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The West Australian government is inviting feedback on its Covid response
An opportunity to stand up and be counted
The West Australian government (WA Gov) is seeking feedback on its Covid response in the lead up to the independent review of the government’s pandemic management.
In its media release announcing the pandemic management review, WA Gov claimed one of the best public health and economic outcomes in the world, citing world-leading vaccination rates as its crowning achievement.
Despite the review not even having begun, Premier Mark McGowan already knows his government did great, stating that he, "wouldn't have done anything different.”
"I just want to repeat, I can't think of anywhere in the world that did better than Western Australia in a health or an economic sense," McGowan told reporters.
You may disagree.
You have until 16 March to put your feedback in writing to the independent review of WA’s pandemic management and response. The review panel will consider submissions that address some, or all, of the terms of reference, which I will lay out below.
Excerpts of some submissions will be published in the reviewers’ report, and all submissions become part of the public record, which means that they can be released under FOI in the future, so bear that in mind before you submit your response.
Submissions will not be considered if they contain obscene, offensive or discriminatory language; if they do not address any of the terms of reference; if they refer to any matters that are currently before a court; or if they are submitted anonymously/under a pseudonym.
Submissions are open to anyone who wishes to give feedback on the WA pandemic response, not just WA residents. This means that all of you can submit feedback, regardless of where in the world you live.
PLEASE DO NOT COPY THE TEXT OF THIS SUBSTACK VERBATIM. We do not want the reviewers to receive 50 identical submissions that are clearly plagiarised. It will undermine the whole endeavour, and the plagiarised submissions may be discounted. Please put all points in your own words.
TERMS OF REFERENCE
Your submission will need to address at least several of the below. My notes below the bolded terms of reference.
Pandemic planning and preparedness, specifically:
Public sector pandemic plans and policies; and
The lack of flexibility around border closures, particularly in separating families, was cruel. In some instances, it contributed to mental health decline and suicide. The extreme and inflexible nature of border closures was completely unnecessary, and could have been handled with testing and quarantine should the state have wished to take every reasonable precaution.
Vaccine mandates were unethical on several counts:
1. Vaccine mandates, by definition, violate the principle of valid consent. The Australian Immunisation Handbook (AIH), states that for consent to be valid, it must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation. Of those whose jobs were mandated, many explicitly said that they felt they “had no choice.” It was not fair or ethical to force West Australians to choose between keeping their job, maintaining access to family members in aged care, going to the gym and freedom of movement interstate vs. retaining bodily autonomy.
2. By mandating a drug that was still in phase three trials and was not yet fully approved, WA Gov again violated valid consent. The AIH states that consent can only be considered valid if it is given after the potential risks and benefits of the relevant vaccine, the risks of not having it, and any alternative options have been explained to the person. As the safety component of trials of the double dose regime was nowhere near complete at the time of the vaccine rollout, and as the effects of booster doses remain unknown, it was simply not possible for the risks and benefits of the Covid vaccines to be communicated at the time that they were administered. ATAGI didn’t even know about cardiac risks to young men until five months after provisionally approving the mRNA products.
3. For consent to be valid, alternative treatments must be communicated to the patient. WA Gov pursued vaccination as the single magic bullet solution to the entire pandemic, with no resources or communications dedicated to any other therapeutic or lifestyle interventions. There is abundant evidence to show that early treatment of Covid saves lives, even in the absence of vaccination. WA Gov’s fixation on vaccines at the exclusion of all other treatments filtered down to the medical response on the ground, and citizens were falsely presented with the binary choice of ‘vaccination or nothing’.
Public sector capacity and capability.
Government programs and processes to support the health response, specifically:
COVID-19 testing, including the Free Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) program, procurement of ventilators, mask distribution, and vaccine rollout; and
RATs were banned in WA for several months of the pandemic while the rest of the country had access. The CHO’s reasoning for this was that West Australians “might misinterpret the results.” The fines for possession or sale of a RAT were extreme and disproportionate ($20K and $100K, respectively) compared to fines, say, for possession of illicit drugs ($2K). When the ban on RATs was finally lifted in Jan 2022, there was a run on stocks (stockists shipped RATs back out of the state during the ban period to avoid the $100K fine), resulting in statewide shortages of RATs as Covid spread throughout the community. WA Gov brought in free RATs a month later, after Covid had already significantly spread. The CHO’s fear that people wouldn’t know how to use their RATs properly turned out to be unfounded, as the DoH simply released infographics as an educational tool. The ban, followed by the bungled release of RATs to the public caused stress to members of the public and to retailers, and put West Australians’ lives at risk - while our fellow Australians had a quick and inexpensive means of testing before visiting a grandparent, West Australians were forced to either go for a PCR test and isolate for 48 hours, or forgo the test and take the risk of infecting others. (More on the RAT fiasco here)
Digital solutions (e.g. PHOCUS, VaccinateWA, G2G, SafeWA and ServiceWA).
The SafeWA contact tracing app was plagued with technical difficulties, suffering outages soon after its rollout for mandated use by the public.
The G2G travel pass restrictions were too stringent, locking residents out of their home state for months on end. The digital nature of this pass, combined with the bureaucratic red tape management of it, meant that those whose G2G applications were rejected often felt lost in the system, unable to get any meaningful assistance from a real person who was empowered to make sensible decisions on a case-by-case basis. Another impact of the digitalisation of this process was that people travelling into the state frequently had to purchase multiple flights over and over again in the hope of getting G2G clearance, at great financial burden.
Intragovernmental communication and cooperation, specifically:
Structures and resource mobilisation across the public sector; and
Inappropriate diversion of approximately 500 police officers from frontline policing to Operation Tide, the name given to enforcement of pandemic measures (road blocks, social distancing, mask wearing, vaccination mandates).
Inappropriate diversion of healthcare resources to testing and vaccination sites. WA’s CHO reports 12 testing sites running throughout the pandemic, processing up to 4.7 million PCR tests.
Data collection, sharing and use.
The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) has raised concerns that WA Health was not monitoring SafeWA access logs to identify unauthorised or inappropriate access to SafeWA information. Despite promises that data collected on the SafeWA would only be accessed by the contact tracing personnel at the DoH for the purposes of pandemic management, it was revealed that the WA Police were given access to the data on at least three occasions to assist in investigations. WA Gov discovered the misuse of data in April 2021, but did not communicate it to the public until June 2021.
Community support, engagement, and communication, specifically:
Public communications and campaigns; and
Dishonest messaging from government and health services about the benefits of vaccination in preventing transmission. Mark McGowan repeatedly stated that getting vaccinated was necessary to ‘control the spread’ and that unvaccinated people posed a risk to vaccinated people. He made these statements in January 2022, at a time when there was ample observational data to prove his statements to be false.
Dishonest messaging from government and health services about the burden of unvaccinated people on hospital services. Cases of Unknown vaccination status were mixed together with Unvaccinated cases, reported as a single category called Unvaccinated in the WA Health Covid reports. This resulted in false and misleading statements from the premier and headlines in the media to the effect that Unvaccinated people were drastically overrepresented in hospitalisation and deaths with Covid. The premier and his government have never acknowledged or apologised for this misrepresentation of public health statistics.
Divisive and derogatory language towards West Australians in public messaging, particularly from the premier, caused unnecessary social fracturing and further marginalised people already on the fringes of society and discourse.
Mark McGowan ran for office on a promise of ‘gold standard transparency’, however his government’s pandemic response was routinely justified by oblique references to “the health advice”, which the public has never been privy to. This lack of transparency has fomented a sense of distrust in the public, particularly amongst those to whom the McGowan government’s pandemic response appeared to be out of step with current science and effective pandemic strategies being implemented in other regions.
Industry and community engagement.
Lockdowns and vaccine and mask mandates imposed on businesses by WA Gov took a great toll on businesses. Many small businesses closed for good during the three month lockdown while others bled out slowly, limping through years of on-and-off lockdowns, reduced custom, and staff shortages brought on by both vaccine mandates and border closures. Almost 37% of WA small businesses reported revenue losses due to Covid measures in 2020. A five day lockdown in 2021 had a $120 million impact on the WA economy. These measures did not result from collaborative engagement with industry, but by bureaucratic decree. Bureaucrats made decisions for which the brunt was borne by businesses owners who had no say in the process.
Communities were fractured by lockdowns and vaccine and mask mandates that were imposed on them regardless of the consensus of the communities themselves. Volunteer groups such as charities and regional fire fighter services were unable to continue servicing their communities due to vaccine mandates that persisted long after it became evident that vaccines did not reduce the spread of Covid throughout the community.
The effectiveness of public health levers on health outcomes, specifically:
Public health and social measures, including borders; and
The McGowan government often speaks of border closures as a success, but to date no evidence has been provided by the government that border closures reduced Covid illness and deaths overall. From the public perspective, it appears that border closures simply delayed the inevitable. One of the stated goals of the border closures was to adequately prepare the healthcare system, yet WA hospitals were in crisis prior to the border opening and have remained so since the border opened in early 2022.
WA Gov claims WA’s high vaccination rate as a great achievement, however WA Gov has failed to produce any observational data to show how high vaccination rates have impacted on health outcomes, and on the burden of healthcare. Any such analysis must also include the costs of vaccination to the public, including fiscal outlay, the diversion of healthcare resources, and the costs of hospitalisation and GP visits for those seeking treatment for vaccine side effects. A peer reviewed independent analysis of Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid vaccine trial data shows an adverse event rate of 1/800. In South Australia, a Freedom of Information request revealed a drastic increase in public service staff taking sick leave in association with the introduction of vaccine mandates in the workplace. How is WA Gov measuring the costs to the healthcare system of dealing with vaccine side effects and the economic impacts of people taking sick leave from work after vaccinations?
VACCINES AS SINGLE SOLUTION / NO EARLY TREATMENT
Many leading doctors around the world have called for early treatment of Covid with multi-drug protocols as the best way to minimise hospitalisation and death. In regions around the world, such as Uttar Pradesh, antivirals distributed to the population by the government were associated with lower rates of infection, severe disease and death. WA Gov needs to balance its singular focus on vaccination against the opportunity cost - social, economic and health - of investing in early treatment of Covid.
Mask mandates do not appear to have afforded any measurable benefit. The most recent Cochrane Review (2023) found no evidence that masking reduces or prevents the spread of Covid, which is consistent with the scientific literature prior to the pandemic showing lack of efficacy of masking against influenza. The Cochrane Review found hand hygiene to be the more effective mitigation measure when compared to masking. There are many reasons that masking, even with N95s, cannot slow or stop the spread of the virus, including: Cloth, surgical and N95 masks are not designed to obstruct particles so small; there was no public messaging on the requirement that masks be properly fit tested and changed at regular intervals (eg: CHO Andy Robertson inexplicably wore a surgical mask with a full beard); tiny amounts of leakage (in the order of 3.2%) equal 100% inefficacy.
Masking was portrayed by government and health officials as zero-cost solution to minimising spread of Covid. In fact, it was not zero cost, and the measure could never have achieved what it was purported to achieve.
Testing, tracing, isolation, and quarantine.
It was unfair to force people to quarantine in state-designated facilities at their own expense at the behest of the state, a rule that made travel unaffordable or increased debt pressure on low-income earners.
It was unfair to force unvaccinated people to quarantine in state-designated facilities at their own expense when vaccinated people were not required to quarantine. There was no scientific basis for this financially punitive rule.
In addition to considering Government’s future preparedness, the reviewers will also consider the economic, social and health outcomes of WA’s COVID-19 management and response:
A report by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) found that the total economic and fiscal cost of WA’s pandemic measures totalled $30 billion. For the country as a whole, the IPA found that the pandemic response resulted in 31 x more life years lost than were saved. A cost:benefit analysis by UNSW Professor of Economics, Gigi Foster, found that the costs of Australia’s Covid lockdowns have been at least 68 times greater than the benefits they delivered. This estimate may vary across states: VIC had longer periods in lockdown for example, while WA had harsher and longer border restrictions. However you slice it, the economic impacts of WA Gov’s pandemic policies will be felt for decades to come.
A report by the IPA found that sporting clubs have seen declines in participation, membership, volunteers, and revenue. In total, Australia’s 70,000 community sporting clubs have lost a combined $1.6 billion due to restrictions. Sporting clubs are just one node in our network of community life. This area demands further research to ascertain the full effects of lockdowns on the social fabric.
As obesity is a key comorbidity for poor Covid outcomes, it was striking that WA Gov’s zero-covid policies so aggressively restricted opportunities for exercise and physical fitness. 35% of Australians gained weight during the pandemic, according to a survey by the Royal Association College of General Practitioners. Contrast WA Gov’s ‘stay home and lockdown’ messaging to the ‘get outdoors and stay fit’ messaging of other countries like El Salvador. Two recent studies (HERE and HERE) show that the measures taken by WA Gov (border closures, masking mandates, vaccine mandates) are associated with higher rates of deaths with Covid, while early treatment of Covid, which was ignored and discouraged by WA Gov, is associated with lower rates of death with Covid. A rigorous assessment of the true costs and benefits of WA Gov’s pandemic measures should be undertaken to test McGowan’s claims of great outcomes.
HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR RESPONSE
There is no template per se. You can either input your text under each section heading in the online form HERE, or email your response to [email protected](.) Remember, you have until 16 March to submit your response.
This is an opportunity to stand up and be counted.
I will be submitting a response to WA Gov, and I encourage all of you to do the same.
If you have anything to add to the above, please add your (succinct) notes in the comment sand, where appropriate, I will slot them into the terms of reference.
I will repeat again, PLEASE DO NOT COPY THE TEXT OF THIS SUBSTACK VERBATIM. Take the points as you see fit and put them in your own words. You may like to get Chat GPT to do the rewording for you!
The Australian Immunisation Handbook
The Menace of Medical Censorship in Australia, Quadrant - this article by legal expert Augusto Zimmerman explores the human rights and constitutional foundations for informed consent in Australia.