police. If that is the criterion for decision-making, then he should outlaw breathing because then the police would have nothing to do at all.

    Later, on the same topic, the police chief himself told the media that the force was simply implementing the directives of the Chief Health Officer. Why is it that the CHO is running the police force?

    Another sign that democracy is under threat has been the lack of policy alternatives being openly discussed and debated in Victoria and Australia generally. Academia, government, and (until the past couple of weeks when the scale of the economic catastrophe has become clearer) big business have completely lost their voices. I put that down to fear more than ignorance. A kind of public health priesthood has risen up, one that delights in the daily press briefings and the power it has acquired over politicians and the police force. They are completely invested in an elimination strategy at any cost, one that has already failed in other places (e.g. New Zealand and Vietnam).

    I can’t help but be reminded of the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones.

    • paul frijters says:

      indeed and look what happened to the High Sparrow and who supplanted him!

      Like you and some commentators above, I am not claiming we’re heading towards dictatorship, but I am worried about the combination of the forces being created now, and that huge security and interference machinery that has been building for decades. Stress a system with such elements too much and you’re smack in the middle of the 1930s.

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        A bit of a stretch for someone who claimed the government was engaging in Soviet type policy.

        the soviet Union was not noted for its admiration of democracy nor its openness to human rights.

        Parliament still sits. Inquiries are being had.

        far too much hyperbole being ventilated

      • Conrad says:

        I wouldn’t see Covid as directly responsible for a return to the 30’s if this did happen — although I certainly agree that in the previously free world we’ve been moving away from liberal democratic states where you had to have some sort of solidarity with your neighbors to stop crime, make things work etc. to surveillance and punishment states. Many people seem happy with that and think it works better — just look at how well the stop-crime message sells, even in places like the US which already have huge and massively expensive to keep jail populations. Covid just shows you where the laws are at now and how good the surveillance is.

        If I had to pick a likely cause for it, to me it would not just be higher unemployment (especially because young people are a much smaller part of the population now than the 30s), but the meltdown of the financial systems of massively indebted states that need to borrow to keep going. For example, the US borrows gargantuan amounts from other countries, and did so even before Covid. At present, they get away with this despite bond rates being essentially zero. If the countries lending them money stopped buying these for whatever reason (given they are as worthless as holding the money at 0% interest rates), they would have to increase their interest rates to borrow and presumably print more money, which would devalue their currency and hence lower everyone’s living standards. I assume this would also force other countries around the world to increase their rates to compete and we’d be left with stagflation for however long to come, and all of the problems it brings (including the wanna-be dictators taking advantage of it). Covid has obviously exacerbated this given the extra debt and lower bond rates, but to me its just bringing these possibilities forward.

    • paul frijters says:

      another example of the coalition that is now in charge in Victoria: the landlords (who are among the very richest) have just been given an exemption in land taxes.

      As Cameron Murray said about this: “After years of consultation about how to better tax land and housing, the Victorian government instead announces the worst possible land tax break.”

      this means an even deeper cut in public services down the line waiting for young people. Yet another step away from the light.

  10. Conrad
    Victoria’s authorities reliance on ‘don’t move’ as the only effective weapon against Covid19, after all this time , is evidence that Victoria’s authorities are not fit for purpose. In fact Victoria’s policies seem to be more about protecting their systems than about protecting the community.

    NSW still has significant restrictions, which I like most support, however it’s nothing like Victoria. Victoria’s situation is not the result of chance rather it’s because their systems are not fit for purpose, least if the well being of the whole community is the purpose.

    I have Nothing further to add, i am tired of your fudging, slipping and poor faith. Good luck night night.

  11. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    Herd immunity like Marxisn and libertarianism has a theoretical appeal which fails when you think of applying it.
    Why you ask?
    Talk to any legal practitioner who specialises in industrial relations. There are legal obligations on organisations.
    Peoples’ behaviour would mitigate against. Ask yourself who would willingly try to get the virus.
    It would undoubtedly cause a split in any government which tried to implement it.

    and of course it means a large amount of deaths for little economic benefit.

    If the theory was so attractive why has no government tried the policy???

    • Michael Baker says:

      “Herd immunity like Marxisn and libertarianism has a theoretical appeal which fails when you think of applying it.”

      The same applies to ‘elimination’ of the virus.

      “If the theory was so attractive why has no government tried the policy???”

      Part of the explanation is that fear and hysteria has led to a collapse of rational policy making apparatus. Good policy on major problems (e.g. climate change) is informed by a variety of experts.

      In this instance, policy in most countries has been placed exclusively in the hands of public health experts whose only commitment is to elimination of the virus at any cost. It’s like going to war and putting the Defense Ministry in charge of the whole thing without consulting the Finance ministry, food production experts, industrial production specialists and so on.

      There has been no benefit-cost analysis and an outright witch-hunt against people who differed from the orthodoxy.

      Ask Gigi Foster, who has been the subject of ridicule and character assassination in Australia for articulating an alternative view and supporting it with benefit-cost analysis on the public record. Many of the assassins, dismayingly, come from inside her own profession, although I must say they have become rather quiet lately. If you’re looking profiles in cowardice, look no further.

      • Conrad says:

        The other part of the explanation is that you lose immunity to coronaviruses (some within 6 months). This means you may not even be able to achieve herd immunity, even if you wanted to. Even if it was one of the slower ones (3 years), one might wonder what the worth would be of such strategy.

        Apart from that, whether you want all of your population to have a virus now known to cross the blood-brain barrier (and hence potentially have for life), and which recent evidence shows is not likely to be a lot of fun to have, is another reason.

        • paul frijters says:

          There was a recent paper on this by Dutch resources able to use HIV-research related blood samples and health tests of 12 people going back about 30 years. They were able to look at anti-bodies for 4 different corona viruses.

          The findings? The anti-body levels showed a see-saw pattern in all patients for all 4 viruses, strongly suggesting that anti-bodies were lost and then regained via a subsequent re-infection. The anti-body immunity was lost after 9 to 12 months on average.

          The researchers do note though that its possible, perhaps even probable, that T-cells stick around much longer, which basically means that anti-body production is revamped much quicker in subsequent infections, such that patients are sick and infectious for less long. So there’s a kind of continued protection from previous infections, but not full immunity.

          What does the optimal equilibrium look like without a vaccine and, say, loss of anti-body immunity after 9 months but T-cell memory for several years? You’d basically want the vast majority (the low-risk groups) regularly exposed to waves of the virus so that their waning immunity is kept “topped up”. Pretty much the opposite of what lock down does.

          The choice among the very vulnerable to either put up high barriers to interaction or to take their chances then depend a lot on just how vulnerable they are, whether they were lucky enough to have generated some previous protection, and the quality of life they get out of interaction. Still, the decision should be up to them.

          In terms of the costs and benefits of lock downs, waning immunity in fact tilts the balance further against lock downs. That is because lock downs then would have to be applied cyclically forever (one is never done, since any partial immunity is lost again over time). Yet the “no lock down” scenario only changes minimally. It then includes normal interactions that explicitly encourage the vast majority to expose themselves to reinfections.

          I expect this reasoning to hit the journals and newspapers in a few months.

          • Conrad says:

            I read that paper too. I don’t buy your claim that you can keep on infecting people so they always keep low levels of immunity, presumably apart from childcare workers etc. . If that was the case, for example, parents of small children wouldn’t constantly get sick thanks to childcare (or at least they wouldn’t get many symptoms). Unfortunately, they didn’t measure symptoms in that paper, which would have been really useful (or maybe I missed that). It would have been interesting to know whether the reinfections and time between them correlated with the outcomes as well the extent to which getting one of the viruses protects from symptoms of the others. This would have give you some idea of what that sort of protection means. It is also the case that if the virus only as some probability of crossing the blood-brain barrier, then getting it multiple times would presumably mean that would always happen. Of course, it might already be happening but we don’t know.

            My reading of that paper is the best solution is people learn to be cleaner like many East Asian countries, in which case you just end up with low levels of the virus, until we find out how long T-cells last for. If it’s 10 years, you are still going to get infected multiple in times your life but I assume by then the chance of not having a vaccine is about zero. If it’s two years, that might more problematic, although given current vaccine development and that many of the drugs seem to getting through phases of clinical trials with a much high probability than other viruses where nothing works, a vaccine sooner rather than later seems probable.

            On as slightly different note more papers are coming out about what is actually going on in terms of your brain. Whilst nothing is usefully quantitative yet, it isn’t very good looking. A very recent example is interesting and shows possible mechanisms, which don’t look great — but the human sample is obviously massively restricted. Obviously if there is long term damage, one can imagine anti-virals being used or invented to get rid of it.

            • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

              Paul’s solution always is to have more deaths.

              any increase is problematic depending on human behaviour. The more people do not wish to gwet the virus the mote the impact on the economy.

              • paul frijters says:

                I am trying to save lives. Your solution is to pretend those who die of something else didn’t die at all and their families should just suck it up and keep quiet.

                • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

                  of course you are not.

                  your solution without any controls leads to more people with the virus and thus more deaths!

        • Dugald says:

          SARS died out in < 2 years.
          MERS died out in < 2 years.
          Countless corona cold and flu viruses have come and gone.
          Herd immunity is quite achievable, although lockdowns and quarantines will mean it will take longer. Most of Europe achieved it 3 months ago despite their best efforts to prevent it.

  12. Meanwhile in Victoria authorities continue to control Covid19 in the only way that they know.
    “Shocking new video shows Victoria Police stomping a man’s head during an arrest on Sunday afternoon on a suburban Melbourne street.
    Video of the incident, which Victoria Police confirmed to, happened in the northern suburb of Epping and was shot from a car by a passer-by.
    In the video, police can be seen closing in on a figure on a footpath.
    Four officers are surrounding the man as a siren wails and one of the occupants of the car says, “What the f***” and another says, “f***ed up”.
    The car moves forward to get a clearer view of the officers, two in high viz vests over their uniforms, around the man.
    The camera zooms in as one officer appears to kick the man from the front and an officer behind the man brings up one foot and stomps it down on the man’s head.”

    If Victoria’s authorities (gangs) were up to their job this would not be happening. All the work (and costs )of controlling Covid19 has been shifted to the public( unpaid) , classic example of a bent as ,rentier society

    • yes, this is one of the phases of totalitarianism: the humanity of dissenters is taken away. Their dignity and rights are no longer recognised as valid. Societies do this often enough with enemies outside of their own borders (its a necessary step in getting your own population to be willing to kill an enemy). But to do this to a segment of the own population is of course much more worrying.

      What is equally worrying is that the Victorian police is clearly backed up by most of the population. They want this. They are cheering this on.

      • Paul
        Don’t know about all that.
        They get paid a lot and can’t do their job, hence : if only the public were better behaved’ Andalusia the usual excusesa d crapshit you’d expect from their likes.

        Victoria has a long ( back to the 1880s I.e. marvellous Melbourne) of gangster culture .

        Positive is that the long unwarranted dominance that Melbourne has had over Australian culture, Politics and economics is truly finished. Cultural Status and self importance is all very well but in the end we mostly,marry the man with the money…

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        Of course they’re not cheering on police kicking mentally ill people in the head.

        Get a grip.

        • paul frijters says:

          I am not saying the Victorian public wants to see mentally challenged people kicked in the head. But I am saying that the public has supported the de-humanisation of those who do not toe the covid line, and that it supports, as John says, that the “authorities continue to control Covid19 in the only way that they know.”

          When one supports a febrile atmosphere of panic and fear, denouncing those that dont toe the line, one has to bear responsibility for the excesses that then happen.

          Btw, daily in Melbourne now huge psychological violence is inflicted on the elderly locked away in institutions, on children’s prevented from interacting with other children, on abused housewives that now cannot escape, etc. Lock downs come with a lot of abuse. All in the name of the greater good. As usual.

          • Conrad says:

            I must admit I found the example weird too, but I resisting commenting. The police in Victoria are far better now than 30 years ago. You should try being brown.

            I also don’t think it is just dehumanisation — of course people feel vindictive against those spreading potentially deadly diseases. This is made worse because they may well feel they have sacrificed to stop it, and suddenly these people start protesting when it is almost done and dusted. Unfortunately for your cause, they also now attract all the loony groups, not just those that managed to evaluate the different positions. So you are going to get some death-by-association from them as people see deranged people spreading viruses telling them that Bill Gates is alien and spreading diseases via 5G.

            Also I would use your example of the elderly locked away in institutions for exactly the opposite of what you are suggesting. I assume that they and the other 20-30% of the population who have co-morbidities probably don’t think the idea of letting the virus run free and kill them or give them long term disabilites for the greater good is such a good idea (and it’s you that’s appealing to the greater good — clearly most people can resist the fun of catching it, even if it costs someone else more in the future).

            Nor do I imagine they think that effectively locking them away for 1-3 years as the rest of the population gets immunity is a good idea. Of course people may well lose immunity too and start spreading the virus again, which seems more than likely given the Dutch paper you were previously talking about. So if you can’t get sick once (even assuming you get cross-resistance, which is not a sure thing), you are going to have to avoid people indefinitely. That’s a pretty harsh punishment.

            • the key point on the vulnerable is that it should be their choice to decide on the risks they are willing to take. As a matter of consequences, the elderly have been particularly hurt by the policies. Many more of them will die from the “cure” than would have from the disease, so its only massive government-lead disinformation that is making them think they are somehow protected rather than made social outcasts whose many illnesses are now no longer looked after and draconian cuts to the public services they use now inevitable in years to come.

              On optimal policy, the key advantage of a very infectious disease is that it shouldn’t take long for it to infect that vast majority if you encourage them to be infected. Weeks, perhaps a few months, not years. So in the optimal scenario (IMO) the vulnerable elderly could be encouraged to self-isolate for 2 months (I’d still advocate it to be voluntary) after which they’d be fine to mix with the rest of the population again. Now we’re in the worst of all worlds. Huge damage with no immunity to show for it. And systemic damage to our institutions, leading us to dark places where the vulnerable have the most to fear.

              • Nicholas Gruen says:

                Perhaps I’m missing something simple, and I’ve not been reading all the comments, though I’ve kept an eye on them. But I’ve never quite thought this ‘protect the vulnerable until herd immunity’ line quite stacks up. The vulnerable, if they’re successful will have avoided the disease. So R0 might be well below zero but when you open up people will have the disease – it will be rattling round the community, or on the next plane in. One of those wanders into an aged care home and the virus parties like it’s March 2020 doesn’t it?

                • this is standard immunology where I have no problems with what the accepted wisdom on this is, so we should easily get to a shared understanding on this point :-)
                  My understanding of this issue is that once the majority have had a disease and there is “herd immunity”, it is essentially much less likely for the ‘uninfected’ to subsequently be infected. Not impossible, but less likely. The idea is that new infections within a country die out relatively quickly because the virus reproduction rate is then low: in some localities with few immune the virus can flare up, but it wont sweep through the whole community.

                  The way statisticians think about this is that the proportion subsequently infected once that marginal herd threshold is reached is close to zero.

                  Now, this gets trickier when we allow for waning immunity among those infected. It means subsequent waves will pass through larger proportions of the population again, though have less impact on anyone previously infected because the prior infection still gives some protection in that it takes less long to get over a re-infection than the first infection. It will also be less risky on the vulnerable because the re-infected are infectious for less long so they keep having a good chance of avoiding infections. Still, it would certainly mean the vulnerable are more likely to get exposed in subsequent waves than if the immunity among the non-vulnerable did not wane. If it were possible for those previously infected to get re-exposed periodically in a known way (they all go to the same football stadium), that would be good because then you’d have periods in which the more vulnerable would know to stay away.

                  If one thinks that kind of scenario through though, one gets to different advice to what might seem initially logical. For one, it then probably becomes more important for those not yet in the high-risk groups (which is much more determined by age than anything else, as Dugald just told hc) to get some protection by getting exposed as early in life as possible (and to keep it up). It also means that in order to reduce the severity of future waves, one basically wants as many as possible of the non-vulnerable exposed. Using John’s analogy of fires and dry wood (which is quite apt), one wants to burn up as much of the fuel as possible, and then have periodic controlled back burning around particular communities.

                  The choices for the very vulnerable (say, the over 85s) become more stark in a multiple-wave scenario associated with waning immunity levels. Do lots of socialising and thereby take a real risk of a 10% chance of dying (which is the ballpark risk they run from covid, not that different btw from the risk at that age of other respiratory diseases) or have very restricted social interaction for the remainder of life?

              • Conrad says:

                This one is much easier to answer. You can see from that Dutch study how many times people are actually infected with different types of coronavirus (Table 1)

                Of the 10 subjects, if you choose the two most infectious coronavirus types (NL63 and 229E), which seems fair given covid is very infectious, you can see they are getting infected by each of these about once every 5 years. So unless these guys were especially unrepresentative, it’s clear you are going to get it some time, and you are going to get it multiple times.

    • Meanwhile in Melbourne from Crikey


      The ABC reports that a Melbourne man is in an induced coma after his head was stomped on by police during his arrest Sunday afternoon, a period in which lawyer Jeremy King said the man had not committed a crime and was being treated for mental health issues.

      The incident has been referred to Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command for investigation, however King has called for an independent investigation. Similarly, Greens MP Tim Read has called for an IBAC referral, and for the Andrews government to resource the body so that the state no longer has “police investigating police”.

      A Victoria Police spokesperson has said that the man assaulted a police officer, and that, “the male allegedly became aggressive and damaged a police vehicle whilst attempting to avoid arrest,” although footage released by Channel Seven appears to show police driving into the man on the street.

      PS: On the other end of this cycle, the Andrews government yesterday announced a $41 million contract to manufacture steel cells as part of his 2019/20 budget’s $1.8 billion prison expansion scheme.

  13. From the AFR:
    New test finds thousands more Australians had COVID-19

    For every Australian who tested positive for COVID-19 during the first wave, up to six positives possibly went undetected, according to a new study from the Australian National University.

    Before the second wave, 11,000 Australians tested positive via swab tests but the study suggests the true number was closer to 71,500. At the most conservative estimate, it says the number would have been 30,000.

    This is the first large scale study in Australia that looked at signs of past infection in the blood of participants, known as seroprevalence.

    It used a highly sensitive blood test capable of finding signs of undetected COVID-19. While many commercial tests promise to do the same, this ANU test has superior features.

    I guess that makes the infection( not case) fatality rate really small. On the other hand if serious longterm after effects ( for people under say fifty) turn out to be fairly common then we could have thousands of relatively young people with heart or brain issues to deal with.

  14. paul frijters says:

    Here’s the letter Sanjeev Sabhlok, who was an economists in the Victorian Treasury, brought out when forced to resign from the Victorian civil service for social media critical of lock downs and other policies. It echoes many of the points of the post above and the arguments we’ve been making these last few months. The one main point of difference between my own views and those of Sanjeev is that he’s a mask-fanatic.

    Last week I quit my job as an economist in the Victorian Department of Finance and Treasury so that I would be free to speak out against the state’s management of the COVID-19 infection.

    I had made a number of criticisms of the state government on social media. The head of human relations at Treasury asked me to remove them. I considered deleting the few direct criticisms, but they wanted all indirect criticism removed too. I resigned on the same day, the only honourable course for a free citizen of Australia. I never dreamed I would see some of the tactics being used to defend the state’s health.

    The pandemic policies being pursued in Australia – particularly in Victoria – are the most heavy-handed possible, a sledgehammer to kill a swarm of flies. These policies are having hugely adverse economic, social and health effects, with the poorer sections of the community that don’t have the ability to work from home suffering the most.
    Australia is signalling to the world that it is closed for business and doesn’t care for human freedoms. This will dampen business investment but also impact future skilled migration, the education industry and tourism.

    The whole thing hinges on the scare created by politicians and health professionals. For instance, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton claims this is the “greatest public health challenge since the Spanish flu”.
    But this is no Spanish flu – we can verify that easily.
    The Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people worldwide in 1918 when the global population was 1.8 billion. Proportionately, to be as lethal as Spanish flu, a virus would have to kill at least 210 million people today. Instead, only around 0.9 million have died so far (compare this also with the 60 million who ordinarily die each year).

    What about a second wave? There has never been a second wave hundreds of times bigger than the first. We can be reasonably certain that while this virus may create further ripples, its ultimate magnitude will end up in the range of the 1957 Asian flu.
    The need for good policy process does not disappear just because we face a public health crisis.

    But even if the pandemic had been as big as the Spanish flu, lockdowns could never have been justified. There are strong scientific arguments against lockdowns too.
    So what should the government have done? The data were clear from February itself that the elderly are many times more vulnerable to a serious outcome than the young. It was necessary, therefore, to work out a targeted age-based strategy and start aggressively protecting and isolating the elderly, even as the rest of the population was advised on relevant precautions. But that wasn’t done.
    The need for good policy process does not disappear just because we face a public health crisis. In fact, it gets even more urgent.

    The Victorian Guide to Regulation notes that “It is not possible for governments to provide a completely ‘risk free’ society, or to prevent every possible event that might cause harm”. Further: “The direct and indirect costs imposed by regulatory approaches may not be … immediately obvious. Risk regulation that is poorly targeted or costly will divert resources from other priorities.”

    Governments back in February needed to commission a cost-benefit analysis of alternative policy options that took into account different scenarios (such as with and without a vaccine). Thereafter, the best option had to be picked given the uncertainty, but consistent also with the need to intrude minimally into human freedoms. This cost-benefit analysis and policies needed then to be updated as new information emerged (such as the fact that epidemiological models have badly exaggerated the risk).

    Governments should have also realised at the outset that they are hostage to chronic groupthink and actively sought alternative advice. I attempted repeatedly to raise my voice within my public sector role, but my attempts were rebuffed. The bureaucracy has clamped down on frank and fearless, impartial advice, in a misplaced determination to support whatever the government decides, (instead of performing its taxpayer-funded duty of providing forthright analysis of alternatives).

    While there is scientific argument against lockdowns, there are divergent views on matters such as the effectiveness of masks. I am a mask fanatic but there was never any reason to mandate these debatable requirements. Voluntary, performance-based rules would allow the private sector to innovate, leaving people with the power of agency, to determine their own fate – thereby minimising economic harm, and harm to mental health and general well-being.

    So what happens now? Billions of dollars in income and wealth have been wiped out in the name of a virus that is no worse than the Asian flu and which can (even now) be managed by isolating the elderly and taking a range of voluntary, innovative measures. All the border closures, all the lockdowns, all the curfews in Melbourne will not eradicate the virus from planet Earth.
    The problem for politicians now is to reverse course without losing their job. I don’t know how they plan to do it but if they don’t do it sooner rather than later the damage to Australia’s future would have become so great it would undo the good work of decades of reform.

    • It really seems that Victoria’s authorities believe that if we all agree, if dissent is eliminated, the virus will be eliminated.

      BTW the AFR is also reporting that none of Andrews core group of advisors is a specialist in infectious disease and that one of the leading advocates for an elimination strategy within that inner circle of experts has conceded that elimination is not possible.

      Where that leaves Victoria and it’s ‘map’ is anybody’s guess.

  15. Nicholas all along I’ve wondered why model something that is next to impossible to actually achieve “elimination “. and equally why model something that nobody will ever do I.e. no reaction “ let it rip”.
    What’s the point?

    • paul frijters says:

      glad to see the Conversation finally putting a toe in this water after months of only fanning the hysteria. Very late and only very tentatively. But better than never.

  16. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:


    you cannot support a policy where more people get the virus and then say you policy has less deaths.
    It is a contradiction

    • paul frijters says:

      no its not a contradiction. Do try and work through the argument. Its the same logic as having back burning and controlled fires in order to prevent a fire that devastates homes.

  17. Pingback: Three economists and Victoria, the State of Madness. – In The Frame Journal

  18. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Responding to Paul back at the margin of the page – we were getting squeezed to the right hand margin.

    My point isn’t that the aged care homes remain a danger to the wider world – the wider world has herd immunity. My point is that this ‘protect the vulnerable’ line invokes something that ‘let-it-rippers’ regard as a reductio ad absurdem elsewhere. When more conservative people call for a green zone defence in which the virus is excluded until we decide we can’t go on doing it or a vaccine turns up, the let-it-rippers say “you’re holding the economy hostage to fortune. Are you going to do it forever?”.

    It seems to me that the ‘protect the vulnerable’ line involves doing it forever or for a very long time as the virus lurks around, comes in and out of the country and so on.

    • paul frijters says:

      maybe my reply wasn’t clear but it was exactly on this point of “It seems to me that the ‘protect the vulnerable’ line involves doing it forever or for a very long time as the virus lurks around, comes in and out of the country and so on.”

      I was laying out what that entailed. Or at least, I thought I was laying that out!

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        Care to have another go then?

        • Nicholas Gruen says:

          You know – for the dummies and hysterics like me :)

        • ok, let’s try an analogy. Think of the vulnerable as the plants inside houses and the non-vulnerable as the trees outside. The virus is like a fire. The plants inside can die from all kinds of causes but they cant survive fire. The trees outside do survive the fire. Not a perfect analogy, but it fits the main elements. In this scenario its possible for a short period of time to cordon off the houses (put them in a glass dome), but doing so for long kills off the plants as well because they are starved of water and nutrients. The glass domes are expensive but they work to protect from fire.

          One way to try and protect the plants inside is to try to have no fires break out anywhere and put a glass dome over the houses (lock-downs, social distancing, a very active local fire service). This kills off forest life indefinitely, is expensive, and kills off the plants by neglect.

          Another way to protect the plants is to have a roaring fire that burns up all the fuel outside the houses whilst putting the expensive glass domes over the houses (have as big a first wave as possible). Some bits of the forests wont catch fire, by accident but most of the fuel will be gone. When then removing the glass domes, you will get the sporadic local fire that destroys a house and its contents, but it wont spread to many houses since the fuel is gone.

          Yet, the trees outside regrow and can catch fire again. This takes years but it happens and some trees regrow faster than others. Shrubs that can catch fire emerge more quickly. New fires will burn out quicker and spread less, but slowly the fuel outside builds up again (waning immunity).

          What that means in the longer run is that full protection and no risk is impossible, but depending on what one is prepared to forego one can reduce some risks. One can do controlled back-burning or burning the fuel in a ring around the houses. One can have controlled larger fires to prevent super-large fires that will surprise houses that have lifted their glass domes.

          Clearer? So a situation with waning immunity (or new groups of people coming in, same thing really) means one somehow wants to up the immunity of the non-vulnerable regularly. Some notion of calculated care for the vulnerable is a given, with or without fires. Its not an absolute thing though, in any scenario.

  19. Dugald says:

    Good analogy Paul but its a bit too pessimistic. Potentially 50-70% of trees are covered in fire retardant (pre-existing immunity) ! When trees catch fire they have a 99.75% chance of surviving, and they re-grow their leaves in 14-21 days !

    • I know, there are many things not quite right with the analogy, but it works well in terms of explaining the idea of herd immunity, local outbreaks, and what changes if we think of waning immunity levels. It’s just a device to explain standard immunological arguments. I could do it in differential equations or simulations, but I dont think that would help at all.

  20. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Yes, it’s clearer

    It’s another non-factual counterfactual. You’re having a burn-out fire outside the aged care homes. But people won’t stand for that. They’ll try to slow the spread of the virus. Not even Sweden is trying to have a raging fire. So in the event of no vaccine, the virus will be around for a long, long time as people socially distance and all the rest of it. In fact you can’t organise a bonfire even if you wanted to. People won’t cooperate. They’ll self islolate – those in their 50s and 60s and some much younger for good or bad reasons.

    And when I said “aged care homes” above, I should have said “all homes with people over 60” – or if you like 70 in them. We protect them, but the virus continues to linger, breaking out here and there in the community, so they remain in lockdown perhaps for years.

    Again, in Europe and America perhaps that’s the best we can hope for. It’s not in New Zealand. Nor is it in Australia.

    So count me among the unconvinced.

    • Taiwan is the only nation in the world to have achieved elimination . A vaccine is no certainty , could be sometime coming and supplies of enough of it will be hard to come by.
      We will be living with it, like it or not, for a long time to come. Whatever we do about it needs to be something we can live with, longterm.

      • Conrad says:

        The problem with vaccines won’t be that we won’t ever get them and nor that they will take forever (obviously they will take some time to manufacture). I think the problem will be how well they work (i.e., if they only give partial resistance, the extent people won’t have them etc.). Here’s a document that has collated the success rates of different types of drugs at different stages of trials over long perios. If you look at Figure 10, you can see phase 3 to approval for vaccines is over 70%. There are currently 5 covid drugs in phase 3 trials and 30 or so other ones some of the way, of which I think two are not injected (one is a tablet and one a nasal spray — the tablet you don’t need to refrigerate so it would have far more potential for poorer places and multiple imunisations, although both of those are only just starting to be tested so they have a low probability of success).

        • Supply in the quantities needed will be a test.
          There’s likely to be small glitches in supply trains i.e. a small but hard to substitute for in quantity ,component of the process proves hard to get due to say national hoarding or because the big disruptions to global transport networks that the pandemic and the response have resulted in.

          Overall feel that while most still hope ‘it will be over by Christmas’ it’s more like ‘the lights are going out, and they won’t be relighted in our lifetime’

          • conrad says:

            I don’t think it will be over Christmas — I agree supply problems will be there. However, the idea that it will be finished sometime gives people optimism that there is finite end to the problem, which I think is important.

    • Dugald says:

      Did you feel such pessimism in 2017 when the flu season killed 4,300 people in Australia (approx 6 times as many as covid) ?

      • conrad says:

        Who mentioned pessimism? I am optimistic about the situation because the virus has more or less been stopped here.

        Indeed, such a good job was done I noticed unemployment actually went down today. So you have good management of the virus, and policies that allow people to get back to work quickly. Try comparing that to anywhere else at present.

    • Nicholas
      Re the analogy to fire , the idea behind things like cultural burning is to have fairly frequent, cool and small scale fires , not to have a “bonfire “. The argument is that big bonfires is what you get when fire is absent for too long. It ( actual fire regimes ) is a complex subject, there’s much more to it than that.

  21. From the AFR
    A second wave of university job cuts is coming next year

    Universities are “at the beginning of the fallout” from COVID-19 and a second wave of redundancies is likely next year unless travel restrictions are lifted on international students, says higher education expert Mark Warburton.

    RMIT University and the Australian National University both increased redundancy targets by more that 50 per cent this week and others, including the University of NSW, said they would move to compulsory redundancies after voluntary programs failed to deliver enough savings.

    Universities are “at the beginning of the fallout” from COVID-19, according to Mark Warburton Louise Kennerley

    Universities Australia previously warned of more than 20,000 job losses as $3 billion to $4 billion was wiped off university incomes when overseas enrolments collapsed.

  22. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:


    can you enlighten us on all the countries that had an increasing trend of the virus over time but a decrease in deaths if not no deaths.

    That stat has escaped me

    • Actually in the UK infections are rising quite a bit but ,unlike during the first wave ,hospital admissions and deaths are not rising in fact are quite flat.

      • conrad says:

        I’ll bet that’s a lag effect. You can see the deaths in Spain and France are just starting again — the second wave hit Spain early, and the UK seems quite late. Spain is interesting because Madrid is the epicentre, as it was in the first wave. So they clearly can’t have developed that much immunity.

        • There wasn’t that much lag during the first wave , if you look at the running seven day average.
          Maybe this time the lag time will be more than two weeks.

          • conrad says:

            Could be — I just eyeballed the coronavirus odometer data which shows Spain basically started the new wave earlier. It might be a different sample too. If more young people are getting infected and then later infecting their parents, it will obviously take longer than old people getting infected first, many of whom are probably now taking more evasive action with people outside their households.

            • Suspect that in my terms the places with the heavy fuel loads have either already burnt out or hopefully better protection has been implemented.
              It’s definitely the case that
              during the first wave as infections rose rapidly , deaths also rose rapidly .
              Second time round a rapid rise in infections has not corresponded with a matching rapid rise in deaths- there has been an uptick but it’s nothing like what happened last time.

      • The figures graphs for the UK
        First time around the seven day averages for new infections , and deaths mapped quite closely. In the second spike despite a marked increase in new infections there is to date no corresponding rise in deaths .

        • Conrad says:

          Could be – but check out the lag in the French and Spain 2nd wave, where the increase is just starting now. I guess we’ll find out the answer in a month or two.

          One other thing that is interesting is the all of those countries bubbled along with a few hundred cases a day and had almost no deaths, and thus the deaths appear to occur with spikes (even after correcting for number of cases).

          It would be curious to know if this is just a different group of people getting the virus or if it the medical system doesn’t function in an all-or-nothing way as typically portrayed. Perhaps the most extreme outlier is Singapore, with only 27 deaths. That might be because most of the people getting it were migrant workers, but they also have the best medical system in the world for many things (e.g., maternal deaths), so perhaps they can really stay at 100% even with many more cases than other places.

          • Feel that local factors have all along been much more significant than higher level government policies.
            For example if the UK had not forced so many aged are facilities to accept transfers from hospitals of untested elderly patients , things in those aged care facilities might have been quite a bit less awful.
            Also gather that in Italy cross infections within hospitals was a significant factor in the first waves death toll -Expect that barrier nursing is back .

  23. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    Variable Variability on herd immunity. It was written a while ago but still is on the money

  24. Rafe Champion says:

    Nice work Paul, see if this plays into your theme.

    • paul frijters says:

      thanks Rave.

      yes, there is a whole set of alternative doom sayers, not merely some of the environmentalists. I already pointed out the analogy in March ( I went a lot deeper then into the economics of this than the video above which too easily dismisses the phenomenon as a mystic religious category. That’s not a predictive pattern.

      The key to understanding science-derived doom sayers is their political weakness. They dont have guns. So they cant demand resources from the population but must convince them. They have to weaken people’s other ties and set themselves up as salvation for some problem. That’s the pattern.

      Its a very stable system and there are many such ideologies around competing for dominance, much like there are competing diseases. Humanity is thus not going to get rid of them, which is the implicit fantasy in the video you link to. As doom sayers go, the environmentalists are pretty benign. Their fantasy is livable and pleasant relative to that of the covid-doom sayers.

  25. paul frijters says:

    There’s an amnesty international report coming on what happened in UK care homes, were 400,000 elderly live. A quote from the newspaper story on the report leaked to them:

    It is an excoriating verdict that will, undoubtedly, give voice to the rage and anguish of thousands of families: the Government’s pandemic policies violated the fundamental human rights of vulnerable older people in care, a major report has concluded.

    “Inexplicable” decisions were made that were “heedless at best”.

    The measures exposed elderly residents to the virus and then, crucially, blocked them from receiving life-saving medical care. And ultimately this led to tens of thousands of deaths, according to the Amnesty International analysis, shared exclusively with the Mail on Sunday, ahead of publication.

    The report will show, starkly, that Ministers “knew from the outset” that COVID-19 posed an exceptional danger to the 400,000 residents of UK care homes, many of whom are frail and live with multiple health conditions. But while claiming time and again that the need to protect them was at the very heart of policy, what actually happened was quite the opposite.

    Homes were “overwhelmed” by infections and older people were subjected to “inhuman and degrading” treatment. The review paints the Government as “directly responsible” and lays bare a litany of failures and sinister edicts that resulted in tragedy.

    This scandal has had no noticeable effect on the public even though 400,000 elderly must have millions of family members. It goes to this curious phenomenon of societal blindness towards suffering it doesn’t want to see because it doesn’t fit the current narrative. Equally curious is the lack of noise from institutions that are supposed to champion these things. I for instance miss the voice of the churches in this. Where are the priests making dramatic gestures to show their support for the weakest?

    I think I saw one newspaper article somewhere with a story of a how a family rescued their nan from one of these “care” homes by breaking into that home.

    • Conrad says:

      Presumably that just shows many people don’t care about old people much, which I guess we already knew given the stereotypes people have about them and how they get treated in many countries. Perhaps some people implicitly impute that because they have few QALYs left, their lives don’t matter much.

      On a different note, I imagine a deeper question is whether you can really stop Covid getting into these types of centres. Whilst the government clearly did a poor job (as happened in many places), even if you can reduce the risk substantially, given the multiple interactions and the difficulty of the circumstances in aged care, I suspect better practices may simply slow infection rates down. I guess we will see what happens empirically in the second wave now occurring even with better practices.

      • paul frijters says:

        Hi Conrad,

        yes, I have wondered the same thing about the inability to truly keep covid out of these centers. They seem particularly prone to attract the virus. In countries with high fatalities the average victim is much older than in regions with low fatalities, suggesting that if anyone gets it, its those in these institutions. They rotate nurses, have people going in an out of hospital, and when a resident catches it, there will be a lot of shedding.

        Particularly if the period of high current cases in a population is long, its going to be nigh impossible to shield the elderly in these large homes.

  26. paul frijters says:

    An interesting article to appear in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences (

    COVID-19 has brought the world grinding to a halt. As of early August 2020, the greatest public health emergency of the century thus far has registered almost 20 million infected people and claimed over 730,000 lives across all inhabited continents, bringing public health systems to their knees, and causing shutdowns of borders and lockdowns of cities, regions, and even nations unprecedented in the modern era. Yet, as this Article demonstrates—with diverse examples drawn from across the world—there are unmistakable regressions into authoritarianism in governmental efforts to contain the virus. Despite the unprecedented nature of this challenge, there is no sound justification for systemic erosion of rights-protective democratic ideals and institutions beyond that which is strictly demanded by the exigencies of the pandemic. A Wuhan-inspired all-or-nothing approach to viral containment sets a dangerous precedent for future pandemics and disasters, with the global copycat response indicating an impending ‘pandemic’ of a different sort, that of authoritarianization. With a gratuitous toll being inflicted on democracy, civil liberties, fundamental freedoms, healthcare ethics, and human dignity, this has the potential to unleash humanitarian crises no less devastating than COVID-19 in the long run.

    • Conrad says:

      You might take a positive out of that — people now know what their governments can do, although the move towards more authoritarian governments was happening well before the pandemic. I think many people like it — being tough on crime, disenfranchised groups like refugees, etc. sells well and appears to give some people a feeling of safety and fairness.

      • paul frijters says:

        yes, there is that. And I agree authoritarianism is inherently quite popular. But I dont like it and its spectacularly inefficient. That really is my long-run hope: its inefficient. As long as there is competition between countries pure greed is a force against authoritarianism. After all, competition gave us the magna carta: barons not wanting to be pushed around by their king. Though Barons and Kings were quite happy to push around everyone else…

        • Conrad says:

          I agree, although I don’t think people understand that (or perhaps they don’t care), and given its history, I don’t think competition will stop countries from falling to it and having it for years. One of the interesting things is that even countries with decent levels of education get sucked up by it, even without strong external forces like Covid. You can just imagine what a great place somewhere like Russia would be with a decent government given their history of invention.

  27. paul frijters says:

    Boris Johnson’s speech to the conservative party conference today labelled “nonsense …about how my own bout of Covid has somehow robbed me of my mojo” as “seditious propaganda”.

    Seditious? What a word to use. I hope it was a slip of the tongue, but even then. Not a good omen as to how he thinks about his policies and the reactions to them. It echoes Victoria’s Dan Andrews who said that to protest is unlawful.

    L’etat, ce n’est pas toi, Boris.

  28. Pingback: The gathering Covistance, its promise and its main enemies | Club Troppo

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