Tag Archives: reopening

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?

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/24/newly-unemployed-australians-queue-at-centrelink-offices-as-mygov-website-crashes-again

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,
Meeks

* 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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mallon


Covid-19 in Melbourne [Australia] and Viral Load

For those in other parts of the world, my city, Melbourne, is in the middle of a Covid-19 resurgence, and we’re being locked down again.

Much has been made about the so-called ‘error of judgement’ that led to a private security company being tasked with keeping travellers in hotel quarantine. The truth, however is a lot more complicated:

  • yes, the security guards assigned to the hotels were not properly ‘educated’ about the virus,
  • and yes, some of those security guards caught the virus themselves,
  • and yes, the infected guards did bring the virus home to their friends and family,
  • but…they would not have been able to infect as many friends and family if Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the Liberal National Party had not pushed so hard for Victoria to reopen.

Part of the re-opening in Victoria included the ability to visit more people outside of our immediate families. This led to big family get togethers, especially in migrant families for whom family connections are not only strong but vital.

Now think – what would a family get together be without kisses and hugs?

‘The government said it’s okay to get together so it must be safe. And if it’s safe, why should we not kiss and hug?’

One of the reasons why social distancing is so important could well be viral load.

No idea what that is?

I was struggling with the concept myself until I watched Dr John Campbell’s video this morning:

There is some technical stuff in the video, but Dr John is very good at explaining complex ideas in simple ways so please don’t skip this one.

For those who only want the bottom line, it’s this:

  1. a small viral load – i.e. about 10 viral particles – will likely get caught in the mucus membranes of the nose and throat, giving your immune system TIME to mount a counter attack. By the time the virus has spread enough to reach the lungs, the body is already fighting back. This could explain why some disease is less deadly.
  2. a large viral load – i.e. about 100 viral particles – goes straight to the lungs. Once in the lungs, it begins causing pneumonia before the immune system has had a chance to fight back. The lungs are a perfect place for the virus to reproduce and spread, so it does. This could explain why lung infections can be so deadly.

The mechanism determining whether we get a mild infection or a severe one is much more complicated that just viral load, but understanding the impact of viral load can make a difference in how we behave.

If I walk down the street, wearing a mask, and I pass you, also wearing a mask, the chance of being infected with a large viral load is almost zero.

But if you and I are in a crowded bus, and neither of us is wearing a mask, the chance of breathing in a lot of viral particles goes way up.

And finally, if we are friends and we kiss and hug when we meet, the chance of becoming infected or passing on the infection sky rockets. Why? Because the pathways for the virus include:

  • breath to breath
  • contact to contact, via saliva
  • hand to hand and then from hand to mouth/nose/eyes
  • passive droplets in the air
  • passive droplets on surfaces
  • passive droplets on uncooked food such as salads, or cooked foods that may have been touched by hand [after cooking], or breathed on accidentally [after cooking]
  • passive droplets on plates, cutlery, towels, toys

I could go on and on, but I think you can see where this is going. The more contact, the greater the likelihood of severe infection. So yes, in hindsight, a private security company obviously wasn’t the right choice. But who would have been? The police? What makes us think the police or the ADF [Australian Defence Force] would have been better educated about pandemic protocols?

And finally, let’s not forget the bloody great elephant in the room: the reopening. If people had not been allowed to visit each other, the virus could not have spread from the security guards in the first place. Or if it had, the clusters would have been small and manageable.

It takes two to tango, and Victoria’s dance partners included:

  • Scott Morrison and henchmen like Dan Tehan, the Federal Education Minister who castigated my Premier for being too cautious and not opening up the schools faster.
  • And let’s not forget Michael O’Brien. Michael who? Michael O’Brien, the leader of the LNP here in Victoria. Yes, the man in the same party as Scott Morrison et al. The man so desperate to gain political advantage that he made attack ads against my Premier, telling Victorians that they were missing out, being left behind, doing it tough because we weren’t opening up fast enough.
  • Smarmy Tim Wilson should probably rate a mention as well. Yet another LNP politician in Victoria looking to cash in on Covid-19.

I’m sure there are more, but I can only handle so much anger in one day so I’m not going to go online to research who else played a part in what’s happening to my city and my state. For me, the bottom line is that my Premier, Dan Andrews, has fought long and hard to keep people alive. Those other politicians I named care only about one thing – the economy.

I ask you to remember those names when Covid-19 stops being an inconvenience and starts hurting the people you love.

Meeks


New Cases of Covid-19 in Victoria, as at June 27, 2020

The Dept of Health & Human Services [VIC] publishes Covid-19 case data, but it’s not wildly accessible. There are no graphs or charts, and the breakdown of infections – i.e. the source of the infections – is only available on the day of the media release. In other words, it’s buried.

I don’t know whether this is a deliberate attempt not to ‘worry’ people, or simply typical DHHS bureaucracy. Either way, the messaging is not getting out there, so I trawled through the data and created a simple Excel spreadsheet.

First up, the raw data for MAY, 2020:

Next, the raw data for JUNE, 2020:

As you can see, I wanted to show the source of the infections, but gave up when the data was too hard to find. Apologies, but I do have a life.

Now for some charts from that data. The first one is a line graph showing the ups and downs of infections [in Victoria] for all of May and June.

This chart gives a decent overview, but the data is squashed up because you can’t fit almost 60 days onto a small chart. Despite this, you can clearly see three things:

  1. Victoria only had two days on which we recorded zero new cases: June 6 and June 9.
  2. Victoria never really got rid of the virus. That was why Premier Dan Andrews resisted Scott Morrison’s push to reopen as quickly as possible. Sadly, he didn’t resist enough. Or Scott Morrison proved to be a bigger bully than expected.
  3. Apart from a few small dips, new cases in Victoria have been rising steadily since June 9. This is in stark contrast to May. In May, new cases fluctuated up and down, but the overall trajectory was down. In other words, the lockdown was working.

The next two graphs show this more clearly. The first is for May:

The second graph is for June:

What’s even more worrying than that upward trajectory for June is that the number of new cases has doubled in just four days – i.e from 20 on June 24 to 41 on June 27.

All up, we’ve had 10 consecutive days of double digit new cases. 10 days in a row. And in the latest news, a nurse working at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, one of the biggest in Melbourne, has tested positive for Covid-19.

Scott Morrison may believe that we can control this virus, but that is pure, arrogant bullshit. The numbers don’t lie. We can’t ‘control’ this virus any more than we could control the bushfires that devastated two states just a few months ago. Remember them? Remember how good Scomo was at ‘fixing’ the inferno? Yes, I thought so.

The truth is that nothing has really changed [for the better] since we originally went into lockdown:

  • Despite all the hype about the contact tracing app, I’ve heard nothing new about it since it was revealed that it doesn’t work that well with iPhones.
  • We have some more intensive care units, and more medical personnel trained to use them, but overseas data has shown that even the most sophisticated health care system can be overwhelmed when the virus surges out of control.
  • We have more PPE [personal protective equipment], but I don’t know whether we have enough for medical personnel in a surge. Pretty sure we don’t have enough for medical personnel and the general public if shit hits the fan.

So where exactly is Australia’s magic bullet supposed to come from?

One option that does work is the mandatory wearing of masks in public – to protect us from those who are infected but don’t know they are. Masks stop them from breathing on us.

South East Asian countries, like Thailand, that have mandated the wearing of masks have almost ridiculously low infection rates. Here is Oz, however, people still give you funny looks if you wear a mask in public, so I guess masks are a no-go.

So what else is there?

Well, there is testing. If there were random, compulsory testing [like in booze buses] we’d get a much better idea of how many asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spreaders there are, but it seems that testing is a) voluntary and b) mostly looking for people who are already sick. People who fear they may be forced into self-quarantine for 14 days are refusing to be tested. The irony is that they could well be the very people we most need to test.

When it comes to therapeutics, there are a couple of existing drugs that have an anti-inflammatory effect and may reduce the number of covid-19 deaths, but they’re still largely untested.

And that’s about it. Short of another draconian lockdown, we don’t really have any effective way of controlling the virus, which leads me to think that our success the first time around was due more to luck than good management. Sadly, I fear that our reopening won’t be as lucky because the ‘stages’ are based on the idea that all of us will ‘do the right thing’. Yeah, right. -facepalm-

The reality is that the messaging has been wrong from the start. People were told that they wouldn’t be badly affected by the virus, so now all they can see is that they’ve been made poor, bored and unhappy just to save a few oldies who were going to die anyway. ‘Eff that… Little wonder then that when the leash is loosened there’s a rush of me,me,me behaviour.

If our leaders really had wanted to reopen ‘safely’, they should have started with an education campaign that focused on the reality of the virus and what it does to people. Then they should have made any reopening, no matter how minor, contingent on the lack of new cases. Clear rules with clear targets.

Finally, they should have made it very clear that the instant people stop obeying the rules, the whole town/state/country will go back to lockdown. And when the inevitable happened [like toddlers pushing the boundaries], the consequences should have been followed through. Again, clear rules and clear consequences.

Instead, we’ve had a wishy-washy ‘plan’, mixed messages all over the place, and media showing how hard it is to live with the lockdown instead of how hard it is to die of the virus… And yes, ABC and Ita Buttrose, I’m looking at you. Since when did the people’s ABC pander to the likes of Scott Morrison?

To be honest, I think we should have had another Grim Reaper campaign:

The Grim Reaper advertisement

Right at the end, the voice over says ‘Prevention is the only cure we’ve got’. Sounds familiar, don’t you think?

There’s been a lot of controversy about the Grim Reaper strategy, but the truth is it worked. It made us aware of both the danger and what we had to do to stay alive.

Overkill? I don’t know. If we act like toddlers, shouldn’t we be treated like toddlers?

Sadly, none of the possibilities I’ve outlined have actually happened. We had a poorly organised, draconian lockdown that resulted in massive queues outside every Centrelink office in the country. And we’ve had big chunks of society thrown under the economic bus, but in terms of ‘management’, that’s about it. Now, I fear we’re having a reopening that’s being ‘managed’ as well as you’d expect.

We could have reopened safely, but Scott Morrison didn’t do a single thing to make a safe reopening possible. He just laid out his ‘plan’ and expected everyone to make it happen. Yeah, the smirk may be gone but #ScottyFromMarketing still knows bugger all about human nature.

Buckle up for stage two my fellow Victorians. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Meeks


Covid-19, worrying developments

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably reached a point where you’d like to forget about Covid-19 altogether, so sorry, but these developments could be important.

As always, my source is Dr John Campbell. You can find his latest Youtube video here. The three things that worry me from this video concern:

  • the implications of skin colour
  • the new inflammatory syndrome in children
  • the results of Germany’s cautious re-opening

Skin Colour

If you’ve watched Dr John’s videos before there’s a good chance that you’ve already heard his views on the role of vitamin D in possibly easing the severity of Covid-19. As people with darker skin produce vitamin D more slowly, he has been advocating that they be tested for vitamin D deficiency and prescribed supplements if necessary.

As someone with olive skin who was tested for vitamin D some years ago – and found to be deficient – I’ve made it a point to get out into the sunshine more. The connection to race though, that has made me feel a little uncomfortable. I hate racism in all its forms because I had a tiny taste of it as a kid in ‘White Australia’.

But…this statistical data from the UK is too stark to ignore:

The graph shows data that has been adjusted for socio economic factors and other risk factors that could skew the results. Despite this, the stats show that there is a continuum of increased risk based on skin colour. Basically, people of mixed race are just as likely to die of Covid-19 as the control group, which is white people.

From there, however, the likelihood of dying increases as skin colour darkens. People with black skin colour are shown to be twice as likely to die of Covid-19 as white people. And this is the graph that has been adjusted for other, known risk factors.

There may be some other, unknown risk factor at work, but if there is the slightest chance that skin colour, and hence vitamin D production is involved, then taking vitamin D could save lives.

There has been well documented research done on vitamin D and the effect it may have on protecting cells from viruses:

‘Vitamin D has long been recognized as essential to the skeletal system. Newer evidence suggests that it also plays a major role regulating the immune system, perhaps including immune responses to viral infection. Interventional and observational epidemiological studies provide evidence that vitamin D deficiency may confer increased risk of influenza and respiratory tract infection.’

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3308600/

There is also a lot of research that shows the health impacts that result from a lack of various other vitamins. The following are just a few of the best known ones:

Vitamin K

‘Vitamin K deficiency in adults is rare but does occur in infants. The main symptom of a vitamin K deficiency is excessive bleeding caused by an inability to form blood clots.’

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320394

Vitamin C

Scurvy is a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid).’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scurvy

Vitamin A

‘The major cause of blindness in children worldwide is xerophthalmia caused by vitamin A deficiency.’

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10643184/

I’m no expert on nutrition and vitamins, but it seems clear to me that vitamin D may save the lives of those most at risk. If that’s true, it must be acknowledged and used.

Inflammatory syndrome in children

So far, this new syndrome is quite rare – about 20 cases in the UK and 64 in the US – but it has been associated with Covid-19 so parents should be aware of it. The screenshot below was taken from Dr John’s video:

No one knows exactly what connection this new syndrome has to Covid-19, but any connection is worrying.

The syndrome has been named: Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome.

Re-opening in Germany

As Australia is also looking to cautiously ease the lockdown that’s protected us so well, I found the results from Germany less heartening than Dr John. The statistics shown are for only the first ten days since the lockdown in Germany was officially eased:

Even if every German citizen immediately raced out and kissed everyone they met, the incubation period for Covid-19 is between 2 and 9 days, give or take. As such, the numbers of new cases are not likely to rise exponentially for a week or two yet. In other words, I don’t think we’ve seen the true effect of the easing in Germany. Not yet.

I may be overly pessimistic, but I’m seriously scared that money, and human impatience, will give rise to a second wave of the virus, a second wave that will be significantly worse than the first.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, the second wave was caused by a mutation in the original virus that made it much more virulent:

‘Reported cases of Spanish flu dropped off over the summer of 1918, and there was hope at the beginning of August that the virus had run its course. In retrospect, it was only the calm before the storm. Somewhere in Europe, a mutated strain of the Spanish flu virus had emerged that had the power to kill a perfectly healthy young man or woman within 24 hours of showing the first signs of infection.’

https://www.history.com/news/spanish-flu-second-wave-resurgence

The Covid-19 virus does not appear to be mutating yet, but the more people that are infected, the greater the likelihood that one of them will host a mutated version of the virus.

Scientists all over the world are trying to develop a vaccine that will stop the spread of Covid-19, but they’re not there yet. They need more time.

I believe it’s up to us, and our governments, to do everything in our power to slow the spread of this virus. Not just to reduce the number of people dying from it, but also to reduce the chance that it will mutate. If the Spanish Flu is anything to go by, that mutation will not be benign.

I truly hate to be a Cassandra, but I’m really scared that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Stay well,
Meeks


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