Today, I am over committed and have to travel some, and, luckily, we have a…
The Pandemic, Government Failures and Accumulated Social Wreckage
Today, we have a guest blogger in the guise of Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time. Today he is writing about impact on local communities of the current Covid-19 outbreak in Sydney. Over to Scott …
I am currently involved in a book project with a number of colleagues looking into the impact of Covid-19 on Australian cities and urban regions.
The book, which will be published by Springer in 2022, is focusing on how the pandemic and the associated economic and social fallout is reflected in the daily “workings” of our large urban areas, and how and what impacts might the pandemic have in store for cities in the long term.
Cities are the spatial reflection of accumulated social wreckage
I have commented in the past, either in my academic writing such as – Faultlines Exposed (2005) – or in my blog pieces – Using a regional lens reveals the uneven impact of the COVID employment crash (February 11, 2021) – about the importance of understanding the concentration of accumulated social wreckage (disadvantage) in spatially distinct communities.
The persistence of clusters of accumulated social wreckage in our cities and other areas reflects a mass failure of government policy.
The current Covid-19 response magnifies these disadvantages in many communities.
Within the academic literature the link with the Covid-19 pandemic and social disadvantage can be traced to health geography and epidemiology literature that talks about the social determinants of health and in particular how these are reflected at the spatial a local community level.
Not surprisingly, there has been an uptick in the number of articles that consider at these propositions.
The general gist of the social determinants of health can be seen in this Lancet article – Covid-19 and the impact of social determinants of health (May 18, 2020) – where we learn that:
While Covid-19 has been termed a great equaliser, necessitating physical distancing measures across the globe, it is increasingly demonstrable that social inequalities in health are profoundly, and unevenly, impacting Covid-19 morbidity and mortality …
Many social determinants of health-including poverty, physical environment (eg, smoke exposure, homelessness), and race or ethnicity-can have a considerable effect on Covid-19 outcomes.
An example (from the US but still relevant) of how these are reflected at the spatial or community level can be seen in this academic article – A spatial analysis of the COVID-19 period prevalence in U.S. counties through June 28, 2020: where geography matters? (published December 2020).
The authors find that:
… the variables with statistically significant associations with county-level COVID-19 cases include demographic variables (i.e., race/ethnicity), socioeconomic factors (i.e., income and housing conditions), and population mobility (i.e., the level of commuting ties between counties).
The current Sydney outbreak: accumulated social wreckage ramps up!
Bill has written several blog posts related to the current situation in Sydney, specifically and Australia, more generally:
1. The ideology of neoliberal ‘freedom’ ends up damaging all of us – NSW Covid outbreak (August 10, 2021).
2. The pandemic exposes the damage that neoliberalism has caused (August 3, 2021).
3. Mobility data tells an interesting story about cultural differences between Australian states (July 21, 2021).
In historical Australian terms the outbreak is significant with the state of NSW recording new daily highs in the number of Covid-19 cases with the bulk (until recently) centred in Local Government Areas in the greater Sydney region.
It is very clear from the emerging data and daily press conferences that the situation in Sydney has particular spatial or community patterns.
Data is readily available for – Local Government Areas (LGAs) – and as is clear from this map, there is a strong spatial pattern to the number of cases of Covid-19.
The map shows cases per 10,000 population, with the most extreme numbers (relative) being heavily concentrated in Sydney’s western LGAs, with a second ring of high infection rates surrounding the initial clustering.
Moreover, we learn from reviewing Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data from 2016 (the most recent data won’t be available till mid 2022), that LGAs with higher rates of Covid-19 infections tend to have higher levels of recent migrants, people who don’t speak English well, people who live in higher density residential arrangements, have higher levels of disadvantage (unemployment, low incomes etc) and are more likely to be employed in jobs where are less likely to work remotely.
So, the take home message is clear.
The current Covid-19 outbreak in Sydney is impacting most on communities that are already facing social and economic disadvantage (socially/economically disadvantaged, recent migrants) and is exacerbated by the structure of jobs that require the face-to-face contact.
These patterns and drivers are well rehearsed in relation to other places.
In this article – Social determinants of health and inequalities in COVID-19 (published July 8, 2020) – the authors note three points. Firstly
… although everyone is susceptible to the virus, there are numerous accounts of the pandemic having a greater impact on lower socioeconomic groups and minorities …
Limited material circumstances, such as crowded living conditions and multigenerational households, may increase the risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 …
Work-related exposure is also increased for occupations that do not permit working from home and entail physical proximity to other people or direct contact with the public. These typically include low-income jobs in service sectors, such as health or social care, transportation, cleaning and hospitality.
The end results? The disadvantaged are further disadvantaged and accumulated social wreckage ramps up.
The virus picks on the vulnerable and the government does too
The conservative NSW government’s reaction to the Sydney Covid outbreak was to impose piecemeal restrictions on communities they deemed to be responsible for spreading the virus without full consideration of the consequences.
The choice of the government to go ‘lockdown lite’ put many people’s health at risk.
We see this in the daily numbers of new locally acquired cases that have shown no signs of declining and have in fact grown exponentially.
But the impacts are wider.
Many people in locked down communities lost Jobs or were stood down due to the nature of their employment.
The government’s response was either missing in action or slow to get off the mark further disadvantaging many people in these communities.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ – Weekly Payroll Jobs in Australia – data for the weekending July 17, 2021, shows that numbers ofCOvid cases (previous map) correspond closely with a map of job losses.
That is, communities with high cases also have seen significant job losses.
In fact, the report in The Australian newspaper (August 13, 2021) – Jobs slump a ‘massive’ shock to economy- (paywall) – tell us that:
Nearly one in 10 workers in some western Sydney suburbs have been stood down as a result of harsh lockdowns and restrictions imposed to suppress the Delta outbreak,
Added to this, the government decided that these communities were in need of some stern guidance so arranged to send in police and the Army to make sure members of these selected lockdown communities “did as they were told.”
The impact was to further isolate and alienate these vulnerable communities.
The UK Guardian article (August 13, 2021) – Fear and loathing in western Sydney: how NSW’s Covid response failed migrant communities – reported that:
Tough policing, constant rule changes and health messaging that isn’t cutting through have created a perfect storm of misinformation and paranoia in Sydney’s most diverse areas.
A related UK Guardian article (July 30, 2021) – Troops enforcing western Sydney lockdown will alienate community, advocates warn – reported that:
… choosing to use force and fear by giving police additional powers and rolling in army troops to communities is disturbing. This will only create greater fear and uncertainty among our families and friends.
The author of this article quoting a local resident summed the situation up nicely, stating:
Their deployment is such a statement about the nature of the problem, and the problem is us, the people who live in western Sydney. They’re saying the problem isn’t the vaccine rollout or their failure to support people, the problem is our compliance.
Blaming the victim at its best!
(Bill notes: the decision of the Federal government not to reinstate its wage subsidy program which took some pressure of families in the first wave last year has also left families financially vulnerable and placed increased pressure of low-pay communities to keep interacting at a time when the virus was spreading quickly in their communities in West and South-west Sydney).
Inconsistent governance was not what we needed
Most of us would agree that the role of government in a democracy is first and foremost the protection of its citizen’s wellbeing.
The reaction to the Covid outbreak in Sydney is just another example where governments have failed in their role.
The NSW government could have, like other states, imposed a city-wide short sharp lockdown in order to deal with the emergent Covid clusters.
But instead, they pandered to big business and other vested interests by trying to keep Sydney ‘open for business’, despite the obvious risks, and they put the blame on some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
An approach right out of the neo-liberal play book – support the 1 per cent while blaming the most vulnerable.
The Government’s mantra as their own failures became obvious to all was: “If only they had done as they were told we would not be in this mess”.
That is typical rubbish thinking from the neoliberals.
The NSW state government’s ineffectiveness was further exacerbated by the federal government’s failure in rolling out a suitable vaccination program.
As we read in Bill’s blog post – The pandemic exposes the damage that neoliberalism has caused (August 3, 2021):
The vaccine scandal has arisen because the federal government tried to ‘penny pinch’ with Pfizer last year and we now have a vaccine scarcity and will not get adequate supplies until later this year …
So, the neoliberal obsession with fiscal austerity (the ‘penny-pinching’) has left the nation badly exposed to the Delta variant of COVID and on-going lockdowns enforced by the state governments which are resulting in millions of dollars of lost output and incomes every day.
A shocking example of what happens when the government ramps up the austerity talk.
The state and federal government needed to support the most vulnerable, not dither around trying to find someone to blame and putting out spot fires.
Piecemeal plans were put in place for financial support, only to be reviewed at a later date.
Two ABC media reports are illustrative.
1. Sydney food businesses report huge income losses, delays in government aid (August 16, 2021) – reports on the lack of funding and delays in getting funding due to government unwillingness to make sure the financial costs of their actions are covered.
2. COVID support payments still exclude many businesses and workers who are struggling to survive (August 9, 2021) – more of the same.
As usual, we are all in this together, except when we are not.
(Bill notes: the NSW government is now going to ‘reward’ those who are now fully vaccinated with new ‘freedoms’ while the rest of us stand in the queue to get the vaccine. The queue is long and will take months to work through solely because the Federal government didn’t order enough vaccine. We are definitely, not “all in this together”.)
Unfortunately, the impact will be felt in many areas long after the current outbreak ends.
The broader impact on the economy will be significant and uneven as regions will recover at different rates.
There will be no widespread automatic bounce back, despite what the politicians say or believe.
I talked about the uneven nature of jobs losses and recovery in this blog post – Using a regional lens reveals the uneven impact of the COVID employment crash February 11, 2021.
… those places that were already disadvantaged prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 that will be hit hard and when recovery does take place the gulf between the advantaged and disadvantaged will remain and might have even grown
In the current Sydney outbreak, the uneven hand of the state and federal government responses will result a negative economic legacy for the most disadvantaged, even after the 1 percent have moved forward.
The failures of government within the neoliberal era have been well documented.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these failings and has multiplied existing accumulated social wreckage for individuals and the communities in which they live.
The choices the collective governments have made are political ones and have not been made with everyone’s interests front of mind.
The final word comes from the Lancet article – Covid-19 and the impact of social determinants of health (May 18, 2020) – cited earlier:
… the effects of COVID-19 have shed light on the broad disparities within our society and provides an opportunity to address those disparities moving forward.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2021 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.
This Post Has 11 Comments
The national debate on COVID-19 and lock-downs has degenerated to the level of scientific illiteracy in quarters where we would expect something better. I notice that even the profession of epidemiology has a splinter group better termed political epidemiologists rather than epidemiologists per se. They are led by our chief political epidemiologists, Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian who of course completely lack the epidemiology part of that qualification. The political epidemiologists say things like –
(a) We have to learn to live with the virus.
(b) We have to open up at 70% or 80% of adults vaccinated.
(c) We need to coexist with Delta.
(d) We can’t live in our bubble forever.
Living with COVID-19 is an outright lie. Many people die from COVID-19 or are left with “Long Covid”, especially, but not only, the obviously vulnerable people. So while neoliberals claim they care about vulnerable people, they clearly don’t. When it becomes necessary to throw people to a deadly virus to keep business as usual running, they do so without apology.
The best guide to the effects on a “let-it-rip” society is to look at the chart of excess deaths for the USA in the COVID-19 pandemic period. Find the “Excess mortality P-scores” graph in this link and then use the check-boxes to view US only.
At the Dec ’20 – Jan ’21 peak in the USA excess mortality was up just over 50%.
Now Australia’s path has been and will be different. First, we seriously attempted to suppress or eradicate, or at least the Premiers did except for Gladys Berejiklian. But federally we failed to set up quarantine properly and failed to get in vaccines early enough. Now Scott Morrison and G.B. are pushing for opening up solely on the basis of vaccination of adults to 70% and then 80%. That will still leave a huge vulnerable population including younger cohorts and children who may have preconditions not yet diagnosed. Some will simply have atypical immune systems which respond badly, or fail to respond effectively, to this totally new disease.
What these new neoliberal plans fail to take heed of is the fact that COVID-19 is a constantly moving target. By this I mean of course it is a constantly mutating target. Theneolibs assume that Delta is the last word and worst of the mutations. “We need to coexist with Delta.” It is quite possible that, by the time we reach 80% adults vaccinated against Delta, with imperfect efficacy, newer and worse variants will have arisen. We quite likely will not be “existing” with Delta by then. We will be existing with, or rather dying from, Delta Plus or Lambda or some other variant not yet even arisen by mutation.
The whole story of COVID-19 is one of relatively rapid mutation, infectivity enhancement, rising serious disease in younger people, rising immune escape and rising vaccine escape. The latter is so marked that the US President, via the US Surgeon General, is recommending boosters at just 8 months after the second dose. This indicates that a horror-go-round of a disease necessitating multiple boosters is ahead of us. Letting cases rise by any sort of opening up strategy while we have many extant cases already will be a recipe for disaster.
It appears Western society has given up on 150 years of public health progress and is now opting for public health regress and collapse. I guess a society that can’t see the reality of climate change certainly could never be expected to see the reality of the need for pandemic control. A society made so stupid by neoliberal ideology clearly doesn’t know how to survive.
It has certainly become clear that the vulnerable are being completely ignored in the opening-up equation. There are many people who will still be vulnerable after only 80% of adults have received vaccines which are in any case only about 80% effective against the chances of hospitalization or death. This leaves a huge demographic vulnerable: 80% of 80% of 20 million is roughly 7 million adults. Plus there are all the vulnerable non-adults. Let us say another million to make 8 million still left vulnerable. About 10% of these will likely be hospitalized or intubated or die due to COVID-19. That’s 800,000 people at risk. If you are vulnerable you will be left behind. That is the clear plan.
The neoliberal ideologues and the freedumb crowd simply do not care. The rights to make money, take a holiday or go out to a club or pub and have a drink are all raised up as being more important than all the vulnerable lives at stake. The vulnerable 800,000 (estimated) are scarcely mentioned except that, by implication and sometimes even by express statement, it is made clear that they must be sacrificed on the altar of neoliberal economics.
Late stage neoliberal capitalism has moved expressly and avowedly on to outright Social Darwinism. The weak must be sacrificed for the untrammeled access of the rich and strong to rampant consumer pleasures. It’s hard to imagine anything more pathological than a society which sacrifices its weak for mere pleasure and for pleasures which are, by their very nature as excess consumption, causing runaway climate change and environmental destruction.
If we allow the virus to replicate in the unvaccinated (20% or 30% of adults plus the rest of the population we are inviting disaster.
“Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House medical adviser for the novel coronavirus, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the unvaccinated population might be spreading the virus so much that there will be time for the virus to mutate.
“So, if you allow the virus to freely circulate and not try and stop it, sooner or later there is a likelihood that you will get another variant that could, I’m not saying it will, that could be more problematic than the delta,” Fauci said.
In fact, Fauci said that the virus may become so dangerous that (it) would have the power to evade vaccines, infecting thousands of people who, as of now, are safe from variants.
“If you give the virus the chance to continue to change, you’re leading to a vulnerability that we might get a worse variant,” he said. “And then, that will impact not only the unvaccinated; that will impact the vaccinated because that variant could evade the protection of the vaccine.”” – Desert News, Utah.
Morrison and Berejiklian seem to be totally unaware of the potential for further mutation. I wonder how they think Delta arose? Or are they aware and saying nothing? The dangers of mutation are rarely raised in the MSM and Morrison and Berejiklian never raise it so far as I can tell. Their discourse about COVID-19 is totally dishonest. Considering the amount of virus circulating in the world and considering our porous national border and quarantine system, one would have to say it’s strong odds on that we will get worse variants here than Delta.
Berejiklian’s “Zero COVID ‘just not possible'” speech is a disgrace of lies, misdirection and revisionism. Zero COVID-19 for the globe was possible until the neoliberal world let COVID-19 spread and mutate. Zero COVID-19 in Australia was possible if we had managed our borders and quarantine correctly from the outset of the pandemic until now. Zero COVID-19 only became impossible after the Morrison and Berejiklian governments failed at their jobs.
It’s a case of fait accompli by self-fulfilling prophecy. Certainly, zero COVID-19 becomes impossible when they fail to implement proper quarantine and they fail to implement proper lock-downs. It’s also a case of moving the goalposts to redefine failure as success. Success becomes the vaccination rate not the infection rate. This is a vaccination rate which is only of a proportion of part of the population, not a proportion of the whole population. This is an exercise by Morrison and Berejiklian to take their own egregious failure and redefine them as successes.
Morrison has foreshadowed a move from reporting cases to only reporting hospitalizations and deaths. Again, this will be a dangerous lie if it occurs. For a rapidly mutating dangerous virus, the total infection rate matters, as does testing. They provide indicators of first the probability and then the actuality of dangerous variants arising, locally and internationally. They also provide another indicator of the long COVID burden the nation is likely to face. If hospitals are swamped and can’t take all potentially serious COVID-19 cases then admissions will not be an accurate count of serious COVID-19.
The dangers of allowing Morrison and Berejiklian to re-frame their failures as successes are profound. As I said above, this marks the transition, in Australia, of late stage neoliberal capitalism to fully fledged Social Darwinism. The vulnerable are to be sacrificed for corporate, oligarchic and small proprietor profits. Protecting the public from pandemic and endemic serious disease, once a cornerstone of public health and the social contract of social welfare and democracy, is to be jettisoned to keep businesses open. The well-off and the well may have their self-indulgent lifestyles and holidays. The vulnerable may die.
“First they came for the elderly, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not elderly.
Then they came for those with medical preconditions, and I did not speak out-
Because I did not have medical preconditions.
Then they came for the disabled, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not disabled.
Then they came for me, with long covid, and now I am prematurely aged,
riddled with medical preconditions and disabled.
-and there was no one left to help me.” – Apologies to Martin Niemöller.
There is little to add to Ikonoclast’s penetrating, panoramic comment. When I first became aware of the new pandemic, I immediately pulled up Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution” and let it rip. Since the days of Marx, would-be revolutionaries, desirous of bringing down capitalism, have put their hopes in a proletarian uprising, only to see those hopes evaporate and grow dimmer by the year. So where would you put your money right now (assuming you’re of the revolutionary persuasion): on the deconstruction of neoliberal capitalism by a militant coming together of the workers of the world, OR on a constantly-mutating virus, allowed to run rampant among the billions of the poor, a virus which could easily and repeatedly freeze in its tracks the entire global economy?
The Doherty Model appears to be seriously flawed. There are plenty of dissenting opinions in the epidemiology profession. The Guardian, in its article “Ending restrictions with 80% vaccinated could cause 25,000 Australian deaths, new modelling suggests” (linked at end of this post) reports as follows (excerpts):
“Ending lockdowns and other public health restrictions once 80% of the adult population is vaccinated could result in 25,000 deaths in total and 270,000 cases of long Covid, new modelling warns.
The work by researchers at three leading Australian universities predicts more than 10 times as many deaths as the Doherty Institute modelling that underpins the national four-phase roadmap.”
“The Doherty modelling looked at the number of deaths in the first 180 days of reopening at the 70% and 80% thresholds that lead to phase B and C – when lockdowns would be “less likely” and then “highly targeted”.
The latest research models total cumulative deaths over a longer time frame during phase D of the national plan – when no restrictions remain.”
“The Doherty modelling suggests that in the first 180 days after Australia reopens at an 80% of adults vaccination rate, there would be 761 deaths with partial testing, tracking, tracing and quarantine.”
“In their paper, published on Tuesday, Hyde, Grafton, Kompas and independent modeller John Parslow found that reopening at a 70% vaccination rate could result in 6.9 million symptomatic Covid-19 cases, 154,000 hospitalisations, and 29,000 total deaths.
It warned that if Australia reopens once 80% of adults are vaccinated, which translates to 65% of the population overall, there could be approximately 25,000 fatalities and 270,000 cases of long Covid.
If Australia reopens with 80% of adults vaccinated and all children vaccinated, estimated deaths would fall to 19,000, or to 10,000 if 90% of adults were vaccinated.
The Doherty modelling produced less dire results due to different assumptions: a shorter time horizon; a lower proportion of symptomatic infections; lower transmission among children; baseline public health measures that reduce the reproduction number from 6.32 to 3.6, and that testing, tracing, isolating and quarantine remains “partially effective”, even at very high new daily cases.
Grafton defended those differences, explaining the group had assumed hospitalisation and deaths would continue “until everyone is infected”.
“That would be in 2022, some time in phase D when there are minimal public health measures and no lockdowns. [Covid-19] will go everywhere, it’s extremely contagious,” he told Guardian Australia.”
Either the Doherty Model is highly flawed and selective or the political use of it is. I suspect BOTH because the Doherty Institute spokesperson has essentially aligned herself and the Doherty Inst. with the government of the day and presented the same interpretation of the Doherty report as the government, and in a way supportive of the government. Where does Doherty get its research funds from? I suspect an investigation is in order for potential conflict of interest.
There is something distinctly fishy about all this. I call politically influenced research conclusions OR a case of “corporate Overton Window syndrome”: the latter involving motivated corporate-line reasoning operating by tweaking a model and its parameters to get the results required. It takes very little change in initial conditions, in a chaotic system model, to get very different outcomes. Truncating the time series can also lop off the long run fat tail risk. That too is very disturbing.
The propaganda blitz to normalize the process of neglect of public health concerns and to normalize the process of letting people die through neglect and atrocious public health policy is disgraceful. Something very dangerous is happening here. It is nothing less than the infiltration of neoliberal reasoning and corporatism into even public and academic bodies which one might have thought in past times were immune to such influences in the name of science and objectivity. Such is clearly no longer the case.
The empirical record to date is that COVID-19 has escaped all (manifestly inadequate in retrospect) bounds set on it and it has (like climate change) exceeded almost all of the very worst predictions in its spread and progress. Given that case, the wise thing to do would be to pay attention to the worst predictions and act on the presumption that they will most likely prove correct. Instead the Doherty Institute and the government of the day are doing the opposite.
I predict a national public health disaster from this approach and a death and sequalae disease burden in the range projected by Hyde, Grafton, Kompas and independent modeller John Parslow, Indeed, I think we sadly can predict even worse. This will be a huge disaster. Prepare to batten yourselves down for the sake of all the unvaccinated and even 20% of the vaccinated. This is going to get very bad.
I am a concerned citizen, not an epidemiologist. But I follow the non-motivated-reasoning epidemiologists, not the other type who appear to be captured by neoliberal corporatism and its seductive and anti-empirical illogic.
Incisive, depressing but realistic exposition ikonoclast. Even this morning the federal treasurer was out there selling the neoliberal position that lockdown must end once 70% are vaccinated. As you put it that still leaves a huge number unvaccinated and are likely to lead to the virus mutating again, possibly more virulent.
I assume you are arguing for retention of restrictions until the virus is basically eliminated? Of course that will require maintenance of and much higher levels of federal financial support to enable our citizens to survive until the virus threat recedes.
The outlook is not good given that the neoliberals in charge are itching to get back to as close to BAU as they can get away with. The financial support has been inadequate but I’m sure informed by the ideology of neoliberalism which asserts that there is a limited fiscal capacity to maintain support.
I have tried to counter their BS but its an uphill struggle as most accept the intuitive rather than the counter intuitive view of federal fiscal capacity.
Very good annalysis.
. . . However, you are still ignoring the rest of the world. Neoliberals don’t want big pharma to have to give up their profits on vaccines for the poor in Africa, S. America, and Asia. So, vaccinations for the world are lagging. Until the whole world has reached 90% vaccinated there is a risk of mutations.
. . . I wonder how long it will be until the tourist industry demands open borders again.
What has happened to Australia and Australians?
Very rare that they mutate to become more deadly. Why mutate to kill the host then you would be killing yourself. Ideally they need the host to survive so the virus can survive.
There is a lot we can learn from mutations and the fear of it mutating into a super killer is very rare and normally story lines in Marvel comic books.
Here’s a less alarming take on mutations from nature micro biology journal.
It could mutate into a Kitten instead of a lion. Preparing itself for a new outbreak in a 100 years time.
You are right. I was just focusing on Australia. We have enough of our own problems now. COVID-19 Delta is exploding out of control in Australia because of our inept neoliberal governments in Canberra (Federal) and Sydney (State of New South Wales).
But to bring it back to a global focus. Yes, COVID-19 is exploding out of control in every country in the world so far as I can see in the publicly available data. And neoliberalism rules the globe with the sole exception of China which seems to be doing remarkably better than the rest of the world. Of course it is hard to know exactly what IS happening in China. I think it is uncontroversial to say that China is less transparent, by intention, than most countries.
It is also true to say, with COVID-19, that if even one country is in trouble then all countries are in trouble. The world was, and still is, over-connected with respect to the requirements for halting a global pandemic. The other issue is, as you say, that the world will always remain unsafe so long as pharma IP “oligopoly-rentier” rights trump human rights to health and safety and prevent poor countries getting vaccines.
I could say much more and post many more links but I will control myself at this point. I don’t want to flood this site’s threads.
Suffice it to say I am profoundly angry and outraged with neoliberalism and have been so for over thirty years. To explain why, I would have to tell half my life story. I will spare people that. I am also outraged and angry with our current neoliberal governments. They have been and are leading our country into total disaster. The only satisfaction I am getting out of this disaster it that is should put a stake through the heart of Australian “economic rationalism” for good. That’s one of our older terms for neoliberalism or market fundamentalism. This is if our populace shows enough brains. That is still in doubt, IMHO, but I live in some hope.
Your link is to a very poor article, in my opinion. There are so many glaring faults in it I hardly know where to begin and I will have to limit myself too. The title practically gives the game away on its own:
“We shouldn’t worry when a virus mutates during disease outbreaks.”
This a title for an opinion fluff piece, not for a serious piece of research science or a summary of known science to date. It’s like saying “We shouldn’t worry when we catch a virus.” It’s too general. It depends on the virus. Saying, “we shouldn’t worry when a virus mutates during disease outbreaks” is actually highly illiterate with respect to viral evolutionary science. It depends on the mutation and it depends on the virus – it multiplicatively depends on both. I cannot see how any competent virologist or geneticist would write such a title. It makes the whole article highly doubtful.
For a start, the title claim is refuted by the empirical record of SARSCov2 to date. Yes, it is that easy to find a refutation. SARSCov2 causes COVID-19 disease. The evolution (by mutations) of at least four key variants , Alpha, Delta, Delta+ and Lambda has already made SARSCov2 far more dangerous.
“The Alpha variant, for instance, is 50% more transmissible than the original Wuhan strain. ” – ‘COVID variants Lambda and Delta Plus: All you need to know about the emerging strains’ – Sunil Lal, The Lens, Monash U.
The Delta variant is two times (200%) more transmissible than the original Wuhan strain. As we know, the Delta variant has caused dangerous new-wave outbreaks in many countries due to its high infectivity and higher asymptomatic transmission rate.
“The Delta Plus variant is resistant to antibody cocktails (artificially produced monoclonal antibodies), binds more tightly to the ACE2 receptor, thereby increasing transmissibility, exhibits resistance to COVID-19 drugs, and evades the immune response elicited by vaccinated individuals.
The mutation (K417N) acquired by the Delta Plus variant is not something new. It was also present in the Beta variant.
The Lambda variant (C.37 or B 1.1.1) was detected as early as December 2020 in Lima, Peru. This variant has been reported in 90% of all cases in that country. Currently, more than 29 countries have detected this variant.
It’s noteworthy how this variant, although detected early, showed slow rates of infection initially, but has now become the predominant variant in Peru, clearly showing its edge in transmissibility and infection over other variants.” – ‘COVID variants Lambda and Delta Plus: All you need to know about the emerging strains’ , Sunil Lal, The Lens, Monash U.
The “We shouldn’t worry when a virus mutates” article makes this generalized statement which is refuted by the above known data:
“Indeed, across a broad swathe of viruses it is unusual to find those that have changed or expanded their mode of transmission over short evolutionary time-scales despite high rates of mutation.”
Clearly, SARSCoV2 does not meet this highly generalized statement by having already mutated dangeorusly over short evolutionary time-scales relative to human life-spans . I suspect quite a few RNA viruses might be able to do the same. But SARSCoV2 is highly unusual at this point in history. It is a novel zoonotic disease having recently jumped from another animal to man maybe by a intermediary vector. Being novel to humans and being a fairly mutateable RNA virus it has a vast new “evolutionary space” to explore. This virus and man have never “met” before in all of evolutionary history. It is not like other diseases, even flus, of which it can said there is a shared evolutionary history, some of the evolutionary space had already been explored as flu virus(es) and man have already fought each other many times and have co-evolved to some extent in evolutionary competition.
To not understand how different the COVID-19 situation is from an already somewhat extensive co-evolved situation like that of flus and humans, is to really to not understand this cutting edge of viral evolutionary science at all. It is also to not understand punctuated equilibrium evolutionary effects. We have hit an historic and even epochal punctuated equilibrium evolution point. SARSCov2 is evolving at “light speed” compared to ordinary “interregnum” evolution and compared to human evolution. Our technology will have to move at “light speed” to keep up with and win this viral evolution versus human immune system and technology arms race.
Note 1. – It makes sense to measure evolutionary time in generations, not years. Only one tenth (about) of a human generation has passed since SARSCov2 jumped to man. But how many viral generations have there been? Using human-to-human transmission times (7 days say) we can say 1 year of transmissions is 52 generations. But wait, viruses can supercharge their evolution in one human body and in many human bodies. When new more viable variants (at entering cells say) occur once or more than once in any human body early on in the infection, then the best variant will out-compete all, even its viable mutated fellows and multiply to dominance in that body, likely in days. This would give a factor, greater than 1, of “intra-host” evolution. Then you would have to multiply generations by the “intra-host” factor. This factor could well be very significant. “Intra-host” evolution is real thing, for example:
“Intra-Host Evolution of Norovirus GII.4 in a Chronic Infected Patient With Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation.”
How much do Intra-Host Evolution effects multiply for SARSCoV2 when people are being intubated, kept alive for longer periods and then when improperly PPE-ed staff get infected, especially in a country like India, where Delta arose? Clearly the effect is not only possible, but indeed highly likely and likely very significant for SARSCoV2 evolution.
More transmissible and more deadly are not the same thing. Crunch the numbers.
Of course it can happen, but lets wait and see what happens instead of the world is going to end narrative and automatically assume this thing will mutate into a super killer. Nobody knows what it will mutate into next a less fear and a more balanced approach is needed.
Plus we learn something new about it everytime it mutates…. similar to neoliberalism and globalisation. It might drop its guard just enough to kill it.
More transmissable means more cases, all other things being equal (ceteris paribus). On all current evidence, the more more transmissible Delta variant is no more deadly and no less deadly than the variants that have preceded it. Therefore with more Delta variant transmission there will be proportionally more deaths, ceteris paribus.
The virus has enough potential hosts (nearly 8 billion humans) plus the ability to reinfect as immunity wanes. This means a more dangerous variant that transmits asymptomatically and kills at a high rate is not precluded. I agree with you that this does not mean it will evolve for sure either. But the chances are significant and highly concerning. It is what is called a fat tail risk. It is something really really bad that COULD happen and IF it does happem the outcomes obviously will be really, really bad too. Hence, this is a case where we should be risk-averse, over-cautious and even a bit over-fearful, if you will. To be so would be a wise cautionary response. Why take the risk? We should have continued to suppress COVID-19, not let it run rampant with millions or billions of more chances to reach an interim very deadly and widely spread strain.
It is possible that in the long run, which could be five years away or decades away (we don’t know) it has chances to evolve in to a moderate dominant strain. But if that takes decades, that could mean many hundreds of millions of deaths beforethen. Indeed, the likely path is to more dangerous variants in the short to mid term before a descent to a more moderate dominant strain. Hundreds of millions could very easily die on that long term trajectory. The short to mid term outlook is highly concerning and any virologist or epidemiologist will tell you that except for the ones directly taking neoliberal pay packets.