John Kehoe is a senior writer for the Australian Financial Review and writes on economics, politics and business, and surprisingly, epidemiology. I say surprisingly in the latter case, because he has pontificated on epidemiology in a tweet in reply to Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty. Doherty tweeted:
“Private profit, public liability: call-centre jobs are sent overseas to increase payouts to global shareholders & executives. Cost of supporting displaced people who can’t find work falls back on the taxpayer. Why not require the company to pay those costs for eg 12-24 months?”
This seemed to be an entirely reasonable request given that it has been very much in the media in recent years, not just during the pandemic, and is especially pertinent given the money doled out to large companies via JobKeeper. This apparently upset John Kehoe, who tweeted:
“With greatest respect to Noble [sic] prize winner,your own centre’s models projected up to 150,000 Australian virus deaths(exceeded by only USA with 15 x population). So panicky govts forced millions Aussies jobless. And your biggest concern is some call centre jobs being offshored?”
Apart from giving the impression of having been typed with his fists, Kehoe’s tweet has similarities to some recent rants from right wing nut jobs and conspiracy theorists. These usually go along the lines of: ‘You told us that many thousands were going to die and they haven’t so we needn’t have bothered with the lockdown’. Such assertions are only marginally less stupid than those from QAnon fruitcakes who still maintain, in the midst of all this death and illness, that Covid-19 is a hoax or that the vaccine, should one be produced, will contain a mind control chip from Bill Gates. Their lack of logic does not allow them to realise that these estimates of deaths are based on doing little or nothing to prevent the spread of the virus. The fact that Australia suffered only about 100 deaths by the end of the first wave is due to the states getting their act together, ignoring Morrison, and throwing just about everything at the virus in an attempt to prevent it spreading. Victoria’s reaction to the second wave seems to be similarly effective, with the seven day moving average of daily cases dropping dramatically over the last month (from 513 to 72)3.
The Doherty Institute did refer to modelling on the likely number of deaths in Australia given an estimated death rate of about 1%, and an infection rate of 20% to 60%, and that came out at 50,000-150,000 deaths4. In 1919, it was estimated that about 40% of the population of Australia (then estimated to be about 5 million) caught the Spanish Flu and of them, 15,000 died; this was despite considerable lockdowns, mask-wearing and border shutting to try and combat its spread5. So, an estimate of 50,000-150,000 dead in a population now 5 times the size of that in 1919 is not too extreme. It is worth noting also that Kehoe only used the larger of the two end members of the spread, a common technique among those wanting to exaggerate their ‘argument’, especially when they know it doesn’t have legs.
If buffoons like Kehoe were capable of using logic, they would say ‘You told us that many thousands were going to die if we didn’t do anything; you did plenty, and the many thousands haven’t died, so your measures to stop the spread of the infection worked. Thanks.’