It’s been nearly 10 months since I’ve moved to Australia.
One of the most admirable things I’ve come to love about Australian culture is the “Keep Calm and Carry On” mentality. While admittedly more of a British phrase, the carefree attitude is prevalent throughout the Lucky Country as well. “Yeah nah mate…no need to get your knickers in a twist hey. She’ll be ‘right!”
This was most noticeable with last year’s bushfires. It seemed like my friends back in the US were freaking out about the fires far more than Australians were.. I was so impressed with the calm, managed, and confident way Aussies handled what were the largest fires in the country’s history.
In most cases, this a great thing. Australia is a high-functioning society, and keeping a cool head & not getting into a tizzy over things you can’t control is usually exactly how you want a society to run.
…Except right now.
The nature of a viral pandemic is such that overreacting early is literally the only way to prevent a problem before it becomes a problem. The time to start paying attention is last month. The time to start wigging out is yesterday.
I believe that 29 years without a recession has caused Australia to fundamentally miscalculate tail risk. We’ve had it good for so long that it has lulled society into a false sense of security.
Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty that Australia is doing well in handling this so far. The healthcare system is obviously excellent. Inbound flights are now under somewhat greater control, and travellers are required to isolate for 14 days. Worldwide testing data is hard to come by, but it looks like Australia ranks roughly 3rd in the world for tests performed per million people. Sporting events & mass gatherings have been cancelled, and many people are working from home.
But we haven’t yet seen the city-wide lockdowns required in order to keep this thing under wraps. Pubs & restaurants are still open. So are most schools & aged care facilities. And people still fundamentally do not grasp how big this is going to get. There are still people out at pubs, restaurants & markets, like very little has happened. Sure, it’s not Spring Break in south Florida, or St Patty’s Day in New York, but it’s not good.
I’ve created a model to approximate the effect COVID-19 is going to have on Australian society. I’m not a data scientist, and it’s not perfect. But numbers don’t lie. This is going to hit us harder than I think many Aussies are ready for.
The biggest downside to “Keep calm and carry on” is that you neglect the very role you should be playing in fighting it.
We’re off to a decent start. Critically, we have solid institutional strength and the warm weather on our side. But the next few weeks are everything. We still have time to flatten the curve and slow the spread.
At the end of the day a pandemic is just a function of math & time. Now’s not the time to keep calm or carry on. Now’s the time to get real.