Stop listening to public health doctors by David Leyonhjelm

It is now clear that Australia’s response to the corona virus outbreak was a massive over reaction. Keeping the surge of infections below the capacity of our health system could have been achieved by moderate social distancing and personal disinfection. The forced closure of businesses and offices and movement restrictions were unnecessary.

The pattern of infection would have been different, no doubt, and more cases would probably have occurred by now. But like jumping out of a tall building, you cannot claim things are going well on the way down. The endpoint — herd immunity from either infection or vaccination — can be deferred but not avoided. Overall, no additional lives will have been saved by the lockdown.

By contrast, it is becoming painfully clear that the lockdown has cost lives and ruined careers through unemployment, business failure and educational disruption, while taxpayers will be funding a massive debt for decades to come. Moreover, many other countries have similarly trashed their economies, which will not only make the recession global, deep and painful but also long-lasting.

Such poor public policy should not be without consequences. To borrow a phrase from Greta Thunberg, it is appropriate to consider who should be metaphorically put against the wall for it.

In terms of strict accountability it is politicians, specifically senior ministers, who made the lockdown decision. It occurred at the federal level initially, although state leaders endorsed it and are now basking in prolonging the misery.

In Australia and other democracies, voters will ultimately pass judgement on them. But in reality it was not politicians who made the call; it was those advising them. On something as major as a disease epidemic, politicians will only ever act on advice.

That advice came from public sector doctors; that is, doctors employed directly by the Government or funded by the Government via a university or research organisation. It was the same in other countries that embarked on lockdowns — the UK with its wildly inaccurate modelling, in New Zealand, Spain and New York city, and at the WHO, which recommended them.

I know these doctors, at least in Australia. They regularly tried to influence me in the Senate, including in evidence to my nanny state inquiry. They are the ones who argue in support of higher taxes on alcohol, who opposed any relaxation of Sydney’s lockout regime, and who advocate lower speed limits, a tax on sugar and further prohibitions on smoking. In my inquiry they even defended compulsory helmets for cyclists because it might prevent a single case of traumatic brain injury.

They are, overall, intelligent but not wise, knowledgeable in their field but not about the world, secure in their employment but ignorant about those who are not. As they see it, public policy must prevent all deaths, no matter what the consequences. They have no comprehension of individual liberty and responsibility or fundamental rights, ignore basic economics, and never acknowledge that trade-offs in public policy are unavoidable.

Politicians who receive their advice ought to be highly sceptical. At the very least they should seek alternative opinions. Members of my former profession, veterinarians, might be among those from whom a second opinion is sought.

Managing respiratory infections is high priority whenever animals are crowded together, such as pig and poultry farms and cattle feedlots. The preferred solution is vaccines, of course, but not all diseases can be prevented in this way. Moreover, vaccines are not always fully protective. Among the other measures employed though, closing down is not contemplated. The private sector does not do that.

Instead they enlist nature for assistance. For example, viruses are killed by sunlight and dispersed by fresh air, so outdoor facilities and natural ventilation are maximised. Indoors, ventilation systems change the air frequently and ultra-violet light sanitisers are used to kill viruses.

This is potentially relevant to how the virus epidemic could have been managed. Transmission in outdoor cafes, restaurants and beer gardens, or on beaches and in parks, is very unlikely. Solo activity, by definition, cannot infect others. Indoors, buildings with appropriate air conditioning and filtering systems can be low risk.

In fact, a risk-based approach should have been adopted across the board. Instead, on the advice of the doctor advisers, in just two months our prosperity has been crippled and countless lives ruined. These same people are now warning of reimposing restrictions based on predictions of fresh waves of infection.

The economic and social cost of heeding the advice of public health doctors is simply too high. The prism through which they view the world is too distorted.

First published in the Australian Financial Review 18/06/2020

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