Repeat: this is not a drill…

False alarm

In 1971, during the tumult of the Vietnam War, an emergency action notification was sent in error to U.S. broadcast stations, with an operator inadvertently sending out the wrong tape to networks.

The message instructed networks to cease transmission of regular programming immediately and issue an alert announcement on behalf of the U.S. Government, while not being specific about the cause of the emergency.

Chaos reigned amidst the unknown terror as the emergency notification was wired to more than 2,500 networks, although most (correctly, as it turned out) assumed that the message was a false alarm, and many others cancelled their notifications prematurely, before they were actually instructed to do so.

In the event only around 20% of networks followed the procedures correctly, leading to an urgent rethink of the emergency notification system and new safeguards being put in place to prevent a repeat of the false alarm.

This is not a drill

There have been many epidemics over the past couple of decades due to infectious diseases, the bulk of of which have thankfully skirted the western world.

Arguably one of the most effective responses to this year’s worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was actioned by Taiwan, a country which, perhaps not coincidentally, was one of the worst hit by the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Novel Coronavirus Daily Deaths in 2020, Taiwan (Worldometers)

The relative importance of face mask distribution, apps and tracing, public compliance, and digital quarantine will be debated for years to come, but the results for Taiwan to date have been nothing less than stunningly effective.

Possibly more complacent following the false alarms of the past, the response in Europe was generally speaking slower and less effective, with the spread of the virus compounded lately by the colder winter months, turning hopes instead to mass vaccination programmes.

Do not adjust your sets…

Moving on to the warmer and Vitamin D-abundant Antipodes, where through a muddied combination of policy and good fortune, life has already returned to something approaching normal…except for those unfortunate Aussie expats stranded overseas.

The lack of international travel will doubtless continue to be crippling for aviation, some parts of the tourism sector, and higher education facilities for as long as border closures are sustained.

But a powerful combination of easier monetary policy, massive fiscal stimulus with payments to households and businesses, and the dollars of would-be Aussie travellers remaining trapped at home is leading us into something of a domestic boom.

Job advertisements have soared over the past seven months to be in better shape than a year ago, while as bank accounts have swelled retail turnover has scaled the kind of dizzying heights that could only have been dreamed of a year ago.

Monthly Retail Turnover, Australia (ABS)

Housing prices and construction are firing up, consumer confidence is at the most bullish levels in a decade, and the price of Australia’s most valuable export commodity, iron ore, has exploded to previously unthinkable levels.

While many European economies are facing awful and ongoing economic downturns, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to view what Australia experienced in 2020 as a “recession” at all, except in the technical sense of the term.

It’s been more akin to an intermission – a temporary inconvenience, or interruption to scheduled programming – with normal service resuming much more quickly than we’d dared to hope.

A Lucky Country, indeed.

Merry Xmas to all readers, here’s to a hopefully smoother 2021.