The search for immunity
Rick Morton’s “Fact-checking Covid-19” (March 21-27) was an excellent gathering of information. I think a little expansion, though, may be worthwhile. “Can you test retrospectively to see if you once had Covid-19 but now you don’t?” In other words, do you retain antibodies to the disease once recovered? The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne has found (and published) the answer. They followed a patient in hospital and regularly tested her antibodies to this virus. They saw large populations of different immune cells expanding over three days after admission, a time that corresponded to clinical recovery. The patient recovered, the antibodies stayed as a memory of her encounter with the virus. The antibody tests, which the World Health Organization says is one important tool to manage this pandemic, have been developed in several countries, including Australia. But the Australian ones have not been approved yet, so this week the Australian regulator (the Therapeutic Goods Administration) has allowed the urgent importation of antibody testing kits. This may eventually distinguish those who have developed a strong immunity to the virus, and therefore may be ready to work safely on the front lines, from those without immunity and hence more at risk. In a sense, this would be a positive triage of workers based on scientific data.
– Alex Pucci, Mosman, NSW
Why no lockdown?
“Covid-19: Next few days will dictate outcome” (Karen Middleton, March 28–April 3) is a headline to focus the mind. We read that 22 epidemiologists have urged the government to lock down now. A petition aiming at 15,000 medical signatures is circulating. The South Korean experience of early lockdown eliminated infections, with no rebound, sadly contrasting with the Italian experience. Elsewhere Rick Morton (“Inside the hunt for a vaccine”) describes a vaccine trial at the University of Queensland with the PM asked for urgent funding; three weeks have passed with no response. We are slowly realising that government strategies of flattening the curve are really strategies for a manageable uptake of the discredited and uncertain herd immunity concept. All this puts a very different slant on the Canberra bubble. It has long been recognised that besieged tight-knit groups can develop a group mindset that functions to exclude rationality. This is dangerous in a government in crisis, since good health policy is critical for an economy. A lockdown would have brought the pandemic to a halt. Government mindsets now seem intent on palliation rather than swift endings in some odd social Darwinist experiment at community expense. It’s no wonder there is a trust deficit, but we also have a deficit of independent, clear and critical thinking.
– Gil Anaf, Norwood, SA
Karen Middleton’s article asks “how much do we spend to minimise the loss of lives to Covid-19?” Who has the right to decide whose life is worth – in dollar terms – more than another’s? I believe that most would vote for life. It should never have come to this. Mike Seccombe was told by infection and immunity expert Bill Bowtell that the Morrison government was warned 12 weeks ago (Christmas 2019) what was coming (“What Morrison did wrong on coronavirus”, March 21-27). Bowtell added that in response the government “diligently did not do anything useful”. Had they acted promptly and decisively we would not be faced with this awful choice.
– Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin, ACT
Morrison found wanting
How much faith can we vest in a neocon government that has recycled Stuart Robert into a post requiring an altruistic commitment to the public interest (Editorial, “The sheer scale of it”, March 28–April 3)? The same government that has generally displayed its most conspicuous allegiance to its own self-interest and commercial affiliations while correspondingly thumbing its nose at a string of United Nations environmental, humanitarian and ethical conventions. Our PM was at pains to stress the importance of the economy days after the United States president, suffering a major drop in Trump Organization hotel revenue, called for the US to return to work by Easter. A recent US Gallup poll found 60 per cent of Americans thought he had done a good job with the pandemic. Is our greatest threat actually from acute and chronic stupidity?
– John Hayward, Weegena, Tas
One boat PM didn’t stop
Gadfly noted the mutual finger-pointing of the New South Wales and federal governments for the debacle in which the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney Harbour on March 19 and disgorged its ailing cargo of 2700 passengers (“A ship of fools”, March 28–April 3) . Surprisingly, for one usually so attuned to paradox, Gadfly did not mention the irony of Scott Morrison, who famously “stopped the boats” as Immigration minister in the Abbott government, allowing the Ruby Princess to dock under an exemption to a temporary cruise ship ban. As infected passengers went on their merry way unscreened, Morrison blamed NSW Health. Perhaps the principles of border protection are different during a pandemic, or the obsession with boats and border security was always more about race than actually protecting Australians?
– Dave Lisle, Mullumbimby, NSW
I often wonder why Richard Denniss has not been appointed to a position in which he might be of assistance to government policymakers (“Spending the right message”, March 21-27). Then I realise his advice is much too sensible. Shame really.
– Michael Kozlowski via email
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 4, 2020.
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