27 January 2022

Pandemic legislation under scrutiny as critics claim government is going too far

| Lottie Twyford
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"The ACT is in lockdown" road sign

The ACT’s new pandemic management legislation is being publicly scrutinised through a series of hearings. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A new public health bill intended to allow the government to manage COVID-19 after the current health emergency comes to an end has been criticised by members of the public and peak industry groups for its perceived overreach.

The proposed amendment, which was introduced in the ACT Legislative Assembly last year, would allow the government to continue to make public health directions such as mandating vaccines, masks, quarantine, and density limits.

However, the government would be unable to impose further lockdowns or order businesses to cease activity unless another public health emergency was declared.

The current public health emergency is scheduled to end in February.

But at this week’s first public hearing into the bill, the peak hospitality industry group was critical of the scope of the powers the government would retain.

Anthony brierley

AHA ACT General Manager Anthony Brierley said the proposed bill will give the government too much power. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Australian Hotels Association ACT general manager Anthony Brierley said the ACT’s licensed hospitality and accommodation industry had been the “most adversely affected financially by the coronavirus restrictions that have been implemented since March 2020”.

“We believe powers such as regulating private and public gatherings, regulating the carrying on of activities, businesses and undertakings by introducing limits on density or capacity of an area preventing or limiting entry into the ACT are emergency powers and, as such, should be reserved for declared emergency periods,” he said.

“Put bluntly, if the health situation does not warrant a declared public health emergency then neither does it warrant the exercise of emergency powers reserved for a public health emergency.”

Mr Brierley said the powers retained in the proposed bill were “exceptionally broad” and could create a “shadow lockdown” which would impact hospitality businesses in particular.

The committee received more than 120 public submissions on the bill. Most of them were critical of the fact the government would retain the power to impose vaccine mandates.

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Anti-government and anti-vaccine sentiments ran deeply through the submissions with one calling the bill “discrimination of the highest order” and another “draconian”.

Under the proposed bill, ministers would still be able to impose vaccine mandates although there would be additional safeguards required.

The Chief Health Officer must give advice to Cabinet and at least two ministers must jointly make the decision. Consultation with the human rights commissioner must also take place.

ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs told the hearing the commission supported the intent of the bill to have “fit-for-purpose” legislation to manage COVID-19 in the future.

She said the proposed legislation was much stronger than what is currently in place, although more could be done.

Dr Watchirs was particularly concerned that the legislation did not provide review rights for vaccination directions and mandates.

“The commission considers that the failure to provide review rights for vaccination directions is a serious omission in the bill and should not be supported,” its submission to the inquiry read.

“In our view, express provision should be made in the bill to enable a person to seek review of a vaccination direction.”

The proposed bill would expire after 18 months and is currently the subject of an ongoing inquiry before it is debated in the Assembly later this year.

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Check out this good article by the BBC about governments worldwide expanding their powers, and keeping that power once it’s obtained: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210427-the-stomp-reflex-when-governments-abuse-emergency-powers
Because unfortunately in this world “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” ? Edward R. Murrow

The chief executive of Pfizer has said that it is likely people will need a Covid jab every year going forward. “Both waning immunity and viral variants will conspire to reduce our protection over time.”
We must totally reject profit seeking drug companies pressuring governments to introduce compulsory annual flu booster shots as a condition of employment, education, travel etc. Drug companies have always used fear, threats and alarmism to sell their own products.

Can’t remember when anyone said anything about compulsory flu booster shots?

We are talking about Corona Virus, which is significantly more deadly and dangerous than Influenza.

You’re right if that Covid becomes less dangerous over time, the restrictions should reduce back to normal levels.

We aren’t there yet.

Quite so. To put some rough numbers on it, 2017 was a peak flu season in which near 1200 people died, but the 4-year average 2016-2019 was 400 a year (avoiding the low to nil flu death rates post-Sars-Cov-2 in 2020-21). The national road toll is a bit over 1100 annually. We have just had over 1000 Covid-19 deaths this month, not year. Our current 7-day average has us on track for 25,000/year with only talk of decline so far. Also, COVID-19 is blood-borne potentially affecting other organs, unlike flu. This is not “just like the flu”.
Now that we have reasonable vaccination (and prospects of better vaccinations) and, better treatments for those who have it, if we can sustain a bit of care over mask wearing and hygiene and introduce national standards for indoor air quality, then we can manage the disease without risk of more draconian actions or legislation.
I note that this bill has an 18 month sunset clause. I am wary of things like this getting extended on the basis of “no problems in 18 months” rather than a review of value and need. I support things related to the actions I mentioned earlier, especially mask wearing and rules around IAQ, although I would hope at least the former would be recognised for its value voluntarily.

Agree with you 100% Acton. The horrific totalitarian response by governments (both Federal and State/Territory) have been way over the top. Denying people access to shops, firing people from their jobs, banning citizens from travelling interstate within their own country, stopping people getting medical care etc. Absolutely disgusting behaviour from all levels of governments. 95% of people on earth were always going to survive. The response to the virus by our power hungry governments (particularly the Labor State governments) has been far worse than the virus itself.

It was not government restrictions that killed over a thousand in this country this month.
5% of people on earth is about 390 million of whom about 90%, even including upper age groups, could survive given prior vaccination and later treatment options. To obtain those benefits there have been some restrictions, now mostly lifted, while medical defences are prepared and implemented. To avoid temporary travel inconvenience to jorie1 takes only the unnecessary deaths of fellow Australians up to hundreds of millions on earth.

I think the words “absolutely disgusting” are definitely applicable in here somewhere.

I disagree with you. The governments over-reacted and there will be a big backlash against them for the way they have mistreated citizens – and rightfully so. There have been many unnecessary deaths as a result of horrible authoritarian restrictions leading to financial breakdown, suicide, mental health issues, and many other health issues that have gone untreated as a result of the covid hysteria. 25,000 people on earth die every day from starvation. 170,000 people died in Australia in 2019 from all sorts of things. If you want to take individual reasonable precautions, then go ahead, but the overreach by governments has been disgusting.

“ there will be a big backlash against them for the way they have mistreated citizens”
You could be right. Detailed reasons may vary. 🙂

I do not doubt there were some suicides in Australia consequential on financial and mental hardship arising from restrictions. However, to adopt your calculus, what data do you have on the marginal increase, where the total rate is below the Covid death rate? If relative death rates were your criterion then you might have been crying out for more restrictions, not fewer.
By the way, “all sorts of things” mostly involves age. If, to maintain your life expectancy you avoid stepping in front of moving trucks, why not a virus?

You are pretty quick to devalue human life.
I guess if your mother, father, brother, sister or child was amongst that sacrificial 5%, at least you’d still be able to say “At least the Government didn’t take away my freedoms”.

I actually think the death “calculus” is pretty clear that restrictions will win out every time.

But that doesn’t reflect the overall impact of restrictions in all facets of life and what I think most people would value.

Which is why it will always be a balance that needs to be managed.

Once the health emergency is over, the government should relinquish all of these powers exercised through COVID.

We need to go back to normal at some stage, the government should not be allowed to slowly increase their powers under the guise of protection.

HiddenDragon6:49 pm 27 Jan 22

After months of something close to house arrest, followed by let it rip (before young children could be vaccinated, and before many others were eligible for booster doses), the tolerance of the public – even here in oh-so-compliant Canberra – for heavy-handed, arbitrary controls supposedly necessitated by public safety will be wearing very thin, indeed.

Will Newby’s point about the persistence of the QR check-in system is very well made. In practice, all it seems to be doing now is to provide a false sense of security for those for whom it has become something akin to a religious ritual. The system is a major element of a suffocating surveillance state which has no place at all in a liberal democracy and those in power who just can’t seem to let go of it should cut the current waffle and explain precisely why we still have it.

The problem around the QR code issue issue around how the government is using the system rather than the system itself.

Using the testing and QR code system for directed automatic alerts makes sense when Covid numbers are reasonably high but manageable.

The problem we have is that the government isn’t really using the system and the public know it, so are increasingly switching off to the routine.

This makes it useless as a tool in reducing spread or providing reminders to people when they might be at higher risk.

Disagree. I think the problem with the QR code system is the invasion of privacy. The government has no business tracking citizens’ movement, and we’ve already seen the system abused in Australia for police to track down suspects.

The Silver,
Your comment reflects a different topic than the usefullness of the QR code system for stopping the spread of Covid.

I don’t think it does. I’m saying that I value privacy above knowing whether I have contracted a virus. It’s a values question, not a fact question.

I doubt the present value of the QR system compared with its original use, although I am extremely confident it never did have diagnostic capability!
Otherwise, I value knowing what damaging disease I may have. Accurate diagnosis usually aids best treatment.

The Silver,
I get what you’re saying but it has no relevance to my point about the effectiveness of the QR code system for stopping the spread of COVID.

Unless you’re saying that a sufficient amount of people will stop using the QR code system because of privacy concerns.

They are separate issues.

They don’t need a QR code system to track you. Anyone who carry’s a mobile phone, even a dumb one can be tracked if the government so wanted. Guess the difference though is access to that data is via warrant whereas with QR codes we are freely giving government that data directly.

Why they still have us QR coding into everywhere is a mystery. They gave up on proper contact tracing ages ago yet we all still comply like sheep and let every Gov department know where we are and what we do.
I play along but I do feel we should now start to question all the rights and personal data that we so willingly hand over.

Anyone with half a brain knows that keeping your distancing from others and wearing masks etc, can reduce the risk of contracting Omicron.

Imagine our case numbers, if the AHA were able to get density limits removed.

There is literally no good evidence that “social distancing” or “wearing masks” can reducing risk. At best you can say we don’t know if they work but they might. For example, the only real world studies of mask wearing of which there are only two (after two years!), are inconclusive or have a weak signal for surgical masks and none at all for cloth masks among a population that doesn’t translate to the ACT. I don’t mind doing things that work, but I object to being forced to do things that don’t have strong evidence for their efficacy. Especially, when there is a strong possibility that the non-pharmaceutical interventions may have dangerous downstream effects. For example, we are already seeing massive out-of-season spikes in other viruses, like RSV, which are far more dangerous to children. These spikes are almost certainly a result of border closures, as these viruses we already lived with are held in check by everyone worldwide being exposed to them all the time so mutations don’t have a chance to build up and cause mass infection. New Zealand is likely in trouble because they’ve had no exposure to anything for two years now which means their entire population has not been exercising their immune systems. We’d likely have been far better off if we’d stuck to the 2019 pandemic plan rather than falling prey to fear and the need to do something, anything, however pointless or even counter-productive it actually is.

TheSilver, I recall you have previously been asked for the references for those studies but I do not recall seeing a response. Do you have the links please?
Also, you keep referring to surgical and cloth masks as weakly effective yet refer to “wearing masks” as if those encompassed all masks. Will you support your claim and also discuss other masks?

I posted references here: https://the-riotact.com/getting-omicron-has-been-way-worse-than-i-expected/527040/comment-page-2#comments

As far as I know, there is yet no real world study for N95s specifically for this virus.

Thank you. I had missed the replies.
I noted in the first study these words:
“ Although the difference observed was not statistically significant, the 95% CIs are compatible with a 46% reduction to a 23% increase in infection.

Limitation: Inconclusive results, missing data, variable adherence, patient-reported findings on home tests, no blinding, and no assessment of whether masks could decrease disease transmission from mask wearers to others.”
Not a promising start to estimation of value, positive or negative.
The Bangladesh study does appear of little value.
These links with meta-reviews also seem pertinent to the question.
https://www.pnas.org/content/118/4/e2014564118
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC7883189/
In this piece in The Conversation,
https://theconversation.com/time-to-upgrade-from-cloth-and-surgical-masks-to-respirators-your-questions-answered-174877
Brosseau provides a table though without explicit reference, pre-omicron. I will explore that one further.
It should be unsurprising though that a higher filtration polystrate mask (P2) should be more effective than a surgical or cloth mask, even with imperfect fitting. Industrial standards are relevant, a virus being effectively a particle.

The Silver,
I hope you’ll understand that neither I, nor the vast majority of people, would accept an article written by a Riotact journalist about contracting Covid, as medical evidence that social distancing and mask wearing don’t reduce the risk of contracting Covid.

After looking into it further it appears that Brosseau’s main contribution is to add the time element, as seen in her table, in relation to covering type. The background (at CIDRAP) emphasises that masks are not a panacea (no disagreement here) but are contributors in the context of vaccination and distancing, increasingly so with better mask types as seen in the table
Observational and model studies are necessary. Deliberately exposing a cohort to disease where protection is otherwise considered available would fail ethics tests.

The Silver,
Here’s a study that says wearing a mask helps.

https://www.pnas.org/content/118/4/e2014564118

Yes, I’m aware there are observational and laboratory studies. I am sceptical of those because it isn’t obvious how transferable their methodology transfers to real world usage. The Danish and Bangladesh studies are the only real world randomised control studies I’m aware of.

My point is, and always has been, that given the very weak signal in the only two real world studies that exist, mandates are unethical. Mask wearing is not zero cost, so it is necessary to have a proper cost-benefit analysis done if the government is going to enforce it. That certainly hasn’t been done.

That we are two years into this and there are only two randomised control studies is also an indictment. There is no reason every university in Australia couldn’t have run their own randomised control trials and answered the question properly.

A few points if I may, starting with your first post in this sub-thread where you start: “…. is literally no good evidence that ‘social distancing’ or ‘wearing masks’ can reducing [sic] risk”
Do you think that Vlad Putin is far enough away not to catch Covid-19 from yourself? It is ridiculous to make a blanket assertion that distancing does not work. The questions are around distance maintained and diligence of so doing.
Most importantly, you do not get to define what is valid science. Your selection of old, weak mask studies generally dismissed in the literature is an action to support your prior position and tantamount to pseudo-science. If observation and modelling are invalid then there are a few consequences. One is that most science from cosmology down through climate, firestorm behaviour and road safety collapses. Do you recall any car manufacturers randomly killing control subjects rather than using crash test dummies? The entire pollution filtration industry, personal to large scale commercial, may as well give up now because they do not meet TheSilver’s self-interested “standard”. I have already made clear why universities will not run direct RCTs on the question: it would be absolutely contrary to ethics compared with existing reliable knowledge, by wantonly killing people.
You have been given adequate studies. There is ample support in the literature and from the overwhelming majority of experts (which excludes politicians). Your approach is nonsensical falsity, a meretricious fraud.

Buy the way TheSilver, I nearly forgot to mention this with regard to your supposed other scenario
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35083489/

“Conclusions: Our observations provide evidence that the shifted 2020 RSV season was no more severe than previous years. Increased RSV infections in children aged 2 to 4 years may be explained by a buildup in age-specific population susceptibility and increased testing in older children.”

Couple of short points as I don’t have much time today:
Science publications are currently going through a replication crisis. The underlying cause of this is a problem in epistemology and misapplication of Popper’s philosophy. The reason to favour randomised control trials is that it minimises publication problems. The indictment I’m making here is that there are only two such studies. I’m saying that at best we don’t know if masks work, but they may indeed do so.
Second, your argument is based on the assumption that this is a univariate question. That is certainly not the case. Granting, for the sake of argument, that masks work, it isn’t clear that this is the best strategy. Walking around Canberra, discarded masks are clearly the largest source of litter and over one billion have already ended up in the oceans. Even just looking at humans, in the absence of a sterilising vaccine, the best course of action may indeed to be to have the virus circulate as quickly as possible among people of low risk as this will more quickly provide protection to the vulnerable, and this was indeed the preferred strategy in most pre-2020 pandemic plans.
Thirdly, 1.5 m distancing is clearly not based on anything real. What matters more is ventilation. If an infectious person was in a room with poor ventilation with you, even 20 m away, you will be exposed.
As the great Thomas Sowell would say, there are no solutions, only trade-offs. My concern is that we have made the situation significantly worse for ourselves than it needed to be and the costs (not just monetary) will be paid for generations.

“Trade-offs”? As the great Marge Simpson would say, ‘Well, duh’.
I already covered an example of that in relation to distancing. Only you mentioned 1.5m, so what would you define as an effective distance? On what evidenced balance of risk-reward? Or do you not want to know because you wish only to oppose any social constraint?
“Ventilation”? What, you mean as advocated by those same experts that support mask-wearing? Have you sourced “an RCT” on it? No? Yet models and laboratory tests have sufficed.
“Univariate”? You said that. I made no such proposition nor is it implied in my posts. See for example my post at 9:23 PM on 28 Jan, or most others.
Your main opening paragraph is a sciencey word-salad, not an argument. By distraction you seek to disguise your failure to address your own errors over scientific method and the evidence you face, merely repeating that which has already been properly dismissed on the weight of evidence.
Hang on, there might be a litter problem. Have you RCT-ed that and replicated it, or might reliable observation and prior knowledge help?
Reiterating, you do not get to define what is science, where the evidence and weight of informed expertise overrun your cherry-picking. It looks like you have an anti-mask and anti-social agenda to which you will adhere regardless. Are you really confident about your epistemology, or is the problem merging it with your social assumptions?

Yeah, yeah, I just want to kill grandma.

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