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Four Million Dead: The Pandemic Marches On

Today, July 6 2021, AEST, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic reached four million confirmed dead, with almost one-hundred and eight-five million aggregate cases. We can recall that from the initial outbreak in January 2020, the first million deaths weren't reached until September 11 that year, the second million on January 7th of 2021, and the third million on April 7. What will it be by the end of the year? Five, six million? As calculations come in, we will probably discover the fourth million mark was actually passed a few weeks ago. The Economist on May 15 pointed out that confirmed deaths, defined by specific evaluations by medical practitioners are almost certainly an underestimate, with their modelling suggesting a 95% probability that the real fatality value was between 7m and 13m excess deaths, and this is when the confirmed figure was 3.3 million.

Months ago I sardonically remarked that perhaps the death figures would have to reach four million before some politicians took this issue seriously. Today of course is that day, that is mixed the bitterness of my gallows optimism. It is an inescapable reality that variations in infections and deaths are a matter of public health policy decisions. For those of you who do not engage in politics now is a timely reminder that (as Plato remarked (The Republic 347(c), in paraphrase) that not only do the wicked and incompetent seek political office, if you are not there to prevent them, then you will be ruled by them.
Therefore, engagement in politics is a necessary discomfort for those who sincerely hold fast to the high-sounding principles of truth and justice. For those who are disempowered, you are reminded; you will always have the torch of truth and the sword of justice, and no amount of wealth or power can take them away.

So we look at our current facts; daily case rates peaked at over 900,000 per day in April, mainly with the rapid outbreak in India in that month ("Jvarasura's Time"). That outbreak was due to very specific public policy decisions to left movement restrictions for religious and political reasons, even with official complacency, the health minister Harsh Vardhan declaring in March that the country was "in the endgame" of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over and over again, we see the evidence that an elimination strategy simply works. Whether one looks at the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, Vietnam, Laos, etc., all densely populated, we see that strong movement restrictions stop the spread, as challenging as they may be (more attention must to given to mental health issues). On the other end of the scale, we can witness former US President Trump's blasé approach that he was "not concerned" and that "everything is under control", or the Australian Prime Minister who claimed: "The best protection against the virus is to live with the virus, to live alongside the virus and to open up your economy".

Now we have vaccines, of varying effectiveness, and one thing that is indisputable is that as vaccination rates increase, death rates decline. In the United States of America, over 54% have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, in European Union over 50%, China it at 43%, whilst Australia is, shockingly, under 25%. Being attentive to infection rates, Indonesia is reaching "herd stupidity" with inept public health policy and false information on social media, but somewhat overlooked is the tragic case of Thailand, once considered highly successful in managing the spread, but now facing an increase in the aggregate number of infections of over 2% per day, and a little knowledge of cumulative mathematics will inform one how dangerous that is. In aggregate figures, Peru, European countries, and Brazil with the worst number of deaths per million from the virus, with European countries dominating the cases per million.

But those numbers, at least for Europe, will change. There are already indications (e.g., Zimbabwe) that sub-Saharan Africa will be hit soon. The Europeans were hit hard initially with their cosmopolitan mixing and their dense population. But they have good health care, they have engaged in strong movement restrictions, and they have the money to pay for vaccinations. They also have a relatively low level of corruption and reasonably competent governments, something which Australia could certainly learn from following the Federal governments rejection of forty million doses of the highly effective Pfizer vaccine doses in July 2020. We can be sure, of course, that this has nothing to do with the fact that the head of the government affairs team at AstraZeneca just so happens to be the same person who held a number of senior roles during the Howard government. It would be unsurprising to discover that similar events occur in other countries that are more prone to much worse rates of infection and fatality. As should be abundantly clear, public health is not just the direct provision of medicines, but also public health policy which means holding politicians to account, because their decisions determine who lives and who dies.