Oz for Dummies: Week 6, 2022

(February 6–13) Omicron and how to live with it / Pandemic normality in the land of Oz (and New Zealand and Europe) / Morrison on the ropes?

/ Omicron and how to live with it

In Europe Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have ended their Covid restrictions and others are about to head in that direction. To no one’s surprise, a flurry of articles, blog entries, and twitter threads accompanied these developments.

One of the more interesting reads was this interview with a researcher who advises the Danish government; says he (boldface mine):

Michael Bang Petersen: Our hospitals are not being overwhelmed. We have excellent data surveillance of our hospital system in Denmark, and when we look at the number of people in ICUs, it’s dropping. We have a lot of people in hospitals with positive tests, but most of them are testing positive with COVID rather than being there because of COVID.

The decoupling of cases and hospitalizations comes from two things. First, Denmark has very high vaccine uptake, with 81 percent of the population having two doses and 61 percent having received a booster shot. Second, Omicron is a milder variant. That combination of high vaccine coverage plus a milder variant means this wave isn’t stressing our hospital systems as much. …

We had to decide: Can we really make the case that COVID is a threat, at this moment, to the critical functioning of society? This is a black-or-white decision for us — either COVID is critical or it’s not — and we couldn’t make the case that this poses a societal threat.

It’s important to be clear that waiting to remove restrictions is not a cost-free decision. A pandemic is not just a public-health disaster. It affects all parts of society. It has consequences for economic activity, for people’s well-being, and for their sense of freedom. Pandemic restrictions put on pause fundamental democratic rights. If there’s a critical threat, that pause might be legitimate. But there is an obligation to remove those restrictions quickly when the threat is no longer critical.

Speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Petersen also argues that the threat of “long COVID” has been over-stated:

“… it’s not something that plays a big role in Danish-government discussions or public discussions about this pandemic, and the general message from health authorities — especially with the vaccines — is that it is rare to have severe cases of long COVID.”

The arguments in Sweden mirror those in Denmark, or maybe the other way round.

The Australian Financial Review picked up a thread on excess deaths that I had also mentioned last week and ran with it. (For an interesting follow-up thread see here.) Fatalities are currently, apparently, below pre-pandemic levels. Wow.

We finally are starting to have here in the land of Oz the kind of discussions we should have had a long time ago (ca mid-year 2020).

Be assured though that OzCagers and OzRagers, immune as ever to evidence, will continue to push the panic narrative

/ Pandemic normality in the land of Oz

While there is nothing new to report from McGowanLaLaland aka Western Australia, other parts of Australia are opening up to the world at large for good. Double-vaccinated international travellers are welcome from 21 February 2022, subject to jurisdictional subtleties. That made news even in Germany.

I doubt though that this will translate any time soon in serious tourist dollars. At least for the time being, the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs has advised that inessential traveling for touristic purposes is to be avoided because Australia continues to be classified as high-risk country. Which has certain administrative consequences if one were to return to Germany from some such trip: “Reiserückkehrer müssen sich vor ihrer Ankunft in Deutschland online registrieren und den Nachweis über die Anmeldung bei Einreise mit sich führen.”

I do wonder why double vaccination only is the condition arriving in Australia when the benefits of boosters seem widely accepted. Odd.

Meanwhile schools have re-started in NSW as have universities (UNSW had O-week this past week and it was nice to see many kids on campus again.)

NSW Health’s latest weekly COVID-19 report (covering data through 22 January 2022) is out and it offers many interesting data and figures. To wit, …

Remember that overall fatalities are currently below pre-pandemic levels so it is not clear what the ICU admissions and deaths here really mean.

/ Pandemic normality in New Zealand

Reported case numbers in New Zealand continue to creep up. Last week they reached around 400–500 new cases a day. Cases (and presumably infections) remain concentrated in Auckland and adjacent counties. Not sure how much you can trust NZ numbers though, as this — pretty damning — story makes clear.

/ Pandemic normality in Europe

I already mentioned the interesting developments in Europe as a template for countries transitioning decisively to pandemic normality and the wider acceptance that COVID does not represent a societal threat any more.

On-going discussions in countries such as France, Germany, and the Czech Republic revolve around vaccine mandates and booster shots. Expect this debate soon to be enriched by the kind of deeper arguments that led the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish governments to come to the conclusion that COVID is not any longer an existential threat to society.

/ Morrison on the ropes

A major domestic event was last week’s spectacular failure of Morrison to move a “religious discrimination bill” through lower and upper house. The bill would have entitled religious schools to discriminate against gay and transgender students. Which was too much for five Liberals to stomach (most of them being challenged by independent candidates in the upcoming federal election): They crossed the floor to vote with Labor and crossbenchers in support of independent MP Rebekah Sharkie’s amendment to abolish the ability of religious schools to discriminate against these kids. Which did not sit well with various religious lobbies (e.g., The Australian Christian Lobby) who subsequently pressured the government to abandon the amended bill. Morrison gave in to that pressure, quite possibly also because he was likely headed for defeat in the Senate.

A lot of ilk has been spilled about these developments. Grattan’s and Hartcher’s were among the most interesting analyses of the underlying dynamics, and the likely fallout, of this event. May they both be right.

And that’s this week’s wrap-up:

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Andreas Ortmann

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 …