Australia Must Wait for the Trump Covid-19 Reality Show
Posted on May 2, 2020
He didn’t take it seriously at first, nor did his chief medical officer but thankfully six weeks after instigating the lockdown and isolation of Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison had slowed the rate of his nation’s Covid-19 infection.
Indeed, it took a measure of cajoling to summon both men into action—particularly the early threats by the premiers of Victoria and New South Wales to go it alone. Yet, soon after that attempted coup, Australia had the closest thing to a wartime government in place—a National Cabinet meeting regularly and voicing the same message. Still, without the pushing of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, in particular Australia’s creep to Level 3 containment—the point at which it finally put itself into an effective lockdown—would have been slower.
Even then, ScoMo made some drastic mistakes. Among them, having banned cruise ships from Australia’s ports, a number of exempted liners within days began docking and offloading their walking dead across the country untested and unmonitored. One ship in particular, the Ruby Princess proved Australia’s greatest disaster so far in this global crisis—a thoroughly preventable infectious blight and one being felt today.
It seemed till now that he’d learned, that ScoMo had realised victory in this fight meant staying the course in the wait for a treatment or vaccine. But no.
Now, he’s on the verge of contradiction yet again under pressure from economic interests, billionaire lobbyists and ego to second-guess prudence.
Taking the cue from US President, Donald Trump, who recently put himself in the role of American dictator, ScoMo suddenly wants his country’s economy powering up again too. He envisages people at offices, in pubs, in schools, on the streets, in shops and at sport with Covid-19 still uncured. All despite the success of his Covid-19 restrictions to date producing a phenomenally low spread rate, an R0, of less than 1 while other countries around the world are reporting 2 to 5.
(A disease’s “R0” or “R-zero” is the measure of the number of people, one carrier of that disease might infect. The R0 of Covid-19 is higher than Influenza’s but Australia’s lockdown has brought them on par, a feat of global envy.)
Surf’s Up Get Ready for the Second Wave
A couple of days ago, Australia’s federal Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, uttered two phrases unspoken outside think tanks in the Covid-19 fight. Australia, he said, had met “Wave 1” of Covid-19. It was now time to get ready for “Wave 2”.
Something was in the air other than the virus, and of course this meant that Australia was about to lower its Threat Level to meet the prime minister’s economic dream.
Australia was then told that any economic restart depended on a piece of mobile phone software called “COVIDapp”. Forty percent of Australians were going to need to voluntarily download it. And they in turn, would form Australia’s new first line of defence as they allowed themselves to be tracked for proximity to any sources of infection.
It’s just unfortunate that the underlying architecture of COVIDapp was the product of Singapore, a country whose citizens had largely shunned it with an uptake of only 20% and they were now in the grip of their own severe Wave 2.
You see, the problems with ScoMo’s strategy are multiple:
1. We don’t yet know if the app will work in practice or theory—is it meant to track contact with current Covid sufferers? If so, what are they doing outdoors in the first place? If not, how much spread from unknown carriers will occur before they’re triangulated and isolated? By then we could have secondary and tertiary spreads in play.
2. We still know very little about the behaviour of Covid-19 Wave 1. Could Wave 2 change its infection modus operandi, grow its target base to Millennials and children; could it morph into an entirely new strain altogether?
3. We have no data to confirm that surviving Covid-19 builds immunity meaning Wave 1 might still be in play.
We just do not know enough about this virus to do anything other than exercise caution. Conservatism is the only viable strategy.
The Opportunity to Wait and Learn
But we can wait, and waiting doesn’t imply passivity this time around, it also packs a punch—for Australia has at its disposal an unprecedented opportunity to watch its back-to-work strategy play out real time, while another country risks its lives.
Enter Donald Trump again: a man fighting for his electoral life if not, more importantly to him, his egocentric living legacy.
As of writing, along with 65,435 of his citizens (a mortality higher than America’s Vietnam experience—a war that brought down two administrations), Covid-19 has killed his economy and split his already fragile society in a manner unseen since the 1860’s Civil War. Donald Trump is down eight points in a Presidential Race six months away, and he’s likely going to lose office to a man showing signs of senility and possessing a sketchy backstory.
But Trump wants action. He wants no less than an economic miracle born from a free-roaming consumer base—there’s no such thing as a Great Depression when the American President is greater!
More so, in all honesty, he just wants to turn back the clock six months so he can get back on his electoral stump and feed his faithful with his gospel, live.
It’s just that his nation, once the only superpower in the world, is no longer ready to perform. It’s Covid-19 defences have been a screen, it’s hospitals are exhausted, it’s funeral homes are storing rotting dead in unrefrigerated U-Haul trucks.
Nonetheless, some States have already begun shaking loose from their lockdown fetters, notably Texas and Georgia, while the US death toll is still mounting daily.
Thing is, this whole experiment is about to play out 24-7 on live TV. And the prudent among us will recognise this as the time to watch, study and learn.
Only a Fool Would Close His Eyes Now
Scott Morrison has lost sight of reality if he thinks mimicking Trump is a good idea, while the latter’s real time data is pumping out at Australia’s fingertips.
To be blunt, any failure, any substantial Wave 2 will end ScoMo’s political career.
His party will not win the next federal election: Australia’s death toll will be his. His prior mistakes will haunt him. And like Winston Churchill, who actually won a six-year World War for his island nation, Morrison will be tossed aside while a Labor government takes over.
But not if he waits.
If he keeps Australia at Level 3 or 4 while basing his decisions around the fullest data available—if things then go pear-shaped, he’ll have an out.
The world needs just three to four more months to tell it how America has gone. In that time, we will learn whether Trump can survive, whether its deceased will pass into the six-figures, and whether its hopes of manifest destiny are still reality.
The Next Steps
So, Australia waits. Till then, there’s plenty for it to do. It looks at its greatest pre-existing pandemic risks: domestic violence, aged care and mental health: triages them and treats them. Australia has empty hotel complexes, unemployed nurses, underworked mental health experts and first-rate police forces. It’s time to play the matching game.
And it keeps the printing presses rolling being the only form of Monetary Policy Australia now controls. Money lost its value the day Federal Reserves set 0% interest rates and the United States took its national debt through $20 trillion (it’s now $24T). Countries may as well keep printing paper till Covid-19 is dead and the G20 can sit around a table and start The Great Financial Reconciliation.
An app will not protect Australia. It possesses so many practical and theoretical holes that Covid-19 will slip through its grip. The only viable strategy Australia has right now is to wait for a treatment that can render Covid-19 chronic, while scientists work to eradicate it via vaccine.
Until that vaccine arrives hospital bed availability will determine the extent of any return to some semblance of normality. Right now, Covid-19 remains acute, that means a requirement for intensive care and Australia still cannot afford a rush to exhaust those resources. Swine Flu in 2009-10 packed not only a Wave 2 but a Wave 3.
No politician has the right to risk its citizenry for political gain, nor to assuage another country, keep unsustainable business models afloat; nor its stock markets perpetually high.
Now is the time to wait, watch and understand that Old Economies are dead and New Economies need building. Now is the time to encourage a truly capitalist entrepreneurialism to bring the latter about; to look for new ways of finding and serving customers, and new ways of ensuring that a country never again has to rely on a belligerent foreign host for its lifelines. This is a time to picture a world without a Xi regime in China and a China whose competitive strength does not centre solely on cheap labour. This is the time for courage. To actually lead behind the scenes.
That’s all Australia’s Scott Morrison needs to accomplish over the next few months while the United States of America implodes and China begs to stave off revolt both inside and out.
© 2020 Adam Parker.