Sunday, May 31, 2020

Unrest in the US

Ocean swimmers going in from the Terrigal Haven rocks this morning
I have friends in the US despairing at the state of their nation.  The riots spreading across the country are yet another symptom of a fissured and polarised society made worse by poor leadership.

Trump has rightly publicly condemned the recent shooting death of a black jogger in Georgia and the asphyxiation of a black suspect by police in Minnesota, but has said and done little to repair the underlying problems that have led to the subsequent riots.

The latest black death was a catalyst for the riots, but Trump's long-standing subliminal (to him) racism -- treating white supremacists with equivalence at Charlotte, questioning Obama's place of birth, denigrating Mexican immigrants as "rapists", and so on -- sets the tone for the nation and gives racists succour.

This undercurrent of racism has been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic.  The COVID-19 restrictions have created economic and emotional stress generally in the US, but the impact on the poor has been much greater.  Statistics from 2018 show that 20.8% of blacks in the US live below the poverty line as against just 8.1% of whites.  With inadequate safety nets, the economic effects of the pandemic must be hitting the black population particularly hard.

Watching a whale from Terrigal Haven this morning
(too far offshore to make a picture worthwhile)
The health impact of the pandemic on the black population is even more startling.  Research published earlier in May estimated the death rate for blacks was 2.4 times higher than for whites.  A lot of this can be explained by economic factors -- low incomes leading to poor nutrition and health, a concentration of cases in poorer inner-city areas -- but whatever the reason, there's legitimate cause for aggrievement.

Having said all of that, although he has helped perpetuate it, Trump cannot be blamed for long-standing racial bias and inequality in the US.  However, he can be blamed for the very poor response of the US to the pandemic.  Back in January, when the pandemic first hit the global radar, Australia and the US had the same information from their intelligence sources (Five Eyes) and from the World Health Organisation (WHO), yet the US has a death rate 77 times higher than Australia's.  No amount of China- or WHO-bashing should be allowed to obscure these facts.

I walked (mostly) and jogged 6km again this morning.  The hip flexor was bothersome, but not enough to cause limping or stop the running comeback plans.

Saturday, May 30, 2020


Boot camps are back in operation ...
Earlier than expected, children have all returned to school in New South Wales (NSW).  There have been a couple of brief closures because of identified student COVID-19 cases, but overall there have been no dramas, and so far it looks like a good policy call.

 .... rock fisherman were making the most of the day ...
The soundness of the decision seems to have been supported by some interesting statistics about COVID-19 in children published in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.  For NSW, there have only been 59 children diagnosed with COVID-19 who have acquired it locally.

..... the boat ramp was busy ...
On a per capita basis, adults have recorded positive tests at roughly ten times the rate of children.  If you assume they are exposed to the virus at the same rate, children are clearly less vulnerable.  Even if there are other factors that help explain the difference, they are unlikely to explain it all.

... and the beach was popular.
Apart from two cases where tests were inconclusive, no children were found to have been infected by other children, although it is true that in a quarter of child infections, the source has never been identified.  There was only one case where a child infected an adult in the same household, and that child was 17 years old.

If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is that children have suffered far less from the virus than the rest of the population.  I doubt anyone would begrudge that.

I walked and jogged (mostly walked) 6km this morning.  I'm conscious of my right hip flexor all of the time, but there was less discomfort when running and also after I had covered a few kilometres.  It was another beautiful morning, in the last days of our southern autumn, and everybody was making the most of it.  Not too much social-distancing was apparent.

Friday, May 29, 2020

It's not over 'til it's over

South Korea has reimposed COVID-19 restrictions after an uptick in new cases.  It had 40 on Wednesday, the highest daily number in seven weeks, and 79 on Thursday.  Museums, parks and art galleries in Seoul have been told to shut for the next two weeks in response, and the gradually reopening of schools is being reassessed.

This matters for us here in Australia, because there are many similarities between our two countries in terms of their relatively effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Both have made use of advantages they enjoy -- geographic isolation (South Korea's only land border is with North Korea, though they still accept some international arrivals), first world medicine and technology, and a relatively compliant population.

I have little doubt that South Korea will manage this latest uptick in cases, but the fact that it has happened just reinforces the advice that we are unlikely to eliminate the virus completely.  Too many people can be asymptomatic while infectious and many of those will never show symptoms.  Therefore, it's quite feasible that the virus can fly under the radar for weeks, and even months, before surfacing as an identified case.

It seems very likely that the South Korean experience will be repeated in Australia and we need to be prepared for the re-imposition of restrictions, though maybe only on a regional basis.  It will be troublesome, but manageable, and we will get used to it.  Under this scenario, it makes sense that borders between countries (and states) with similar infection levels and testing, tracing and isolation capabilities should be opened.

My exercise for today was a game of golf with mate, Dave, on a beautiful morning.  It was my first game for more than three weeks, so I was a bit anxious, though not about my form which was rubbish as usual.  My golf swing imposes stresses on my troublesome hip that are different to running and walking, so I was worried about incurring damage, but I can't wrap myself in cotton wool for ever.  As it happened, I was conscious of some hip discomfort but won't know until tomorrow whether that was just lack of use, or a setback.  I'm hoping the former.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

NRL restart

Beautiful dawn for the ocean swimmers this morning
The National Rugby League (NRL), one of Australia's football codes, resumes competition tonight to complete a shortened season, the first professional winter sport in Australia to do so.  The regular season was suspended back in March after just two games.  The 28 May restart date seemed an ambitious goal when announced 6 weeks ago, but to their credit it will happen.  It remains to be seen what transpires if any of the players or support staff are diagnosed with COVID-19 during the season.

The Skillion this morning
The NRL took a gamble going for the 28 May restart date.  They now look smart and competent, but I would argue that they are really the lucky beneficiaries of the successful containment of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Australian authorities.  On 9 April, when the NRL announced their planned restart date, the projections we were all relying on suggested a 6-month shut-down in Australia, and it was just two weeks past the daily peak of new cases.

Star of the Sea apartment complex, the season home of the
NZ Warriors NRL team on the hill overlooking Terrigal
Australia "over-achieved" in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, exceeding the expectations of the epidemiologists, largely through prompt government action and good popular compliance.  Of course, there was a scarcity of data about the COVID-19 virus, particularly in Australia, which made forecasting difficult, and it was incumbent on the authorities to plan for the worst.  As the end of May approaches, we are in a much better place than anybody expected two months ago, which is excellent.

Swimmers and paddle-boarders on the water on a much calmer ocean
Although I'm not a big NRL fan, there will be some added interest for me this season since the New Zealand Warriors NRL team will be based in a nearby gated apartment complex, the Star of the Sea,  and will play its home games, without crowds, at the Central Coast Stadium.  They are under strict quarantine conditions and have not been allowed to mingle with the locals in Terrigal.  I guess this may change, depending on how the pandemic numbers go over the next few months.  I doubt that I will watch too many games, despite the absence of sports viewing competition, but I will watch when convenient, and will be supporting the Warriors, now my home team.

I walked and jogged 6km this morning.  It's still too early to tell how the troublesome hip is going, but no obvious problem so far, which is encouraging.  I feel very unfit and overweight, but it's good to be exercising again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Early morning swimmers at Terrigal
There was news today that 7.3 million doses of flu vaccine have been administered in Australia so far this season.  This compares to 4.5 million doses administered in the same period last year, and 3.5 million in 2018.  Australians have clearly got the message that it is important to be immunised against the flu when the threat of COVID-19 is present.

Construction workers discussing the new promenade to be built
around the Terrigal rocks
I wonder what the take-up of the COVID-19 vaccine will be, if it ever materialises.  Apart from the anti-vaxxers, I suspect there will be a stampede to get the vaccine in Australia, but maybe I'm being optimistic.  A recent Reuters/IPSOS poll found that a quarter of Americans have little or no interest in taking a coronavirus vaccine if/when available.  A proportion of those cited concerns about safety, given the rush to find a vaccine and get it to market, and I share those concerns.

The Skillion at The Haven this morning
There will be enormous pressure on health authorities to approve vaccines, once available, from both the pharmaceutical company developers and governments keen to get economies back to normal.  In particular, it's not hard to imagine the pressure that will be exerted on the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a vaccine, given the apparent political interference in their processes for assessing and distributing hydroxychloroquine, the drug promoted by Donald Trump.  The Reuters/IPSOS poll found that 36% of respondents would be less willing to take a vaccine if Trump said it was safe (and 14% would be more willing).

Wamberal across the surf this morning
I do have confidence in the Australian Therapeutic Good Association (TGA) which I believe will make the final assessment of any vaccine for distribution in Australia, but even then, I'll be reading everything authoritative I can find about the vaccine and its testing before getting injected.

I walked and ran a little further this morning.  It's hard to say how the hip injury is going.  I can feel stiffness and lack of range when walking, but it bothers me less when running.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Strange Bedfellows

It's not often I find myself barracking for Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer.

Wet start to my morning stroll
Pauline Hanson, a former fish and chip shop owner, is leader of the very right-wing nationalist One Nation political party.  Clive Palmer, a mining magnate with similar political leanings to Hanson, boasts a very colourful commercial and political career.  Most recently, he claimed in a media advertising blitz to have purchased nine million doses of hydroxychloroquine, the unproven drug promoted by Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19, to help Australians fight the virus.

Regular ocean swimmers on their way into the surf
Hanson and Palmer have said they are taking Queensland and Western Australia, respectively, to the High Court of Australia, claiming their continuing border closures violate the Australian constitution.  I believe their case probably has some merit, but don't believe there is any chance that a decision would be passed down any time soon, assuming Hanson and Palmer go through with it.  Nevertheless, I am on their side.

Looking south along the coast this morning
Although I accept that states have the right under the constitution to erect quarantine barriers for the purpose of protecting their agricultural industries from some threat, such as Phylloxera, these restrictions are based on strong scientific evidence about the need.  In the current situation, where the number of daily COVID-19 infections assigned to unknown community sources is consistently in the single digits for the whole of Australia, I don't believe there is a scientific justification for domestic border quarantines.

Crackneck this morning
Of course, I'm biased.  Bored, and eager to get on the road for some kind of adventure, I want to travel to other states (apart from Victoria, where I can go from 1 June).  Queensland is due to make some kind of statement about easing COVID-19 restrictions at the end of this week.  My fingers are crossed, but I'm pessimistic.

I ambled around 4km this morning, including a couple of half kilometre jogs, as the first significant exercise for three weeks.  It's hard to say how it went, but I can feel that some of my muscles are stiff, a sign of lack of use.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Double standards

Wamberal beach this morning (courtesy Julie)
In the early 1970s, I was posted as a Second Lieutenant to an army training centre at Puckapunyal in Victoria where I was a platoon commander, responsible for seven NCO's and fifty trainees.  I still cringe now when I reflect on some of the ways I handled those responsibilities.  Although I don't remember getting into trouble, I do recall using my privileges as an officer reprehensibly on occasion.

Wednesday afternoons were scheduled for base sport, but instead of doing the right thing and staying on base to participate in sports competitions with my unit, I would claim I was going for a run and then head off to Melbourne, a fast hour's drive away, to visit my girlfriend (and also go for a run). 

Still good surf at Terrigal this morning (courtesy Julie)
There were also regular morning parades, part of which required me to inspect the turnout of the NCO's and trainees in my platoon -- making sure their brass was polished, their boots shone and their weapons were clean.  Because of my penchant for staying in Melbourne when I had the chance, there was often an early morning high-speed dash back to the base to participate in the parade.  Frequently, that left little time to clean my own gear properly.  A lot of those NCO's and trainees must have wondered at my temerity in pointing out things they could have done better with their uniforms and gear.

After a while, I did start to feel uncomfortable about my transgressions, sensed it was undermining my moral authority, and settled on what I think is one of the cardinal rules of leadership -- lead by example.  It wasn't a "light bulb moment", but in that year or two I realised I felt a lot better about myself, and was a lot more effective in my job, if I didn't ask people to do things I wasn't willing to do myself.  I wouldn't for a moment claim that I haven't slipped up since then, but the rule remains sound.

Terrigal lagoon this morning (courtesy Julie)
The pandemic has laid bare the double standards of some authority figures, and I find their reluctance to admit to their hypocrisy inexplicable and disappointing.  The latest is the Boris Johnson advisor, Dominic Cummings, who seemingly broke the lockdown restrictions of his own government.  In New South Wales, we had the forced resignation of a state government minister in April, Don Harwin, who broke lockdown restrictions by travelling to his holiday home.  It's not hard to find examples of double-standards in the US either.  Donald Trump's refusal to wear a face mask in places where it is mandated by coronavirus restrictions is perhaps just a minor example.  All should admit fault, either actual or perceived, and accept responsibility for their actions.

If there is one area in which I could still be accused of double-standards, it is in advising others about what they should do for running training or to recover from injuries.  I would claim to generally offer sensible advice on these matters, erring on the side of caution.  However, when advising myself on running and injuries I tend to be a lot more cavalier and reckless.  Hope that is not the case over the next couple of months.  Exercising starts tomorrow.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Ploughing on regardless

Looking over Koolewong this morning (courtesy Julie)
All countries in the world seem to be easing their COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to one degree or another.  Some, such as Brazil, India and Indonesia are easing them despite evidence that the daily number of new cases is increasing rather than diminishing.  Others, such as the US and Russia, are easing their restrictions despite continuing high levels of new infections, though at a gradually declining rate.

Looking over Woy Woy Bay this morning (courtesy Julie)
It's hard to believe that restrictions in any countries will be reimposed, even if the number of new infections tick upwards.  I get the feeling that many countries have decided that they can live with a certain mortality rate, so long as their hospitals and health systems are not overwhelmed.  People have become desensitised to the daily death tolls.  A plane crash in Pakistan killed one hundred people in Karachi and headed news bulletins around the world, but more that 1,300 people died from coronavirus in the US on the same day.

Trail running this morning (courtesy Julie)
As Tuesday gets closer, my chosen day to resume exercising after what will be three weeks of inactivity, I have been thinking about what program I should follow.  I don't really want to get back into the no-man's land of taking each day as it comes that characterised my running training before I stopped.  Sure, I was trying to strike a balance between exacerbating injury and losing fitness, but it was unfulfilling and seemed to lack ambition.  Recently, a friend (much younger and fitter than me) completed a challenge she had set for herself of running/walking a kilometre further each day, starting at one and finishing at forty-two, forty-two days later.  Quite a challenge, especially for that last week, though she said she had became accustomed to the distances by then.

Woy Woy Channel this morning (courtesy Julie)
I doubt I could succeed in the same challenge, but think I might tackle a modified version, aiming to reach the forty-two kilometre day on 22 August, the 50th anniversary of my first marathon.  My modified version would involve a commitment to run at least every second day and to increase the distance by one kilometre every second day.  The distance will be covered running and/or walking in one session, and each second day's run could be brought forward or delayed by just a day if  other commitments intervened.  On the days in between, I could do whatever exercise I wished.  This regime could force me to take it easy early in my comeback and would be a challenging and satisfying endeavour.  The challenge would start on 1 June, and before then I'll just do easy walking, jogging and cycling.  Of course, there's a good chance I will get injured, but this time I think I will just plough on until forced to stop.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Interesting numbers from the CDC

More wintry surfing in Terrigal today
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) released some new estimates on Friday to help US COVID-19 pandemic modellers with their analysis that I found very interesting.  The numbers are based on US data, but are probably relevant for other developed countries (COVID-19 numbers in Australia are so few, it is difficult to derive similar statistics).  The numbers are just best estimates and have been disputed by some epidemiologists, particularly the low fatality rate.

  • 35% of people infected with COVID-19 show no symptoms (the CDC assumes these people are just as infectious as those showing no symptoms).
  • 40% of COVID-19 transmission occurs before infected people feel sick.
  • On average it takes symptomatic people 6 days to feel sick after infection. 
  • 0.4% of infected people who show symptoms will die (1.3% for 65+ and only 0.05% for under 50).
The surfing waiting game at Terrigal today
I think the numbers show that many more people may have been infected than know it, and also how challenging it is to contain the pandemic given how many people will be infectious without knowing it.  A third of the population may never realise they have been infected, and even if they do get sick, they will likely already have infected people in the previous week.

No exercise today, but looking forward to resuming modestly on Tuesday.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Outside the range of experience

Terrigal surfers on a wintry afternoon
In my early working life as an economic forecaster, I spent a lot of time building econometric computer models into which you could feed assumptions about various variables -- international growth, government spending, monetary policy, capital expenditure plans, etc -- as an aid to forecasting what was going to happen in the economy.  The models were derived from looking at historical relationships between those variables and past economic outcomes.

An artist at work on Terrigal beach
this afternoon
During this pandemic, there are forecasts being made by a number of august institutions about the spread and mortality rate of COVID-19 using computer models.  Generally, these models have been built using information gleaned from past epidemics and the relationship of various variables -- demography, travel, transmission rates, social distancing, available treatments, etc -- have with outcomes.

These models all have one very significant shortcoming in the current pandemic environment.  The models tend to perform best when they are forecasting within the range of historical experience used in deriving the models.  This pandemic is the biggest for one hundred years, and good statistics from that time are scarce, not to mention that the world is vastly different.

Al fresco dining is back at Terrigal, despite the weather
The models currently being used, both economic and epidemiological, cannot be relied on.  The world has not seen anything like this in living memory and we are already seeing that outcomes are not matching forecasts.  Experts are making educated guesses and the models are constantly being revised as more data becomes available.  I'm taking all predictions about the health and economic outcomes, no matter how authoritative, with a grain of salt.  It's just unreasonable to expect any better.  We are all being educated in realtime.

I'm hoping my internal modelling, based on my lived experience of past injuries, means I have correctly predicted that three weeks of no exercise, followed by a careful resumption of running, will result in a return to fitness.  My fear is that the long-term wear and tear on my aging joints will be outside the range of my past experience, and thus my forecasts/hopes will prove inaccurate.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Political and tribal

Looking towards Wamberal this afternoon
It was only a few days ago that I wrote about why it was time for Australia's domestic borders to reopen.  Since then, the subject has become a hot topic in the press, with state premiers trading barbs.

Current known cases are very low in all Australian states, especially when compared to US states and countries in the European Union.  The fundamentals haven't changed, and my opinion that it is time for the borders to open hasn't changed either.

Surfers at Terrigal this afternoon
However, the premiers of the smaller states, whose borders are closed, are digging in.  It has become political, and the more strident they become in their defence of the status quo, the harder it will be for them to back down.

That is sad, myopic, and in the case of Queensland, hypocritical.  There is nothing to stop Queenslanders crossing into New South Wales (NSW), and from the end of next week, travelling anywhere in the state and then returning to Queensland.  Unless they have been overseas or visited a designated COVID-19 hotspot (currently three municipalities in Victoria) they are not required to quarantine or self-isolate on their return.

Terrigal promenade this afternoon
The pressure to open those domestic borders is continuing to build, with the Federal health authorities joining the fray, saying there is no health-related reason for the borders to be closed.  But the smaller state premiers are enjoying high domestic approval, and in the case of Queensland, will face an election before the end of the year.  It has become political and tribal, not a good basis for rational decision-making.

No exercise today, apart from a walk around the block to take a few photos.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

American individualism

The Skillion at sunrise today (courtesy Julie)
Last week I wrote about how, in this pandemic, the US seems to have a higher mortality tolerance than Australia, and surmised that it was because the poorer health and economic safety nets meant the shutdown caused more pain.

An item published by CNN today takes a different slant on the same theme, suggesting that the US tolerance for their higher mortality rate is "a symptom of American individualism, a national value that prizes personal freedoms, limited government and free will over all else".

Avoca Beach this morning (courtesy Julie)
This analysis rings true to me.  The perennial arguments about US gun control reinforce this view.  Americans value individual freedoms and mistrust governments, often to the point of irrationality from the perspective of those living elsewhere in the world.

On the flip side, this culture of individual responsibility, a core component of capitalism, largely explains the economic success of the US over the past two centuries.  There is tolerance of failure in the quest for economic success, and when there are economic disruptions, like the global financial crisis (arguably a consequence of unfettered capitalism), it often hits the US harder but they bounce back more quickly.

Looking north from First Point this morning (courtesy Julie)
I suspect it will be the same with the current pandemic crisis.  It has hit Americans harder because of their individualism and mistrust of the authorities, but their acceptance of the relative failure of their response (and accompanying continuing high mortality rate) will result in a faster economic bounce back.

Sadly, I don't think my running is going to bounce back very quickly after this layoff.  In fact, because even walking around the house I can still feel minor hip and hip flexor pain, I'm starting to mentally prepare myself for a longer lay-off (and hence a longer bounce back).  My rule of thumb has traditionally been three weeks off for a soft-tissue injury and six weeks for ligaments and stress fractures.  Given there is still pain, maybe I should have six weeks off.  Something to think about.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

How many have really been infected?

When I look at the different COVID-19 Case Fatality Rates (CFR), by country, and the fact that the number of new deaths per day is declining in most jurisdictions, I wonder whether many more people have been infected than we know about, meaning there is likely a greater degree of immunity than known.

Iceland has a CFR of 0.56%, Australia 1.39%, the US 6.02%, and the UK 14.21%.  CFRs are subject to many variables including the population demographics and the quality of the health system, so it is difficult to make comparisons between countries solely on the basis of the CFR.

We already know that many more people will have been infected than have been counted, because not everybody gets tested when they have symptoms and many people are asymptomatic.  It is also true that most testing is to see whether someone currently has COVID-19, not whether they have had the virus and recovered.

Terrigal dawn today (courtesy Julie)
But if we look at the countries with the highest per capita rate of testing, Iceland has done four times as many tests as Australia, the US and the UK.  My hypothesis is that if the CFR in the country that has done the most per capita tests (Iceland) is 0.56%, and we make the heroic assumption that the CFR rate should be the same across countries, then it stands to reason that the number of people who have been infected in a country such as the UK may well be twenty-five times the number reported, i.e., instead of 0.24M, it could be 6.2M.  In Australia, it would mean that instead of the 7,000 confirmed cases we have had nearer 20,000 cases.

Still sitting around getting fatter and more unfit.

I know this is a hugely simplistic analysis, but even if the numbers are not correct, it reinforces my impression that many more people have had COVID-19 than know about it.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Getting around the rules

Wamberal lagoon this morning (courtesy Julie)
The past weekend marked the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in New South Wales, with up to five people allowed to visit another household, and ten people allowed to gather outside or visit restaurants, etc., whilst still maintaining the required 1.5 metres of physical distancing.

Julie and I marked the occasion by inviting five friends around to our apartment for drinks and a chat yesterday afternoon and really enjoyed the occasion.  Humans are definitely social animals and the physical proximity clearly enhanced our interactions and appreciation of the event.  The innate need for this social interaction, frequently expressed as a desire for things to return to "normal", makes us all eager for the relaxation of the social distancing rules, and drives some to look for ways to get around the restrictions or just ignore them.

Terrigal lagoon sunrise this morning (courtesy Julie)
I may be doing our neighbours an injustice, but it is hard to believe that the loud partying, extending well past midnight on Saturday, was generated by just seven people.  They don't party too often, so we can live with it, but were a little surprised and disappointed they didn't seem to be observing the rules.

It also concerns me that my running club, which traditionally has around 150 people gathering in Terrigal for a run at 6am each Saturday morning, followed by socialising and maybe breakfast, is planning to resume activities well before the authorities grant permission for gatherings of that size.  They are asking members to stagger the times at which they gather and run to keep the groups down to less than 20, or whatever size the authorities specify.  However, it's very likely there will be times on a Saturday morning, pre- and post-run, when the authorised group size will be exceeded.  Maybe the authorities won't notice (and impose fines), but other people will and the club risks damaging its good reputation.  I can't see why they don't just wait until gatherings of 150 people are permitted.  Members can still run on a Saturday morning, just not from Terrigal where they risk breaking the rules.

Wamberal beach this morning (courtesy Julie)
I'm counting the days now.  Just seven to go before I begin trying to get fit again.  I don't think the discomfort I can still feel in my right hip and hip flexor will have gone, but it is presently much reduced from two weeks ago.  The challenge will now be to take it easy for those first few weeks of running and walking.  I must avoid the strong temptation to do too much too soon.  I must avoid breaking the rules.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Domestic border closures

Looking north along the coast this morning (courtesy Julie)
I'm becoming more optimistic about the chances of Australia's domestic borders opening sooner rather than later.  The number of new COVID-19 cases in New South Wales (NSW) continues to be very low and comparable with Queensland, which has closed its border with NSW.  In fact, recently, Victoria is the only state with new cases averaging above ten per day, and they can be mostly traced to a couple of clusters which are being managed.

Terrigal beach this morning (courtesy Julie)
Although ten new cases might seem like a lot when you only have one or two, I think there is a lack of perspective about what this means in the larger context.  All of the experts say that there is little to no chance of completely eliminating the virus and that the way forward relies on testing, tracking and isolation.  It seems to me that all states are really in the same situation now, with such small numbers of new cases, so few hospital beds occupied, and widespread testing available.  We must have nearly reached the point where the benefits of having the domestic borders closed is clearly outweighed by the costs the closures impose.

Wamberal lagoon this morning (courtesy Julie)
It seems likely that, within the next few weeks, most states will have unlimited intrastate travel.  Some already have.  Why this easing couldn't be extended to interstate travel makes little sense to me.  I suppose there is political capital in it for the leaders of the still-closed states when they can point to how much better their states are doing compared to NSW and Victoria (who haven't closed their borders).  But, as pointed out, that difference isn't as great now, especially on a per capita basis, and with the large populations of NSW and Victoria craving July school holiday vacations in sunnier and warmer climes, the pressure on the smaller states, Queensland in particular, to harvest some of those tourist dollars will become intolerable.

Of course, my view may be biased by my desire to hit the road myself, but I'm trying to be objective.  I continue to plan adventure options for Julie and me tailored to when the borders do open, but we are both very keen for it to be as early as possible.

No exercise for me today.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Conspiracy theories

Brisbane Water from Katandra (courtesy Julie)
I haven't seen it, but believe there is a video available online called "Plandemic" which, in addition to postulating the virus emanated from a lab in Wuhan, claims we all have coronavirus from previous vaccinations, and that wearing masks activates it.  The pandemic is part of a nefarious plan to boost the profits of pharmaceutical companies through sales of a vaccine.  A variation on the "Plandemic" conspiracy is that the pandemic is a hoax and that the vaccine, when released, will result in the death of millions and world power for the elites.  It's troubling to me that there are people who actually believe such theories ...... and that they have votes.

Brisbane Water from the Koolewong Firetrail (courtesy Julie)
Other outlandish conspiracy theories have sprung up around the coronavirus pandemic.  I have read that it is spread by the 5G network and also that it is an escaped, or deliberately released, bio-weapon.  (I even read that US evangelist, Pat Robertson, said it is resulted from oral sex, but apparently he didn't say that at all.)

Sadly, it seems the coronavirus pandemic has given oxygen to many of the same conspiracy theorists who decry man-made climate change as a hoax perpetuated by globalisation and the elites.  In more extreme case they believe US school shootings, the moon landing, 9/11, vaccination, the JFK assassination, and so on, are also hoaxes promoted by the elites for their benefit.

Looking across Brisbane Water to Kincumba Mt (courtesy Julie)
In contrast, I am a believer in the principle of Occam's razor which, paraphrased, says that the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one.  That is, the fewer assumptions you have to make in a hypothesis, the more likely it is to be right.  There's a lot of scientific know-how being directed at coronavirus and its causes, and the consensus does seem to be that it originated in a Wuhan wet market.  It would be nice to have this confirmed or disproved, which would require Chinese cooperation, but until that time, it is the explanation I'm most willing to accept.

Brisbane Water (courtesy Julie)
Conspiracy theories don't have much place in running itself, though there are examples in the administration of the sport.  Apart from the distortions of performance-enhancing drugs (and maybe the new Nike Vaporfly shoes), you get back from running what you put in.  At the moment, I'm not putting much in .... and not getting much back.  This contrasts with Julie, who continues to run at every opportunity, regardless of fatigue and injury, and today ran 50km on trails with a few friends who were originally supposed to be running a major trail race in the Blue Mountains this weekend.  I'm envious and dream of the time I can join her again for such runs.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Mortality tolerance

From Australia, it seems like the US is easing its COVID-19 restrictions too early.  Over the last three days, we have averaged less than 0.01 COVID-19 deaths per million of population, while the US is at 4.94.  That is, their death rate at the margin is running about 500 times the Australian death rate.

Australia, of course, benefited from an earlier response and perhaps a more compliant population, but that doesn't explain why we are reopening at a similar rate (I'm generalising).  One reason, I suspect, is because the US has a higher death rate tolerance.  The absence of an Australian-style economic safety net in the US means that the shut-down pain inflicted on its population is much greater.  News reports from the US have described long queues at food banks and public demonstrations calling for a re-opening of the economy.  Some of the latter are no doubt supported by right-wing and libertarian organisations, but the dire economic impact on the middle and working classes are clearly visible.

Poor weather didn't deter the surfers today
You could argue that the American people have decided they are willing to accept a much higher prevailing death rate than Australians if it means they can return to work.  They may not want to see distressing overflowing hospital wards and mortuaries, but now that lack of capacity seems to have been addressed, they are willing to accept the overflowing obituary columns.

Every country is making this calculation, explicitly or implicitly, and they will all be hoping that the marginal death rate does not climb to the point where people are again willing to accept an economic shut-down.

It was hosing down outside the Post Office today
The degree to which I am prepared to tolerate physical pain depends on a similar (but much more trivial) calculation.  Not against the economic benefits, but against my more general sense of well-being.  The longer I don't exercise, the greater the degree of pain I am willing to accept in return for that well-being.  Although I am hoping to return to running without the chronic hip/hip flexor pain that caused me to stop, I know that I am willing to accept some pain, as I have done with other chronic injuries that still dog me.

I walked to our local Post Office to collect a parcel today and heavy rain arrived while I was there.  After fruitlessly waiting some twenty minutes for it to ease, I decided to jog home.  Disappointingly, I could feel soreness in the hip flexor the whole way.