The Wisteria Diary – Watching the curve


A couple of wet, cold weekends have given way to a perfect Easter Monday. Early signs of winter have seen the first of the wisteria leaves turning at our house. Other trees are already shedding their plumage. The softer April sunlight could almost persuade that all was tranquil in the world. But we know it isn’t. That false impression is really just a measure of our good fortune.


If this were a standard Easter weekend at the Footy Almanac, we’d be awaiting reports of the Geelong-Hawthorn clash. We’d probably be reading a Dips O’Donnell reflection on the Stawell Gift. These have become comforting rituals for our particular Almanac community. How long will it be before some of these rituals return?


The answer to that will be determined by the progress of the curve. By now we’ve all had a crash course on the curve, so I’ll spare you any repetition. If, by chance, you have just emerged from a very deep cave, you can get up to speed at Worldometer, or Johns Hopkins University. And wash your hands after you do.


Decision makers are currently trapped between two irreconcilable imperatives. The nature of Covid-19 transmission means the health imperative demands as much social isolation as can be achieved. But a consumption and service based economy needs interaction to function. Any attempt to find a middle course between these competing demands will inevitably be imperfect.


Complicating decisions immensely are the many things we still don’t know about the virus. Clearly, people can be infectious before they are symptomatic, so everyone outside your household must be presumed suspect. So how to be sure we’re testing the right people? Why are a significant number of people getting much sicker than most? Much of that is due to age or underlying health issues, but a worrying percentage don’t seem to fit either category. And it is not even completely certain yet that you become immune to Covid-19, even if you have recovered from an initial infection.


Given all of this, different countries have unsurprisingly adopted different approaches. Sweden is a country with a history of significant government intervention in economy and society, yet they have adopted a comparatively laissez faire health approach to Covid-19. Many are questioning that approach already. Britain and the Netherlands initially adopted a similar course, but have abruptly changed tack, clamping down on social and economic restrictions. In Britain’s case, there appeared to be a loss of confidence by health officials in the course originally chosen. Many citizens are now paying a terrible price for those miscalculations.


Nearer to home, New Zealand began with an approach much like Australia’s after their first case was confirmed on the 28th of February. By March 26th they had dramatically changed to a level four lockdown. Unlike most countries, New Zealand have adopted a strategy predicated on eliminating virus transmission even in the absence of a vaccine. As we stand, they hold some hope of success. It should be noted, the authors of that upbeat assessment come from the university which provided the modelling which influenced the government’s change of course.


Australia’s first identified cases of Covid-19 were detected on January 25th. By mid-March we had largely implemented the social and economic restrictions we are currently experiencing (essentially level three). As we speak, there are some early signs we are having success in slowing the rate of new infection. We have certainly, to date, avoided the sort of calamitous scenes witnessed in much of Europe and the USA, and which were largely hidden from outside view in Wuhan.  Our curve might be showing signs of flattening. But it is very early.


It needs to be understood that a flattened infection curve is designed to avoid a public health disaster, but it is no strategy to eliminate infection from our community without a vaccine. Even the most optimistic estimates still put any safe vaccine as not being possible before next year. When Scott Morrison states that any policy we implement has to be sustainable for at least six months, he is essentially conceding the period after August is uncertain at best. That is if everything goes well.


The truth is that we are months away at best from knowing if any of these varying approaches have really worked. Not that you could judge from much of the commentary flying around this week. We can, however, already make some judgments on what isn’t working.


As someone who is at elevated risk if I was to contract Covid-19, I’m resigned to this being a long haul. But I say that knowing the options I have are so much better than those facing most people in the world. This piece by Arundhati Roy has haunted me since I read it. The period ahead is going to be incredibly grim for an unthinkable number of people.


I welcome any observations or information any of you may wish to share. If this diary is to serve any constructive purpose, it will probably come through our shared experiences.




Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Mark Duffett says

    Prof Peter Collignon continues to point out ( that on his reading of the data, Australia is doing rather better than NZ despite having less severe restrictions. Most expert opinion I’ve read is decidedly less optimistic that the total elimination strategy can succeed, albeit NZ may be better situated for it than Australia as a whole. And even if it does, what then for NZ? Their economy is (was) more dependent on tourism than most. The Guardian article is conspicuously silent on this.

    And then there’s the health effects that lockdowns themselves cause, potentially amounting to thousands of deaths in the UK according to a recent report in the Financial Times.

    I remain convinced that curve flattening is the least worst strategy, getting it over with as quickly as possible without overwhelming our ICUs.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    What a beautiful day Easter Monday was. The Stawell Gift and the footy were very much missed yesterday.

    Read the Arundhati Roy piece, thanks for that. Sobering and very scary, really fear for countries like India and it’s neighbours.

  3. John Butler says

    G’day Mark.

    All valid observations. As I hinted, there could well be a measure of justifying your own uni’s position from the guys who wrote that Guardian piece. And there is no doubt the lock downs come with their own real health consequences. There are no good options in all of this.

    But with our current Australian strategy, the question I still have is how we ever reach an end before a vaccine? Though they haven’t been explicit in saying so, the impression I’ve gotten from our CMO and pollies is that infection will still be in the community until a vaccine. In which case, I have my doubts as to how well much of the economy can operate. I’d be very interested in any info that suggests otherwise.

    Luke, Arundhati Roy is no fan of Modi at any time, but that piece just gave me a terrible sense of how vulnerable so many people in that country will be.

  4. I am thankful that the federal government is working with the state governments, and together they are listening to and taking the advice of the experts. This early action will have saved many many Australian lives and saved us from the disaster we see in the USA, Italy, Spain and the UK. They put lives ahead of money.

    I miss footy but I am using my ISO time to write a list of horrible household tasks that I normally never get around to doing. Who would have known that cleaning layers of dust off my ceiling lights would make them look so great. In the next few days I will discover whether cleaning the windows improves visibility. I suspect it will.

    Enjoy the wisteria.

  5. John Butler says

    Gil, I think we all have a list something like that. :)

    Let’s see if our resolutions hold firm.

    In a month or two the wisteria will help keep me busy as I rake up the falling leaves. Hopefully some winter sunshine will illuminate proceedings.

  6. John Butler says

    Sorry Gill, dropped an L somewhere in proceedings.

  7. I saw Pat Cummins in the paper the other day, banging on about how the IPL should be played in empty stadia. I reckon someone should forward him the link to that Arundhati Roy piece.

    By the way, when is the NRL kicking off?

  8. John Butler says

    Smokie, I too think it would be good if Pat did a little more research. Or if his manager did.

  9. Here in Westginastan the new cases have slowed to a trickle. Both roads in will reman closed for the foreseeable. Shipping is closed saved for tankers to get the oil/ore out and the meth in from China. The Rabbit Proof Fence has had 3 new strands added. Airports remain open but arrivals are more securely contained than the Postcard Bandit.
    By June we will be CV19 free when the first planeloads of AFL teams arrive to their new playing field at the Ginadome. After the 14 day quarantine teams will be allocated a WAFL ground for training. As WAFL is a 10 team comp 6 will be located outside the metro area. Carlton will be in Geraldton so Paddy Cripps will feel at home. Double headers will be played nightly with Eastern States putting their clocks back 2 hours to fit in with the Channel 7 telecasts.
    You’re welcome.
    (PS is it compulsory for fast bowlers to be illiterate?)

  10. John Butler says

    PB, such are the times, who would dare to say some (or most) of what you jest about won’t actually come true?

    PS: I don’t think Pat is illiterate, just not fully informed. And perhaps just a little influenced by his wallet.

    Stay safe over there.

  11. Keep up the good work PB. As it turns out (purely by coincidence because I book this book months back) I am reading How Fear Works by Frank Furedi. Some interesting stuff in there. One of the points he makes is that humanity has changed from living with a fear of death (ie, the religious argument that you might go to hell) to living with a fear of life itself (the snow flake outlook). A pandemic may impact how we fear things in future.

    The balance of returning to work and kick starting the economy versus the risk of another outbreak will be very interesting. I don’t envy the people who will try and walk that tight rope. The critics are already perched and ready to pounce no matter what happens.

  12. I mean keep up the good work JB!

  13. Excellent work JB, and the Arundhati Roy essay is a must read. Here is just one clear headed thought:

    “Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.”

    And thinking about the wisteria and the wistfulness in your words, here’s a little Billy Bragg:

  14. John Butler says

    I dunno Dips, PB’s work was pretty good as well. :) He may well have just outlined the AFL’s strategy from here.

    Historically, the Spanish Flu saw the most deaths in a second wave after they had though it had died down. So history says it is tricky judging the exit of pandemics. Are we smarter this time?

    Rick, a bit of Billy never goes astray.

    It would be a shame to waste a crisis like this one, but I have my fears.

  15. Mark Duffett says

    The trouble with fears of a second wave is that we in Australia haven’t really had a first one yet. Barely a first ripple.

    Until most of us have had it, this doesn’t end. At the current rate, it will be years.

    Sorry to be such a wet blanket, but I just don’t see any other way. I’m praying that I’m wrong.

  16. John Butler says

    Mark, it’s hard to find any dry blankets at present, so no need to apologise.

    It’s a dreadful conundrum: we don’t want to see any wave of infection here, but how to move on without it? Let’s all hope that vaccine eventuates.

  17. daniel flesch says

    Peter_B asked “is it compulsory for fast bowlers to be illiterate? ” There are exceptions, including one of my heroes- Frank “Typhoon” Tyson. From Wikipedia “As a university graduate, Tyson was unusual among professional cricketers in the 1950s. He was a qualified schoolmaster and used to read the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf on tour. Instead of sledging batsmen he quoted Wordsworth: “For still, the more he works, the more/Do his weak ankles swell” Three years after emigrating to Australia he was French teacher of our Year 9 animals class. To hear him say “Je m’appelle Francois” saw us collapse into giggles. Hearing him say “How would you like a piece of chalk thrown at you at 90 miles per hour?” provoked a more muted reaction. I disliked the school , but Monsieur le professeur Tyson made it bearable. Was very sad when he left us.

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