Monday, October 12, 2020

Covid-19 facts now clear – let’s shout them out

Comment from Australia

Recent polls that show a majority of Australians support tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 may well reflect public perceptions of the risks associated with the disease.

Those perceptions were formed when the disease first emerged, with the dramatic scenes in Wuhan and the agony of the passengers stranded on cruise ships giving them tangible form. As hospital systems struggled to cope, terrifying images of overrun intensive-care units made the estimates of devastating death rates all too salient.

The strong — indeed, unprecedented — reaction of governments, in Australia and overseas, can only have confirmed the public’s fears, transforming vague impressions into deeply held convictions.

It has, however, become increasingly clear that while COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that can be extremely dangerous for the elderly and for patients with extensive comorbidities, it can be effectively managed. And it is also clear that as the management of the disease has improved, infection fatality rates — that is, the proportion of cases resulting in death — have fallen steeply.

So have the best estimates of the IFR, with Stanford University professor John Ioannidis, in a paper soon to be published by the World Health Organisation, pointing out that the initial studies focused mainly on the epicentres of the pandemic with the highest death tolls, rather than looking at the full range of countries the disease had affected.

Correcting for that bias, Ioannidis concludes that the global IFR from COVID-19 is 0.24 per cent, while that in countries such as Australia is as low as 0.1 per cent.

The contrast with the IFRs used in the modelling that informed our successive lockdowns could not be starker: those IFRs were at least three times Ioannidis’s global estimate, and exceeded his estimate for Australian conditions six times over, as did that used in the modelling Premier Daniel Andrews relied on to justify the most recent Victorian lockdown.

But although it is widely recognised that fatality rates are far lower than initially thought, public perceptions have remained frozen in time. That is, in some respects, unsurprising. Ever since systematic studies of public attitudes to risk began in the 1950s, researchers have found that new threats are judged to be far more menacing than those that are longstanding, regardless of underlying differences in probabilities of occurrence.

Moreover, the greater the extent to which risks are viewed as being incurred involuntarily, and as affecting large groups rather than single individuals, the more likely they will be considered more dangerous than they are.

All those biases have been compounded by today’s media environment. Already in the mid-1980s, Roger Kasperson and his colleagues stressed the “social amplification” of risk that occurs through the media’s focus on catastrophic outcomes at the expense of those instances of a phenomenon that are managed successfully. Now, as the media competes frantically for attention, that process magnifies perceived risks more surely and swiftly than ever.

It is, for instance, a fact that 92,000 Australians have died since the virus first hit our shores; but although COVID-19 accounts for only some 890 of those deaths, and for an even lower share of the total years of life lost, every new case leads the evening news, reinforcing its image as the grim reaper. One might have hoped that the experts would set the picture straight. Perhaps because they see their goal as being to frighten the public into compliance, they have, more often than not, done the opposite.

Never was that clearer than when Jeannette Young, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, grievously misinterpreting a simulation undertaken at the University of Glasgow, claimed that “on average, people who died from COVID-19 lost 10 years of life”.

Since the average age of the disease’s victims in Australia is more than 85, Young’s claim implies that those lost to COVID-19 would otherwise have survived into their mid-90s, despite multiple comorbidities. In other words, were it not for the virus, they would have died a decade after their cohort’s modal age at death — a claim that taxes the credulity of the credulous.

In reality, the best and most recent study — undertaken by France’s National Institute of Demography, drawing on the actual outcomes of France’s first wave — finds that the vast majority of the virus’s victims were already close to the end of life.

Overall, the disease reduced French life expectancy by one-tenth of a year for women and two-tenths of a year for men, which, while by no means trivial, is a smaller reduction than influenza caused in 2008, 2012 and 2015.

None of that means that COVID-19 should be viewed as no more serious than the flu. On the contrary, until a vaccine or a cure become available, the case for prudence remains compelling, as does the need for effective control measures. There is, however, a vast difference between prudence, which rationally weighs likelihoods, and panic.

Getting that balance right is no easy task, with plenty of scope for error either way. But if exaggerated perceptions of the dangers have dominated, it is not merely because of human fallibility; rather, it is also because they accord so readily with the catastrophic zeitgeist of the age.

Fuelled by an apocalypse industry that feeds off the fear it spreads, every threat — from bushfires and droughts to viruses such as Zika — portends the end of life as we know it. With nature unleashing its final revenge on mankind, the moment one drama recedes, another rushes in to sustain the sense of impending doom.

The result is a world view in which the chasms that yawn beneath us are invariably deeper and more menacing than the peaks that beckon us are high and inviting. Lost — or at least badly damaged — is the axiom of progress, the assumption, dynamic in its self-evidence, that although there are terrible setbacks, detours and blind alleys, humanity ultimately moves forward, with Australia advancing more than most.

But no society can live by dread alone. And a society that stands quaking in the antechamber of its own extinction is condemned to a stagnation that no amount of stimulus spending can cure. Eternally “keeping a-hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse”, it inevitably saps the ambition, aspiration and self-reliance on which sustained growth relies, replacing them with dependence and the desperate search for security. That, and not the staggering debt and unemployment the lockdowns have wreaked, is the greatest threat we face.

And that is why tackling the fearmongers is so important. The facts, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, are becoming clear; it’s time our governments and their advisers proclaimed them from the rooftops.



Another vindication of Sweden

It is forecast to have a much shallower recession than countries that went into full lockdown

Sweden, which refused to enforce a full lockdown, is constantly confounding its critics. Gloomy predictions of tens of thousands of deaths and overwhelmed hospitals due to Covid failed to materialise.

In recent weeks, Sweden has not experienced anything close to the rise in cases and hospitalisations that have befallen Britain, France and Spain. And now it’s clear the Swedish approach is also paying dividends economically.

A new forecast from Danske Bank expects Sweden to experience a much shallower recession than the major European economies and the US. It projects a fall in Swedish GDP of 3.3 per cent this year, compared to 4.3 per cent for the US, 5.8 per cent for the UK and a massive 8.3 per cent for the Eurozone. It also predicts higher growth in the Swedish economy next year compared to other Scandinavian countries.

This news makes difficult reading for the Sweden bashers, who argued that its less restrictive approach would prove just as economically damaging as full-on lockdown.

Back in July, an economist in the New York Times – a paper that has labelled Sweden a ‘pariah state’ over Covid – blasted Sweden’s approach as ‘a self-inflicted wound’ from which it had made ‘no economic gains’. ‘They literally gained nothing’, he gloated.

This analysis has not aged well. Sweden’s economy shrank at a lower rate between April and June than other countries, many of which adopted harsher Covid measures. And in August, it even achieved a budget surplus – something that is difficult in normal times, let alone during a global pandemic.

Sweden has managed to safeguard civil liberties and protect its economy more effectively than others, all while keeping Covid at manageable levels. It’s high time we took this lesson on board.



'Latinos for Trump' hold a massive anti-communist caravan in Miami

Thousands of Cubans, Venezuelans and other conservative Latinos convened in Miami to attend an 'Anti-Communist' caravan, flying flags of support for President Donald Trump.

The parade, called the 'Anti-Communist Caravan for Freedom and Democracy', convened at the Magic City Casino on Saturday morning.

Various reports estimate somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000 cars in attendance for the caravan.

Demonstrators had flags for Trump's reelection, along with Cuban flags and other country flags.

Several people sported huge blowups of Trump's face, waving signs that slammed the supposed increase of communist ideology in the country.

'Say no to socialism and communism,' one sign read while a number of posters expressed similar sentiments in Spanish.

A number of cars had passengers holding 'Latinos for Trumps' signs as they sped along. Several cars also had 'Thin Blue Line' flags, in support of law enforcement.

In some cases, vehicles appeared packed with people inside who were excited to take part in the festivities.

Because of mounting concerns that Biden's standing is slipping, the campaign has embarked on an urgent effort to try to shore up support among older voters, suburbanites and African Americans to try to make up for losses elsewhere.

Hispanic voters in Florida tend to be somewhat more Republican-leaning than Hispanic voters nationwide because of the state's Cuban American population, which Trump has acknowledged several times in his remarks.



Liberal Reporter Brutally Gashes Kamala Harris' Disastrous Debate Performance

Well, he’ll probably piss off the Left again, but that’s what he's done so well over the past three or so years. Liberal reporter Michael Tracey absolutely ripped into Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and her debate performance Wednesday night. Tracey is no fan of Harris and said that she was an “awful” VP pick from the get-go. So are we shocked her debate performance was equally disastrous? It was a train wreck.

Harris came off unprepared on a host of issues, avoided the court-packing question, and seemed incapable of delivering a solid blow against Vice President Mike Pence, who was prepared and lethal. Vice President Pence did well mounting a defense of the Trump-Pence record, whereas Harris couldn’t land any of the zingers Pence quietly doled out like an assassin.

COVID was the highwater mark for Harris. She came off strong, but even that was torched when she peddled an anti-vaccine line regarding the coronavirus. These debates are about who we can trust should any situation arise when the president cannot perform their duties. Pence passed that test. Harris, not so much; you have to be more than just a machine that peddles talking points from MSNBC. That bubble landed her in trouble as there were a couple of points where she literally had nothing to say.

As Tracey noted, “Kamala was hyped as the ‘front-runner’ in the 2020 Dem primaries, flamed out in spectacular fashion partly due to her terrible debate performances, and only became VP nominee thanks to an extensive lobbying effort by the Dem professional and donor class.”

Indeed, the media did treat Harris as someone who was a solid candidate when Biden picked her as his running mate, despite her not lasting as long as Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, or Deval Patrick—and none of those guys had a shot at winning the nomination let alone this election. Her 2020 campaign was a mess. She had no message, no direction, and no plan. That was the rudderless circus act that was Kamala 2020. And let’s not forget that her presidential ambitions were shot out of the sky when Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) highlighted her top cop record, where she went heavily after the Black community. Harris is trying to be social justice warrior and top cop at the same time. Maybe there’s a way to thread that needle regarding selling that message or neutralizing the fallout, but we know that Harris doesn’t have the goods. She doesn’t.

Tracey also delivered more blows, calling Harris's answer on China “embarrassing.” Oh, and the Russian bounties story that the Left tried to weaponize against Trump as evidence he was a bad commander-in-chief was tossed around. It’s not corroborated. And that story died eons ago because it’s straight trash. The same way The Atlantic story about Trump denigrating our war dead is fake news. No one went on the record. No one. And that story died as well.



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