Here is the plot summary of a 1959 film you may not have watched or indeed heard of. It has a stellar cast, including Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins.
I have a vague memory of watching this on BBC 2 one rainy Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s.
On The Beach
In early 1964, in the months following World War III, the conflict has devastated the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere, killing all humans after polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout. Air currents are slowly carrying the fallout south; the only areas still habitable are in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere.
….The Australian government arranges for its citizens to receive suicide pills or prepared injections so they may end their lives quickly before there is prolonged suffering from radiation sickness.
…..Within a few days, the last pockets of humanity are dead. The empty, windblown streets of Melbourne are punctuated by the rise of dramatic, strident music over a single powerful image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner: “There is still time…Brother”.
“How, pray tell, does this have any relevance today?”, you may ask.
Well, the movie is based on a time disparity between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres in terms of their consequences from the nuclear war. It’s happened up north and they’ve taken the pain, whilst the south is watching and waiting for the inevitable impact to arrive.
At the time of writing, Australia’s official death toll from Covid19 is 208 and New Zealand has had just 22 deaths. The USA, meanwhile, is 157,000.
Well done Antipodeans, eh?
Hmm. Depends, doesn’t it.
The first point to note is ALL data on Covid19 is utterly unreliable for the purpose of comparison. Not only are deaths reported differently across countries, but rates of testing is nowhere nearly equal, and local circumstances are wildly different too.
The USA numbers with New York removed are very similar to other countries with good health care systems. What happened in New York? Only the minor issue of old people being relocated from hospital to aged care facilities without being confirmed as free from infection.
Imagine the movie On The Beach with a slightly changed plot where the north didn’t get wiped out but took a bad (say about 200,000 deaths) and immediate hit and then the south were told they would have to suffer the same relative fate (so, about 5,500 deaths in Australia and about 1,200 for New Zealand) BUT must decide when they would take it.
What would Australia and New Zealand decide?
A friend of mine recently posted the economic data from Sweden on social media, claiming that people who were happy to kill off the old and infirm for the sake of the economy had been proved wrong.
That’s the false dichotomy fallacy. I’ve never met anyone who wants to sacrifice members of the community for the sake of the economy.
I’m aware, therefore, my question above asking what Australia and New Zealand might do if told they’d have to accept 5,500 and 1,200 deaths respectively is also a fake dichotomy. By delaying the pain, both countries have learned lessons from
Governor Andrew Cuomo other countries and could now make a third choice of re-opening their economies with very specific and targeted actions to protect the vulnerable.
However, we aren’t seeing this level of nuanced discussion being had in either country. Instead, we are still acting as if a tacit target of zero infections exists. It is my opinion this is delaying the inevitable.
Meanwhile, a new report in Science Magazine suggests T cell immunity to coronavirus already exists in many people and therefore the “herd immunity” (remember that policy?) could be far lower than previously thought.
So, while Head Girl Jacinda and Property Scotty vacillate on how to break bad news, please don’t gas yourself in the garage with your sports car.