Oz for Dummies: Week 45, 2021

Andreas Ortmann
6 min readNov 14, 2021

(November 7–13) Pandemic normality in NSW and Vic — where else? / Anti-viral pills to the rescue / Learning by experience / Another day another plan / An “accelerant” or more COP26 blablabla?

/ Pandemic normality in NSW and Vic — where else?

While the OzRagers debate how to “Unlock Fortress Australia”, a sense of normality has settled in New South Wales and Victoria although new case numbers throughout the week remained stubbornly in the four digits in the latter. Active cases in Vic are now more than five times the active cases in NSW. These high numbers do not however translate into more hospitalizations/ICU stays which over the last month or so have drifted down, giving the VIC health system a much needed reprieve. Numbers in NSW are stellar all around: Vaccination rates for those 16 and older in the 90s, with more than 80% (70%) of 12–15 year olds having having received their (second) first dose. And testing remains high. Staggering numbers that are also reflected in the number of hospitalizations now being less than the number of daily new cases. Hospitalizations requiring ICU are down to literally a couple of dozens.

Yet, the usual false alarmists (Burnet Institute, OzRagers) are still at it. Ignoring, as alarmists are wont to do, the substantial differences between the situation in Australia and Europe, Twitter this week was alight comparing Australia, and NSW for that matter, to Denmark and Germany, where cases have indeed been surging dramatically (and where new restrictions have been imposed, Bavaria declaring a catastrophic situation). But NSW and Germany are hardly comparable other than that the pandemic is one mostly of the unvaccinated.

A key problem is that the vaccination rates in Germany differ from very high in the North-West to very low in the East. Note — as illustrated in the figure above — that these numbers are mirrored by a corresponding geographic distribution of new cases, which are quite low in the North-West and high in the East and also Bavaria, the latter being spillover from the Czech Republic where the situation is dire. Plus quite a number of people need urgently booster shots, or for that matter first and second doses. Plenty of opportunity for the virus to engage in mischief.

In contrast, …

These ABC data also suggest strongly why the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, and West Australia remain in trouble. All of these still lag NSW (by about 20 percentage points when it comes to the two-doses benchmark). It is not at all clear how they will manage the transition to living with covid, and it does not take a rocket scientist to predict that the approval ratings for the premiers of these states will implode similar to those for Ardern in New Zealand. Queensland’s re-opening plan remains a shambles, as does that of Western Australia.

/ Anti-viral pills to the rescue

There is still confusion about what the available vaccines do, even among those that really should know better. Yes, “vaccinated people can still carry it & pass it on” — that’s hardly news. In fact, the peak viral load for the unvaccinated and vaccinated seems the same. But … (this is from a recent editorial in the JAMA Network):

Vaccines not only decrease transmission rates [fully vaccinated people seem two-thirds less likely to harbor SARS-CoV-2 compared with unvaccinated people], but also decrease disease severity among individuals who do acquire infection. Vaccinated people with breakthrough infections, including infection with the Delta variant, are less likely to develop symptoms, less likely to develop severe symptoms, more likely to recover from their illness quickly, and much less likely to require hospitalization compared with unvaccinated people. As of August 28, 2021, the age-adjusted rate of hospitalization among US adults aged 18 years or older was 83.6 per 100 000 for unvaccinated persons compared with 4.5 per 100 000 for fully vaccinated persons.

While vaccines (of which currently 8 are approved by the WHO) have proved their impressive efficacy, Pfizer announced this past week that its antiviral pill reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death by almost 90 per cent for people at high risk from COVID-19. Merck had previously claimed that its antiviral reduces the risk of hospitalization and deaths by half. Other competitors seem not far behind. Hand me that magic pill already, will ya?

/ Learning by experience

German soccer star Kimmich has so far refused vaccination against COVID-19. Allegedly because he is concerned about the unknown long-term consequences of vaccination. Clearly a decision made with incomplete information (i.e., apparently not factoring the long-term consequences of getting infected.)

Last week one of his national team mates (and colleague from Bavaria Munich), Suele, contracted the virus even though he reportedly is doubly vaxxed. That sent Kimmich (and three other close contacts of Suele from Bavaria Munich and RB Salzburg) into quarantine, and another four BM team-mates playing for the national team into a testing regime, and it forced the national team manager — Flick, who previously defended Kimmich’s stance — to call up other players for an upcoming game.

I trust that at this point Kimmich has started to think about the long-term consequences of being infected, and that Flick understands how public-health externalities work.

Learning by experience, it’s a thing. Potentially a very expensive thing. Imagine some such event happening just before an important Champions League game. Thankfully, the national team’s games this week were/are against stellar opponents Liechtenstein and Armenia, and die Mannschaft is already qualified, so no serious harm will be done.

/ Another day another plan

All week long, referring to then yet-to-published research, Morrison has practiced his “can-do capitalism” narrative according to which the policy settings can stay — “The plan is based on our existing policies” — what they are because there is no role for government interventions (other than the kind of crony capitalism that the LNP routinely engages in). Which, once again, demonstrates Morrison’s shocking incompetence, or maybe willfull ignorance. It is governments who have to impose a price on bads and it is governments who have to stop subsidies for bads. It’s elementary.

It’s a well-known strategy of devious governments to publish the nasty stuff on Friday afternoons. True to form the Morrison government did so this week when it published the modelling on its roadmap to net-zero emissions. Says Ketan Joshi in The Guardian:

In some parallel universe, the task may have gone to Australia’s chief science agency, the CSIRO (a former employer of mine). But it was revealed at Senate estimates a few weeks back that despite the CSIRO applying for the tender, the government rejected them and paid McKinsey $6m to model the changes Australian society must go through to decarbonise within 30 years. This choice makes sense in the context of recent leaks to the New York Times that revealed McKinsey has advised 43 of the 100 biggest corporate polluters, including “BP, Exxon Mobil, Gazprom and Saudi Aramco”. 1,100 of its employees signed an open letter pleading the consultancy reveal the carbon impacts of its clients.

We’ll never know exactly what the Australian government asked of the agency, but we finally know what got spat out the other end: an extremely weird document blatantly designed to protect the interests of Australia’s fossil fuel industries while creating the illusion of ambitious climate action. It was delayed until the final Friday of Cop26 to avoid embarrassment during the global deliberations, so we knew it’d be bad. But it’s worse than expected.

/ An “accelerant” or more blablabla?

Meanwhile in Glasgow, China and the USA presented a joint statement about the need to slow down climate change, with predictably little tangible detail and enforceable commitments. While some saw in it “an accelerant” of the move to net-zero emissions, others remain sceptical and the final COP26 declaration provides little evidence for hope.

And that’s the wrap for week 45 of 2021. Feel free to share and consider following me here,

on twitter [@aortmannphd], or

on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/ImpartialSpectator/]



Andreas Ortmann

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 …