For over three years the world has grappled with Covid-19. Australia was well served by doctors who convinced governments to listen to medical science. But the politicians have resumed control and science, all science, is being silenced.And not just on Covid but more importantly in climate change
Politicians, by their nature like being in control, total control. The Covid-19 pandemic sent a shiver of fear through the people of the world, firstly by its unknown character, then as it spread from China to the rest of the world by its potential for havoc and death which had populations quaking, and brought many governments almost to their knees. Of course, political leaders were expected from the beginning to have answers, but most wisely turned to medical experts for guidance and management.
Medical experts, epidemiologists, virologists and vaccine scientists were brought forward as potential saviours of mankind who could turn the tide and re-establish normal healthy society. Although progress was initially slow, scientific momentum in overcoming the challenge accelerated until now there are effective vaccines and good understanding of how to control Covid infections.
There were notorious exceptions of course. Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin had some surprising similarities beyond being autocrats – all were indifferent to the suffering of their own peoples, each refused to hand over full control to medical authorities to initiate reversal of the pandemic. Each demanded their economies remain open and continue as before, despite rising death rates.
Their approach was watched with interest by Western politicians. Not with concern for its potential to spread Covid worldwide, but more to see how much pain and suffering their societies would tolerate before there was popular reaction against indifference. They were admired by many neo-Liberal leaders for putting the economy first, and keeping it there even as high Covid death rates prevented a return to normal business.
Australia took a more cautious approach. The Morrison government closed off the country from the rest of the world, preventing inflow of infection. The states each imposed a control of movement into their domain, and within the state as required to prevent cross-infection. Despite the social and economic inconvenience, most people came to appreciate our low Covid infection rate, and then realised as those vaccines provided us protection, could prevent much of the undue suffering experienced by other countries.
Australia’s progress was not without mishap. The Morrison government was initially indifferent to elevated death rates in the private aged-care sector, despite regulating it. Coalition politicians frequently hectored state governments to stop their lockdowns and get working again, regardless of public health and Covid spread. Facing re-election in May 2022 the Coalition was anxious to see the end of the Covid pandemic and a return to a successful working economy.
Yet, in 2021 Morrison declared ‘vaccination was not a race’ as death rates rose despite preventive lockdown measures. Eventually high population levels of vaccination were achieved and the Federal and most state governments happily removed lockdowns to allow the return to pre-pandemic life styles by the end of December 2021, as the Omicron variant of Covid began spreading widely. Fortunately, this infection had a reduced potential lethality particularly amongst vaccinated persons.
Unhappily, the Covid virus does not react completely in accord with political wishes. Despite little media attention, the re-opening of the economy has seen the pandemic re-invigorated in Australia to become widespread in all population centres. In the first three years of strong infection controls (2019- 21) only some 2,000 people died nationally. Now in the first five months of 2022, with open society, over 5,300 additional deaths have occurred. That is 2.5 times as many deaths in just 5 months of 2022 as in the previous three years. Public tracking services have been reduced or dismantled. People are left to identify their own infections (RATS testing) and to self-report, doubtlessly resulting in under-reporting and contributing to the high infection and mortality rates. Hospitals across the nation are facing an intensified Covid crisis, with staff operating under unrelenting front-line conditions. Medical staff, emergency services, and nurses are exhausted, with hospitals and facilities bursting with patients.
Calls by leading medical practitioners to mandate public mask wearing and social distancing are ignored, as a theatre of normality is demanded to facilitate a Coalition election victory. Medical experts are effectively silenced; they are rarely seen on TV or quoted in the press. Every day now, about 40 Australians die from Covid and their grieving relatives are left in silent sorrow. Information from government websites is almost opaque, with data presented in difficult to interpret formats.
The politicians have regained total control of the narrative.
The Covid pandemic is not the only scientific problem they have consigned to the bin of silence. The planet has another pandemic – that of progressively rising carbon dioxide emissions. Since the 2021 COP26 meeting in Glasgow there has been a silencing of discussion of global warming in Australia, and Morrison’s ‘net-zero by 2050’ is presented as the answer to all climate woes.
Yet the continuously increasing atmospheric CO2 facilitates excess solar energy to be captured and absorbed by all the seas, tropical, temperate and polar. Increased marine temperatures cause enhanced evaporation, precipitous rains, melting ice floes, and rising sea levels.
Eastern states of Australia have experienced devastating rains and floods in February 2022, and may experience more floods again this month, described by the Coalition as ‘unusual weather events’. Flood victims, businesses and towns are still unrepaired months later, and their tribulations are barely mentioned during the campaign. The Coalition forbade federal weather science agencies like the BOM and CSIRO to discuss the prospects of global warming, or voice opinions seen counter to Coalition policies.
What concern or care for Australians does the Coalition really have? They have learnt from the autocrats that populations can be ignored. Their allies in the commercial press and Murdoch outlets offer virtually no investigative information during this campaign. Just ‘Got-ya’ games against Labor and the Greens and screaming beat-ups against ‘Teal Independents’.
And absolutely no hint that people are dying of Covid again in unprecedented numbers, much more than before ‘we opened up again for business’, or that communities are still suffering from ‘adverse weather events’, and that the suffering will increasingly occur as global weather spirals towards catastrophe.
Keith Mitchelson has a 40-year experience in academic and commercial biotechnology sectors in the UK, China, and Australia.