Saturday, May 09, 2020

Saturday Morning Musings - covid-19 and the lucky country

I do not know what real changes will come from covid-19. I do know that this is one of those times that I am glad that I live in Australia.

The first thing I noticed on visiting the supermarket yesterday was an absolute mountain of toilet paper! Not only were the normal shelves full, but there was a special display at the front of the store. Flour was still in short supply,  the whole world seems to be baking!, but there was plenty of pasta and the meat shelves were well supplied. The early panic buying that led to drastic shortages has been replaced by a degree of normality.

Covid-19 has placed great stresses on supply chains in Australia and elsewhere. So far at least, Australian supply chains seem to have met the challenge. There are increasing problems in overseas supply, but domestic supply has held up. We can contrast this with the US where meat supply  has become a major issue because a concentrated supply chain proved highly vulnerable to disruption.

As in other parts of the world, covid-19 has highlighted issues associated with social inequality. In wealthy countries, the virus initially hit hardest among the global mobile who travelled for business and leisure. New York is perhaps the classic example, but you can see similar patterns in Australia. Then as lock downs came into effect the economic ripple effects hit the most economically vulnerable. Again, the US is the most remarkable example because of the absence of safety nets.

In Australia at least, the immediate effect has actually been a reduction in social inequality because of the way support measures have been designed. The income position of those at the bottom end has actually improved, in part because those on unemployment benefits have actually seen their incomes double. This may not last, but is at least one positive.

As in other western countries, Australia has seen virus clusters in aged care facilities. All countries will have to address longer term issues here. However, for the present at least infections and deaths have been less. The Australian examples stand out because they are single events rather than a universal pattern. This is small consolation for those who have lost loved ones, but is still a positive.

The Australian death rate has been quite low. As of last night, Australia had 6,914 confirmed cases of which 63% were acquired overseas, 37% from local transmission. Deaths totalled 97. This is a relatively low number of deaths both in absolute terms and as a proportion of total infections. It can also be compared with an Australian road toll of around 1,200 in 2019.

The relatively low Australian death toll is due in part to effective social distancing measures, in part to the quality of the health care system. I suspect that many Australians are very glad that we have our system compared to that applying in the US. I don't think that we are alone in this. Support for the NHS in the UK has also grown. I wondered how the crisis would affect US domestic attitudes to health care. Would it act as a circuit breaker? I suspect not based on the US reporting that I have read.

So far, so good. However, in this country as in the rest of the world attention is now turning to the best ways to unlock economies. The economic and social costs of the lock downs are not sustainable beyond the short term.

I wonder if Australia can manage this properly? I have reservations here in part because it requires a degree of subtlety and judgment, a recognition of geographic difference, To my mind, Australian governments do not have a good track record in this area.


Tikno said...

It's good to know that Australia (lucky country) is relatively safe from pandemic. The key is how the leader responds. Taiwan and South Korea's response is a good example. Not like this example :

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Tikno. I did smile as the video, but it is also propaganda! I think that its not just leadership, but also people, the two in combination.