BASED on the raw figures, it’s understandable why commentators praise Australia’s response to the pandemic. Compared with other countries, Australia has significantly lower infection and mortality rates. Especially compared with the United Kingdom where the decision to close borders came too late and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was missing in action by failing to attend key meetings when most needed.
According to the figures available on May 25, in Australia there were 7,112 cases of infection with 102 deaths. In the United Kingdom, there were 259,559 infected, with 36,793 deaths. The situation is even more dire in the United States, with 1,685,336 infections and 99,286 deaths.
Based on infections and deaths per million, Australia still has the lowest infection and mortality rates, sitting at 279 per million and four per million respectively. In the UK 3,826 per million were infected and the mortality rate was 542 per million as of May 25.
Such is Australia’s success that politicians at the commonwealth and state level quietly boast about their performance and citizens are regularly congratulated for their obedience in conforming to government dictates, including shutting down businesses, closing schools, mandating isolation at home and banning international and interstate travel.
But not all are happy. Now that the rate of infection has declined and citizens and the economy have suffered under draconian conditions for more than two months, the question is being asked: Did governments overreact and is the cost of fighting the disease worse that the virus itself?
Concerns about overreacting are compounded by the fact that Australia never faced the same risk as Europe and the UK. Being an island, it was relatively easy to shut the border and stop international arrivals – especially from China. Australian cities are also less densely populated, thus reducing the spread of the virus.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Australia’s reaction to the pandemic in March was based on a worst-case scenario underpinned by faulty modelling. Much like in the UK, where the projections concocted by Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson are being critiqued as exaggerated and misleading, so too in Australia are doubts growing.
In late February, Professor Raina MacIntyre from the University of New South Wales mistakenly claimed such would be the deadly impact of the China virus that 50 per cent of the population would be infected and approximately 6,500 critical care beds needed.
As a result of the fear campaign, the Victorian government decided to pay for an additional 4,000 critical care beds on the assumption that more than 10,000 citizens would be infected – the reality is that only 20 beds have ever been needed at any one time, adding to the waste and mismanagement.
Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews (aka China Dan, as Victoria has signed up to China’s Belt and Road initiative) has even gone as far as closing parliament, declaring a state of emergency and running the state by personal fiat. Other states have closed interstate borders and denied interstate travel, destroying local economies even though the risk of infection is minimal.
By far the most destructive and unjustified consequence of government overreaction is the millions now unemployed, the countless businesses bankrupted and the reality that a once robust and prosperous economy has been brought to its knees.
As noted by the Australian newspaper’s Adam Creighton, at one stage approximately 72 per cent of Australia’s workforce were targeted to rely on commonwealth government financial support. Instead of a budget surplus, the conservative commonwealth government has embraced state intervention, doubling government debt as a proportion of gross domestic product, leaving future generations to face financial ruin.
The education of close to four million school students across Australia has also been disrupted as states closed schools, causing some to miss two months of formal classroom teaching. In addition to ignoring the fact that there is minimal, if any, chance of students being infected, relying on students’ learning at home has guaranteed that Australia’s under-performance in international science, mathematics and literacy will plummet further.
Universities have suffered as many rely heavily on overseas students, principally from China, to bolster their budgets. Now that source of income is denied, many academics face retrenchment or cuts in pay.
If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, it’s clear that Australia’s mainstream media, with a few exceptions, has failed in its duty as the fourth estate to hold government and politicians to account. Instead of conducting a critical and independent analysis, journalists and reporters swallowed the state-mandated line and engaged in a frenzy of gloom and doom reporting calculated to instil fear and obedience in the public mind.
As a result, once-cherished freedoms and liberties have been lost, government intervention and control is now a fait accompli, and instead of relying on robust independence and resilience, citizens are lectured and nurtured by the nanny state.
History tells us that once politicians and governments taste power and increase their domination, it is rarely given up.