Oz for Dummies: Week 46, 2021

Andreas Ortmann
5 min readNov 21, 2021

(November 14–21) On pandemic normality — Austria, and Germany, in lockdown for the un-vaccinated (and regionally even for the vaccinated) / Excluding the unvaxxed from daily life (and making them pay)

/ On pandemic normality — Austria, and Germany, in lockdown for the un-vaccinated (and regionally even for the vaccinated)

Pandemic normality in New South Wales (NSW) these days means about 200 daily new cases, continued high numbers of testing, stellar vaccination rates for those 16 and older, and also for those aged 12–15. (Here are yesterday’s numbers, as provided by NSW Health.) Life is back to some sense of normalcy, lots of outdoors, and indoor, dining and the like. (Someone send Sydney university administrators the memo, please.) In a quarter-mile radius of where I live in Surry Hills, there are now more than a dozen cafés of which about half opened recently. It’s beautiful to see monopolistic competition at work. No protests about pandemic powers worth mentioning. It’s just not a major issue.

Pandemic normality in Victoria seems a different story. Number of cases continues to fluctuate around 1,000 daily. Hospitalizations, including ICU stays and ventilation, are less than one could have feared given case numbers peaked almost four weeks ago. Most likely that is the result of Victoria having followed the NSW roadmap and having pushed hard to get vaccination rates up; at this point it lags NSW by only a couple of percentage points. Meanwhile the vaccination rates in Western Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory still lag almost 20 percentage point behind NSW, with South Australia not doing much better. It’s puzzling all around what their game-plan is. Qld and SA apparently want to open up in mid-December — one has to wonder how. Western Australia seems not ready to open up before February or even March. Which means they will lose some of the benefits of seasonality and of course at that point those now vaccinated better get their booster shots.

Pandemic normality in Victoria at this point also means heated discussions, and huge protests, about new pandemic powers that the Andrews government wants to have in place when its State-of-Emergency powers expire 15 December 2021. The debate has more twists and turns than a Matthew-Mitcham routine, with the Andrews government having to rely on crossbenchers last but not least because branch-stacker supreme Somyurek has discovered principles and maintains that curtailing civil liberties ought to be done in a principled manner. Animal Justice Party member of the Victorian Legislative Council (one of the crossbenchers the Andrews government has to rely on to pass its new pandemic powers legislation), Andy Meddick, claimed that his daughter Kielan was attacked because his willingness to support the legislation. Which predictably led sanctimonious folks like Andrews and Morrison bemoan the state of political discourse. Turns out that particular victim narrative collapsed within a day. Quite the zoo it is.

Over all this political theatre the IBAC proceedings against Somyurek and a bunch of other unsavory Labor apparatchiks did not exactly make headlines, no?

Meanwhile Austria has decided to lock down the unvaccinated (and in fact now the whole country), and Germany is set to follow suit, with the problem currently being massively concentrated in the South and South east (i.e., adjacent to Austria and the Czech Republic where case numbers have gone through the roof, as have numbers of hospitalizations.) Bavaria has ordered comprehensive regional lockdowns for both unvaxxed and vaxxed.

/ Excluding the unvaxxed from daily life (and making them pay)

It is surprising that we really have to discuss that vaccination is the solution; NSW and Victoria are pretty convincing exhibits for the claim. The pandemic really has become one of the unvaccinated. Here is an excellent thread worth reading.

Yes, of course vaccination also has risks but they seem to be minor for all we know at this point. The Australian data will soon tell us more about it. So far the evidence suggests strongly that severe adverse effects are very, very rare. (Adverse reactions are based on TGA advice and will include heart conditions myocarditis and pericarditis, the blood clotting disorder thrombosis with thrombocytopenia, the rare neurological condition Guillain-Barré syndrome, and immune thrombocytopenia.)

Singapore‘s decision to require Covid-19 patients who choose not to be vaccinated to foot their own medical bills from Dec 8, a decision fairly uncontroversial there, led to considerable discussion here in Australia, with people opposing some such solution making — e.g., my esteemed colleague Greg Dore and notorious alarmist and OzRager Stephen Duckett — for strange bedfellows indeed.

For most economists, at least to the extent that they understand trade-offs and externalities, it is basic Econ 101. The pandemic has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated, certainly when it comes to the strain they impose on public-health resources. Apart from important issues such as those unvaccinated ending up in ICU preventing important preventive interventions for others, they prevent the health system from being in a sustainable equilibrium. So making these people pay for the consequences of their behavior, when in fact they had plenty of opportunity to get vaxxed, seems a no-brainer. Putting a price on bads ought to be uncontroversial. Alas …

The debate is a world-wide one. Last week I mentioned the intriguing story of German soccer star Kimmich who has so far refused vaccination against COVID-19. The week before, 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 prevented them from taking part in a couple of (admittedly, inconsequential) national qualifying matches. Why his missing out these games was inconsequential, I wondered what would happen if some such event took place just before an important Champions League game. We might soon see: This past week Kimmich was once again forced into quarantine because, still unvaxxed, he had been in contact with someone who tested positive. Maybe not surprisingly, Bavaria Munich lost its game against Bavarian competitor FC Augsburg — at any point in time at best an also-run on the national level — and he will also have to sit out next week’s (fortunately for Bavaria Munich again fairly inconsequential) Champions League game. I do wonder how long Bavaria let’s Kimmich get away with it. And whether it cuts his salary, as surely it should, no? (Meanwhile, the Bundesliga just got a lil bit more interesting … .)

And that’s the wrap for week 46 of 2021. Feel free to share and consider following me here,

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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 …