by James O’Neill* [Original article published on GumshoeNews on 4 Aprial 2020]
There is an aphorism attributed to the great American writer, Mark Twain. He is said to have made the claim: there are three kinds of lies. Lies, damn lies and statistics. That has always proved to be useful guidelines, although it did not deter me from an early career as a university statistician.
Twain’s wisdom was recalled to mind when confronting what can only be described as blanket cover of a virus currently doing the rounds of the planet. Known generally as Covid-19 it has induced a reaction from nearly all western governments, with the possible exception of Sweden, that is to say the least extraordinary.
Part of the reaction has been to attribute to China the ignominy of being both the source of the virus, and of willful attempts to mislead the world. Although the data at present, and that is a deliberate qualification, appears to suggest that the Covid-19 virus originated in China, that is a far from established scientific fact. The accusation that China is “responsible” tells one more about the ideological commitment of the speaker then it does about the antecedence of any given disease.
China was certainly the first to publicly acknowledge the existence of the disease which appeared in the city of Wuhan, the capital of a region of 40+ million people. To accuse China of being the “source” of the virus on that basis displays not only a profound ignorance of how viruses are spread. It also reflects the not so well-hidden biases and presumptions of the accuser.
The ill-will of the China accusers is further evidenced by the false accusations made against them by western commentators. It is an established fact that China advised the World Health Organisation as soon as it established that there was in fact a virus affecting its population. That realisation was quickly followed by draconian measures imposed by the Chinese government, drastically curtailing both in numbers and geography the extent of the virus’s contagion.
As the virus spread rapidly to other countries around the world, so too did the level of hysteria and the imposition of draconian measures. It is a fundamental principle governing the actions of governments that measures taken which inhibit the freedom and safety of the citizen must be commensurate with the risk. It is extremely doubtful that such a claim could be made in Australia.
To examine that question a little more closely one has to look at the statistics, or perhaps more accurately, reverting to Twain’s aphorism, the misuse of the statistics.
Before governments pronounce on the risk of a given phenomenon, certain basic data have to be established. The first question, rather obviously, is how many people have the virus? The answer is that we do not know. The reasons we do not know the answers are multiple. Let us do a simple exercise.
The Australian population is, in round figures, 25 million. There are therefore 25 million people at risk of catching the disease. How many actually do is therefore a figure between one and 25 million.
Of that 25 million, some have already caught the disease, suffered only mild symptoms that they probably attributed to the common cold, and recovered without medical intervention. We do not know, and the overwhelming likelihood is we will never know, how many people fall into that category.
The second statistic is those that catch the virus to a degree that it is recognisable and seek some form of medical intervention. Again, we have a totally unknown figure because there are no reliable statistics about the number of people in this category. Speculation, a common technique of the mainstream media, is less than helpful.
The first statistic that begins to have some utility is the number of people who actually require medical intervention. Even here, the data are not as reliable as the mainstream media would suggest. The media have tended to focus on those who have died, and indeed, insofar as there is any degree of thinking behind the media hysteria about the spread of this virus it is firmly linked to the admittedly dramatic consequence of dying.
Even here however, the data are less than clear. The overwhelming majority of the still very small numbers of people who have actually died in Australia have two overwhelming conditions in common. The first is that they are overwhelmingly older people, that is, more than 70 years of age and a large portion of them are over 80 years of age. Given that life expectancy at birth for that generation was significantly less, and even by contemporary standards they are aged, their death is hardly a shock or surprise.
This factor is compounded by the other outstanding characteristic of the deceased, and that is that they had an average of three pre-existing serious medical conditions. Without detailed autopsy analysis it is impossible to attribute their death to any specific cause from those multiple conditions. That data are not available and until it is the dramatic media coverage of the deaths is simply unwarranted.
If we look at the number of deaths that have been attributed to the virus, as unreliable and overstated as that is likely to be, we see that the numbers are actually very small. As at 2 April 2020 the number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus stood at 23 out of a total of 5106 cases of persons to whom a diagnosis has established that they actually had coronavirus.
Twenty-three deaths are less than 1 per million of the population. The total number of people diagnosed as having the disease equates to 0.02 percent of the population. By way of comparison the total number of deaths in Australia in 2017 (the last year available) were 160,909.
Let us assume that the number of deaths attributed to coronavirus continues at the same rate for the rest of the year. That will create a total number of deaths of just on 90 persons or 0.05 percent of total deaths likely this year.
Which brings me to the $64,000 question. Is the shutting down of social activities, a massive increase in unemployment and a devastating disruption to every fabric of everyday life warranted in the light of the actual figures?
In my view, most assuredly not. Which raises the obvious question: what is the government’s real agenda in this huge assault on the lives of everyday citizens?
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org