Dear PM – you can’t have your cake and eat it too

Dear Scott Morrison, PM,

Meeks here. As many countries, including our own, battle an up-surge in Covid-19 infections, one thing is becoming increasingly clear – the suppression model is just not working. As soon as lockdowns are relaxed [to save the economy], the virus surges back up again. If we had some effective tools to use against the virus, things might be different, but the truth is that we have nothing.

Remember that mobile phone app we borrowed from Singapore, PM? You know, the one that was going to keep track of everyone we came into contact with and then alert us if one of our contacts became infected? I think you called it CovidSafe, the app that was going to allow us to have our cake and eat it too.

Bad news, PM. The CovidSafe app failed, in large part because Apple phones and Android phones couldn’t or wouldn’t co-operate with each other. When the outbreak began in Victoria, the app was useless. It’s still useless, and as far as I know, no country has managed to develop one that actually works the way it should.

The failure of the CovidSafe app in Victoria has meant that the authorities here have had to track and trace every single contact manually. The backlog of untracked contacts is now in the thousands, one reason the Premier, Dan Andrews, has had to impose the harshest restrictions yet. These restrictions have seen the introduction of a nightly curfew and the shutdown of everything that is not [very] strictly essential. Workers in essential industries now have to have a permit to go to work.

These draconian restrictions became necessary, PM, because the virus has spread too far in the community. One reason for this spread is that the virus has many vectors [pathways] of spread available to it:

  • the most obvious vector is person-to-person contact – hugs, kisses etc. This is where social distancing comes in.
  • the next most important vector is the air. This is where masks come in as they greatly reduce the amount of virus being released into the air and being breathed in from the air. The virus spreads in the air via :
    • large droplets – e.g. when someone coughs or sneezes. These large droplets fall to the ground, or a surface, very quickly so are relatively easy to deal with.
    • aerosolized micro droplets that hang in the air for quite some time. In confined spaces such as public transport, or shopping centres where air is recirculated, these micro droplets can spread the virus very quickly.
  • next in line are surfaces. Both large and micro droplets can survive on various types of surfaces from a few hours to a few days. This is where hand hygiene is vital. If you touch something that has active virus on it and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, the virus could easily enter your body via your own hand.

If we were all altruistic, compassionate people who practised strict social distancing, strict mask wearing, and strict hand hygiene until a vaccine arrived, we probably could have our cake and eat it too. Thailand has managed to do just that. Unfortunately, most Western countries are not like Thailand. We don’t seem to have the necessary sense of community responsibility. I’m surprised no one on your staff mentioned that to you, PM.

Anyway, as I’m sure you know, PM, Covid-19 has a number of incredibly powerful tools in its arsenal:

  • it has victims who are hell bent on spreading it to others
  • it has multiple vectors [pathways] for getting inside its victims
  • and it has THREE secret weapons :
    1. it is infectious for 2 – 3 days before symptoms appear,
    2. in many people, the symptoms are so mild, they don’t even know they’ve been infected,
    3. and there are some people who never get symptoms at all, not even mild ones, yet these asymptomatic people* are infectious and can spread the virus to others.

This is why the virus cannot actually be ‘controlled’. Sadly, PM this is also why your dream of suppression was never a realistic option.

So I guess the thing I’d like to know, PM, is what you intend to do now. Are you going to make us keep opening and closing all the time?

I sincerely hope not, PM, because everything I’ve seen so far indicates that businesses simply cannot survive much more of this. Being able to reopen safely and stay open, is vital to both people and business. The question, then, is how do we stay open safely?

I hate to say I-told-you-so, PM, but right from the start, I thought your government was wrong to opt for suppression instead of eradication. I also thought the schedule for reopening was wildly optimistic and didn’t demonstrate much of an understanding of human nature. And then there was the whole issue of whether Victoria was ready to reopen. With just 2 days of zero new infections in all of May, it didn’t look good.

But you and your government were determined to save the economy, PM, so Dan Andrews finally bowed to pressure. And there was a lot of it, wasn’t there? You said each state had to do what was right for that state, but many people in your Cabinet and in the Victorian Liberal Party were not so nice. I really think you should have a word with Dan Tehan, your education minister, along with Tim Smith and Michael O’Brien of Victoria. They said some naughty things behind your back, things designed to paint Dan Andrews as a megalomaniac who wanted to hurt his people.

I’d definitely have words with them, PM, because what happened next is at least partly their fault. With overseas travellers still arriving in Melbourne, Dan Andrews ordered that they stay in hotel quarantine for 14 days. A private security company was hired to stop them from leaving hotel quarantine. That private security company then apparently sub-contracted the work out. Unfortunately, those private security guards were poorly equipped and even more poorly trained.

Dear PM, I’m stressing the fact that it was a private company because Dan Andrews has been blamed for doing precisely what you and your government do all the time. You outsource to private companies because you believe that private industry always does a better job than the public service. Plus it’s part of your credo of ‘small government’. But that’s not always the case, is it, PM? I mean, look at the deaths in aged care! Most of them occurred in private aged care facilities regulated and controlled by your government in Canberra.

Getting back to those private security guards, PM, I won’t speculate about how they caught Covid-19 from the quarantined travellers, it’s enough that they did. Then, because large family get-togethers were once again allowed, they took the virus home to their families. From there, the virus spread like wildfire. Or should I say ‘bushfire’?

And of course, with all those new victims, the virus used every weapon in its considerable arsenal to leap from person to person, and from place to place.

In hindsight, PM, I do believe that Dan Andrews made a mistake in not putting all of Melbourne into hard lockdown along with the social housing towers, but the atmosphere of general discontent probably made that impossible. We’d been hearing about how hard it was to be in lockdown, how miserable we were for such a long time that we would have rebelled.

Speaking of discontent, PM, did you have anything to do with that? You see, I was rather shocked by how skewed the reporting was, even on the ABC. Instead of inspiring stories about people helping each other, or sad stories about people who had lost loved ones, everything was skewed towards the negative. Stories about how tough it was for small business, how tough it was for parents having to supervise their kids’ schooling, how sad we all were at not being able to visit friends and family…

But I digress, PM. I’d like to talk about what might have happened if we had opted for eradication like New Zealand. Import and export would have continued. The only thing we would not have had were foreign tourists and foreign students. But hey, we ended up not having them anyway.

The real difference would have been in what came after. With the virus eradicated, the Australian states could have remained ‘open’, and both tourism and the tertiary sector could have remained ticking over thanks to domestic demand. Instead, both sectors are dying because you somehow forgot about them when you were handing out the largesse.

Not that I blame you, PM. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re dealing with a crisis. I mean, do you remember those long, long, long queues outside the Centrelink offices when you announced the first, rather short shutdown? And how long it took for people to receive their first payments. Mistakes do happen, don’t they?

But I digress again. Getting back to eradication, PM, I know what you’re going to say, eradication of the virus would have been hard. For starters, all of Australia would have had to stay in hard lockdown long enough to stop ALL the ways the virus can spread. That would have taken time, and it would have cost your government a lot more money. Then again, it looks as if suppression is going to cost more too.

In fact, I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been a whole lot cheaper to lockdown once and eradicate the virus the first time round? I mean, I know not every country can successfully eradicate the virus, but we can! Australia may be big, but we are an island you know.

Anyway, there is good news, PM. It’s not too late to change your policy and go for eradication. Once Victoria finally grinds the virus down to zero, I think you’ll find that none of the other states want to risk being the next Covid-19 hot spot. No one will want to open their borders, and you know how disastrous that would be for your economy. No money coming in, lots of money going out. Not good.

So don’t think about the cost, PM, think about the benefits we’d get from eradication. With the virus gone, we’d all be able to:

  • go back to work,
  • go back to school,
  • go back to travel [within Australia],
  • go back to holidays [within Australia],
  • go back to coffee with friends,
  • go back to dinner parties,
  • go back to birthday parties,
  • go back to drinks at the pub,
  • go back to sport as real live spectators,
  • go back to weddings,
  • and yes, we could attend funerals again…but there would be far fewer of them.

And let’s not forget business, PM. Businesses, especially the small ones, will be able to reopen and stay open. They’ll be able to plan for weeks or months ahead. They’ll be able to grow again. And people will stimulate the economy by spending! Yay, right?

But first, PM, you and your government have to bite the bullet and admit that we cannot control this virus. We don’t have the tools or the social structure to stop it from breaking out again. The best we can do is eradicate it within the country and then keep it from returning.

That way lies hope. And who knows, maybe in time, New Zealand and other, successful South East Asian countries will let us join their bubble. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Suppression though, that’s a dead end, PM, literally. So how about it? Shall we give eradication a go?

Most sincerely,

* The first person to ever be identified as an asymptomatic carrier was Mary Mallon, nicknamed Typhoid Mary. She remained infectious her whole life because she lived at a time when there was no safe or easy way to rid her of the virus.

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

30 responses to “Dear PM – you can’t have your cake and eat it too

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    Vaccines that are effective is the best solution – hope we get one soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yes. I’m trying not to hope too much though. I’m hearing late next year as a realistic goal. Just don’t want to think about it.


      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        Late next year is reasonable. I hope it’s sooner, for all our sakes, but many things have to happen first. I feel a little guilty sheltering in a place where we’re safe(r), but me being dead takes me out of the equation – and I’d rather not do that quite yet.

        Not that I’m much use to the population in general now, but, whatever the system while I was working, I did the right things. Maybe I should have spent it all. We should have taken better vacations! Except that by the time I figured that out, I was sick.

        And being sick really makes you question every expenditure – because you can’t work to replace it.

        I hope Pride’s Children is worth it – as Kary says: It wouldn’t exist.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          The Offspring and I are sheltering in place too, have been since March due to health issues. We’re lucky though. We’re on a big block [semi rural/semi urban] so don’t feel so claustrophobic and had already scaled down all our expenses. I miss the bit extra my teaching used to bring in but we can get by on the pension. Many others aren’t nearly so lucky.

          I guess we all have to find some kind of silver lining in this mess. For you and me it will probably be the writing. And who knows, maybe the forced inactivity will make the First World rethink its priorities.


          • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

            No expectations at all of what will happen when the worst of the pandemic is over, and life resumes. Things will be different, things will be the same, some things will get rushed into being exactly what they used to be (including white privilege).

            I won’t have any influence anyway.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Hmm…I do have expectations. I /want/ the other side to be better than pre-pandemic, and I’m old enough and angry enough to make my own tiny bit of noise about it.

            Don’t sell yourself short, Alicia. You’re a writer, and whether you do it deliberately or not, your ethics and your world view infuse your writing. If even one reader reads your work, that’s a mind you’ve touched.

            Not suggesting that you should write polemic. Whatever you write will have an impact. We writers are lucky like that. 🙂


          • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

            Thanks, but that’s when I’m most conscious of being an outlier – if I have an impact, it won’t be on the populists. I want things better. Maybe I’m preparing for disaster.

            I didn’t last time – no one thought DT would win, including him (and he lost the popular vote by a wide margin).

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Not the populists, no, but the fence sitters? There you, and I, may have some leverage. Please believe me when I say I don’t expect miracles. On my bad days I don’t think homo sapiens is worth saving. On my good days I believe the good we do outweighs the bad, even if only by the tiniest margin. 😦


          • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

            I try. There are a LOT of lurkers – people who never comment. Maybe some of them agree with me, maybe I make them think.

            Not everyone is comfortable putting their words out there.

            I put them out there – but delete before hitting SEND sometimes.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            lol – I’ve done a lot of lurking in my time. Not on this blog but definitely on others. And yes, making that first comment does feel like opening yourself up to…something. The nice things is that this community of writers and readers is…I was going to say tolerant, but that’s not quite it. I think this community is open, to new ideas, new perspectives on old ideas, maybe change in general. And by and large, people are kind.

            lol – yes, having that tiny gap between blurt and send is vital. 😀


  • D. Wallace Peach

    All so obvious, Andrea. Here too. If we had just locked down (and by locked down, I’m mean the draconian extreme) in March/April for 5 or six weeks, this would have been essentially over. Now, it’s an endless nightmare. The US is going to have a quarter-million dead by the end of the year and an economy in shambles.

    Liked by 1 person

  • HonieBriggs

    I live in the United States, so…

    Liked by 1 person


    I’m pleased you have put this in words. I feel it but have to let it wash over me less the weight pulls me down. It’s just so bloody frustrating. So many agendas so little commonsense… common decency. I know I’m fortunate in my position to stay safely at home without much inconvenience but I too have had to curtail some plans and activities, adapt to a new normal both in the present and the probability of the foreseeable future. Our governments and people need to get their shit together, and do the same… which imo your Premier Dan, and Jacinta across the ditch have done by way of example.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Like you, my life hasn’t been turned upside down by the lockdowns, despite having isolated since March, but I can see that we’re going nowhere fast. We do need to get out shit together. Whenever I look at the situation in NZ I’m filled with envy. Things aren’t perfect over there, but in comparison to us? -sigh-


  • Widdershins

    We’re slowly opening up here and are that wibbly-wobbly stage where it could go either way … and finally, finally masks are slowly being mandated in stores and public transport.
    Hope you’re staying safe, my friend … big hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      You too, Widds. I truly believe masks will make a difference. Let’s just hope they make enough of a difference. Please don’t let your guard down though. That 14 day lag in new infections can lull everyone into a false sense of security.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Candy Korman

    You’ve laid it out—all of it! I know that here in the U.S. the facts are rejected by all too many people in power. This is a crazy world and in a few years we’re going to look back on this period of time as an aberration. At least, that’s my sincere hope. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Be a realist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      -hugs- I wish we were at that point already. But at least New Yorkers have a Governor who has quite a few brain cells to rub together. Let’s hope enough other states have decent leadership to stop the worst from happening.


  • robertawrites235681907

    I think all governments have tried and failed, Meeks. Our figures are very high and our deaths are over 300 a day, reaching up to 500 a day. Our populations is under 60 million so when you compare this to the USA’s 2000 deaths a day at the peak with a population of 330 million we are comparable. It was inevitable and now we have 3 million additional unemployed people who are getting some benefits, but they are due to end next month.

    Liked by 1 person

  • The Story Reading Ape

    I understand what you mean, Meeks, however, UK and Ireland are also islands, but even with hard lockdowns, we’re still getting upsurges, mainly due to stupidity when drunk, or, we MUST hug and kiss our loved ones, it’s our RIGHT!
    Unfortunately, the nature of humans is rebellious and self serving, combined with a strong sense of entitlement, so doing something to help prevent others being infected, doesn’t suit our fragile egos (especially if those others are vulnerable and elderly, therefore, no longer useful to us)
    Yes, I know the vast majority of people have been trying to help others and do the right thing, but the minority (as usual) are causing hardship for the majority.
    We also need to face the fact that Covid may not be possible to eradicate without a vaccine – plus, for all we know, asymptomtic people may keep the virus in an infectious condition for much longer (research on this has not even started anywhere yet).
    Sorry for the rant, Meeks, but the more stupidity I see, the more angry I become with humanity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      Go for it, Chris. Today’s post has been churning inside me for most of this week and this was my way of getting it out. Anger seems to be just one tweet or one stupid comment away these days. 😦

      I fear that the UK and possibly Ireland have too much spread now for eradication, but I also fear that constantly trying to suppress the virus will just become a lose-lose situation with people, even good people, finally giving up. What happens then I don’t want to think about.
      It’s funny, when I added the link to the Typhoid Mary article I did get a bit of a chill. I mean it is possible that the asymptomatic spreaders do stay infectious. As you say, the research simply hasn’t been done yet. I’m hoping though that once covid has done its worst it’ll disappear from our systems. From what I’ve read of the long haulers, the virus itself is gone but the damage it leaves behind lingers on.
      -fingers crossed- we’re wrong and the vaccine arrives soon.

      Liked by 1 person

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