In Cygnus And In Health

I was a young bloke with raging testosterone when I married The Mrs. Signing the marriage certificate was easy, no vows were required. We just had to inform the marriage celebrant that we knew of no legal impediment which may have prevented us from marrying each other. It was not until I attended Violet’s wedding that the seriousness of marriage weighed on me like a tonne of bricks. My vivacious and elegant niece married in the posh 14 acre heritage-listed gardens of Melbourne’s Rippon Lea on Boxing Day of 2011. I was seated on the front row which commanded a central view of their beautiful ceremony, a privilege only a proud uncle could be accorded. The vows my niece exchanged with her husband under the floral arbour struck me like a thunderbolt. The touching moment made me cry from a realisation that I was unthinking and naive of the responsibilities once I got married. So irresponsible and reckless. My wedding was light-hearted, exciting and full of sunshine on that Saturday morning 39 years ago. I did not pause, not even for a second, to consider the many ramifications of marrying someone I love. When we were young, the idea that we could fall sick, very sick, never crossed my mind. So sick that we should contemplate death? “From this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” It did occur to me then that I should be responsible for her happiness and safety but her health? She was not a child and not stupid. She was and still is very capable of looking after herself. Her health or well-being was never something that I considered. In reality of course, when I looked after myself, I looked after her also. That is the basic ethos of a family unit. We look after each other – our loved ones are our responsibility, no marital vows are necessary to remind us of that.

In the workplace, OHS laws require employers to look after the safety and well-being of their workers and anyone who steps into the workplace. A duty of care is owed by the employer who may be held criminally liable and prosecuted in his personal capacity if found to be negligent in failing to provide a safe working environment for their people. Occupational health and safety standards are clearly expressed and adhered to in my business. Failure to do so could cripple our operations or worse, cripple us physically and financially. At work, we know to look after one another’s safety. We do not need the threat of hefty fines and heavy jail sentences to remind us our health and safety is paramount.

In Australia, animals are legally regarded as “sentient beings”, i.e. they have a consciousness that enables them to feel, sense and perceive the world around them and as such, deserve a quality of life that reflects their “intrinsic value”. Dogs cannot be confined for more than a day without being exercised. There are laws that protect them against animal cruelty – neglecting their basic needs will attract pecuniary fines, and injuring them deliberately and violently will land a person a few years’ prison sentence. In Queensland, the maximum fine is $266,900 or a 3-year imprisonment. Animals have rights and we know not to breach our duty of care for them, a duty which is based on the internationally recognised ‘5 freedoms’ of animal welfare.

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst.
  • Freedom from discomfort.
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
  • Freedom to express normal behaviours.
  • Freedom from fear and distress.

In affairs of the State, governments have a responsibility towards the welfare and health of their citizens. What can we conclude if a government were to deliberately ignore “terrifying” simulation results of a pandemic drill? Why would it even embark on a costly trial run if it were to simply bury the results and prevent the findings from being reported under the pretext of “national security concerns”? There was just such a drill that took place in the UK in October 2016, code-named Exercise Cygnus. The exercise showed that the hypothetical H2N2 influenza pandemic would cause the country’s health system to collapse from a lack of PPE’s, ICU beds and the inability to cope with the disposal of dead bodies. What do we say about a government that subsequently did the opposite to what was blatantly obvious from the exercise – cutting NHS bed numbers instead of adding more beds. There is a strong suggestion that with COVID-19 deaths still to peak in the UK, there will be a lot more blood on the government’s hands.

Across the Atlantic, there were even more warnings about an impending pandemic. What do we say about a government that repeatedly ignores the warnings and advice from their medical experts as well as their intelligence community? Trump said on March 19th, “Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.” No one saw it coming. Really?

  1. In 2012, the RAND Corporation concluded that only pandemics were “capable of destroying America’s way of life.”
  2. In 2015, Bill Gates warned in GatesNotes: “The world is simply not prepared to deal with a disease — an especially virulent flu, for example — that infects large numbers of people very quickly.”
  3. In 2017, the incoming Trump administration was provided with a simulation report that detailed how “the U.S. government should respond to a flu pandemic that halts international travel, upends global supply chains, tanks the stock market, and burdens health-care systems.”
  4. In a 2017 forum on pandemic preparedness, Dr Fauci said there is no question that “there will be a surprise disease outbreak.” (emphasis is mine)
  5. In 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the “Spanish Flu”, the National Security Council advised “the threat of pandemic flu is our number-one health security concern.” The very next day, National Security Adviser John Bolton terminated the NSC’s department for preparing and responding to pandemics.
  6. There were simulation exercises to assess the threats of a pandemic carried out by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in 2018 and 2019.
  7. The US intelligence heads have repeatedly warned since 2013 of the serious threat that a pandemic poses in their annual worldwide threat assessment. They reported in 2013: “This is not a hypothetical threat. History is replete with examples of pathogens sweeping populations that lack immunity, causing political and economic upheaval.” 

The Blame Game – The WHO lost their US funding after Trump accused them of being China-centric, delaying the pandemic response of countries, by being slow to declare it as a pandemic. Perfunctory observations support his accusation. In the case of COVID-19, the first cluster of 41 patients suffering an unknown pneumonia was reported to WHO on Dec 31 2019. The WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 71 days after the first report of a cluster, albeit of an unknown illness at the time. Compare the WHO’s response in 2009, when they took 54 days to declare a pandemic on 11 June from when the first novel 2009 H1N1 flu infections was reported to them (on April 18). In December that year, the WHO was essentially charged with fraud by 14 members of the Council of Europe. They said “pharmaceutical companies have influenced scientists and official agencies” in their haste to declare it as a pandemic. When a pandemic is declared, nations have to incur costly purchases of medical equipment and supplies. It is therefore not surprising to see a more cautious response from the WHO this time.

In Wuhan where the first outbreak was reported, there were over 64,000 people infected and 1,000 dead within the first 3 weeks. That should have served as ample warning for the rest of the world of how contagious SARS-COV-2 virus is. A good measure of how well prepared the authorities were at delaying or reducing the spread of COVID-19 or how serious they viewed its threat, in my opinion, is to look at the number of days they took to lockdown or adopt social-distancing measures from the first known case, given the warning they had from the horrifying reports out of Wuhan.

Wuhan: Dec 1 – Jan 23 = 56 days

Wuhan: Jan 8 – Jan 23 = 15 days (once ascertained it was a new coronavirus)

US: Jan 20 – Mar 17 (parts of California) = 65 days

UK: Jan 29 – Mar 20 = 52 days

Spain: Jan 31 – Mar 14 = 44 days

Italy: Jan 30 – Feb 21 = 23 days

New Zealand: Feb 28 – Mar 21 = 22 days

Taiwan: Jan 21 – Feb 2 (Return to schools deferred) = 13 days

Following Trump’s recent accusations that China did “terrible” things to the US despite praising China’s COVID-19 efforts on numerous occasions in January and February, Australia has called for an independent enquiry into the origins of COVID-19. Trump said there should be consequences if China is found to be “knowingly responsible”, for deliberately causing the outbreak that has killed over 63,000 Americans. Yesterday, he went further and said, without evidence, the virus originated in Wuhan’s virology lab – they were either too incompetent to stop it getting out or “they let it out”. No doubt, the world needs to know how the outbreak spread from Wuhan and became a pandemic, but equally important are the answers to why countries such as the US and the UK ignored horrifying warnings of a potential pandemic and instead of doing nothing which in itself would be gross criminal negligence, they knowingly imperilled their frontline capacity. The US dismantled their pandemic response unit and the UK reduced hospital bed numbers despite dire warnings from Exercise Cygnus. Is it not the most fundamental duty of a government to protect its citizens’ wellbeing and health? To protect them from harm, be it from external enemies, civil unrest or death from disease?