Flattening the curve vs (near) eradication

Here are some comments I’ve written in a rapid response to Brendan Murphy’s recent press conference. (I haven’t yet seen even the summary of the modelling that has apparently been released, just a picture of flattened curves.)

The idea of “flattening the curve” is fundamentally misleading, since it implies that most people will be infected until herd immunity is achieved, while the number of cases remains within the capacity of the health system. But assuming spare capacity of 2 beds per 1000 people, and 20 per cent of patients requiring treatment, we would need at least five years for herd immunity to be achieved. Optimal policy is to aim for near-complete eradication, then maintain sufficient distancing to ensure local outbreaks don’t spread. We will need quarantine for international arrivals until vaccination is general, or until other countries achieve near-complete eradication.


The main insight from economics is derived from option value concept. Better to adopt stringent measures early and relax if they turn out to be excessive than to move slowly and risk widespread community transmission.

54 thoughts on “Flattening the curve vs (near) eradication

  1. Why near zero and not zero? If there are a few people in the community with infections, we’ll always be just a few weeks away from another lockdown. I’m baffled that the hospital in Tasmania with a number of recent infections is planning to test discharged patients if they show symptoms. Why not just test them all? And do it again a week later, if possible.

  2. “We will need quarantine for international arrivals until vaccination is general, or until other countries achieve near-complete eradication.”

    This means no international arrivals. No one is coming to Australia if they have to be locked up for two weeks. If it has to be, it has to be, but the impact will be devastating for universities, tourism, culture, major sporting events, and no doubt plenty of other things too.

  3. We don’t know how many asymptomatic infections we have had. We don’t know the ratio of asymptomatic to symptomatic infections. However, if we flatten the curve hard, it could conceivably be at least 2.5 years to get herd immunity. I’m not sure even that is workable let alone taking 5 years. What are the alternatives? There are very few apart from;

    (a) Letting lots of people die quickly including a lot of front-line medical staff. That is not acceptable
    (b) Find a vaccine within 18 months or less.
    (c) Find treatments and medicines which greatly reduce lethality of the virus.

    I think we have to do (b) and (c) in combination and spare no expense and effort in getting there. In addition, we must manufacture and use masses of testing kits and personal protection equipment plus do rigorous contact tracing and isolation of cluster outbreaks.

    A team needs to do “left field” research too to check for further potential issues. What if it gets into cats, dogs, horses or native bats? There are real concerns there. Perhaps wildlife carers need to be instructed to not care for bats or go no near bats at all. Sounds harsh but if it gets into native bats that could be a real concern for bats and humans.

  4. To determine (i) how long it will take to get herd immunity and (ii) what the real mortality rate of the virus is by age group, you need to use the new antibody tests on random samples of the population that show the number of people who have ever had the virus. The ABS should be asked to do this monthly once it gets access to the tests. These are currently being used in the US.

    The current testing of biased selections of the population at risk is good for clinical purposes but useless for devising sound policies. The extent to which you lean toward “herd immunity” policies will depend on both mortality and on infection rates.

    Of course, the mortality rates will still not be accurate with this procedure since co-morbidities will be involved in many deaths of quite aged people and some of those infected may die in the future. But the current clinical data is hopelessly inaccurate.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2020/04/06/how-antibody-tests-can-be-used-to-fight-covid-19/#59c12cf23904

  5. It doesn’t matter how many asymptomatic persons there are, if you have a severe lockdown for 2 or 3 weeks, it’s reasonable to expect that those who are mildly infected should have reached the end of their infection period.

    The relative few who progress to a more severe stage can be hospitalised thereby excluding them from society.

    The politics preventing a severe lockdown are also preventing a sustainable recovery.

  6. The first-line defence against a second wave of the epidemic has to be the vigorous testing, tracing and targeted isolation practised by South Korea and Taiwan. It’s hard to exaggerate quite how tough this is. As a commenter here pointed out, one quarantine violater in Taiwan was fined $33,000. In Korea, the locations of outbreak clusters are published, so anybody at risk from contact can get a free test. Privacy of movement will stay suspended.

  7. A data point on unreliability. I’ve been following the progress of the epidemic in Spain, since I live there. New reported cases peaked on 30 March, new deaths one day later. Since it takes 1-2 weeks between the onset of symptoms and death, there should have been a lag between the peaks. Since there is no ambiguity about desth, and a low random risk of misattribution, the number of cases must be wrong. Testing and/or reporting must have improved, making the case series nearly useless as a trend line.

  8. Murphy was asked about the near-complete eradication option, and said we would have to wait for the Australian modelling expected in ‘weeks’ to see the pros and cons of such an option. A number of options for the way forward would be evaluated in the light of the Australian models, and these options would be presented to the national cabinet. Murphy again rejected the herd immunity approach, and pointed out we had no example from any region which had achieved anywhere near herd immunity, so he implied such an option was whistling in the dark. I think the near-complete eradication option is likely to be the best option, and although it does involve restrictions on international arrivals, 2 weeks quarantine won’t deter overseas students much. And extensive testing of arrivals could reduce quarantine to a few days (and monitoring once they’re let out into the community would reduce the risk to minimal levels).

    Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician is effectively arguing for a near-complete eradication option (see below link, and ignore the misleading headline). He is also arguing for a less strict social distancing regime than NSW and Victoria.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/05/we-need-to-live-restricted-lives-for-at-least-six-months-police-enforced-lockdowns-are-unnecessary#img-1

    Harry
    Dennis Trewin (former ABS Statistician) suggested ABS random testing for the virus in a letter to the AFR on Saturday. I agree with him and you. It would be a very useful investment.

  9. Iko: the Malayan tigers in the Bronx Zoo have gone down with the virus, caught from their keepers. You will be relieved to hear they are doing OK and their lives are not at risk. Inquiring minds want to know if reverse transmission is possible, and it is fun to speculate on the experiments required.

  10. James Wimberely,
    I can not understand why there has not been a huge die off of sociologists and historians. The data that is actually being reported is so laughable that these groups of people should have died laughing by now. Of course the press developes theories as to why there are so many stark reported anomolies.
    None of the theories are that someone, or that a lot of people are lying. I do not undestand why that does not get talked about. A lot of people have a lot of motives to lie in this crisis. The motives could be nobel or they could be diabolical. Would the people involved have the means to lie? What I mean by that is how could they substaniate their lies if they were checked?

    Oh wait I understand now. sociologists and historians, are part of the conspiracy. Or, maybe sociologists and historians do not really exist. I have met people proclaiming to be in such professions. Maybe they were lying. Maybe they were figiments of my Buddhist imagination.

  11. This SNOPES article is good. It debunks the bioweapon origin thesis quite thoroughly, and in an interesting way, but it does note:

    “… it is factual to state that the Chinese government hid, downplayed, and misrepresented to its citizens and the world the threat posed by the novel coronavirus.”

    I also consider it factual to state that our own (neoliberal) governments left us woefully underprepared for pandemics and also reacted too late. They had been warned by epidemiologists about pandemic risks and zoonotic disease dangers, along with our general unpreparedness for same, for at least two decades. It’s just like the climate change and bush fire risk issues. We were warned by the scientific experts. Neoliberal governments and neoliberal economists chose to brush aside all such warnings.

    https://www.snopes.com/news/2020/04/01/covid-19-bioweapon/

  12. Ideas about reducing the incidence of this airborne virus to a level close to zero seem fanciful. Without a vaccine or the natural vaccine of “herd immunity” the virus will replicate.

    I really think antibody testing is crucial. There are many who have had the disease who will not now be revealed as infectious with the current tests. It could be that a large proportion of the population in China has been exposed to the virus so that “herd immunity” now prevails there – effectively China’s people have been “immunized”. China was slow to act on the virus and large numbers may have been infected before the shutdown in Wuhan – they are not just asymptomatic carriers but include many who had the virus who no longer are infected and who would not show up as infected with current testing. If herd immunity now prevails this would explain why numbers of infections in China seem so persistently small now. It is puzzling!

    In other countries, which observed the events in China, social isolation policies were introduced at an earlier stage in the evolution of the virus and these populations will necessarily be slower to approach herd immunity. But, already, there is a slowdown in cases in Italy and Spain and some very limited evidence of a slowdown in the US, The convergence toward herd immunity will still be occurring outside China but it will take more time but not more than a month or so if you believe this herd immunity story.

    If this view is correct then the best thing we can do is protect older people from the virus by isolating them but not closing schools and so on. The latter prevents a move to achieve herd immunity by exposing generally very virus-resistant children to the virus and rejecting strong social isolation policies. Of course, again, vulnerable elderly people need to be isolated until herd immunity prevails.

    Obviously this is almost the opposite of policies currently being employed in Australia and so you would want to be very cautious. On the other hand, it is suggesting our current policy emphasis is wrong. Some decent infection data based on antibodies would be useful.

    This is a hypothesis that some epidemiologists support (see below) not an argument that I have confidence is correct. I just don’t know. But the only way to sort out whether this is correct is by getting data on the incidence of antibodies in the population as a whole. Data for China would be invaluable as it would tell us whether the sort of isolation policies we are now pursuing make sense or not.

    If we smooth the curve and delay an inevitable transition to herd immunity then it could be that the most vulnerable elderly in the community will be exposed to persistent recurrent danger.

  13. On any plausible estimate of required proportion (say 50 per cent for a very low value) and fatality rate (say 0.4 per cent) herd immunity requires tens of thousands of deaths, and millions of hospitalizations.

  14. That was not at all the outcome in China. The question is whether that short-term virus resolution (without catastrophic deaths) was due to the extreme social isolation policies in place or the fact that most of the population had been exposed to the virus already and carried its antibodies.

    I am uncertain about this – and don’t want to end up in a corner where I am seen as endorsing one view But data on the fraction of the population with the antibodies would resolve this. I think this data can now, in principle, be reliably obtained:

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2020/04/06/how-antibody-tests-can-be-used-to-fight-covid-19/#1b0c41a53904

    I am surprised by the low new infection rates in China. I don’t think they could now fudge the situation that much. The death and infection rates are now minuscule and apparently mainly due to imports of the virus from other countries. One story is be that they almost eradicated the virus from among the 1.3 billion people in China. The other is that they how high levels of immunity. The data would determine which of these explanations is correct.

  15. Flattening the curve.
    ” But assuming spare capacity of 2 beds per 1000 people, and 20 per cent of patients requiring treatment, we would need at least five years for herd immunity to be achieved.”

    I listened to virologists and epidemiologists from Australia, the UK and Germany (not the retired Prof linked to by Harry Clarke; I don’t think I missed much) for more than 6 weeks while observing the data provided on worldometers live and other sources. Without wishing to sound callous (I am painfully aware of the pain and suffering of so many people), I am fascinated observing and being part of a kind of forward dynamics, which involves everybody and is guided by scientists while leaving important decisions to governments, who in turn depend on the participation of people in non-dictatorial societies. The stakes are high in many ways.

    From what I understand, virologists have detailed knowledge of past outbreaks of infectious deceases but, when faced with a new virus, this past knowledge is akin to having an abstract theoretical model, from which generally valid parameter value conditions can be deduced. For example, if the infection rate is less than 1 then the epidemy will die out by itself, but if the number of people infected by one infected person is greater than 1 then it does not come to an end until, in principle, every person has been infected. From there on it gets difficult because the theoretically important parameter values are not known until after the spook has finished. That is, a calculation as shown in the above quote could not be made at the time the first coronavirus case was identified in Australia or the UK or Germany and it cannot be made now. Indeed, there is still uncertainty as to when the first cases happened in Wuhan, China, but one thing is certain by now, namely it was earlier than the time when China informed anybody.

    So the first reason for ‘flattening the curve’ is to gain time, including time for scientists to collect information on the curve.

    Not unlike the difficulties one encounters with the notion of ‘the economy’, ‘the curve’ develops differently in different locations, even within countries and it is not known as yet whether this is only a temporary feature.

    In addition to the long and still growing list of issues that call for flattening the curve (however its ultimate shape may be) to gain time on health grounds, local production of essentially simple items such as senitisers, face mask, protective clothes has to be re-introduced in many countries or scaled up significantly because the ‘efficiency gains’ from relocating production facilities to low wage countries turns out to be quite inefficient at present; expensive in terms of infections and the associated risk of death as well as in monetary terms.

    Herd immunity, I understand, includes also immunity due to vaccination. The experts anticipate a vaccine will be available within 12 to 18 months. Let hope they are right.

  16. Harry:

    It could be that a large proportion of the population in China has been exposed to the virus so that “herd immunity” now prevails there …

    The tiny death rate for China (2 per million) compared with other countries (over 100 per million in 8 countries already) means that suggestion is completely silly even if China has been fudging the figures.

    Boy am I glad I live on 40 acres of land right now!

  17. “This means no international arrivals. No one is coming to Australia if they have to be locked up for two weeks.”
    Oh come on. Students and long time holiday makers would still come unless they are literarily locked up in prison during quarantaine that is. Maybe i would be among them. I like how the exchange rate is moveing right now and my short term job prospects are rather bad for the near future.

  18. John
    I don’t think herd immunity is the best strategy, but your argument for ruling it out, that ‘herd immunity requires tens of thousands of deaths, and millions of hospitalizations’ is not sufficient. Blakely in what is now a dated paper (even though it was published on 23rd March) https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/the-maths-and-ethics-of-minimising-covid-19-deaths estimated 25,000 to 55,000 deaths from a flattening the curve strategy with quarantining of the older and vulnerable populations. This is 125,000 to 275,000 life years, so at $200,000 per life year, this is a loss of 25 to 55 billion dollars. Horrific numbers to be sure. But this should be compared with the social, health and economic impacts of alternative strategies, and these will be enormous too. Of course the impacts of the alternative strategies have to be estimated carefully, For example, it is not valid to count the $130 billion that we will spend on the jobkeeper program as a cost. It is the opportunity cost of the program that is relevant, and I suspect that will be quite small.
    And your point about millions of hospitalisations being required due to the herd immunity strategy is not a strong point, as there are 11 million hospitalizations per year in Australia.
    So its complicated.

  19. I would like to quote and comment on a key statement by Ernestine Gross:

    ” … local production of essentially simple items such as senitisers, face mask, protective clothes has to be re-introduced in many countries or scaled up significantly because the ‘efficiency gains’ from relocating production facilities to low wage countries turns out to be quite inefficient at present; expensive in terms of infections and the associated risk of death as well as in monetary terms.”

    I say “Eureka!” to that! A religious person might say “Hallelujah and amen!” This pandemic is our “eureka moment” when we realize (nay, have rammed home to us) the serious economic inefficiencies and grave health dangers of globalized and over-connected economic and social systems.

    For some time, I have been arguing for greater self-sufficiency, even a kind of semi-autarky for all nations except micro-states and badly underdeveloped states. I have been arguing that it is better to be self-sufficient in most essential and important products, even at the cost of some losses against (the theory of) comparative advantage in trade. When the outcomes of unrestricted free trade are considered properly there are many downsides, especially for a nation like Australia.

    Unemployment is an obvious down-side of free trade for a nation like Australia. Low wages are another obvious downside. We get the negative double from free trade; lower employment and lower wages. A sensible degree of protectionism can save employment, wages, industries and retain skills in the nation. The histories I have read indicate that Britain, Germany, the USA and Japan all became great manufacturing nations, at different stages in history, behind high levels of protectionism. Protectionism was a necessary though not sufficient condition. I do not propose that Australia could become a great manufacturing nation in the foreseeable future as we don’t meet the other conditions.

    However, we could, as Ernestine points out, engage in more local production of essentially simple items. We should also protect local production in useful light to medium engineering, to give another example. Maryborough – Queensland’s production of electric train rolling stock should have been protected more. The acquisition of Indian-made rolling stock has been story of costly delays to Brisbane’s rail network causing serviceability and timetable issues. Should we not accept somewhat higher costs if it protects jobs and produces a better, more reliable product? I would not argue that we can compete in heavy engineering production with a country like Germany. Such items are still likely to come from Germany, USA, Japan and Sth. Korea.

    It seems absurd and hardly efficient that we import most of our fuels (petrol, diesel) and yet export almost all of our cleaner natural gas to China. A huge slice of the gas profits go to Chevron (another tax avoiding corporation) and Australia gains a relative pittance from this trade. A better course of action would have been to change our car and truck fleets progressively to natural gas and electric power while providing cheap domestic gas for cooking, heating and gas-peaking power generation. The latter along with renewable energy would have permitted a faster phase-out of thermal coal power stations.

    The economic success of China demonstrates that state capitalism is a superior system to corporate capitalism at least under the conditions operating for the last two decades. The USA and EU were in the positions to continue to compete successfully against China on most other parameters except that state capitalism (state planning, state subsidies) plus low wages (global labor arbitrage) proved the more successful system under free trade conditions. Free trade is never of course never really free of unfair competition including different treatments of negative externalities. Chinese factories paid slave-labor wages under unhealthy and unsafe conditions while polluting China (and the globe’s atmosphere) further and at rates unseen before. Once imports from China were adjusted for their ruinous wages and ruinous pollution, many advanced nations would again be able to compete.

    The competition between the Party Dictatorship Crony State Capitalism of China and the Corporate Influence Kleptocratic Crony Capitalism of the USA is scarcely a battle between bad system and virtuous system. It is a battle between two systems both highly inimical to human freedoms, human development and the survival of global ecology and a survivable climate. The world’s best hopes lie in maintaining a pluralistic, diverse world (the opposite of a global mono-culture) where smaller nations (smaller than global superpowers) keep their borders at a more optimum point of semi-permeability (less permeable than currently) and retain more local production, more local employment, more local character, more local culture and place high import tariffs on countries which do not meet the sustainable and renewable standards necessary to save the climate and global ecology. As I say, we need to adopt a continually re-calibrated semi-autarky. The EU as a loose union of nations retaining their regional characters and is perhaps best placed to lead this change. This is even though I criticize it harshly for the faults of its current single currency system. It needs to better explore the options of becoming a fiscal transfer union if the single currency is to be maintained.

    Australia would certainly do better to adopt a semi-autarkic stance. We are more than self-sufficient in food, energy (other than the absurdity of importing oil-based fuels) and other materials. We have a labor surplus which can be put to work under tariffs and protections as high as necessary but no higher. If other nations want to retaliate and refuse our food imports or place high tariffs on them, well and good. We produce less and save our environment for the future. If we earn less foreign exchange, well and good. We buy less junk from overseas and make more essentials at home. To save the planet, we need to become an essentials economy anyway. If people can only afford one new car every 20 years it does not matter. It could be a simple, Australian-built electric car which would run for 20 years .If it has to come out of a state-run nationalized factory, so be it. Electric car building (behind a tariff wall) would be a natural monopoly in a nation as small as Australia.

    There would be stuff we couldn’t make or could not make at all efficiently: heavy machinery, hi-tech, precision instruments and so on. We trade as much as we need to get this stuff and no more. It would be important to place very high tariffs on the imports of luxuries and non-necessities: facile and environment destroying junk as most of it is.

  20. I’ve just notice that Bernard Keane in Crikey yesterday in a quite good article on the issue of the economic/health trade-off made the mistake I was referring to above, with his costing of the impact of the economic partial shut-down. He said ‘we’ll be out of pocket by at least $250 billion at the federal level alone — and that doesn’t count the non-economic impacts of the lockdown either, like depression, suicide and family violence.Will that have been worth it? What value a human life, after all?’

    Shame Bernard shame!

  21. The Swedish experience is valuable. They have quite high mortality rates now but should build up herd immunity soon. If their new infection rates suddenly fall to low levels and remain there then they have got it right provided that the longer term mortality is low. Moreover, their society will be immune to reinfection for at least a year or so. We can watch. HC.

  22. John Goss,

    You are forgetting the environmental benefits of the shutdown. In the accounting (deaths negative, economic losses negative) environmental gains are positive. Less pollution, less greenhouse gas emissions, less species extinctions, less lung disease (outside of COVID-19 itself ) and so on. There are even now less car accidents and less sports injures. Casualty departments are already noticing a big difference.

    The dollar value loss of non-essentials and self-indulgence goods is essentially meaningless and there are real benefits to human and environmental health. The dollar value loss of drinking, gambling, sports, light and low culture activities, luxuries and so on has no real meaning except that a new source of money support and then jobs has to be given to people formerly employed in these frivolous, non-essential indulgence “industries”.

    This is where the accounting system of capitalism – “money is everything and the measure of everything” – is simply wrong. It counts every traded ill as equal to every traded good. So incomes generated from car racing (heavily subsidized by the way) are counted as equal to incomes generated from making and installing solar power. In fact, we should in our national accounting count the dollar value incomes from drinking, gambling, sports, light and low culture activities, luxuries etc. as negatives.

    It is said that the alcohol industry “injects” (interesting word) about $20 billion into the Australia economy. No it does not. By opportunity cost analysis it drains $20 billion from more positive and useful activities. Thus alcohol production should be accounted as a -$20 billion contribution (a $20 billion loss) to the Australia economy.

    We will benefit from this crisis if we shut down and keep shut down, or at least pare down and keep pared down, non-essential, wasteful activities which destroy people and the planet’s climate and environment. What benefits it a people to have a good time and destroy the world?

  23. Those promoting herd immunity need to consider that post infection the duration of immunity is not known. If COVID is like SARS, where immunity lasts two years, then there is every likelihood that reinfection could occur.

  24. Long read, full scenarios, equations of detailed breakdown of Imperial College model re virus rates, mitigation strategies vs hospital system. 

    Second outbreak entirely possible leading to (my name for) The Goodbye Christmas Graph…

    “Are we headed toward an unprecedented public health disaster?

    . ..”this chart [ flatten the curve] and all others like it, that have been made to explain the importance of flattening the curve, are extremely misleading.

    In theory, the idea illustrated in this chart is excellent, but in practice the simulations of the team at Imperial College suggest that this strategy is completely unrealistic. The basic problem is that in all those charts that have been made to illustrate the concept of flattening of curve, the line that represents the capacity of the hospital system and the curves that show the number of cases with and without policies in place to mitigate the epidemic were chosen in a perfectly arbitrary fashion or rather so that the idea that the chart is meant to convey be clear. 

    ” we are going to be faced with the worst economic crisis in modern history. Even if we decided to adopt a strategy aimed only at slowing down the epidemic, by accepting the enormous human cost, that would probably still be the case, but the shock would nevertheless be much less brutal since it wouldn’t last nearly as long and that, from a strictly economic point of view, the death of a large number of elderly people could actually prove to be a positive shock in the long-run. To be clear, I’m not recommending this strategy, I’m just explaining what its likely consequences would be if the simulations are correct.

    “I will come back to the policies which I think should be adopted later, but first I want to look under the hood of these simulations and explain how the model works. Indeed, the predictions of this model are apocalyptic, but can we really trust them? We cannot answer this question without first understanding how the model works.”
    https://necpluribusimpar.net/are-we-headed-toward-an-unprecedented-public-health-disaster/

  25. The Swedish experience is interesting since, initially at least, they allowed the infection to spread. Predictably infection rates were quite high as was mortality and this swung the government there back towards more stringent controls. Still one should expect high levels of community exposure. Currently, the daily infection rate is dropping though mortality is not – the latter will probably turn down too but with a lag. It will be interesting to see if infection rates do go towards zero, as in China, and deaths cease. This would suggest herd immunity has prevailed and worked to halt the virus. If infection rates take off again then the Swedish experiment might be a failure.

    Ditto for Wuhan. If infections don’t take off there again as controls are relaxed then the community presumably has herd immunity. If they do take off the herd immunity theory might just be wrong and it was the social isolation policies that controlled the virus spread.

    You can draw these insights without doing antibody testing.

  26. akarog,

    Correct. There are too many unknowns and unknown risks for an all-eggs-in-one basket approach. The correct approach is to hedge risks and protect essential industries and essential workers including, very importantly, medical staff. Currently a health worker is worth ten times anyone else along with medical researchers, food producers, distributors, makers of PPE and persons in other essential services. Everyone else needs to knuckle down and isolate hard which helps these people do their jobs.

    The problems and unknowns we face include:

    (a) Will mid to long term immunity even be possible? Or will we see this virus act like the common colds and flus (some common colds are coronavirses themselves) which come back season after season by mutating?

    (b) Could this disease turn out to be bi-phasic meaning you can get it twice or more and second infections etc. would be more lethal? This eventuality would be terrifying and herd immunity would mean worse than nothing. It would be a serious liability.

    (c) Will eradication be possible? It seems quite to very unlikely.

    (d) Will medications and new treatments be possible? This seems possible.

    (e) Will a high-ish degree of compartmental-ism and isolation become mandatory for our society and culture indefinitely?

    Letting infection rip for herd immunity is a high risk strategy, perhaps even a suicidal strategy personally and for society. If long run immunity is impossible or the disease is bi-phasic then the outcomes would be catastrophic. We first have to see if extreme damping and even eradication of the virus is possible. The economic damage and human costs will still be far less than a non-herd immunity or bi-phasic disease catastrophe.

  27. We are now seeing highly disturbing reports of o/s students in Australia without the means to get back home and no money for food. Can the military do soup kitchens please. No one should go hungry in this country.

  28. Hugo,

    I agree. Having poor, rootless and homeless people leads to far greater public health problems (to name just one issue) and these problems will be far worse during a pandemic. The patently obvious solutions are;

    (a) Grant a moratorium on residency requirements.
    (b) Grant a temporary (but open ended at this stage) qualification to welfare.
    (c) Offer citizenship. (We won’t be taking new migrants for quite a while so the numbers will off-set.)
    (d) Offer a paid flight home where the home nation will bear half the costs unless a very poor nation in which case Australia pay the whole cost.

    Permit these o/s students to make a free selection from these choices (a+b or c or d).

    None of this would operate against a long term ZPG policy for Australia which has long been my advocated position.

  29. “Why the Coronavirus Has Been So Successful”

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/03/biography-new-coronavirus/608338/

    Final takeway message.

    “Until now,(coronavirus) research has been slow. Ironically, a triennial conference in which the world’s coronavirus experts would have met in a small Dutch village in May has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    “If we don’t learn from this pandemic that we need to understand these viruses more, then we’re very, very bad at this,” Frieman says.”

  30. There are reports from all around the globe of healthcare workers being harassed, intimidated, spat on, taunted, driven out of their homes and neighbourhoods, refused taxi services and discriminated against in shops etc… Sometimes I wonder whether humans deserve to exist.

  31. Ignorance is a big reason for this. We pay very high opportunity costs (with multipliers I would say) for not nourishing, encouraging and educating every person as far as that person’s innate ability, desires and visions will take them.

    I too wonder sometimes whether the human race deserves to exist. Neither man nor god will decide but nature itself and its universal laws working immanently in emergent and evolutionary fashion.

  32. An intermediate policy between strict controls and pursuing herd immunity has been proposed for NSW. Essentially the virus is to be brought under control through continued restrictions but these restrictions are to be gradually relaxed so that more people do get infected and hence, if they survive, attain immunity. The alternative of maintaining strong restrictions indefinitely is seem to invoke economic misery and leaving a large segment of the population exposed to the virus permanently, or at least until a vaccine is discovered.

    The devil here is in the detail. How do you gradually infect a population with a highly contagious virus? if a few get infected won’t that spread to all and become a free-for-all herd immunity policy? The motivation seems sensible enough: Get high levels of immunity without overtaxing the hospital system.

    Sorry, the article is in the much-despised Oz (8/4/20) and is probably paywalled.

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/coronavirus-plan-to-let-covid19-infect-us-slowly/news-story/7a459ae042dfe3316ba42055dc4e5b99

  33. Harry:

    How do you gradually infect a population with a highly contagious virus? if a few get infected won’t that spread to all and become a free-for-all herd immunity policy?

    Maybe the Government could offer to pay $5K tax-free to healthy adults who volunteer to be deliberately infected, in controlled circumstances, then strictly quarantined under guard, for 21 days, in a remote place. Rottnest Island might be a good place.

  34. Harry,

    We don’t know enough about the virus and its effects on humans in numerous variable circumstances to know which is the best possible strategy. So, we are or should be hedging our bets. The best heuristic approach seems to be to err on the side of over-containment and relax later if need be. This is clearly a virus which is easier to let loose than to bottle up again. In addition, bending the curve below (a lifted) ICU capacity is virtually mandatory. The human toll otherwise is unconscionable among both the vulnerable and among vital and highly skilled doctors and nurses.

    The threat to wealth is mainly to the wealthy classes. If we can overthrow their system of neoliberalism and subsidies for the rich, we can power out of this economic setback with the construction of a sustainable, renewable economy and the ending of subsidies to sunset, wasteful and unsustainable economic activities, from coal mines to tourism,and much in between, which unfortunately abound in our completely unsustainable and inequitable economy.

  35. It won’t work Harry, once the asymptomatic and infected are roaming around you will have a contagion.

    It’s like hazard reduction on a 42degree day with 30 knot winds – once you light the match you’ve lost control.

  36. It comes down to how many deaths we are prepared to tolerate. There’s about 3,000 influenza deaths each year, so let’s say that’s the maximum. (Pick another number if you wish.) The trick then is to have enough people getting Covid-19 so there’s no more than 3000 deaths and the health system isn’t overwhelmed. That will be difficult given the characteristics of the disease and will undoubtedly involve mass testing, quarantining of arrivals into the country, compulsory face masks and some kinds of social distancing. The number getting the disease that limits annual deaths to 3,000 won’t be nearly enough to give the population herd immunity so everyone’s lives will be changed until a vaccine comes along. That could be next year, or it could be never.

  37. We don’t know yet if it is at all a good idea to “let” anyone catch COVID-19. We don’t know the long term impacts of the disease. We don’t know if immunity decays and if so how rapidly it decays. We don’t know if second infections are possible and if they might or might not be worse than the first time.

    People are simply assuming things about a completely new virus of unknown characteristics. People are blithely assuming herd immunity will occur. Maybe it will, maybe it will not. If anything, the general records of dangerous pneumonia-style viruses and of the coronavirus family suggest that herd immunity will not occur. Does herd immunity occur for the common colds caused by other coronavirus strains? No! Does herd immunity occur for influenza (which is not a coronavirus)? No!

    Mutations are certainly one reason that herd immunity does not occur. Mutations have already been seen in COVID-19 albeit ones which so far don’t seem to make it more or less lethal or contagious.

    COVID-19 could become just another “cold to light-flu style” nuisance after treatments and vaccines are found. Or COVID-19 could turn out to be almost a “doomsday virus” for homo sapiens. Those extremes are unlikely but where it will fall on that spectrum simply isn’t known yet.

    The strange myopia of many that we are homo economicus before we are homo sapiens is disturbing and dangerous.

  38. Here’s a good a summary as any of what is likely to happen, from the Financial Times

    Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said he expected governments to slowly scale back their restrictions until either the development of a vaccine or herd immunity allowed a resumption of more normal life.

    But he cautioned that it might be necessary to reintroduce curbs on public life if the virus flared up again. “If there’s a big spike, we may have to reimpose restrictions to make sure that the health services don’t get overwhelmed. But the timing between those [episodes] will lengthen,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a suck it and see approach.”

  39. Assuming there is no reservoir in Australia then there’s no particular reason why the virus cannot be wiped out here. If it can only reproduce in human beings then when it is no longer in human beings, or no longer in human beings who can spread it, it’s finished here — unless people are really actively licking surfaces before the last particle breaks down.

    Once we know the limits of testing and have the resources we can — potentially — end the need to isolate people coming from overseas through daily testing. However, accurate tests can be kind of gross, so this may be a non-starter for tourism and only suitable for people traveling for business or humanitarian reasons. Of course, we will need to account for people’s habit of sending their sibling in to get tested on account of how they just met a very attractive lady/man/ladyman/robot.

  40. Ronald:

    Assuming there is no reservoir in Australia then there’s no particular reason why the virus cannot be wiped out here.

    Without a vaccine, this claim is fanciful and contra everything I’ve read by the epidemiologists etc.. Even NZ, with its tiny population (less than Melbourne’s) spread over 2 islands, will deserve a Golden Elephant Stamp if it achieves this end.

    Once we know the limits of testing and have the resources we can — potentially — end the need to isolate people coming from overseas through daily testing.

    And if wishes were fishes I wouldn’t come home empty-handed so often.

  41. Hugo,

    You can find me in Bill Mitchell’s MMT blog with a post dated Jan 9, 2013 and writing;

    “If wishes were fishes I’d have fins instead of hair;
    If fables were tables I’d dine in Leicester Square.”

    It’s part of a humorous gibberish poem I composed in my head some years ago. No doubt even these first two lines and the general idea are very derivative. For example, one does not have to search far to find;

    “If wishes were fishes we’d all have a fry.
    If bullshit were biscuits, we’d eat until we die.”

    The original seems to be;

    “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” – a proverb and nursery rhyme, first recorded about 1628 in a collection of Scottish proverbs.

  42. EG – “the ‘efficiency gains’ from relocating production facilities to low wage countries turns out to be quite inefficient at present; expensive in terms of infections and the associated risk of death as well as in monetary terms.”

    Iko – “I say “Eureka!” to that! A religious person might say “Hallelujah and amen!” This pandemic is our “eureka moment” when we realize (nay, have rammed home to us) the serious economic inefficiencies and grave health dangers of globalized and over-connected economic and social systems.”

    Paul Keating’s grand vision: Australia gasping for ventilators
    https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2020/04/paul-keatings-grand-vision-australia-gasping-for-ventilators/

    With Australia unable to supply itself with vital medical equipment, and its heavy manufacturing industry decimated, it is time to take a walk down memory lane.

    It’s July 2000, and former Prime Minister Paul Keating is boasting about how he “liberated” Australian factory workers from their jobs:

    Paul Keating: …And the likelihood is we are going to find skill shortages of this kind. Which is going to mean that a lot of people who formerly were simply employed are going to find themselves, certainly in a world without the old certainties, but also in a world where they actually earn more and have more freedom for themselves…

    Interviewer: [Union] numbers went down a long way during the Labor years though didn’t they? Almost halved union membership.

    Paul Keating: That was because of the inevitable decline of the old structure to which Australia was completely vulnerable… That was the creaking industrial structure – the structure doing that, not disaffection with unions per se. As everyone in the business knows.

    Oh yeah? Keating. Wrong then, wrong now.

    ACTU backs temporary visa migrants over local workers
    https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2020/04/actu-backs-temporary-visa-migrants-over-local-workers/

  43. Yes, we have to on-shore a proportion of manufacturing and other capacities once again. This is in relation to crises of particular types and to crises in general. We even need to look at the scenario of “we can’t get anything from overseas” which also could happen in the next crisis if not in this one. How do we survive that? The world has entered a long period of rolling crises due to climate change and limits to growth. The crises will not stop coming now.

    The strategy of “we can let China make everything, send them the coal and iron”, and then just kick back on the beach, is not going to work. Apart from crises where imports become difficult to get, it is unsustainable if you want to remain a balanced, developed economy rather than sinking into being an abject and dependent resource economy suffering from the “resource curse”.

    The course of being a dependent resource and/or service economy is also unsustainable in geostrategic terms. This is what the West seems to have forgotten. China’s long term strategic plan was and still is to become the sole significant manufactory of the world. Once China achieved this it could fully convert manufacturing and economic power into geostrategic power, soft and hard, and dominate the world as sole superpower.

    I wonder even now if the world has reached the turning point. In the COVID-19 crisis (which crisis China is subtly weaponizing *) , the West has signally failed and the East (China, Japan, Taiwan and Sth Korea) have succeeded in relative terms. Although, Japan appears AS IF it might be sliding from the success basket into the failure basket. China’s strategy of complete containment appears a near complete success. I write “appears” because we do not really know what is happening in China. They are completely and deliberately opaque on such matters.

    Australia has become too trade exposed and too dependent on China for resource exports and manufactured imports. This is destroying the Australian economy as a balanced economy. This was always the intention of China: to get nations trade dependent on it and to force them by trade and finance blackmail to do China’s bidding. The Chinese Communist Party is an inimical force running a state capitalist party dictatorship. We should never forget that. In particular, democratic socialism is diametrically opposed to party dictatorship capitalism.

    * Note: China did not create COVID-19 in the laboratory. COVID-19 arose zoonotically, which process in this case was due to human actions (wilderness encroachment and the ill-advised eating of high disease-load wildlife like bats) but not by express human design. But one does not have to create a crisis in order to exploit it. The Chinese party dictatorship is in the process of geostrategically exploiting the COVID-19 crisis. This includes economic moves as well as overt military moves as below.

    https://theduran.com/china-seizes-covid-19-advantage-in-south-china-sea/

  44. Hugo, what’s the reservoir for the COVID-19 virus in Australia? Specifically the current strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)? Are you referring to the development of less deadly strains that can remain circulating in the human population so we become the reservoir, or have you been making a point of coughing on a lot of bats lately?

  45. Ronald:

    Hugo, what’s the reservoir for the COVID-19 virus in Australia?

    What’s the reservoir for the equally contagious flu? Based on your assumptions, banishing the flu from Oz should be easy peasy. Meanwhile, in the real world, no country has ever managed such a feat.

    China might end up COVID-19 free but only by using draconian measures that are unthinkable in a democracy, like welding shut doors and gates to imprison people in their homes.

    But by all means, Ronald, send your plan to the Chief Medical Officer. I’m sure he’ll be flattered by the attention you give him.

  46. Hi Hugo. Waterfowl (ducks, geese, etc,) and waders are the natural reservoir for influenza. This makes it difficult to eliminate influenza. However, specific strains of influenza with a high combination of human to human transmission capability and deadliness do get wiped out.

    Coronaviruses are reponsible for around one quarter of colds people suffer and they are endemic and humans act as a reservoir. But the current Coronavirus causing the pandemic is dangerous enough for us to take the effort to eliminate it. And that’s what we’re doing at the moment in Australia. Hopefully in two months everyone who has it or may have it in this country will be hospitalized and/or isolated. Then, once those people are free of it this particular virus will be eliminated from Australia. ‘Cept maybe in labs.

  47. I agree that we should attempt to eliminate COVID-19 in Australia including all possible reservoirs of the disease. This will be difficult and I question whether Australians have the real clarity of vision, public-good ethics and singleness of purpose to do this. Given our efforts to date, I have my doubts. Among the tough measures necessary would be;

    (a) Continue isolation and social distancing, except for essential services and industries, until vaccines and/or effective treatments become possible. This could mean up to 18 months or more of strong personal and social distancing discipline.

    (b) Continue Australia’s isolating travel bans for two years for all but the most essential travel and then enforce quarantine for all in-comers. Tourism (both ways) is completely non-essential.

    (c) Mandating that mass entertainments cease completely for about 2 years. This means sports, theater and all manner of cultural events.

    (d) Maintain the ban on mass social and even large family gatherings for up to 2 years.

    (e) Declare that all domestic cats must be euthanized and all feral cats exterminated. cats to become a prohibited animal in Australia.

    (e) An absolute ban on humans tending wildlife in wildlife refugia and wildlife hospitals. An absolute ban on keeping wildlife, native or exotic in zoos and animal parks. The best way to help wildlife is to protect native habitat refugia with traditional methods up to and including firestick management under indigenous guidance. In particular, bats must not be tended in any form (though their habitats must be protected) due to the grave danger of COVID-19 becoming endemic in our bat population.

    Unless people are willing to take these stern and serious measures they are simply deluding themselves that COVID-19 and its (potential) reservoirs could be eliminated. Of course, we might be able to live with COVID-19 becoming endemic. It might not turn out to be too serious IF we can get vaccinations and treatments. However, we do not know at this stage and COVID-19 could turn out to be a serious and chronic disease problem for us for years and even decades to come.

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