Oz for Dummies: Week 3, 2022

(January 16–23) The game must go on! (Bye-bye, DJoker! And welcome back next year …) / Omicron and other Covid-19 variants / Pandemic normality in the land of Oz (and NZ and Europe and Asia)

/ DJoker wrap-up

The Australian Open is in full swing, without the DJoker. The Federal Court attested the Immi Minister a decision within the powers he is given. (The Federal Court explained in its reasons for the decision that there is a power under the Migration Act to cancel a visa if the Immi Minister “is satisfied that a [legal] ground for cancellation … exists”, and “the Minister is satisfied that it would be in the public interest to cancel the visa”. Those italics are in the court’s judgment.) Which really poses all kinds of interesting issues about those powers. To call them dangerous and dysfunctional seems not inappropriate. Plus they are scandalously inhumane. Just ask those 30+ young folks that have been locked away in the Park Hotel for up to ten years. What does it tell you about a country that allows that kind of thing to happen?

The Federal Court also decided that the DJoker has to pay the court’s cost (and of course that of his lawers which, together, I understand to be somewhere between 500k and a million dollars. Aussie dollars I grant you that, still.) Given the decision of the Federal Court it seems that the DJoker got pretty bad advice regarding his chances in the second round.

To boot, apparently it was not just an expensive out-of-pocket experience for the DJoker. He has become something of the posterboy of the anti-vaxx crowd which his sponsors are not excited about although I doubt that it will have significant financial consequences for him. The DJoker remains a superstar and is young enough (34) that he should not be counted out yet as a candidate for grand slam victories even if Australia does not allow him in for the next three years (very unlikely in my view; in fact, today’s newspapers report that Tennis Australia, and its chief executive, expect him to be back next year).

/ Omicron and other Covid-19 variants

Omicron continues to create havoc world-wide and in the land of Oz, too (see below). Alas, almost two months after its discovery, the science has become less fuzzy. This week Liam Mannix, the science reporter for the Fairfax stable of papers, published a good primer. If you read my weekly missive regularly, not much will be new although I took note of this interesting fact:

The Kirby Institute has good news on boosters, too:

MRNA booster, effectiveness against symptomatic infection 86.2 per cent

MRNA booster, effectiveness against severe infection 98.2 per cent

These data are supported by three other creditable sources. Boyz n girlz, get your booster shots. It’s really not rocket science. The numbers are stark.

A cool study that I came across this week is this one by a trio of researchers from Germany (Kai Fischer, J. James Reade, W. Benedikt Schmal). Says their abstract, under the title “The long shadow of an infection: COVID-19 and performance at work”:

“This paper estimates the workplace productivity effects of COVID-19 by studying performance of soccer players after an infection. We construct a dataset that encompasses all traceable infections in the elite leagues of Germany and Italy. Relying on a staggered difference-in-differences design, we identify negative short- and longer-run performance effects. Relative to their pre-infection outcomes, infected players’ performance temporarily drops by more than 6%. Over half a year later, it is still around 5% lower. The negative effects appear to have notable spillovers on team performance.”

Not sure how the long shadow of infection will play out among academics — surely the effects will be less noticeable and in any case less easy to measure.

The evidence — about Omicron being a blessing disguise — has now reached a degree of robustness that even prominent lockdown-propagandists admit that Covid has been “defanged” by science and that it is time to walk some kind of middle-ground between the let-it-rip approach and covid-zero (which only nutters like McGowan in Western Australia and the CCP in China still pursue with a vengeance, notwithstanding the massive costs that entails).

Says Devi Sridhar:

For policymakers, it’s a bit like landing an aeroplane on an icy landing strip. The fuel of public patience is running low; and wear and tear, in the form of economic and social damage, has built up over two years in a holding pattern. The need to land is obvious, and we have the tools to do so, but it’s still a tricky feat in current conditions.

And a WHO Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had this to say (VOC = variants of concern):

The Committee praised South Africa for their rapid identification, and transparent and rapid sharing of information on the Omicron VOC. The Committee was concerned about the reaction of States Parties in implementing blanket travel bans, which are not effective in suppressing international spread (as clearly demonstrated by the Omicron experience), and may discourage transparent and rapid reporting of emerging VOC.

Someone tell the European Council. (See below.)

/ Pandemic normality in the land of Oz

It seems that all major states have seen the peak in hospitalizations and ICU referrals this week, with deaths still being consistently in the low double digits but most likely peaking in the next few days and then also heading down. Which is good news for everyone but, psychologically, in particular for health care workers. If the evidence from South Australia (and other countries) is any indication, then the fall of the Omicron wave will be almost as steep as its rise which is good news for Australia’s health care systems.

A Sydney Morning Herald editorial (with which I agree in the substance) attested the NSW government in mid-week that it is walking a reasonable middle-ground between let-it-rip and lockdown hysteria. The fact that hospitalizations with Covid (by about 5 percent) and ICU referrals (by about 13 percent) have started to drift down, and in fact are lower than the most optimistic estimate NSW Health provided weeks ago, support the assessment. It seems safe to say that there will be no lockdown by Australia/Invasion Day, as some notorious alarmists predicted weeks ago.

While the next couple of weeks, with schools re-starting in most jurisdictions, will likely see us drift sideways in cases, the case-load should be manageable and in any case holding children hostage is irresponsible. Three articles to read.

Meanwhile, almost 200,000 people arrived in Australia in December, and almost 230,000 people departed from it (me one of them!)), marking the strongest month for travel since the start of the pandemic as border restrictions were lifted.

Early in the week, Tasmania made major changes to its border rules. Fully vaccinated travellers (that’s me!) no longer require entry permits prior to travel, and there are no testing requirements. You can come and go just like before. Which is pretty much what you see in much of Europe currently.

Western Australia remains the one hard-to-comprehend Aussie outlier. Marky McGowan’s decision to indefinitely delay the state’s reopening should not come as a shock to those who have followed his antics over the last few weeks. It’s hard not to agree with Greg Dore that McGowan is playing the pandemic, and the polls, rather cynically.

While there are supporters, frustrations seem to grow about Western Australia being stuck in a holding pattern as the rest of the world moves on. It is not clear to me whether indeed McGowan can’t lose. (It is worthwhile to recall the dramatic change in narrative that Andrews and Palaszczuk were forced to do, essentially following the NSW playbook that for months they had bad-mouthed. Clearly that was in response to internal polling.) It is in any case not clear to me what exactly McGowan thinks the end-game is for Western Australia.

/ Pandemic normality in New Zealand

Likewise, in New Zealand which earlier this week “temporarily” cut off the only pathway home (through its managed isolation and quarantine system) for overseas citizens and visa holders, citing the risk of the Omicron variant. Today Ardern announced further domestic restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron. Good luck.

/ Pandemic normality in Europe

I have been in Europe for almost six weeks now, travelling without problems from Germany to France and then to the Czech Republic, via Germany, and then back to Paris on the reverse itinerary. There seems to be a broad consensus in how to deal with the pandemic (base vaccination and booster shots to as many people as possible, often with simultaneous restrictions on the unvaccinated). Key policy differences stem from the question of how to deal with those that are not fully vaxxed (i.e., do not have the booster shot). In France in particular, where elections are impending, it has become a means of political product differentiation, with Macron not taking prisoners and letting his opinion about the unvaccinated run free. It seems to be paying off politically:

Jérôme Fourquet of the pollsters Ifop said 51% of French people felt they were in danger when in contact with a non-vaccinated person and 51% felt non-vaccinated people should pay all or part of the cost of their treatment in intensive care. These views are higher among over-65s, who are being courted by both Macron and Pécresse.

Importantly, you see in much of Europe very little of the toxic debate on (social) media which you see in Australia still.

It will be interesting to see how this weekend’s European Council’s advisory targeting travellers from Australia will play out and whether indeed Australian travellers will be locked out from (parts of) Europe. It seems curious, and frankly silly, that the EC directive applies to all travellers regardless of vaccination status.

/ Pandemic normality in Asia

China has all but shut its borders to travellers, cutting total international flights to just 200 a week, or 2 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in September. It also recently banned US airlines to land in China, allegedly because they brought in infected travellers. In response, the United States last week halted dozens of China-bound flights from the United States by four Chinese carriers. The usual diplomatic kerfuffle ensued.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear what China’s endgame is. Surely, a big hit to the economy and supply chains is unavoidable of what currently seems to be a strategy of rolling lockdowns imposed on cities with millions of dwellers.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the run-up, during, and in the aftermath of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.

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Greetings from Paris!

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