Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Australia 2022: a study in betrayal


SARS-CoV-2 entered Australia on 15 January 2020. It came here by a commercial passenger jet. It was not until 25 January 2020 that the infected passenger was diagnosed with COVID-19 and became our own Patient Zero in Sydney, New South Wales.


That same day two more airline passengers who disembarked in Sydney were also diagnosed with COVID-19.


From the very beginning the public health response of both the Federal and NSW governments was never as swift and comprehensive as it needed to be.


Indeed, over the next 15 months it often seemed that Prime Minister & fundamentalist Liberal Party ideologue Scott Morrison was personally determined to sabotage any chance of coming through this pandemic with minimal viral infections, deaths and long-term health problems for those who recovered from COVID-19.


However, despite the increasing politicization and weaponing of the public health response by the Morrison Government, we almost made it through.


By 15 June 2021 Australia had limited infection spread so that the cumulative total of COVID-19 cases was 30,274 people – just 0.1176% of the entire population. Sadly the COVID-10 related death toll stood at 910 individuals, but on the other hand there were only 116 active cases remaining in the entire country and only 26 of these were still sick enough to require hospitalization. Such outcomes compared favourably with global pandemic data.


On 16 June NSW Health confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant had been discovered after testing a man from Eastern Sydney. It was then that first the population of New South Wales and later by the rest of Australia discovered that, when it came to elected members of the federal and NSW state governments, there had been no lessons learnt from the earlier litany of public health blunders.


The Delta Variant quickly became a state-wide outbreak that was exported to other states and territories once then NSW Premier & Liberal MP for Willoughby Gladys Berejiklian – seemingly in thrall to Scott Morrison – began to insist that communities across the state must learn to ‘live with COVID’ and that the other states needed to follow her plan to re-open borders and scale back public health order conditions & restrictions. Scott Morrison threw his weight behind the only state premier who agreed with him and COVID-19 infections began to grow and spread at an alarming rate.


Over the next 23 weeks the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia grew to a cumulative total of 205,271 people with a COVID-19 related death toll of 1,985 individuals. The number of active cases remaining at the end of that time numbered 13,492 infected people with 557 ill enough to require hospitalisation.


There was a faint light at the end of the tunnel because infection growth and spread had begun to fall in the state that started the Delta Outbreak. So that at 8pm on Friday, 26 November 2021 the daily number of confirmed new cases of COVID-19 in NSW only totalled 235 people with 174 COVID-19 cases currently hospitalized and, 26 people in intensive care 10 of whom require ventilation.


Two days later NSW Health heralded the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Variant after passengers who disembarked in Sydney from southern Africa on 28 November 2021 had tested positive for COVID-19 and their test results were being sequenced for this new variant.


The most charitable explanation for what happened next was that the entire NSW Government mindlessly panicked and, with new Premier & fundamentalist Liberal Party ideologue Dominic Perrottet at the helm, decided to treat this new outbreak in the making as a purely political and economic issue. Scott Morrison encouraged this approach just as he had encouraged open borders, lowering public health order restrictions and living with COVID.


This time Morrison appears to have gone further behind closed doors at the so-called National Cabinet meetings – rumours of verbal abuse, political threats and threats of financial sanctions by the federal government began to filter out.


By 15 December 2021 there was little left of what had always been an inchoate national public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and, the states had begun to follow New South Wales down the rabbit hole Scott Morrison had so industriously dug.


On 31 December 2021 the national cumulative total of confirmed COVID-19 cases had grown to 395,504 people or 1.536% of the entire population. And tellingly, est. 190,233 more people had fallen ill over the space of the last 5 weeks. The cumulative national COVID-19 related death toll stood at 2,239 individuals. Active cases numbered 137,752 and current hospitalizations 1,591.


By 1 January 2022 that 190,233 figure appeared to have grown to 225,560 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia in the space of the last 5 weeks. 


When 2 January arrived  there was more unwelcome news. As at 8pm the number of additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last 5 weeks had grown to est. 257,194 people nationally. 


The national daily number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases on 2 January was given as 32,354 people and the number of active cases as est, 188,957 individuals. Currently 1,978 infected people were ill enough to require hospitalisation (1,204 of those being inpatients in NSW hospitals), 148 being in ICUs (95 in NSW) and 51 being ventilated (25 in NSW).


While the cumulative national total confirmed cases according to the Australian Dept. of Health was 462,928 and total deaths since January 2020 were recorded as 2,258 men, women and children.


Unfortunately, after 23 months of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 , an erratic national public health response and a political response in recent months which has the effect of limiting community access to PCR tests & rapid antigen self- testing kits, the recorded tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases no longer represents a true and accurate total of the number of people who actually contracted the virus. The degree of undetected infection and the under reporting in official data to date has not been publicly quantified in Australia, but there is some suggestion that it could currently be somewhere between 20-25% and up to 50% for the latter part of December 2021. These percentages have the potential to impact on government's ability to assess probability and risk going forward into 2022.


Regions, local government areas and communities across Australia are in uncharted waters. It might never be possible to walk back the current high infection rate in the foreseeable future and, February 2022 may bring a new normal that is debilitating to national, state and regional economies, the public health system and social cohesion. 


Now one can argue about the level of virulence attached to the Omicron Variant and about whether cumulative, active, hospitalised or death toll numbers are important markers. However, what cannot be denied is that everyone of these active cases on any given day represents over time; a potential or real loss of productivity at state and national level, changes in the pattern of business profitability, yo-yoing consumer confidence, a decrease in tourism & hospitality turnover and an assault on the collective sense of safety and wellbeing. As well as a very real possibility that how Australian citizen’s cast their ballot at elections held in 2022 may be very different from past years.


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In the first two days of 2022 Northern NSW Local Health District where this blog is situated had recorded a total of 715 new confirmed COVID-19 cases across the 7 local government areas and, reported up to 19 people in hospital with 4 in intensive care.

  • Byron Shire – 260 cases
  • Tweed Shire – 173 cases
  • Ballina Shire – 108 cases
  • Clarence Valley – 76 cases
  • Lismore City – 74 cases
  • Richmond Valley – 14 cases
  • Kyogle Shire – 10 cases

TOTAL  715 


Sources