Oz for Dummies: Week 36, 2021

(September 6–12) Pandemic end-game now clear / NSW leading the way, with Victoria following the NSW playbook, time-delayed by about 3–4 weeks / The best minister in the world he apparently is not / Confidential to the pm: Never mess with a journo

So the pandemic end-game here in the land of Oz is now pretty clear. Not one minute too early, as people get restless and increasingly disobey the questionable rules that public-health medicos imposed and had the government enforce by police force, military assisting.

The charge, and dramatic shift in public discourse — within weeks — from zero-covid, no-trade-off madness to desperate attempts to slow down growth of cases and hospitalization numbers while pushing hard to get subgroups such as essential workers, and other at-risk groups, and then everyone else vaxxed, was pushed by the NSW state government and has since been adopted by the Victorian government hook line & sinker.

Not that either government had a choice; the Delta variant just ran away first in NSW, and then — almost fifty days later — in Victoria, and could not be contained with the means (testing, tracing, isolation, quarantining) that had worked reasonably well during several outbreaks that NSW dealt with successfully. Victoria, and the Andrews Labor government, are by now notorious for having thrown lockdown measures at even the tiniest of outbreaks but the attempt to go hard and fast this time failed miserably. Currently Victoria’s case numbers at the same day of the outbreak are almost twice as high as NSW’s and it looks like Victoria will emerge from the current nightmare by about a couple of months later than NSW. If that.

After the government struck deals with Singapore and the UK, Australia will have this month more than 9 million doses of Pfizer alongside 1 million Moderna doses and continued unlimited AstraZeneca supply.

NSW is entitled to about one third of those doses. That’d be 3.3 million Pfizer/Moderna doses this month, enough to have double-vaxxed at least 70 percent of those above 15 before the end of THIS month, possibly a bit earlier if current vaxx rates can be held above 100k. That also means that NSW might reach the 80 percent double-vaxxed by mid-October. Time to make flight reservations for November — December … and escape the prison colony the first time after almost two years. Can’t wait.

By my back-of-the-envelope-calculations, Vic will get there (the much promised additional freedoms such as domestic and international traveling that is) about three — four weeks later at best, Qld, WA, SA, ACT, and NT at least four, possibly six.

The NSW government has sketched out how the new world will look once we have reached the 80% first/70% full vaccination targets (of those above 15). My UNSW colleague Greg Dore and Liz Hicks have called it rightly a great path to freedom (so long as you are vaccinated).

It is the best of all three worlds for the Berejiklian-Chant government: Giving hope that the pandemic nightmare will be over within weeks, incentivizing people to get jabbed, and reserving the option of relaxing things if the data look good (as they now seem for parts of regional NSW). Smart. And clearly a trial run for things to come. Not just in NSW. As mentioned, the Delta response playbook has already been adopted hook line & sinker by the Victorian government, and I am happy to bet that the roadmap out of their current lockdown will very much resemble the NSW script. The recalcitrant premiers of other states will have not much of a choice but to follow suit, as will ArdernLand because Delta, or other SARS-2-CoV variants, will be with us for a long time.

As NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello said pointedly: “It’s basic behavioural science. We are the first state to provide a road map out and every state will follow. We are trying to show the nation how we can open up to the world.”

In other news this week:

The best minister of the world turned out to be not that. The Morrison government has long been scolded for its failure to diversify vaccine procurement properly. If ever there was a reason to apply the precautionary principle, then it was in the case of securing sufficient supply of different strands of vaccines early in the game. Alas, the Morrison government failed miserably and put Australia about half a year behind. In hindsight, there was no foresight, and a lack of basic procurement 101 knowledge.

“Speaking on the Today show … , [Health Minister] Hunt said “we engaged” with Pfizer from May 2020 onwards. “[Our] Pfizer … arrived at the same time as New Zealand, the same shipment in February [this year].” Some accomplishment.

There was this insightful exchange between Mr Hunt and Today co-host Karl Stefanovic:

Stefanovic: You [not you personally, but Government representatives] were having initial meetings with Pfizer on June 13 [2020, AO]. They’re saying, ‘Let’s get the deal done, we’ve got plenty.’ Two weeks after, they’ve done a deal with the US and the UK. We don’t do a deal until November. Ten million [doses]. That’s not enough. If that’s not dragging your feet, I don’t know what is.

Hunt: What we received was the earliest possible available and we received it in the quantities that they made available. That’s because, understandably, they were focusing on mass death in the countries where they were producing. It is precisely because we knew that, that we set up — in record speed — a sovereign domestic manufacturing program for AstraZeneca … we secured everything we could at the earliest possible time. But we also knew, in an environment of mass death in Europe and the UK, that’s where they would, understandably — to be honest — place their early focus and so, therefore, we covered multiple vaccines.” If I recall correctly the technical descriptor for that kind of argumentation is weaseling, no?

In yet another news:

Annika Smethurst (one of the brilliant [female] investigative journalists here in the land of Oz that keep the Morrison government at least a little bit accountable) has a book forthcoming on Morrison and how he ended up being prime minister. An edited excerpt explores why Morrison got sacked as CEO from Tourism Australia. (The Kangaroo-Courts-of-Australia’s Shane Dowling had previously explored why Morrison got sacked as CEO from Tourism Zealand.) Juicy tidbid: Smethurst was subjected in 2018 to a raid of her home by the AFP, based on a search warrant that the High Court of Australia ruled invalid in 2020, in a pretty clear-cut attempt to intimidate her. She has written about that, too.

And that’s the wrap for week 36 of 2021. All facts, no spin. Oz for Dummies.

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …