Excess deaths? Governments should tread softly on Covid measures
11 November 2022
Humility is not a dominant personality trait among Australian state leaders and health bureaucrats.
Annastacia Palaszczuk’s rush to advise further mask-wearing yesterday, in the face of medical uncertainty surrounding the high number of non-Covid excess deaths, is proof that modesty has not been learned from previous pandemic response missteps.
Nobody ‘crunches numbers’ better than the Australian Actuaries Institute. Although their numbers are more conservative than estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it’s astounding that their findings haven’t been front-page news.
According to the Institute, total excess mortality for the first seven months of this year sits at a terrifying 13,700. The Institute says around half of these (7,100) were due to Covid, with the rest put down to ‘remaining causes’.
In an attempt to unravel this mystery, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners newsGPsays the data shows ‘deaths from respiratory disease are down this year (around 7 per cent), with cancer mortality sticking close to the expected rate, while deaths from heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia are all higher’.
This means Australia’s excess deaths are not due to ‘delayed cancer diagnoses’ caused by lockdowns, as some experts had earlier suggested. Rather, they seem to be illnesses-related where the heart and blood vessels dominate recorded cases.
But we don’t know for sure – and that’s the rub.
Our health departments should be 110 per cent preoccupied with getting to the bottom of this concerning data. The fact that our media and politicians aren’t hounding them to do so is a national disgrace which reflects the general incompetence of Australian leadership.
newsGP notes, ‘There is work that could be done to help work out what is happening … including using data that is held by the ABS but not made public.’
I’m sorry, what?! Not being made public?
The arrogance and incompetence continues – and it’s not confined to Australia.
Amitava Banerjee, a clinical data scientist and consultant cardiologist at University College London’s Institute of Health Informatics, told the UK media recently that his country should never have had a pandemic preparedness team that did not consider the indirect and long-term effects of the response itself.
‘We focussed on the direct effects of excess deaths from Covid, but from the beginning it’s likely the indirect effects will lead to more deaths, more morbidity, and more economic impacts than Covid deaths itself. Nobody who is in charge of the NHS, or any of the new health secretaries, are making any noises about it.’
I don’t mean to brag (actually, yes I do), but I was saying this in 2020 about Australia’s appalling Covid mismanagement.
Crisis Management 101 says you must take counsel from a broad range of advisers and own the decision-making process as a leader. You must balance multiple views and data and do your job, to decide a course of action, own it, and communicate it as best you can.
‘I’m taking all my advice from the CHO’ and abdicating your responsibility to lead is not responsible leadership. It’s shifting possible future blame and protecting your own backside. That’s what every Premier in Australia and the ‘worst Liberal Prime Minister in history’ did.
When I – and a variety of far wiser souls – challenged the ‘wisdom’ of Australia’s Covid overreaction in 2020, of course, many scoffed.
The same people who mismanaged Covid back then want to push boosters and masks on us today. Queensland’s CHO, John Gerrard, told reporters yesterday that the call for a return to mask-wearing was only ‘advisory’ as he raised the state’s alert level from ‘green’ to ‘amber’. A further rise to ‘red’, which would see mandates and possibly even lockdowns return, was unlikely, he said.
‘That would be where hospitals are coming under very significant strain. I cannot see a circumstance where we’d have any additional mandates between now and Christmas, there would have to be something absolutely exceptional.’
Given the gaping hole in their knowledge about what’s causing these alarming excess deaths, you would hope so.
Excess deaths are still running disturbingly high. Our health administrators don’t know why and a cynic might conclude that they don’t want to find out…
The truth may finally focus attention on the failures of government response that might – in the unforgiving light of scientific and statistical truth – be revealed as appallingly negligent.
In the meantime, Premiers and the Prime Minister would be wise to bring their health bureaucrats to heel and stop them digging us all into an even deeper grave, both metaphorically – and literally.