It seems perverse of me not to have pontificated or at least propounded about the biggest news story since Harry and Meghan took off – beyond blogging about bog paper. I’m talking about Corona Viral Disease No.19, aka COVID-19.
No-one knows how bad things will get or how soon a vaccine will become available, but I have amused myself by running some plausible numbers. Let’s say that one-third of humanity is infected; that’s within the range that we’ve heard from experts. Then let’s assume that 1% of those unlucky people die. That’s below the rates that are being talked about; but those are based only on the known cases of infection, which are almost certainly the minority of actual cases.
There are about 7.5 billion people alive today, so my assumptions would mean a death toll of 7,500 million x 1/3 x 1% = 25 million. That’s a lot of people, but it’s equivalent to:
- No more than 50% of the number who died of the Spanish Flu a century ago, when the global population was only 1.8 billion.
- Less than 50% of the usual number of deaths in a year.
- About four months of humanity’s natural growth rate (births minus deaths).
Moreover, mortality is going to occur much more than proportionately among the old and the sick, many of whom would die soon anyway. So when future students of demography examine a graph of human population growth they will notice a deceleration in 2020. It may pique their interest enough to glance at a footnote that mentions COVID-19.
Relative to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, Australia has a handful of Covid-19 cases. But intense media attention and Government exhortations to keep calm have predictably given rise to panic buying. Hand sanitizer disappeared first from supermarket shelves, followed closely by… toilet paper. There have even been scuffles in the aisles as people try to prise the last pack of this prized commodity from the arms of rival shoppers.
This morning I received an email from the Australian supermarket chain Coles, where we do most of our shopping. It informed me that the limit of 4 packs per customer had now been replaced by a 1 pack limit, and they had told their suppliers to concentrate on the 30-roll pack size. The email added:
“… a pack of 30 rolls should last an average family for around 3 weeks.”
As is my habit, I did a little arithmetic. Let’s say that an average family has 5 members. The toilet paper we have in stock (bog standard, and not a stockpile), has 180 sheets per roll. So if 5 people get through 30 rolls in 3 weeks they are each using (30×180)/(5x3x7) = 51.4 sheets per day.
What on earth are they doing with the stuff? Eating it?!
Sometimes I wonder if I was born into the right species. Do you ever feel like that?
I live in Australia, where we have a Prime Minister (Scott Morrison, pictured) who is admired for winning an election against the odds and almost single-handed. But few people like him and fewer trust him. Like Boris Johnson, he won because people couldn’t stomach the alternative.
We were recently visited by the Prime Minister of our smaller, poorer sister-state New Zealand (Jacinda Ardern, also pictured). I’d hazard a guess that if the Australian electorate were given the choice they’d vote overwhelmingly for Jacinda to replace Scott. She comes across as sincere, principled, compassionate, straight-talking… the qualities that seem to be disqualifications for high political office in Australia.
Now I’ll come to the point. As well as making amicable noises about our common values and regional interests while she was here, Jacinda raised in public a very sharp-edged issue. Many New Zealanders live in Australia and some run foul of the law. If they are imprisoned for a year ior more, and have not obtained Australian citizenship, they are expelled to New Zealand on their release. Most of these people are long-term Australian residents and have little if any connection with New Zealand; in some cases they came here as babies. Jacinda Ardern asserts – reasonably in my view – that these people have made Australia their home and should be accepted as Australia’s problem. She threatened to introduce a reciprocal law in New Zealand if we did not change ours.
Scott Morrison stood firm, as he is wont to do (unless radio shock-jocks tell him not to). But there is another, equally hard-edged issue that undermines his intransigence. There are Australians among the ragged remnants of Daesh/ISIS held as prisoners in Syria. They are not wanted there, but are considered too dangerous to release. If citizenship is the criterion, surely Australia has a moral duty to take these people back, charge them with crimes, re-educate them, hand their children over to foster parents, keep them under surveillance, or let them go. But the Government says, “No.”
Scott Morrison likes to talk about keeping Australians safe. That’s fine, but as one of the world’s richest and most stable countries I’d say we have a bigger responsibility than that. Am I wrong?