Some time ago (August 22, 2021), Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to shift the focus from the daily reports of Covid-19 case numbers. He said that the focus “on case numbers was very important when we knew nothing about this virus and whether our hospital system would be able to cope. A lot has changed since then. Increasingly we need to look beyond just the case numbers to know what our future holds. How we can keep safe and how we get our lives back in a COVID world. Case numbers are important, but they are not the whole story.”1
This is, of course, another of his lies. It was always about the number of hospitalisations and deaths. It is just that the numbers of cases have had a startling effect on the populace and at the time of his statement, cases of the Delta variant were escalating in New South Wales, having gone from about 200 to 800+ in the two weeks prior to his pronouncement2. By that date, only 24% of the entire population had been fully vaccinated, with another 18% having had one dose3.
It is clear Morrison wants to ‘open up the economy’ so he can claim victory in the fight against Covid-19, which he hopes will improve his chances in the next federal election (it has to be held by May, 2022). As Donald Trump said: ‘if you have fewer tests, you have fewer cases’. This seems to be Morrison’s plan. However, to do that he has to keep the reported number of cases either secret or at a minimum, and keeping these numbers secret would be nearly impossible. He has already rejected suggestions that case numbers were too high for Australia to move to the next phase of ‘opening up’ agreed to by state leaders, saying the conclusions of the Doherty Institute modelling from late last year remained the same. This is despite one of the architects of the Doherty modelling, Prof James McCaw, stating that case numbers were too high to abandon lockdowns even if the vaccination rate reached 70%4.
Later in his panicked plea, Morrison said: “Shifting our focus from just case numbers, to actually looking at how many people are becoming seriously ill and requiring hospitalisation will be increasingly what matters. After all, this is how we manage all other infectious diseases”1. Now he is getting his way, by making it harder for people to get PCR tests as the queues are very long and the waiting times for results are measured in days rather than hours. I have had two PCR tests (in June and August, 2021) and the results for both came back within 12 hours.
Given that testing rates in NSW are at a two-week low (at 113,000 per day) and are considerably less than when I had my second test (it was then 172,000), we have had private testing stations closing down in Sydney supposedly because of a backlog. Australian Clinical Labs made the decision to shut its drive-through and walk-in testing labs on Monday and said it would progressively reopen from Tuesday as it cleared its backlog. The company said these closures have been necessary due to the significant increase in testing volumes across the state”5. It makes one wonder what has gone wrong in the meantime, given that they seemed to handle a much greater number of swabs in August of 2021, and results were quite rapidly delivered to the person tested.
Morrison’s refusal to make Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) free is just another way to decrease the number of positive cases. In addition, any person who can find or afford RATs and tests positive, has no way of recording that positive result in official figures unless, of course, that person then lines up for a PCR test and waits in a queue for hours, and then waits days for a result. It is just another way of lowering official case numbers.
Morrison’s idiotic redefinition of a close contact to someone with whom you spend more than four hours is ludicrous. It started all sorts of sarcastic jokes online about it being OK if you only spend 3 hours and 59 minutes with someone. Many people catch Covid-19 from fleeting contact, bring it home, have no symptoms for the first few days, infect their family and then get ill. The reason for this change is purely pragmatic; there isn’t enough testing or tracing capacity despite the governments having months to plan for the reopening of NSW. All this definition change will do is result in a large increase of undiagnosed cases in the community, and therefore increase the spread of the virus even further6.
In response to a statement from the Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, urging all state and territory leaders to mandate masks in all indoor settings, citing rising case numbers for the new COVID-19 variant, Morrison disagreed with mask mandates and lockdowns, and urged Australians to take ‘personal responsibility’. This places the onus on individuals to choose to take protective actions as opposed to a “culture of control and mandates”7. This is truly ironic coming from a religious nutter who wants to mandate who can get married and who wants to control people’s lives and deaths. This is the Morrison way, it sheets blame for any failures home to us. It is his ethos; if you abrogate responsibility, no blame attaches to you when things go wrong. He remains blameless.
Because of these testing delays, the swamping of the tracing system by the many thousands of cases, we are effectively on our own. You can help protect yourself and your family. Buy N95 or P2 masks (we got ours at our local pharmacy) and use them rather than the cloth or surgical masks, as they give better protection against catching the virus. Avoid crowded indoor venues; shop at times when crowds are at a minimum. Have a Covid-19 plan to self-isolate if required. Make sure everyone in the family is fully vaccinated and get a booster as soon as you can6. I get my booster next week, four and a half months after my second AstraZeneca vaccination8.
Some months ago, I suggested that Morrison’s late acquisition of booster vaccinations could lead to a wave of his making as vaccine efficacy of the first two doses waned faster than he seemed to believe was likely9. As I say above, it is all about hospitalisations and deaths, and those are increasing in NSW. In the last month, with the Omicron variant outbreak, hospitalisations in New South Wales have risen from 151 to almost 1500. The number of people in intensive care has also risen from about 20 to 119 in the same interval10. The number of people on ventilators has also risen from 8 to 32 in the same time. A proportion of those people will die.
While such perceived incompetence is no surprise coming from Morrison, I never expected that he would so obviously and actively encourage the spread of the virus. I have underestimated how much of an appalling human he is; how much he is unconcerned about anyone else but himself. Everything he does is solely in the service of what he perceives as being to his political advantage, and people will die because of that. Morrison should be rewarded with a long stint in gaol for his criminal negligence.