Scott Morrison covid-19
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)


For a government that has spent the past two decades appeasing its base and “stopping the boats”, the Morrison government’s willingness to allow virus-ridden Australians back in the country seems out of character.

This column has been a strident advocate of squashing the curve. The corollary to that was opening up the economy as soon as possible (the harder the lockdown, the quicker the opening).

Four weeks of hard lockdown would allow the domestic economy to start returning to some state of normal far quicker than half measures (this is better both for businesses and lives).

While Australia never entered a total lockdown, we did just enough and had a lot of luck. Hotter weather, relatively geographic isolation, spare population, massively reduced tourism due to bushfires, and a fortunately timed Easter have all meant that community transmissions remain low.

Last week in Victoria there were 15 cases of community transmission, barely two a day. The vast majority, another 50 cases, were people returning from overseas. (Most of whom are now going into taxpayer-funded hotel accommodation.)

The overall caseload is therefore being massively inflated by returning travellers. This is a combination of people who chose to disregard travel warnings or who have been living overseas.

Government sources have told Crikey that the volume of returning Australians is a major reason for the continuing lockdown, with potentially tens of thousands of people wanting to return to the safety of Australia.

Given the lower level of community transmissions and easing risks, the government will soon be faced with a stark choice: stopping the planes or risking increased voter backlash for unnecessary restrictions.

Female Leaders 10, Strongmen 0

It certainly was a well-timed illness for Boris Johnson.

While attention has been focused on the Chinese’ government’s initial cover-up in Wuhan and the deadly incompetence of the Trump administration, the UK’s management of COVID-19 has somehow escaped much international criticism.

However, the numbers tell a different story. If Britain had the same population as the US, they’d have around 600,000 cases and 80,000 deaths.

As is the case in the US, blame can very clearly be attributed to a leader playing strongman who took far too long to respond to expert advice. As The Times revealed, Johnson missed five national crisis committee meetings in January and February while holidaying and working on Brexit.

The Times reported a senior Downing Street adviser claiming “there’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there … and what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned executive in a local authority 20 years ago.”

Before eventually declaring a hard lockdown (too late), Johnson would later flirt with the deadly “herd immunity” path, while boasting he was still shaking hands with people and, naturally, contracting the virus and ending up in ICU.

It’s no coincidence that countries with female leaders like Germany, New Zealand, Iceland, and Finland have made bold (and often initially unpopular) decisions to save lives and jobs, while weak and ignorant (ironically dubbed “strongman”) leaders like Boris and Trump ignored advice and will, ironically, kill a chunk of their elderly support base.

Making a mountain out of a Mohl hill

Former AMP chief Andrew Mohl has doubled down.

While having no experience in epidemiology (which in fairness, neither does your columnist, or most people for that matter), Mohl and the AFR appear to have appointed him as the corporate mouthpiece of the “return to work” gang.

Some cultures may ostracise someone for being a long-time senior director of a business (Commonwealth Bank) that was fined for breaching anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws; one that is facing criminal charges for breaching cold-calling laws and has charged thousands of clients while not providing service.

In Australia, it appears that presiding over such a company gets you a regular column in the Financial Review.

After arguing back in early April that lockdowns should be ended — despite their stunning early success — Mohl today claimed that Australia’s drastic reduction in cases was due to “good luck” rather than forced social distancing.

Mohl claims that “the significant slowdown in new cases experienced to early April occurred before these policy interventions took effect, given the one- to two-week lead time in people being infected and identified. Rather, they reflected the environment that existed before the policy measures were introduced.”

While luck has no doubt helped, Mohl got his key input wrong. A Lancet study found that the median incubation period for COVID-19 is 5.1 days, while a separate Chinese study showed it was 4.2 days. Australia started officially locking down on March 23 (although school attendances and general activity was already well down by that point).

Peak cases hit on 29 March, around six days after the lockdown commenced. They then started falling over the coming week significantly. The timing correlates perfectly with the lockdown and observed incubation periods. It’s clear the lockdown dramatically slowed community transmissions (which at one point, comprised half of all cases in NSW and Victoria).

Mohl appointed himself as an expert on COVID-19 and when he got it wrong, appears to be a revisionist history buff with creative use of data.

Alas, no less than what we’d expect from an ex-CEO of AMP.