By Matthew Reddin
Two press conferences, two states dealing with Delta, two very different sets of reported numbers. I decided to compare the pair.
In her July 23 press conference, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian labelled the 136 new cases of COVID-19 a ‘national emergency’. Today, August 30, NSW reported 1293 new cases. No reports were offered of links; no reports were offered of the success of contact tracers. It’s apparently no longer important data; no longer important enough to know where the disease is, where it’s going, its impact or how one case may or may not be linked to another. No talk of it being a national emergency, despite the case numbers having increased marginally shy of tenfold.
On the day when Victorian health authorities reported 73 new cases, 52 of them linked with 21 under investigation (at time of press). In Victoria: 73 is too high a number to open up. In NSW: Case numbers aren’t the most important number, so why not have that picnic?
Tuning in to NSW’s 11.00 am press conference, the focus seems to be “reduce case numbers, sure, but get vaccinated.” The other number that’s critical, repeated, is hospitalisation. But no information is provided. 840 in hospital, 137 in ICU, 48 on ventilators. There’s no ‘national emergency’ when numbers indicate a virus out of control and a system that’s not keeping up.
I’d drink every time Berejiklian says variations on ‘Living with the virus,’ but I’d be passed out on the floor by lunchtime. It’s not a good look. As was this quote, right out of the Trump playbook: “Less testing means less cases”, meaning the less we know about those darned numbers, the less it impacts us, and by us, I mean LNP voters in safe North Shore seats.
NSW now saying not to focus on case numbers. But case numbers predict future hospitalisations and deaths. And knowing how many are unlinked cases provides additional information on success or failure. Transparency important NSW. https://t.co/FWe11JSXgW
— Prof. Nick Talley (@Prof_NickTalley) August 29, 2021
Immunologist Alan Baxter posted on Twitter, “Assuming a continuation of the exponential increase in case numbers, by the end of September, NSW will have over 10,000 cases per day, and by the end of October, 200 COVID deaths per day.”
Deputy Premier John Barilaro has been doing the media rounds touting the ‘freedoms’ NSW residents can look forward to once we reach the highly touted 70% vaccination rate (and, just as a refresher, 70% of adults over 16 is actually 56% of the population).
Priorities seem completely out of whack in NSW. Official words and actions look to be motivated by the people’s prevailing mood, rather than best medical practice. Say what you will about Daniel Andrews’ government, but nothing he’s been doing for the past 18 months has been textbook popularity contest-winning stuff. It’s politically counter-intuitive to be making daily announcements that won’t be well-received, operating under the guiding principles that what’s right will be well received, and if not, at least he did what was right.
Victoria’s 11:00 am presser was more of a sombre affair. Present was Health Minister Martin Foley; Daniel Andrews in absentia with fewer announcements to make in the lead-up to what will doubtlessly be a lockdown extension on Thursday. Foley, a laconic suburban probate lawyer type, delivers his messages in a matter-of-fact way. He’s on top of his numbers and tends to have zero patience for the dirt-dumb dipshits in the media who ask him questions that sometimes defy understanding. Taking a cue from NSW’s habit of hearing from the frontline workers to get the point across, he passes the mic to Kylie from Western Health, who speaks of her 2020 experiences with COVID. It’s not pretty. Whereas the NSW paramedic front-footed vaccinations (quite rightly), Kylie makes a sobering point about what they on the front lines are anticipating in the event of opening up. She is “terrified”.
It’s a weird state of play that while NSW, the ACT and Victoria are all under lockdown, the NSW government is downplaying their own situation; the federal government is arcing up their attacks on those states with zero COVID with the unmitigated temerity to “keep doing what’s worked and is overwhelmingly popular”.
Doing what’s popular rather than what’s right at a time of crisis doesn’t seem to bode well for the future. Feast your eyes upon this, from an anonymous doctor in a western Sydney hospital: “We believe it likely that projected patient numbers will soon be overwhelming…from Westmead to Liverpool and Blacktown, ambulances now routinely line up in hospital carparks, unable to discharge their patients. What exactly is going on?”
Sobering sentiments, right there. And a question that verges on the rhetorical.
It’s the kind of event that many premiers – Victoria’s Daniel Andrews included – foreshadowed based on their health advice and brought about extensive lockdowns to avoid. This kind of activity has been taking place all over the world, notably in the US.
Five days ago, the Associated Press reported that the state of Arkansas ran out of intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients on Tuesday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the US, with 40% of the state’s population fully vaccinated.
At the time of writing, 18.7 million doses had been administered in Australia, with 6.9 million people fully vaccinated. Noice. But still, that only represents 27.2% of the population, which according to my limited understanding of arithmetic is less than 70%. To quote Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, “Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet.”
The ABC is also reporting – somewhat depressingly – an “…increase in COVID-19 positive residents refusing to self-isolate”. That’s hard to read, and even harder to comprehend. Asymptomatic people, fatigued from the third wave lockdown? You can kind of understand them doing this. Those who are asymptomatic but have been tested because of proximity to Tier 1 or Tier 2 exposure sites? At a pinch, you can see why it happens, even though it really shouldn’t. But diagnosed COVID-19 positive cases not self-isolating? That’s a dirty pool. Criminal negligence. Public floggings in Martin Place-type stuff.
In NSW, official words and actions look to be motivated by the people’s prevailing mood, rather than best medical practice. Say what you will about Daniel Andrews’ government, but nothing he’s been doing for the past 18 months has been textbook popularity contest-winning stuff.
It’s a weird state of play that while NSW, the ACT and Victoria are all under lockdown, the NSW government is downplaying their own situation; the federal government is arcing up their attacks on those states with zero COVID with the unmitigated temerity to “keep doing what’s worked and is overwhelmingly popular”. Someone seems to have forgotten to tell Frydenberg and Morrison that WA and Queensland are part of the Federation, and that winning seats in those states are necessary for the Morrison government to be returned to office.
Let’s find out how that turns out, shall we?
This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.
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