Welcome to the new health system autocracy

Under the guise of the ‘precautionary principle’, Australia’s health system has overnight transformed from a bureaucracy into an autocracy. This is no surprise to anyone who has worked in public healthcare. 

Some infection control measures — like hand-washing, sequestering the elderly and staying at home if sick, for example — make scientific sense. Yet other edicts, issued without clearly defined activation triggers, sunset clauses or limiting principles, are less common sense.  

This pandemic, unlike the swine flu in 2009, has given legitimacy to panic.   

Because the health system is trained to overestimate risk, it is not being transparent with the public.  

The median age of death from COVID-19 in both Australia and Italy, is 81 and the case mortality is less than 0.5 per cent. The ‘normal’ flu killed 3,000 Australians last year. To date, 19 patients nationally have died from COVID-19.  

How many infections will be stopped by closing parks and playgrounds?  How many by shutting gyms? What is to be gained, in terms of infection control, in forbidding people to drive to their favourite national park for a hike? Why close state borders, but at the same time allow passengers to arrive from overseas without even basic medical screening?  

The line separating the arbitrary from the necessary is a blurry one. The bureaucrats wouldn’t have it any other way. 

One death is too many, they say, and politicians seeking re-election are acutely aware of this.  

Health economics is all about trade-offs. Have we paid too high a price to ‘flatten the curve’? Governments — state and federal — have not satisfactorily modelled the social and psychiatric consequences of economic catastrophe, prolonged isolation or school absenteeism. 

The public have, for the most part, behaved obediently and with good grace in the face of indefinite house detention. The limits of this patience will be tested in the coming weeks. 

Dr Carlos d’Abrera is a psychiatrist and a contributor at the Centre for Independent StudiesThese opinions are the author’s own and do not reflect those of his employer, the CIS or any other entity.