Two weeks later

Delivered on By Justin Pyvis

Good morning! Less than 24 hours after it was announced, the Queensland government’s independent review into culture and accountability in the state government has been undermined by an alleged conflict of interest.

It turns out that Professor Peter Coaldrake, who will lead the review, “paid $1760 for a table for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre board at a Queensland Labor post-budget lunch” back in 2018.

As far as conflicts go that certainly seems pretty minor. But given that the review is supposed to be investigating hot topics such as “ethical decision-making and impartial advice” and the “adequacy of systems to prevent ethical, accountability and integrity issues arising”, surely the government could have found someone who hadn’t donated to their political party? ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ

Reading the tea leaves

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Note: Brent oil, gold bullion and iron ore prices are the second futures contract. Bond yields are 10-year Treasuries.

Theย ASX200 dropped -1.02% on Friday, finishing off a topsy-turvy week marked by tensions between Western nations, Ukraine and Russia.

Theย US S&P500ย closed down -0.72% for similar reasons. But it wasn’t just turmoil in the Eastern Bloc that rattled markets โ€“ there was also ongoing speculation about the Federal Reserve’s next move, with St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard stating publicly that “inflation is broadening and possibly accelerating in the US economy so I shaded up my position to show that I think we need 100 basis points of tightening by July 1”.

A US interest rate lift-off in March is now a certainty, potentially as much as 50 basis points, with perhaps the only exception being if Russia invaded Ukraine.

That means the real questions are now not IF the Fed tightens but how high do rates go, and how long will the tightening cycle last before policymakers throw in the towel?

Food for thought

The number of severely ill in Israel is falling, even among the unvaccinated.
The number of severely ill in Israel is falling, even among the unvaccinated. Source

Two weeks ago to the day we looked at Israel’s rise in deaths, which was being cited by a certain individual to support his claim that being vaccinated “doesn’t cut down on hospitalisation, it doesn’t stop you getting it, it doesn’t stop you passing it on”.

We took a different approach, arguing that once you factored in the denominator effect it showed that vaccinations weren’t just working but they were working extremely well: adjusted for population, just 6.2% of those seriously ill with COVID-19 were fully vaccinated.

The only thing vaccination didn’t appear to help against was transmission, likely due to Israel’s “relatively low vaccination rate amongst the prime spreaders (those aged 20-49 are only ~76.5% vaccinated)”, but also because recent studies have showed that even boosters are “insufficient [for] prevention of symptomatic infection in otherwise healthy individuals”.

So where does Israel stand today? Hospitalisations are declining to the point that the government on Friday agreed to scrap the country’s “Green Pass”, i.e. vaccine passport, from 1 March (except for aged care facilities).

The Health Department also recommended abolishing quarantine for returning travellers, removing the testing requirement before boarding a flight (a test on arrival will remain) and exempting unvaccinated children from quarantine.

That’s good news and fits with what we’re observing everywhere in the world, including in Australia where government modelling vastly overestimated the impact the virus would have on health systems.

Future COVID-19 waves are inevitable. But highly vaccinated jurisdictions โ€“ especially among those aged over 60, which is why the Hong Kong situation is so tragic โ€“ that have had prior exposure are at extremely low risk of facing a health crisis anywhere close to what happened in 2020-21.

Chewing the fat

Bits and bytes

๐Ÿฆ  Due to widespread exposure and vaccination, researchers believe that 90% of the world’s population now have T-cells capable of recognising SARS-CoV-2 and its variants at least 85% of the time.

๐Ÿ“‰ Some COVID-19 data: In 2020 Australia had 28k cases, 909 deaths (1 in 31). In 2021 it was 367k cases, 1.3k deaths (1 in 273). In 2022 to date, 2.7 million cases but only 2.6k deaths (1 in 1,017).

๐Ÿš† Good luck, Sydney: “All passenger trains in Sydney scheduled for Monday have been cancelled due to a dispute between the NSW Government and drivers.”

๐Ÿ•ต๏ธโ€โ™€๏ธ Details of 30,000 clients from Switzerland’s Credit Suisse were leaked online, including “a human trafficker in the Philippines, a Hong Kong stock exchange boss jailed for bribery, a billionaire who ordered the murder of his Lebanese pop star girlfriend and executives who looted Venezuela’s state oil company”.

๐Ÿ‘ป Another week, another problem with Tesla’s vehicles, this time “phantom braking”, leading the US regulator to investigate “416,000 Tesla vehicles after receiving hundreds of complaints”.

๐Ÿ›‚ Queensland’s government will start easing coronavirus restrictions “before the end of the month”.

๐Ÿ•บ The ACT government removed most of its remaining coronavirus restrictions on Friday evening, with more to follow throughout Feb.

๐Ÿšจ A Chinese-born Gold Coast accountant and a Russian-born Brisbane entrepreneur were charged with contraventions of Australia’s Defence Trade Control Act after allegedly arranging to move items on the “Defence and Strategic Goods list from the Russian Federation to the People’s Republic of China”.

๐Ÿšข ScoMo said he has no plans to overturn the sale of the Port of Darwin to Chinese interests because “that is not something that has been advised” by “our defence and intelligence agencies”.

โšก The Australian Defence Force (ADF) accused China’s navy of directing a military-grade laser at one of its surveillance aircraft while in flight over Australia’s northern approaches, which “could have endangered the safety and lives of the ADF personnel.”

๐Ÿ˜๏ธ Anyone else spot the circular reasoning here? The Victorian government is going to make it more expensive to build more affordable, high-density housing with a new levy on “the market value of any new build with three or more dwellings or three or more lot subdivisions”, so that it can build more social housing, because housing is so expensive…

๐Ÿ”ฌ A randomised trial of 490 high-risk patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 found that “a 5-day course of oral ivermectin administered during the first week of illness did not reduce the risk of developing severe disease”.

๐Ÿ‘ฎโ€โ™€๏ธ Chicago (US) police only solve ~45% of murders, while the figure for the London (UK) police is ~98%.

๐Ÿต Are people just buying their own NFTs? “Funds used to win an auction of Melania Trump’s first NFT were traced back to a wallet that belongs to the creators of the project.”

โš”๏ธ UK PM Boris Johnson said that “the [Russian] plan we are seeing is for something that could be really the biggest war in Europe since 1945 just in terms of sheer scale”.

๐Ÿ„โ€โ™€๏ธ There really is a record for everything. “WA can now add ‘world record holder’ to its bejewelled crown after eclipsing the Guinness world record for the longest line of surfboards ever to line a beach.”

๐Ÿ Canadian police “swept through Canada’s capital Saturday, retaking control of the streets around the Parliament buildings and appearing to end the siege of Ottawa after three weeks of protests”.

๐Ÿญ Australian software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes “launched a shock joint bid to take control of AGL Energy, paving the way for a quicker shut down of the energy giantโ€™s coal-fired power stations”.

๐Ÿ‘‘ The 95-year-old Queen has contracted COVID-19 and is experiencing “mild cold-like symptoms”.