Meanwhile, Down Under...

Things are going from bad to worse in Melbourne and in wider Victoria state in Australia. I haven’t done the survey but it is credibly reported that as of 23 September, Melbourne has suffered more days of lockdown than has any other city on earth. In a marvelous piece of theatre construction workers were informed that vaccination was to become a ticket to work.  Objecting to the weakness of their own union (the CFMEU) in the face of this unconscionable mandate some hundreds demonstrated and wreaked damage on the CFMEU’s Melbourne office front.

In a fit of pique, El Duce Dan Andrews, the Victoria premier, closed down the whole construction industry in Victoria for two weeks. The result: tens of thousands of building workers unemployed with nothing to do but demonstrate. Proof positive of what has become widely known. Dan is not only a communist but a very stupid one.

On 22 September building workers occupied the steps of a shrine in Melbourne dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in WWI. The press was onto this. “Absolutely disgusting” read the headline in The Australian, the only not-so-left newspaper in the land. Only one or two conservative voices pointed out that demanding freedom on the steps of a shrine commemorating those who fought and died for freedom was not so inappropriate.

Notice the tone of most media reporting. When what the press should focus on is the brutality of Victorian police charging up the steps firing rubber bullets at building workers (not neo-Nazis by the way) who were simply standing there calling for freedom. You may have seen the same in Venezuela. Truly we are seeing how tenuous is freedom.

In echoes of the ban on drones filming Haitian illegal aliens gathering under the International Bridge in Texas, the Victorian police banned news-gathering helicopters flying above the demonstrations. The aptly black-shirted police commissioner relented under pressure; yet still demands that approval for flights be sought and any videos obtained be delayed for an hour before being broadcast. A police state has arrived; though its extent depends on where you live, now that Australia has been Balkanised.

Effectively, Australia has reverted to its pre-1901 colonial status, where each state formed a self-governing colony under the British Crown. Over the past eighteen months states, particularly Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, have mostly closed their borders to both international  and domestic travellers; and, also, even to returning citizens of their own states from other parts of Australia, unless they are sharpish before the gates shut at twelve-hours’ notice.

Depressingly, according polls, Dan still seems to have the majority support of Victorians. Those old 1930s films of dictators being cheered on by adoring crowds don’t seem forced, do they. Better not pin our hopes on the sanity of crowds.

'I Am Covid, Destroyer of Oz'

Curfews, the army on the streets, extra police powers, rubber bullets. Mogadishu? No, it's Australia. Though, to be fair, rubber bullets have been confined so far to Melbourne. Apparently, those protesting lockdowns got a bit unruly. Bring out the Stormtroopers. And note, so far to August 21, there have been only 978 reported deaths from Covid-19, while since the first Covid death in March 2020 well over 200,000 Australians have died, publicly unmourned, from other causes. Perspective defenestrated.

Australia right now is a poster child for how western civilisation and all we hold dear can quickly go down the gurgler. What do we most hold dear? Our freedoms. Make those freedoms privileges, dispensed at will and whim by government. See people go along with it. Welcome to the servile state. True some people, relatively few in number, do protest. But hefty fines, jail time and, if necessary, rubber bullets will keep dissidents in check. It worked in East Germany, didn’t it?

I will digress for a purpose. Don’t want to get into Jane Fonda’s head. It’s probably a tangle of leftism in there which is best to avoid. I will say that she is the best looking eighty-three-year-old I’ve ever seen. So, unless she has a Doriana Gray portrait in the backroom, I can’t help but feel that her motives have been and are good. Misguided and bad are not synonymous. And even those who are misguided can be occasionally right. And so has she been.

As she rightly said, Covid is a gift to the Left. Whether it’s God’s gift we can argue about. Though, as a Christian, I do believe in predestination, hence it’s not unreasonable to assume that Covid is serving some celestial purpose. Personally, I doubt that purpose is to produce an earthly communist nirvana. At the same time, there is little doubt that those on the left feel a Chris-Matthews-type thrill going up their legs when surveying the havoc which Covid is bringing down on Western civilisation.

After all, if your objective is to remake civilisation in the image of a Marxist utopia, you first have to tear down what’s there. And that means undoing individual freedoms, before the presumed interests of the collective can be put in their place.

Been there, done that.

Ironically, the freedoms of Western civilisation can be more easily taken away because of the prosperity which those very freedoms have underpinned. People can be locked away and businesses closed down yet still everybody can be well fed. Well-fed citizens are less prone to rebellion.

Marx and Engels might have been right after all. Communism, aka The Great Reset, aka Inclusive or Cooperative or "Woke" capitalism, aka “building back fairer and better,” will potentially supersede free-market capitalism on the back of the material riches that individual freedoms have wrought. Hope not, but that’s the way it feels right now as I contemplate the outdoor mask mandate, which comes into effect right now, to supplement rules which restrict me from travelling not more than 5 kms from home and to one essential shopping trip each day. Talking to other people is largely verboten.

One of my sons-in-law runs a carpet repair business. He has established rules which he hopes will allow him to continue to earn a living. For example, customers can make arrangements to leave their keys in a particular spot so that the repairers can enter and do the job while the occupants either leave home or ensconce themselves in another room. Being contactless is the key to survival in this brave new world.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the strata committee of the apartment building where I live in Sydney has just announced that renovations to two apartments cannot resume because zero contact between workers and residents in common areas can’t be guaranteed. Imagine the effect of this abundance of playing it safe across all apartment buildings – on electricians, plumbers, tradesmen generally, never mind the anguish of those living in apartments with half-renovated kitchens and bathrooms.

Not too close!

Mind you, the nervousness of our strata committee might be justified. “Special powers” have been given to the New South Wales police force “to lockdown apartment buildings while health assesses the Covid risk [and] to declare a residential premise a Covid-risk premise and require all people to present to police during compliance checks.”

Like the "Delta variant," the madness spreads. From health bureaucrats, to politicians, to the media, to the police, to strata committees, and of course, to scolds on the streets. Hard to remember what it was like in the B.C. (Before Covid) era. “Yes son, we didn’t wear masks then and we used to mix with and talk freely to other people. It was all very unhealthy. Now the government keeps us safe.”

A caveat. Might be feeling too down Down Under. Here there is no countervailing view of any weight. All political leaders are as one. No Red states. No Ron DeSantis. Maybe we have to rely yet again on America to save western civilisation and put this nightmare behind us?

At Every Level, Government Has Botched the Covid Response

One day, even Democrats will realize that government has not only botched the response to Covid-19 at every level, and at every step of the way, but that it's generated more harm for more Americans than virtually any other policy in modern American history. That’s not hyperbole.

How and why was the response so poor, and what can we do to halt this fiasco from happening again?

The “how” emanates from the “why,” and the “why” in entirely rooted in fear.  In the early days of the virus, we simply didn’t have enough information about what we were dealing with.  It was all rumor, stoked by the media to generate fear to generate clicks and eyeballs.

With fear as the root cause, and the media as its ally, politicians became terrified.

Because the top priority for any politician is to remain in office (power), their decisions are inexorably tied to that priority, with the exception of those relatively few conservatives and libertarians who actually have integrity.  No politician wants to be the one who's known for killing thousands of people, so it was much easier to take a draconian approach and kill everyone slowly over a number of months and years than risk killing them with the virus.  This kicks the can down the road.

That approach also protects them because, should scads of people die from the virus, it would generate a fierce emotional response from everyone, including Democrats.

CDC, meet NIH, meet NIAID...

Moreover, explaining how and why lockdowns had terrible systemic effects is an intellectual and complicated argument.  Because Democrats don’t understand economics in the first place, the chance of blowback was far less.  Indeed, just look at how Democrats focus on the emotional elements of everything about Covid and paid no attention at all to the collateral damage.

Some of the more skeptical citizens believe all of this to have been intentional on the part of policymakers.  That gives Democrats too much credit.  It overlooks a simpler and more elegant explanation: politicians are nothing special.  They are normal people who don't have any expertise in anything.  They relied on “experts,” who offered narrow perspectives that didn’t take holistic public health policy into account when providing parochial advice.

To an epidemiologist, every virus looks like a nuclear bomb.  To a public health doctor, every virus is a situation to be managed effectively and efficiently.  You see the distinction.

This, by the way, is all the more reason why governors Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Ron DeSantis of Florida are to be commended.  They have integrity.  They used their own minds and stuck to their principles and have been proven right.  As the studies over collateral damage are eventually concluded, expect to find far less drug and alcohol abuse, spousal and child abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicide in those states.

That’s the “why.”  The “how” derived directly from this ever-present foundation of fear, which has undergirded every single Covid-19 policy decision at every level of government. The politicians need to show everyone that they are on top of the crisis, so they grasp at straws, and grasp the worst possible choice for a “test” to determine who has the virus and who doesn’t.

Another mask or two might have helped.

PCR testing was never intended as a diagnostic tool, according to its Nobel Prize-winning inventor.  The test shoves a swab up your nose and scrapes around for everything, and then the PCR procedure amplifies what’s in the background. As inventor Kary Mullis says, “It allows you to take a miniscule amount of anything and make it measureable and then talk about it.”

If the sample results are amplified 35 times, everyone would test negative.  If the sample results are amplified 60 times, everyone would test positive.

Thus, what nobody really knows or understands is that the number of positive cases are likely vastly over-reported.  Yet because the government proclaimed it the gold standard, it became the gold standard, because the government was so terrified of Covid that it had to lock onto something that gave it the feeling of control.  “Here’s a test!  Let’s go with it!” The result was an unreliable test that produced unreliable data that was presented as gospel.

Indeed, the data provided has never had any context.  All we get is raw "case" and death counts.  One must dig (a lot) to find how those cases distribute across age, location, comorbidity, and economic status.  Even then, we are not provided information regarding how many cases were asymptomatic or non-serious.

Suddenly, the news is all about “rising case and death counts,” not that 80 percent of deaths were in the elderly and 94 percent had at least one co-morbidity.

Without that context, the politicians decided that the entire country must be locked down, regardless of consequences.  Even worse, fearful politicians like Gov. Cuomo shoved the elderly who were sick right into nursing homes, turning them into death camps.

The terror prevented these politicians from making rational public health decisions, and the ignorant media took their lead.   There was never any public health campaign, and there is still not , to push the simple preventative measures that we know enhance immunity:  vitamin D, zinc, and quercetin.

We still don’t have clear answers as to why HCQ and ivermectin – cheap and widely available therapies – were demonized and thrown out instead of letting people making their own choices. Heck, they could have at least done the same clinical trials that the vaccines went through.

Why not?  Because government is reactionary, not pro-active.  Just as none of the pols wanted to be the guys who let millions die of Covid on their watch, none of them wanted to take the risk by advocating other measures, just in case they don’t work.

Government by its nature can only react with a one-size-fits-all approach, because government never considers the individual.  It sees a herd.

Our grand mistake as conservative Americans is that we gave them a herd.  Nobody stepped up to disobey.  Nobody chose to keep their business open.  Nobody chose to defy mask mandates, even in areas where law enforcement said it would not enforce such stupid mandates.

As a new round of mask mandates looms, we can’t let that happen again.

COVID-19's Stealth Pandemic

The Covid-19 virus did an exceptional job at killing elderly people with co-morbidities, but wasn’t terribly effective at killing anyone else. The real damage was done by our own government, whose foolish policies have and will continue to result in collateral damage that will vastly exceed the damage done by the virus itself. The lockdowns alone will prove to be the greatest unforced error in modern human history.

Data is still being collected, yet even from last April, there was already evidence that lockdowns were destroying the human psyche and humans along with it. These are real people, just as real as those who died from the virus, yet everyone who shouted that we must lock the world down will not be held accountable. We must make certain that they are, and that means being armed with data.

An April 28, 2020, study showed domestic violence increases of 10 percent in New York City, and 27 percent in Jefferson, Alabama. In February, The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ) reported an 8.1 percent overall increase in U.S. domestic violence. To put this in stark terms, there were 1,330 more domestic violence calls for service in just March and April of last year alone. 1,330 people calling for help because they were beating beaten, threatened, and God knows what else.

The bug made us do it.

In January, The NCCCJ also reported higher crime in the 34 American cities it examined, including a 30 percent higher homicide rate (that’s 1,268 more dead people), aggravated assault up 6 percent, gun assaults up 8 percent and car theft rose 13 percent. I suppose we can take solace that the lockdowns resulted in declines in burglary and drug offenses.

The maskholes who told everyone to “just stay home” didn’t bother to consider that many of those homes were not refuges, but cauldrons of frustration, depression, anxiety, and violence. They are as culpable as New York governor Andrew Cuomo consigning countless elderly people to death by forcing them into Covid-19 breeding grounds known as nursing homes. It’s not like this wasn’t already known, either.

These same individuals turned their backs on the women they claim to defend, counseling them to stay in their domestic situation, while the world failed to provide them the safety they needed. I guess when gender becomes a construct, that relieves people of obligations to any given gender.

When Leftist ninnies cheered our saviors in government and the media as they wagged their fingers, telling us to “mask up,” “remain socially distant,” and “shelter in place,” they never mentioned resources for those at risk.  Nice job.

The increase in violence comes as no surprise given the correlation with an increase in alcohol consumption. That’s what happens when people, especially men, are thrown out of work. Excessive drinking was already the third largest preventable cause of death in America. During Covid, Mental Health America reported a 14 percent increase in alcohol consumption across all demographics, including a 41 percent increase in women.

A University of Arizona study from April to September found an increase in hazardous alcohol use from 21 percent in April to 41 percent in September. Dependence rose from 8 percent to 29 percent. Increased use was higher among younger people.

Some things never change.

Mental health deteriorated across the board. Depression and anxiety were to be expected from prolonged lockdowns, yet the government didn’t care, nor did the media, nor the maskholes.

The Census Bureau reported an increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression from 11 percent of Americans in the first half of 2019, to 42 percent in December of last year.

This CDC reported that “the proportion of mental health–related visits for children aged 5–11 years and adolescents aged 12–17 years increased approximately 24 percent and 31 percent.” In this case, the youth of America is the most vulnerable, particularly if living alone. Their rates were twice those of those over age 65. Those already in poor health were three times more likely to have symptoms compared to those in very good or excellent health.

Our young women are in dire straits. Average weekly visits to emergency rooms for suspected suicide attempts in girls aged 12 to 17 rose 51 percent in February and March compared to the previous year. This is likely under-reported because, thanks again to the media, people were too afraid to even go to the ER for fear of contracting the dreaded Covid.

The list goes on and on, and it will sadly grow and grow. America will deal with the collateral damage of the lockdowns for years. I don’t just refer to the burden on the health care system, but on the real human damage that likely will dog millions of people.

This is why it is critical to understand how misguided the Left is when it comes to actual human experience. The Left never sees things holistically. By relying on the hammer of government, to which everything is a nail, the one-size-fits-all approach can only result in suffering that is far beyond what is meant as a cure.

There is no nuance to how the Left operates, because they lack imagination and true compassion. They saw a virus, didn’t have information, became afraid and reacted instinctively by trying to shut everything down. This doesn’t consider people, but only a problem to be solved without attendant examination. It's their totalitarian way.

Plus ça change...

Rather than rely on the concepts of individual choice, risk, freedom, and responsibility, they submit themselves to the government and choose to believe the media – whose only goal is to generate traffic. That’s all well and good, until they demand that everyone else do the same thing.

Never once do they consider anything beyond the hammering of the nail. Once it’s been struck, that’s all that need be done. Yet as we see, that nail went through metaphorical rotting drywall, and impaled someone on the other side.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, life went on as it always did. No lockdowns, no masks. Kids went to school. People ate in cafes. Their Covid-19 data was virtually identical to that of the United States. In fact, the total death rate was lower, at 0.14 percent compared to 0.18 percent for the U.S. Not only that, Sweden’s death rate in 2020 was lower than it was in 2010.

The next time this happens, things will only get worse. It is vital that Americans call out the maskholes, the Fauci-ists, the media water-carriers, and the politicians for causing this suffering. It is the only way to prevent this from ever happening again.

Learning the Lessons of the Pandemic

In the last few days the World Health Organization has announced that it does not recommend lockdowns as the “primary means of control” of the coronavirus. Dr. David Nabarro, who is the WHO’s “special envoy” on the coronavirus epidemic and presumably knows something about the costs and benefits involved, went on to suggest that there was only a limited role for lockdowns in combatting the virus:

“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to re-organize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we'd rather not do it," he told the media.

Other methods of controlling the virus are as good or better than lockdowns—there’s a long list of them on the WHO’s website—and they don’t have the catastrophic impact of lockdowns. As Nabarro explained with some feeling:

Look what's happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. … Look what's happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.

On most occasions when we hear appeals like that, they come accompanied with a bill for the rest of us in the form of higher redistributive taxation. We sigh “well, it’s a good cause” and pay up, even if it means cutting down on some little luxuries (or, if we’re among the poor ourselves, giving up some portion of necessities too).

On this occasion, however, industries, social services, charities, and ordinary taxpayer-citizens, rich and poor alike, would all benefit economically if the lockdowns were to end. Dr. Nabarro might have said with equal force and relevance: “Look at what’s happening to steelworkers, coal-miners, secretaries, para-legals, physiotherapists, plumbers, carpenters, Anglican vicars, waiters, travel-agents, and strip-tease dancers.”

It might not have had the same emotional impact as his appeal to prevent child poverty, but it would be pointing to severe everyday economic damages experienced by the whole community. Almost everyone in the private sector is hit by lockdowns, and they will by paying the accumulated bill for their own enforced idleness for a very long time to come. And that should count for something.

Don't go away mad, just go away.

Of course, Nabarro was announcing a U-turn by the WHO. That’s usually felt to be a political disgrace and a cause for great embarrassment. Maybe sometimes it is exactly that. But it surely makes sense to change policy, however drastically, when the evidence suggests that the existing policy is producing negative or perverse results. And that seems to be the case with lockdowns.

Almost simultaneously with Dr. Nabarro’s statement, three distinguished medical experts-- Sunetra Gupta of the University of Oxford, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University—wrote what amounted to a statement of skepticism about lockdowns which were, they said, inflicting irreparable damage on health.

That statement, known optimistically as the Great Barrington Declaration, became a petition that’s already been signed by 1200 health professionals. It is unsparing in its critique of the policies of many, even most, governments worldwide:

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists, we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.

Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

Even or especially if governments agree with the professors, however, they must be horrified  by the idea that lockdowns are a mistake, an overreaction, and a net disadvantage in cost-benefit terms. That conclusion is politically disastrous for them. They have spent much of the last year telling their voters that lockdowns were essential to prevent the spread of the virus and protect lives.

In the countries of the Anglosphere that usually pride themselves on their dedication to liberty, they have been exceptionally heavy-handed in their enforcement of lockdowns on the citizenry, imposing heavy fines on citizens for breaches of it and insisting on closing down cities with curfews and prohibitions of church services, drinking, and even singing. And they have made lockdowns a key item in a coronavirus “orthodoxy” that dismissed other policies—Dr. Gupta’s “focused protection” (focused that is on the elderly and especially vulnerable), or Sweden’s alternative policy mix that included a much more limited lockdown.

No lockdowns, please, we're Swedish.

Nor are governments alone in the dock. Scientists too have to share in the blame. Did the Imperial College and SAGE scientists in the UK, for instance, make a mistake when they recommended abandoning HMG’s original strategy ( tested and approved by the WHO only the previous year) and moving to a lockdown one? Not at the time, perhaps, when UK policy was dominated by a need to avoid the National Health Service being overwhelmed by the avalanche of cases that had overwhelmed Italy’s health services.

That decision was in line with Dr. Nabarro’s argument that a lockdown was “justified to buy you time to re-organize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, etc. Long after that threat passed, however, the scientists continued to press the politicians to tighten the lockdowns ever more firmly. And the politicians are afraid to disagree with the scientists.

Britain’s current policy is now a kind of paralysis: almost everyone, including ministers, realizes the lockdown was a mistake and is increasingly a catastrophe for the country’s economic future but the government has been so successful in inculcating a fear of the virus that far outstrips the real risks to the entire population that it carries that the public now supports tightening the lockdown rather than lifting it.

Covid headache, check.

For that outcome—which is worse in Australia and the U.S. than in Britain—the media must accept a heavy share of the blame. Their coverage has often been more driven by political considerations than by medical ones. Mainstream reports of the pandemic in the U.S. has been more concerned to damage Donald Trump than to provide a cool and fair-minded examination of how best to treat the virus—“Orange Man Bad” being its main diagnosis of any of the cures proposed.

And social coverage is worse. At the time of writing, Twitter had ruled against coverage of the Great Barrington Declaration on the grounds that it was misleading (i.e., Twitter disliked its political implications.)

The lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic will be relevant long after the virus has reached herd immunity and become one of the many illnesses dormant in the population that springs into life every Fall. They tell us that whether the threat is a global pandemic or a rise in global temperature, we must preserve a free and skeptical public debate. That means asking the experts to give us their opinions but also to tell us where they differ and why.

Some of the most prescient criticisms of the lockdown policy came from other experts like Dr. Gupta and some from intelligent non-experts like (Lord) Jonathan Sumption, a distinguished lawyer, who saw in official  policy the logical likelihood that a lockdown could do little more than redistribute Covid-19 infections and deaths over time—but at huge loss in our economic prospects and our political liberties too.

In short, the biggest global threat today is the ever-present danger of an establishment consensus that won’t allow other views to be expressed and debated. And that threat hasn’t faded even if the lockdown does.

Covid Hysteria: Worse Than a Crime, a Blunder

With parts of America and Europe still in lockdown, was the massive overreaction to the Wuhan Flu, aka Nursing Home Disease a crime or a blunder? As a French official during the time of Napoleon said of the execution of Louis Antoine du Bourbon, "C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute." Which is to say, were the loss of civil liberties and the massive economic destruction of the unconstitutional lockdowns simply malicious and punitive, or is the damage irrecoverable, with all the attendant political consequences whose effects will be felt at the ballot box this November?

Some folks at the Foundation for Economic Education are beginning to smell a rat:

The 'experts' may have subjected us to a blunder greater than any since the Iraq War.

The Iraq War WMD debacle is arguably the greatest expert “fail” in generations. The holy triumvirate—lawmakers, bureaucrats, and media—all failed to sniff out the truth. If any of them had, a war that cost trillions of dollars and claimed the lives of 100,000-200,000 people likely could have been avoided.

It would be difficult to surpass the Iraq blunder, but emerging evidence on COVID-19 suggests the experts—again: lawmakers, bureaucrats, and media—may have subjected us to a blunder of equally disastrous proportions.

The evidence? How's this for a dispatch from the Dept. of Now They Tell Us?

Antibody Tests Point To Lower Death Rate For The Coronavirus Than First Thought

Mounting evidence suggests the coronavirus is more common and less deadly than it first appeared. The evidence comes from tests that detect antibodies to the coronavirus in a person's blood rather than the virus itself. The tests are finding large numbers of people in the U.S. who were infected but never became seriously ill. And when these mild infections are included in coronavirus statistics, the virus appears less dangerous.

"The current best estimates for the infection fatality risk are between 0.5% and 1%," says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. That's in contrast with death rates of 5% or more based on calculations that included only people who got sick enough to be diagnosed with tests that detect the presence of virus in a person's body.

And the revised estimates support an early prediction by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force. In an editorial published in late March in The New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci and colleagues wrote that the case fatality rate for COVID-19 "may be considerably less than 1%."

Mon Dieu!

Wait -- what?

The new evidence is coming from places such as Indiana, which completed the first phase of a massive testing effort early in May. Indiana's program began soon after coronavirus cases began appearing in the state. The governor's office contacted Nir Menachemi, who chairs the health policy and management department at Indiana University's Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.

The governor wanted basic information, such as how many people had been infected, and how many would die. At the time, "it was really difficult to know for sure," Menachemi says. "And frankly, not just in our state, but in any state." That was because health officials only knew about people who had been sick enough to get tested for the virus. And that number can be misleading, Menachemi says.

In other words, based on the faulty premise that infection=death -- aided and abetted as usual by a hysterical media that always runs with the worst-case scenario first -- the major economies of the West put a loaded gun to their heads and pulled the trigger.

For Menachemi and his team, it was like finally getting a glimpse of the entire coronavirus iceberg, instead of just the part above the water. And the data allowed them to calculate something called the infection fatality rate — the odds that an infected person will die. Previously, scientists had relied on what's known as the case fatality rate, which calculates the odds that someone who develops symptoms will die.

Indiana's infection fatality rate turned out to be about 0.58%, or roughly one death for every 172 people who got infected. And the results in Indiana are similar to those suggested by antibody studies in several other areas. In New York, for example, an antibody study indicated the state has an infection fatality rate around 0.5%.

Studies suggest a healthy young person's chance of dying from an infection is less than 1 in 1,000. But for someone in poor health in their 90s, it can be greater than 1 in 10.

To translate that into plain English: the very elderly are more likely to die of something than healthy young people. But will this stop people like Fauci from continuing to insist that the destruction of civilization the price we pay for allowing him and other doctors to continue to exercise an undue influence over the public policies of the U.S., Britain, and elsewhere? Of course not:

Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., said Sunday that the ban on British travelers entering the U.S. is likely to last months. Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told The Telegraph that the U.K. travel ban is expected to be lifted in “more likely months than weeks.” The infectious disease expert said the travel restrictions could last until a vaccine is ready, adding that it’s possible they are lifted sooner.

The other travel bans from the European Union, China and Brazil are also expected to last for “months” based on “what’s going with the infection rate,” Fauci said. The expert predicts the virus could “go on for a couple of cycles, coming back and forth... I would hope to get to some degree of real normality within a year or so, but I don’t think it’s this winter or fall.”

“This will end,” Fauci said, according to the newspaper. “As stressful and devastating as it is, it will end.”

Good to know. Now please go away, take Scarf Lady with you, and let the rest of us enjoy life.

Why Can't We Go to the Hairdresser?

The cynic in me thinks the press will urge a nationwide lockdown unless and until a Democrat sits in the White House at which time they will take a harder look at the diminishing Covid-19 fatalities and the increasing cost of the lockdowns. In the meantime frustrated, increasingly broke Americans are asking what happened to such rights as free speech, assembly,  worship, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, right to bear arms, right to due process in criminal cases and privacy.

Fundamentally, why can’t we go to the hairdresser or the gym, make routine visits to the doctor, the dentist, get elective surgeries, visit our families and friends, shop without looking like masked bandits?  The answer is not that complicated. Unless the state governments, which have imposed these often-draconian measures, can justify them in court, you can. But you have to get them judicially enforced by civil suit or in defending a criminal action against you. Your rights are not self-enforcing.

Yesterday, for example, a circuit court judge in Clay County, Ill., found that Governor J.B. Pritzker's extension of a previous stay-at-home order was illegal, handing at least a temporary, narrow victory to Republican state representative Darrin Bailey with a restraining order -- which, however, only applies to Bailey himself. Pritzker vowed a swift appeal in a higher state court.

There are other means, of course.  If you want your fundamental constitutional rights back sooner you can move to those states run by Republican governors who did not mandate a lockdown, or  you can work to make your state legislatures to rein in your governor’s dictates. Short of that there is only judicial redress.Some states have never issued mandatory stay at home orders: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Meanwhile, Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska, and South Carolina have allowed some business openings and plan to relax more rules this  week; Maryland’s governor Hogan announced he anticipates a gradual reopening beginning in May.

Colorado’s Democratic governor Jared Polis says he will allow hair salons, barbershops, and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday and has permitted curbside pickups at retail stores. Florida’s GOP governor DeSantis has opened some beaches and some have reopened in California, but not in Los Angeles. In some states-- to add to the confusing disparities -- city mayors have issued their own rules about what is permissible.

The most draconian rules of all were those issued by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) which, inter alia, banned state residents travel to in-state vacation homes, prohibited the selling of seeds and gardening tools, home improvement materials, baby care seats and the use of motorized boats. Last week the Michigan state senate passed two bills to curb her emergency powers. She’s threatened to veto any such attempts and it’s unclear whether this legislative effort will be successful unless Democratic voters in the state are angry enough to support the move to clip her wings.

Who Can Exercise Power in a National Emergency?

The Emergency Powers of the President and Executive Branch are extensive. The Brennan center has prepared a 42-page compendium of their powers and legal basis. In addition to these, under the Tenth Amendment, state governors have substantial powers to issue mandates once an emergency is declared. The extent of the powers of a governor is determined by the constitutions of the various states and any applicable state law. But under the Fourteenth Amendment, per substantial case law for almost 100 years, most of the rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights are applicable to the states (the "incorporation doctrine"). The question is whether the rights you have in normal times apply in an emergency.

Short of cases dealing with known methods of preventing a disease (smallpox vaccinations) or short-term emergencies such as hurricanes, we have few legal cases dealing with Covid-19 restrictions. Covid-19, after all is new, and we do not have conclusive studies of its transmissibility, treatment, or prevention. Instead we have conflicting reports about what works. Unlike with smallpox or polio we have no vaccine yet and, if one is to ever be developed it will take a long time to fashion and test it before we could compel people to vaccinate.

Further, we have no idea if reinfection is possible or likely after recovery. Nor have we any notion how many of us are or were infected, or are immune. Infection, hospitalization and morbidity rates are subject to manipulation and seem to have been jiggered but credible accounts indicate that the elderly and those with comorbidities have poor survival chances should they catch it, while the rest of us are almost certain (percentage wise) to survive it. We do know the cost to the nation and the world, not to speak of private sector workers and businesses is substantial and mounting.

Which Tests Should Courts Use in Cases Challenging Governor’s  Emergency Orders?

There have been few cases testing the power of the Governors to interfere with normal civil liberties. The best legal arguments on balancing the rights of citizens in emergency litigation can be found here by Lindsey Wiley and Steve Vladeck: COVID-19 Reinforces the Argument for “Regular” Judicial Review—Not Suspension of Civil Liberties—In Times of Crisis.

The authors review two of the first cases where the power to restrict civil liberties in the Covid-19 emergency was tested  and a minimal level of scrutiny was applied. That is if there was some factual basis and the restrictions were made in good faith, the courts let them stand.

In one of the first challenges to a coronavirus emergency order, New Hampshire defended Governor Christopher Sununu’s emergency order banning gatherings by arguing that “[a] court should only interfere” with “[a]n executive’s decision to exercise emergency powers in the face of a rapidly evolving public health crisis. . . . when the executive’s actions were not taken in good faith or if there is no factual basis for the executive to believe that a restriction he imposed was necessary.” Relying on Smith v. Avino (a widely cited Eleventh Circuit decision arising out of Hurricane Andrew), the state’s argument, in essence, is that the heightened judicial scrutiny that such invasions of civil liberties would usually provoke should be “suspended” for the duration of the emergency. The trial court agreed—upholding the group gathering ban because it met the very low bar of “good faith/some factual basis.”

Somewhat more controversially, the Fifth Circuit took a similar approach just this Tuesday in upholding Texas’s application of a coronavirus emergency order postponing “non-essential” medical procedures to abortions. Describing the Supreme Court’s 1905 ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusettsas imposing “the controlling standards, established by the Supreme Court over a century ago, for adjudging the validity of emergency measures,” the majority set aside Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey’s familiar (and far more recent) undue burden test in favor of a rule that “the scope of judicial authority to review rights-claims” during “a public health crisis” is limited to cases where “a statute purporting to have been enacted to protect the public health, the public morals, or the public safety, has no real or substantial relation to those objects, or is, beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law.” Moreover, the court suggested that in a crisis, this minimal level of scrutiny applies equally to “one’s right to peaceably assemble, to publicly worship, to travel, and even to leave one’s home.”

Their conclusion?

As a country, we thus find ourselves in uncharted waters. But the debate over the proper judicial role in such novel and extraordinary circumstances is not a new one; rather, it dates to the earliest years of the Republic. As D.C. Circuit Chief Judge (and John Adams’ nephew) William Cranch wrote in 1807, “The constitution was made for times of commotion. . . . Dangerous precedents occur in dangerous times. It then becomes the duty of the judiciary calmly to poise the scales of justice, unmoved by the arm of power, undisturbed by the clamor of the multitude.” 213 years later, we aim to demonstrate how the coronavirus pandemic — and the governmental reactions thereto — undermine the suspension model, and, in the process, prove Cranch right.

While in my opinion the authors take too optimistically the time involved in developing and testing an appropriate vaccine, I agree with their view that what is called the “suspension power” -- that is, it takes minimal evidence to uphold the restrictions while the emergency exists -- is unsuitable.  This emergency is different, as it has no reasonably foreseeable outcome and  generally agreed upon termination. Therefore, the ordinary emergency order review is insufficient for Covid-19  orders. Think about it. A dictatorial government could in the same often mind-bogglingly arbitrary manner in which many have delineated between essential and non-essential businesses, decide the emergency will continue until everyone is tested or a vaccine is found, or there’s no longer anyone hospitalized with the virus, or we have definitive proof that recovered patients cannot reinfect.

Wiley and Vladek also argue, persuasively in my opinion, that the restrictions imposed should be subject to review of government restrictions of civil liberties in non-emergency situations. Are rules less restrictive of liberties options available? If there are, then the restrictions should fail.

So many of the restrictions, it seems to me, require defending in transparently open court proceedings. Does the requirement we wear masks really prevent the spread of the disease? Expert opinion is divided. Is it wise, in fact, to restrict movement of citizens or should we allow greater mingling to build herd immunity? Again expert opinion is divided. Is it better to prevent people from using parks and beaches, or is the sunlight, exercise and fresh air a better antidote to the spread of the virus or at least its virility? Our courts deal with such issues every day. Let’s have the governors defend their actions instead of blindly following along or listening to one set of “experts” and ignoring conflicting views.

So many of the restrictions seem ill considered and incomprehensible, if not totally indefensible. Let the state persuade a court that its perfectly reasonable to shut down my dentist’s and doctor’s enterprises even though both can and do sanitize all surfaces and can arrange it so patients will be notified by mobile phone of readiness to see them so that patients will not enter their offices and have to sit with others in the waiting room. Let the states defend arresting a surfer, far from anyone else, while permitting shopping in big box stores.  Let Michigan defend refusing to permit Detroit residents from going to their vacation homes in rural areas less densely populated, or permitting kayaking but not motorboating. Waiting to see any defense of actions like arresting a father for playing in a deserted park with his two children or worshippers praying in a church parking lot while sitting in their cars with the windows up.

Go ahead, make my day.