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Beyond the quarantine fiasco
While the mismanagement of the hotel quarantine in Melbourne has been in the news, a more basic point has been missed: that a quarantine is not appropriate for SARS-CoV-2.
Before President Xi Jinping of China invented lockdowns and quarantines, such measures had been carefully considered and rejected by the science. For example, Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation’s representative in China, said on 24 January, 2020 that ‘trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science. The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made’. And in October 2019, the WHO’s document, Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for influenza, specified that ‘Quarantine of exposed individuals’ is ‘Not recommended in any circumstances’.
Jennifer Coate’s Hotel Quarantine Inquiry report notes that ‘Just two weeks before the National Cabinet agreed to mass quarantining, Victoria published its 10 March 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic Plan. It did not envisage the involuntary detention of people arriving from overseas… [I]ts focus, with regard to isolation or quarantine, was on the voluntary isolation of people in their own homes’.
This was indeed the correct approach. That is why Anders Tegnell, arguably the world’s best epidemiologist, did not close Sweden’s borders or quarantine anyone: and no lockdowns, no masks. Anyone who becomes sick in Sweden is advised to stay at home.
There is mounting evidence to suggest that Jinping’s ‘inventions’ had a malicious intent: to get the West to self-destruct. The WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus’s role in 2020 has been highly questionable. A communist politician from Ethiopia with long-standing links to China, Tedros met Xi Jinping on 28 January, 2020 – and without even trying to evaluate the Wuhan lockdowns which had commenced barely a week earlier on 23 January, 2020, declared: ‘China is … setting a new standard for outbreak response’.
Over the years, Jinping has carefully cultivated relationships with selected Western research institutions, media and politicians. The Age reported on 23 May, 2020 that Daniel Andrews, one of these carefully cultivated politicians, met China’s Melbourne consul-general, Long Zhou in March and praised China’s ‘tremendous efforts’ to prevent and control the epidemic. At the same time, the CCP’s cyber-army was pumping out fake videos to create panic and Chinese news agencies and bots were bullying recalcitrant nations and politicians to pressurise them to adopt lockdowns.
In the face of this China-driven hysteria, most Western nations forgot basic epidemiology. Professor Sunetra Gupta had told us in 2013 that novel viruses are not likely to be as lethal as before because international cross-mingling has boosted world-wide immunity. As expected, the lethality of this virus is in between a bad flu and a mild pandemic, something that has been known since April 2020 and was re-confirmed by Sweden’s annual mortality data for 2020: its average death rate for 2019-20 will likely be the second lowest in its history.
Seeing the West cave in to China’s plans, Anders Tegnell – the one man who did not forget his training – exclaimed on 24 June, 2020: ‘It was as if the world had gone mad, and everything we had discussed was forgotten’.
Australia’s abandonment in late- March 2020 of its pandemic plans was very disruptive: ‘The lack of a plan for mandatory mass quarantine meant that Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine Program was conceived and implemented “from scratch”, to be operational within 36 hours, from concept to operation’.
While the National Cabinet must explain its failure to see through China’s game plan, Daniel Andrews’s failure is more acute. Coate notes that the decision to use private security in Melbourne was made without ‘even a clear articulation that it was being made at all’. How could this possibly happen? Andrews had personally agreed at the National Cabinet to abandon Victoria’s official pandemic plan and adopt Jinping’s new-fangled ‘innovation’. He is personally accountable for his failure to deliver an effective quarantine. He must go.
This has also been a public service failure on a massive scale. Coate notes: ‘It does not appear that those involved in the group chat [to identify a contractor] knew that there was [an] Agreement for the Provision of Security Services and that there were publicly available details, including email and mobile numbers, on a website. Ms Currie gave evidence that she did not know about the State Purchase Contract’.
In this regard, on 28 February, 2020 I wrote to the senior executive of Victoria’s Department of Treasury and Finance that the ‘wholesale social isolation that China and Italy are implementing is not an optimal strategy to minimise harm from coronavirus’ and suggested an age-based risk management approach. On 18 October, 2020 I asked the Treasury Secretary in an open letter to provide me with evidence of the Treasury advising Cabinet of a risk-based, proportionate approach to the pandemic. I am still waiting for a response.
Moreover, once the decision to start a quarantine program had been taken, the Treasury needed to allocate a team of officers to this task, given its core competency in contracts. The private security contract in this case is what we call an ‘incomplete contract’ in economic theory. The risks from such a contract had to be managed through close supervision by the government’s own experts. The public service has many biosecurity experts, such as those who manage plant and animal pandemics on an ongoing basis, but officials without any expertise were put in charge.
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