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Tuesday, 02 June 2020 02:22

Covid Wars and the Politicisation of Death

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The Covid scare has taken even further the tendency for politicians, ideologues and interest groups of all stripes to politicise death.  Already seen during tragedies and natural disasters, political actors rush to embrace crises, and they now even sometimes make them up.  Death counts are now a part of daily political life, and the new currency of political debate.  This is an unseemly development.


2020 has thrown up no end of surprises, most of them unpleasant. 

A prospective worldwide economic depression is following, in Australia, deadly bushfires, followed by regional floods, and now surreal lockdowns of households, attacks on freedom and the insidious emergence of elements of a police state, all of which have savaged many local economies and communities. 

One of the more appalling aspects of the recent small-p pandemic has been the politicisation of death, something that even those of us bemused by the world’s politicisation of the weather did not see coming.

Previously I have written about the politicisation of tragedy, in the particular context of the bizarre and tragic Christchurch shooting of March 2019.  But one can also witness this in other, natural events.  I lamented the now almost inevitable posturing that follows every tragedy, from all points of the ideological spectrum.  Typically, the debates in the USA, where of these tragedies occur, revolve around gun laws and the right of Americans to bear arms.  Leftists, as a matter of course, bring up the American penchant for guns ownership and its (in their eyes) appalling defence of the Second Amendment.

Whenever Islam terrorism is involved, the never sated, leftist yearning to bring up Islamophobia utterly defeats any otherwise humane urges they might have simply to let the families bury their dead before firing off their own ideological salvos. 

In the case of Christchurch, then Senator Fraser Anning rushed to press first, blaming Islamic immigration for causing racial/religious tensions and, incidentally, for angering deranged white rightists like the Christchurch shooter.

My interest, however, was more in politicians who, subtly or otherwise, seek to capture the high ground in the event of tragedies or natural disasters by donning “father (or mother) of the nation” poses.  Doing this tends to get under the radar and to escape criticism, but it is no less unseemly, and no less political, than the Anning-type interventions.  (Morrison’s absence on holiday in Hawaii while the fires raged was so inept partly because he was denying himself the opportunity to hug some victims.  When he belatedly returned home and tried to do this (in Cobargo, NSW), he cocked it up).

All politicians should stay out of tragedies and let those who have lost loved ones and property grieve.  And have the inevitable policy debates later.  It is simply good taste.

Sadly, this totally overblown, small-p pandemic aka Covid 19 has generated a fresh and utterly unforeseen round of politicising death.  This has taken a number of forms, and it is pretty disgusting when you realise that human lives have become political playthings.

Death Counts and Models

First, death counts.

The number of deaths, either globally or in Australia, from Covid 19 has not been alarming by the standards of previous pandemics, or even of the worse annual flu seasons.

The world’s most sober epidemiologist, John Ioannidis of Stanford University, has noted:

If we had not known about a new virus out there and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to ‘influenza like illness’ would not seem unusual this year. At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average. But the media coverage would have been less than for an NBA game between the two most indifferent teams …

Most people who get this, don’t die.  Fact.  Many people who get it don’t even know they have had it.  Fact.  Yet death counts are everywhere.  As Kit Knightly notes:

The science of the coronavirus is not disputed. It is well documented and openly admitted:

  • Most people won’t get the virus.
  • Most of the people who get it won’t display symptoms.
  • Most of the people who display symptoms will only be mildly sick.
  • Most of the people with severe symptoms will never be critically ill.
  • And most of the people who get critically ill will survive.

Yet governments, their media sycophants, bureaucratic hangers-on and assorted Covid acolytes continue to spread fear among the punters, using death counts as the weapon of choice.  Brian Joondeph of American Interest asks a good question:

Fox News, and other cable networks, run a COVID death count ticker on the side or bottom of the television screen just as they show the major stock indices during the business day. Why are they so obsessed with deaths from the Chinese virus?

Australian newspapers and media outlets all over the world have played this sickening death count game.  Australia indeed recently (at last) brought up one hundred Covid deaths.  This might best be described as a “Geoff Boycott century” (note to readers – only cricket fans will get the reference).

Deaths counts first emerged in the form of projected deaths from predictive models developed by the likes of Professor Pantsdown (aka Neil Ferguson) of Imperial College in the UK.  Imperial College is also climate alarmism central  in Britain, by the way.  The projected Covid deaths were, alas, wildly exaggerated, and even more alarmingly, became the basis for policy in the UK and many other countries which followed their lead.  Like Australia.  Why the UK Government would accept the advice of one who during previous health scares had used models later shown to have been hopelessly wrong is anyone’s guess.

Obsessing over death counts alone, especially when they are based on ever-changing and mostly alarmist modelling, is hopelessly wrong-headed as a means of understanding what has occurred.  Dr John Lee, a clear voice of Covid reason, writing in The Spectator, argues:

Lockdown was enacted on a prediction of 500,000 deaths in the UK, rapidly reduced to 250,000 and then to 20,000. As I write [early May] the UK death toll is 30,150 [39,000 at 2 June]. Broadcast media has relentlessly focussed on the number of deaths and emotional stories surrounding victims. While every death is sad, the significance of a death toll can only be understood by looking at the big picture. 

Lee comments further on the unsettled nature of death count science:

You might think it would be easy to calculate death rates. Death is a stark and easy-to-measure end point. In my working life (I’m a retired pathology professor) I usually come across studies that express it comparably and as a ratio: the number of deaths in a given period of time in an area, divided by that area’s population. For example, 10 deaths per 1,000 population per year. So just three numbers:

  • The population who have contracted the disease
  • The number dying of disease
  • The relevant time period

The trouble is that in the Covid-19 crisis each one of these numbers is unclear.

Ouch.  And obsessing over death counts for so long caused us to miss another relevant figure – the hugely under-counted  number of infections, mostly asymptomatic – which caused governments and policymakers to get Covid responses precisely WRONG!

There is little doubt that politicians have used death counts to scare their populations into accepting draconian measures previously unheard of and ruinous of economic and social life.  And, sadly, it has worked.  Politicians shutting down economies and imprisoning families have never been more popular, it seems – what Peter Hitchens has termed “big brother worship”.

The other obsession is comparative death counts and death league tables.  Suddenly the Worldometers website that nobody have ever previously heard of became instantly popular and the go-to site for those wanting to politicise Covid deaths.

Barracking for deaths to increase in countries like Covid-liberal Sweden to make political points about lockdown is the new black of Covid politics, unseemly though it is.  It is also irrelevant, as are most attempted bases for inter country Covid comparisons, since we are dealing with complexly interacting complex variables and many, many unknowns.  Not that this has stopped anyone playing these games to make political or ideological points.


Exaggerating Covid Deaths

Second, it was probably inevitable that, given the first point above, sooner or later the exaggeration game would begin in earnest.  A bit like climate change.  Every death now has to be a covid death.

Deaths from gun-shot wounds in Washington DC even make the count.  Brian Joondeph notes:

Even a positive COVID-19 test doesn’t mean the person died “from” COVID, rather than “with” COVID. Someone who drank a beer or smoked some marijuana and then a few hours later had a fatal accident, might test positive or these substances in their blood but may not have been impaired. In fact, the accident may be the fault of someone else and the death would not be blamed on alcohol or marijuana simply because it was in their system. With COVID-19 it would, as these examples illustrate.

In Washington, anyone testing positive for COVID-19 is included in the COVID death count. This includes 5 deaths due to gunshot wounds, which were counted as COVID deaths.

In Colorado, a man died of alcohol poisoning, seven times the legal limit, yet he was classified as a COVID death simply because he tested positive for the Wuhan virus.

Initially a social media joke about people being baseball batted to death or being hit by a bus “with Covid” being counted, life indeed has begun to imitate art.  Crazy stuff.  Ideological stuff.

According to the New York Times:

New York City, already a world epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, sharply increased its death toll by more than 3,700 victims on Tuesday, after officials said they were now including people who had never tested positive for the virus but were presumed to have died of it.

So someone who tests positive but gets hit by a bus gets counted – as does someone who wasn’t even tested!  Close enough is good enough during an ideological war.

John Lee called the UK Covid death counting practices a “national scandal”.  As well he might.  His critique of current practices is powerful:

So at a time when accurate death statistics are more important than ever, the rules have been changed in ways that make them less reliable than ever. In what proportion of Covid-19 ‘mentions’ was the disease actually present? And in how many cases, if actually present, was Covid-19 responsible for death? Despite what you may have understood from the daily briefings, the shocking truth is that we just don’t know. How many of the excess deaths during the epidemic are due to Covid-19, and how many are due to our societal responses of healthcare reorganisation, lockdown and social distancing? Again, we don’t know. Despite claims that they’re all due to Covid-19, there’s strong evidence that many, perhaps even a majority, are the result of our responses rather than the disease itself.

Why would health and political institutions make this stuff up?  It isn’t just ideology or the desire to assume ever greater power for government.  There are other gains to be made.

Inflating Death Counts to Get Funding

Third, exaggerating Covid deaths to get money out of governments has been rife, especially in the United States.  Simply follow the money, as always.

According to USA Today:

Hospital administrators might well want to see COVID-19 attached to a discharge summary or a death certificate. Why? Because if it’s a straightforward, garden-variety pneumonia that a person is admitted to the hospital for – if they’re Medicare – typically, the diagnosis-related group lump sum payment would be $5,000. But if it’s COVID-19 pneumonia, then it’s $13,000, and if that COVID-19 pneumonia patient ends up on a ventilator, it goes up to $39,000.

As soon as “funding funding funding” becomes part of the game, truth will go AWOL.  This, too, made the exaggeration of Covid deaths inevitable.  Just as ideological warriors like Nancy Pelosi turned Covid into a funding opportunity for every leftist cause under the sun, via the Coronavirus Relief Bill, so states and counties began to line up for their cut, on the back of highly dubious death counts.

Deaths that Matter and Those that Don’t

Fourth, governments seem now to be prioritising some deaths – and lives – over others. 

This is just as unprecedented as the prioritising public health over all other public goods and private interests.  One disease has come to take priority over all others, whether season flu, which kills more people on a regular basis – every winter, in fact – than Covid has, to date.  Not to mention all the conditions requiring elective surgery, the elective surgery that governments have ruinously shut down in the name of freeing up hospital beds for the Covid cases that, mostly, never came, or the deteriorating mental health of those forced into isolation or of the millions losing their jobs, income, wealth and dignity.

Even the good old Silly Moaning Hilmer (aka the Sydney Morning Herald) gets the negative impacts of lockdown policy, of exaggerating some deaths while discounting others, and discounting quality of life:

Social distancing policies introduced in Australia to slow the spread of COVID-19 could have a devastating impact on our mental health, experts warn.

Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of mental health research hub Orygen, is calling for the government to weigh the nation’s mental health along with its physical and economic wellbeing when deciding on how to navigate the crisis.

"The second wave of mental ill health could overshadow the first wave of infection in long-term impact," he said.

Calls to mental health service Beyond Blue’s helplines has jumped 30 per cent in the past two weeks. 

Sadly, governments which have politicised death to bolster their own longevity have ignored this sage advice.  It is well-known that the biggest cause of suicide is depression, and that one of the biggest triggers of depression is unemployment. 

Then there was the decision to suspend all “elective” surgery in the name of saving lives.  This was one of the most appalling public policy efforts in Australia’s history.  All done in the name of hospitals being “overrun” with Covidsters.  It never happened.  It was never going to happen.  As a result, cancer patients didn’t get to receive timely diagnoses, those in extreme pain awaiting knee replacements or hip replacements or much else besides, or my distressed grandson awaiting an operation to have his tonsils out, continued to suffer much – all for nothing.  All lives matter, and “life” is more than simply “non-death”.

No, this isn’t about false dichotomies between “the economy” and “lives”.  It is about appropriate, informed, balanced and proportional public policy and about keeping deaths among one particular cohort of the population in context.  This includes proper balancing of Covid deaths with non-Covid deaths, and between phase one Covid deaths and phase two Covid deaths – those that might be infected later and potentially saved through the necessary herd immunity that has been fatally compromised by lockdown.  Death is actually a complex thing, but not so as you would notice in these insane times.

Ideological Points Scoring

Fifth, Covid wars have emerged as a new front in the larger ideological battle over the proper role of government, and death counts, well, count.  Previously arcane figures, formulae, terms and concepts are now thrown about in order willy-nilly, in order to score ideological points.

Those who, quite reasonably, question whether the scare has not been overblown, have been pilloried from the get-go.  The very first sceptic in the USA of whom I am aware was Roger Kimball of Spectator USA, The New Criterion and American Greatness.  The first public commentator in the UK to question the scare was Peter Hitchens.  The first here – of whom I am aware – was me!  Otherwise, in Australia, The Australian’s economist Adam Creighton has been a force for common sense.  Columnists in The Spectator Toby Young and Dr John Lee have been outstanding as well, and courageous in the face of abuse and denigration.  Toby Young has gone further, establishing a portal for sceptics.  A must read website.

As the American alt-right vlogger RamzPaul has pointed out often, in the USA, sceptics were accused of being granny killers, of being obsessed by the fate of their 401k (superannuation) entitlements, of not valuing life.  This is a bit rich, especially when it comes – as it often does – from those who routinely support abortion and euthanasia.

Critics of anyone doubting the whole pandemic thing were also accused of prioritising “the economy” over “lives”, a quite misleading and, in any case, absurd and irrelevant assertion.

It is much harder, of course, to pillory globally eminent professors of epidemiology, pathology and such, though their views have been consistently ignored by the lamestream media and only brought to our attention through a few persistent commentators (in Australia) like Alan Jones.

Invoking “Collits’ Law”, the theory that sooner or later in every political argument, someone will be called a conspiracy theorist, those who either have succumbed to the new ideological virus of what Heather MacDonald and others have called “safetyism”, leftists who just prefer lockdown to liberty, health bureaucrats and Karens (aka busybodies, constant worriers, do-gooders) have all weighed in.  They form a new ideological grouping – the Covid defenders – and their weapon of choice in argument is accusations of conspiracy theory.  This is the attempt to shut down debate by abusing one’s opponents or questioning their motives.  I have been accused on social media of being “disingenuous” and in real life of being, yes, a conspiracy theorist.  This tactic is also known as the ad hominem fallacy.

Hence this from a Sydney academic:

More than a few politicians and millions of citizens still don't believe [the coronavirus pandemic] is happening.  Dogged in their stupidity, thinking only of themselves, they are sure that it's all a hoax, or a media-hyped exaggeration whose falsity will soon be exposed.

This, of course, is the straw man fallacy.  Attribute to the opponent arguments that s/he did not make.  Exaggerate his/her position in order to distort then rubbish it.  I am aware of no one who suggests that Covid is “not happening”.  Anyone who hasn’t noticed the ubiquitous Covid inspired media hype and a willingness on the part of the media both to obsess over this flu and simply to promote government talking points is simply not paying attention, or is choosing to pretend it is otherwise. 

As I said, who would have thought that disease would become an ideological battleground?  Then again, there is the weather …..

Then there is the linking of Covid scepticism with other partisan or ideological positions in order to discredit it.  Certainly, in the USA, Republicans are far more likely to want the end of lockdown than Democrats.  And it is certainly fair to say that those who favour freedom and detest authoritarianism, whether or not full blown libertarians, will not be happy about the current police state and will be more likely than others to be persuaded by suggestions that Kungfu Flu ain’t the pandemic that its spruikers say it is.  But there is also the linking of Covid scepticism with other “conspiracy theories”, such as 5G “obsession” and bioweapon conspiracies.  (The fact that a considerable body of respectable people consider it at least possible that China deliberately bred and released the virus with deadly intent does not deter the conspiracy theory obsessed to attack those with whom they disagree).

Note the use of favoured words on the left like “fringe” and “right wing”, as per one pseudo-expert Carol Johnson from the University of Adelaide:

Professor Johnson said the global response to the pandemic had accorded well with the pre-existing beliefs of some fringe political groups "who see it as an infringement of their individual liberties".

"For example, right-wing groups who believe everything is a conspiracy by government, and big government is trying to intrude into our lives — basically they interpret the coronavirus in terms of that," she said.

Professor Johnson said it was likely that many climate change deniers had now morphed into coronavirus deniers.

"It is often related, in terms of those groups, to the anti-science argument, [and] there could be links to anti-vaxxers as well," she said.

"There's also a general distrust of science and experts who are seen as elitists who are out of touch with the needs of ordinary people."

Well, an ABC “expert” would say that, I suppose.  It is, of course, just plain dumb to suggest that eminent epidemiologists who don’t subscribe to the hype of their peers are somehow “anti-science”, just as dumb as it has always been to suggest that climate realists, many of them highly respected scientists like the legendary physicist Freeman Dyson, are any more “anti-science” than climate alarmists.  But that is another story.

The ABC, as ever, is that disappointing combination of the ideological and the superficial.  It is, pathetically, both a leader and a victim of groupthink – or “lockdown faith”, as John Lee has termed it – so far behind the real story it is not funny, and we all pay for the damned thing.  It is beholden to leftist clichés, memes and talking points, on Covid as ever, and is an embarrassment to broadcasting.  Compared to international commentary, the Australian “debate” as a whole over Covid’s impacts and government’s policy responses has been woefully superficial, and the ABC bears more than proportional blame for this.  And the academic “experts” upon whom they draw are simply not up to scratch.  And professors all!

But it isn’t just a verbal ideological battle.  Big Tech is up to its old tricks, using censorship and de-platforming as a weapon:

YouTube is at it again. Today, the company has been caught red-handed “shadow banning” an interview Peter Hitchens did on the Triggernometry channel entitled “Lockdown is a catastrophe“. 

In this connection, Toby Young has noted:

Shadow-banning is a form of “deceptive blocking” which was referred to in Trump’s executive order last week aimed at removing the legal protections currently enjoyed by social media companies like YouTube so that henceforth they can be sued by users if they censor their content, whether directly or indirectly.

Oh yes, the Covid wars are real, and are part of the broader debates over the individual and government.  In hyper-ideological times, it was probably inevitable that Covid would become an ideological weapon.  And death counts are its currency of choice.

Mercifully, those who value freedom are in there fighting this war, and now legal challenges are emerging.  Even in Australia in relation to free trade and Section 92 of the Constitution.

Why there have not been more legal challenges to border shutdowns, restraints on free trade and lockdowns in Australia is a mystery, and defies belief.  It all seems to be part of the intellectually lazy “love big brother” mentality that is abroad.

Party Politics

Sixth, there is (of course) the US presidential election.

While partisan debates about Covid have been muted in Australia, the same has not been the case elsewhere.  Notably in hyper-politicised America, especially in the era of Trump Phobia, AND in an election year, it could not have been any other way.  And in a federal system, with fifty governors on the loose with their own not inconsiderable powers, there is endless complexity about who is ultimately to be blamed, and for what.  Then there are all the mayors, themselves having power to make decisions in relation to Covid responses.

But like much else in US ideological wars and partisan politics, it is all about the President.  According to Brian Joondeph again:

Aside from the morbid, “If it bleeds, it leads” mantra that guides much news reporting, the media wants to pin each death on the tail of President Trump.

Joondeph smells a rat:

Is any of this about the virus? Or is it about money, power, and the November election? Is this about safety or an excuse for legalized election fraud via mail-in ballots? Is this a way to keep ObamaGate and Biden-Ukraine corruption out of the news? All with the DNC media parroting the anti-Trump narrative they have been fed.

Whether it is about alleged defunding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or Trump’s alleged racism in January when he (correctly) shut down in-bound flights from China, or the production of ventilators – a point of attack from Andrew “I sent thousands to their deaths” Cuomo – to Trump’s commissioning of naval vessels to augment hospital resources, to his off-the-cuff suggestions for Covid cures, Trump as always has been a lightning rod for left liberal angst.  (On the matter of China flights, 430,000 people flew direct from Wuhan into the USA between New Year’s Eve and the time Trump shut down the China flights).

It has been suggested, and it isn’t remotely implausible, that the Democratic Party has a vested interest in keeping the country in lockdown, further to damage the economy and further set up the November Presidential election as a referendum on Trump and Covid.  If true, this would be THE ultimate act of politicising death, and something more reprehensible would be difficult to imagine.

According to a China expert in the USA, Gordon Chang:

I have been looking at this for quite some time and it took me by surprise.  He got the first and most important decision correct: the travel restrictions on China.  Maybe he should have put the travel restrictions on Europe sooner, but overall, he has done a lot right.  Looking from a partisan lens, the Democratic Party has nothing to boast about.  Clearly, President Trump was blamed because he is blamed for everything.

But let’s blame Trump anyway.  In an election year, only one thing matters.  Politicising death is nothing special – there is the White House to be won!


As John Lee notes, “… the first rule in a pandemic should be to ensure transparency of information”. 

Yet this has not occurred, anywhere.  All sorts of institutions – government (especially), media, interest groups and ideologues – have sought to ramp up fear, to control behaviour, to restrict freedom, to garner new power and (in the case of interest groups) shamelessly to grab public funds. 

Covid has not been a good look for big government in all sorts of ways.  As to death counts in particular, Lee argues that “we decided not to count it properly”.  For all the reasons I have outlined above.

It is sobering to realise that the world has been detained under house arrest for, well, not much.  Lives have been shattered, economies destroyed, wealth made to disappear, freedoms eroded beyond recognition, and religious freedom, such that it was, negated. 

Toby Young puts it in perspective, again focusing on politicised death counts:

Nobel laureate Michael Levitt has compared excess deaths in the 2019/20 Flu + COVID-19 season in the US with excess deaths in the 2017/18 flu season and estimated that there have been 185,315 in 2019/20 compared to 136,313 in 2017/18. So a difference of 49,002, or an increase of 36%. This is a much smaller estimate than that made by the Yale School of Public Health and published in the Washington Post on Saturday, although even the Post says, based on Yale’s state-by-state analysis, that excess deaths have been higher in those states that have imposed the strictest lockdowns and haven’t yet eased them. 

The number of excess deaths during the pandemic compared to the number of excess deaths from seasonal flu in recent years will be a big debating point as the post-mortems get underway, as will the number of excess deaths caused directly by COVID-19 compared to the number caused indirectly, e.g. as a result of the lockdowns.

The absence of any correlation between death counts, however configured, and lockdown policies, should not be surprising.  That death counts are actually worse in areas of lockdown should give pause to those who have turned this disease into an ideological battleground, and have abused and denigrated the freedom fighters who saw through the hoax early and have continued to speak truth to bureaucratic power.

One of the chief weapons of the Covid warriors has been death counts.  It is therefore not surprising that opponents of the lockdowns have fought back with the same weapons.

The US medical adviser – the offsider of the ever-present Fauci, Dr Deborah Birx – put a cat among the pigeons when she estimated a 24% overcount of Covid deaths in the USA.  If true, and it well may be, it amounts an astonishing lie spun to the American people.  And it has been replicated the world over.  All in the name of fighting a war in which the enemy simply doesn’t exist, and perhaps more importantly, in the name of increasing government power at the expense of the citizenry.

The use of death as a political weapon demeans us all, and it needs to be called out.  And I thought (last year) that politicising disasters and shootings was a travesty.  The efforts of Jacindarella in 2019 to garner support by looking mournful and hugging Muslims post-Christchurch have nothing on the efforts of most of the world’s “leaders” in 2020 to submit us all to lockdown, house arrest, closed borders, economic depression and (at least temporary) societal collapse.


Read 2218 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 June 2020 05:40
Paul Collits

Paul Collits is a freelance writer and independent researcher who lives in Lismore New South Wales.  
He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines - politics, geography and planning and business studies.  He spent over 25 years working in economic development and has published widely in Australian and international peer reviewed and other journals.  He has been a keynote speaker internationally on topics such as rural development, regional policy, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Much of his academic writing is available at
His recent writings on ideology, conservatism, politics, religion, culture, education and police corruption have been published in such journals as Quadrant, News Weekly and The Spectator Australia.
He has BA Hons and MA degrees in political science from the Australian National University and a PhD in geography and planning from the University of New England.  He currently has an adjunct Associate Professor position at a New Zealand Polytechnic.