Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1)
Like an infant caught red-handed when breaking a precious antique Grecian vase, the Ramaphosa government tries to escape accountability for the economic havoc caused by its lock-down strategy. It vehemently denies that that strategy has caused, and is continuing to cause, immense economic damage, joblessness, bankruptcy and hunger, blaming the naughty Covid-pandemon for toppling the “vase” (i.e. the economy) without government having a hand in the tragedy.
In child-like fashion it is spinning endless stories of how it miraculously prevented a larger tragedy by ensuring the vase did not fall on the Persian carpet.
Just in case that defence may not work, it also seeks safety in numbers, arguing every other country is in the same boat, having implemented lock-downs and suffering similar economic shrinkage. To make sure it will escape accountability, it also hides behind “scientific advice” that only they can see.
In the July 23 version of “my fellow South Africans”, the president said “(t)he coronavirus pandemic continues to cause our economy great damage, threatening the viability of many businesses, leading to job losses and badly affecting the income of those that can least afford it.”
And Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma (National Council of Provinces, 23 June) stressed government was “absolutely convinced the Covid pandemic” – and not the lock-down measures – was causing the economic damage.
This is not smoke and mirrors, it’s either a blatant lie, or an overwhelming manifestation of a lack of basic economic insight, or both. Here is the evidence.
If Covid harms the economy, pensioners must be the most productive group
The impact of Covid 19 virus on the economy can be calculated by:
- measuring the negative impact of the virus on productivity due to sick leave amongst the economically active;
- the loss of productive knowledge & skills through Covid deaths, and
- on the demand side, how consumer spending has been limited through their medical and other Covid-related expenditures, and
- lower demand for exports.
Let’s generously take the economically active bracket as those aged 20 – 69, ignoring the 30% plus unemployment rate.
- Up to July the mortality rate in this group was a mere 54 persons per million people (0.0054%).
- With the active Covid-cases in this age bracket for the fortnight ending 13 June averaging 60 000 people (only 0.25%), absence from work due to Covid infections would form a miniscule component of absenteeism in the workforce, especially in the civil service. Yes, there are several further points to be made here, but let’s return to that a little later.
Figure 1 portrays the fatality rate percentage for age categories. It is clear that the population of working age is not much affected by Covid 19. The president and any member of Cabinet claiming that the economic devastation is caused by Covid by implication imply that the population aged 70 and over (the vast majority of them retirees) is the most productive segment of the SA population.
(In one of the largest peer-reviewed studies based on 20 133 Covid-related hospital inpatients in the UK, the median age of those admitted was 73 years.) https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/underlying-illness-risk-factors-for-severe-covid-19-or-death-large-uk-cohort-study/
The loss of production by “Covid sick leave” and “Covid-deaths” compared to the production loss by government decree to shut businesses, would be like the weight of a flea against that of an elephant.
In fact, the Covid-virus has a smaller negative impact on productivity than deaths and injury caused by the road accidents, not to mention the well-established culture of what may euphemistically be called “the-gross-underperformance-in-the-civil-service-virus”. A cure for the latter will not be found as easily or quickly as one for Covid 19. A 2009 GEMS study indicated (over a period of 6 months) sick leave amounted to:
- 2 600 433 working days for hospital admissions (or 112.6 work centuries) and
- 5 888 298 work days for GP and specialist consultations (or 255 work centuries)
That does not even include the days of sick leave without the requirement of medical evidence, or the sick leave that is simply taken and not recorded.
It is therefore a lie to claim that the virus (or the so-called pandemic) is harming the economy: it is the government’s lock-down regulations that (since March) have caused the death of economic growth, businesses and jobs.
The potential for economic recovery has also been undermined by the devastation of businesses and firms, leading to a growing number of the unemployed.
Longer term growth prospects have successfully been sabotaged by ensuring wide-scale disruption of the education system by the closure of schools and universities: in the main attended by and serviced by the age groups least affected by Covid 19.
The belief that the virus causes the economic meltdown is repeated time and again by a government trying to convince its “fellow South Africans” that its cloak of nakedness is a very fashionable Gucci outfit. They have to keep pretending that the evidence that the king has no clothes is false, since it wants the “fellow South Africans” to believe the government’s version of reality.
- The constant repetition of a lie doesn’t make it the truth.
President Ramaphosa in his “fellow South Africans” address of June 17 also tried to dodge blame for the economic problems, pleading the “we are all in the same boat” excuse by saying all countries experience similar economic headwinds.
This is plain false and EOSA will revisit this topic when the GDP data for the 2nd Quarter of 2002 is available.
Fear and praise to keep the public in obeisance
Since the first warnings about Covid 19, the SA Government has always pretended that its decisions are informed by health scientists. It is now well-known that members of the advisory panel realise their advice is increasingly ignored and few, if any, would publicly support the ongoing lock-down measures, closure of schools and the ban on cigarettes and wine as effective measures in the battle against Covid.
To ratify this demolition process of liberties, businesses, jobs and wealth, the government continues with fear-mongering. The fellow South Africans were duly informed that “the storm has indeed arrived” and that everyone should remain vigilant and not drop their guard.
The tools of the trade of the government include to instil fear into everyone and then to praise subjects for their obedience, sacrifices and for pulling their weight in this “mammoth and heroic fight”. The mobilisation of the private sector into CR’s favourite social compacts for, e.g. infrastructure development, is also a governmental strategy to allow business opportunities only in areas and in accordance with its centralist plan. It bargains on a business sector that is only too thankful for (still) being allowed some space to operate, as amply demonstrated recently by Michael Mark of Truworths and Mark Blair of Mr Price.
Did the Pandemic Demon destroy naughty Sweden?
But what exactly is this “Pandemic-demon”? If it is so dangerous, then Sweden’s death tally must be proof of their “foolishness” not to implement a lock-down.
It is important to utilise the right instruments to interpret Covid data. The president, acknowledging the “storm” caused by the surge in infections, took solace in SA having “one of the lowest case fatality rates”. This measure of calculating deaths against the number of infections depends on:
- the number of people who go for Covid testing, and
- the effective recording of the number of Covid deaths.
It is fairly meaningless, since no-one knows what the actual infection rate is. There is growing evidence that many people who are infected recover with no or few symptoms. In addition, there are concerns that deaths caused primarily by other morbidities are also recorded as Covid deaths.
The best way to compare Covid fatalities between countries is to express these as a percentage of the population or as the number of fatalities per 10 000 of the population. On 26 July at 11:40, the Covid fatalities in the world stood at 0.0083% of the world population or 8,3 deaths/100 000. The South African percentage was then 0.01121% or 11.2 deaths/100 000, clearly above the current world average, but still a very low figure. Sweden stood at 56.3 deaths/100 000.
This, however, is no proof of lock-down as a saviour strategy, since Sweden’s figures have stabilised whilst South Africa’s are on the rise.
Wearing face masks can increase the risk of infection – Swedish Health Agency
If lock-down then is such a useful instrument to delay infections in order to delay, not prevent, the “storm”, Sweden and the Netherlands should be case studies of how the Covid reaper has his heyday. Consider further that the wearing of face masks was never mandatory in Sweden and that they even view the practice as a risk factor. Sweden’s Public Health Agency stated “a face mask which is itchy and falls below the nose contributes to your hands often touching the mouth, eyes and nose, which can increase the risk of infection“. https://www.thelocal.se/20200608/why-isnt-sweden-asking-people-to-wear-face-masks It is interesting that the WHO acknowledged that they have a similar concern about masks.
Sweden should therefore, according to the dogma of lock-downs and face masks, be the favourite killing ground for Covid 19. Time and again the relatively high mortality by Covid in Sweden (0,0563%) is quoted.
But this is the crux of the matter: the mortality rate is like a bikini: it is more important in what in conceals than in what it reveals.
The Covid death peak: the molehill promoted to a mountain
To understand what the impact of Covid really was, EOSA obtained from Statistika centralbyrån (The Swedish Bureau of Statistics) the monthly recorded deaths in Sweden since January 1991.
During the “pandemic” a monthly peak of 10 537 deaths – driven by Covid – was recorded in April 2020 (Figure 2). It is lower than the peak of 11 057 (Dec 93) and just higher than the 10 132 (Jan 96).
Even this does not put Covid’s impact in perspective: considering population growth and charting the monthly number of deaths/100 000 of the population, the 2020 peak (driven partly by Covid deaths) is not even amongst the top 12 peaks in the period of 30 years. In fact, it is the 14th highest peak in 30 years at 101.8 deaths/100 000, compared to the Dec 1993 peak of 126.4 deaths/100 000 (Figure 3).
Of the recorded deaths since March 2020 (Sweden’s first Covid-related death was on 11 March), the 5697 Covid-related deaths are only 16.4% of the recorded deaths since March 2020
In addition, the coronavirus is not causing all Covid-related deaths. The UK study of 20 133 inpatients found that of the Covid-related deaths less than 1 – 4 had no major co-morbidities (Figure 4). Co-morbidities would also figure in Sweden and if 50% (double the rate of that recorded in the large UK cohort study) of the deaths were caused by Covid on its own, deaths by coronavirus are well below 10% of the deaths during the duration of the so-called pandemic.
The Covid pandemic and the lock-down measures applied by governments (and stubbornly maintained in SA) are driven more by fear-mongering than by fact. On Worldometer the 648 914 Covid related deaths (and many caused by pre-existing co-morbidities) recorded by 25 July, form a mere 1.94% of the 33 445 320 estimated deaths thus far worldwide.
Not the largest pandemic in the last 30 years, despite the claims to the contrary.
Covid 19 is the modern-day Tokoloshe and lock-down the bricks to raise the bed
The “scientific base” for a prolonged lock-down characterised by a curfew, a ban on walking alone on the beach or in a park, the mandatory wearing of a face mask, a ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes and a government that decides what in the economy is “essential” and what not in order to combat Covid 19, is extremely slim.
In fact, it is as effective for that purpose as the infamous garlic-and-African-potato-remedies were for stemming the curve of HIV-Aids.
There is however an enormous difference: punting the garlic-and-African- potato remedy did not kill the economy and the livelihoods of millions and millions South Africans as CR’s lock-down strategy. As the modern-day cattle killer, history will probably remember him as Nongquase II.
- Covid 19 is the modern day tokoloshe and the continued lock-down the bricks to raise the bed.
Time for the private sector to read Psalm 146…
Government will not acknowledge this: they actually don’t care about the economic plight, otherwise they would have abandoned their approach and policies long ago. They continue with the story of the tokoloshe in an attempt to save face, not worried about causing further damage.
But it is time for the private sector and the citizens to realise what they deal with and to recite Psalm 146: “Don’t trust princes…” (At least British American Tobacco should realise this by now.)
Working as co-opted social partners in the hope that the ANC can deliver a capable state to get the country growing again at a pace that will push poverty back, will make them mere accomplices in the ongoing erosion of individual and economic liberties.