Deaths, in Context

We have a duty to be truthful in evaluating all the things that happened to us in 2020


Justice Politics

On average nearly 150,000 people die throughout the world every single day, from all causes, amounting to a total of more than 55 million each year. Those totals should be constantly in our minds as a sort of yardstick or backdrop to our consideration of the numbers reported slain by COVID – or by any other disease or misfortune, including old age. Holding on to those almost unimaginably huge numbers is our best defense against distortion and deliberate misinformation.

When all the numbers are in, will 2020 differ much from 2019? It seems probable that COVID deaths in countries like Australia will appear as mere blips on the statistics, if at all. How easy will it be to discover how many died with COVID, or because of it? The exceptionally low rate of “flu deaths” in Victoria last year, for example, must surely cast some doubt on the accuracy of diagnosis in many cases.

When rates are relatively low, as in Australia, governments will doubtless claim credit for keeping them that way. But will those jurisdictions that applied maximum constraint to the free movement of their peoples show a better outcome, or shall we discover little difference between their figures and those of nations that took a more liberal approach? I don’t attempt to assert that, but I insist that we all have an obligation to examine the final statistics with critical care and to maintain our perspective, even when being beaten over the heads with dismal and decontextualized tales of slaughter.

I do not make light of the COVID pandemic: in many countries such as Italy, France, the UK, and the US, we shall no doubt see that there was a sad increase in the death rate among elderly people, as well as deathly fear among aged people and their caregivers. The misery is undeniable — but it hasn’t occurred in an otherwise rosy world.

The biggest question is whether our sufferings during the year past have made us kinder and more compassionate people. Did 15,000 children still die every day in 2020 of hunger or fouled drinking water? That’s the figure we’ve known about and casually lived with for many years. Has the WHO given much thought to reducing it? Have our governments found time amidst our own First World miseries to do something to fix it?

Unborn children are killed in the millions every year, and not just unborn children but unwanted viable children are brought to birth and left to die. Will we now do something to stop or at least reduce that slaughter?

Self-employed people, small businesses, workers in the private sector have lost their livelihoods. We’ve helped them out with massive government grants, but that won’t go on forever; will they bounce back? Surgery once thought essential has been deferred or cancelled – have some died not from, but as a consequence of, COVID lockdown? Children who are the least likely to suffer dire consequences from the disease have been isolated at home and deprived of the social dimension of education at a crucial period in their upbringing. Has near-universal lockdown held them back? Is it possible that the rate of mental illnesses, fed by isolation, fear, and loneliness, escalated during the year past?

Will our shattered economies recover? Will ordinary people (excluding perhaps the very rich) be a little poorer in 2021 and beyond – or even a lot poorer? Will our sacrifices, voluntary and induced, make us happier and healthier? Will we live longer in a COVID-free world? Could there even be such a thing? Will we be angry with our governments? Or will we be kinder and nicer and more grateful? Will fewer children die or be killed to suit the convenience or advance the policies of others?

I have no gift of foresight and cannot answer my own questions. We who believe that Christian civilization is worth saving, tender and ever-vulnerable as it is, have a duty to be vigilant and truthful in our evaluation of all the things that happened to us in 2020. Was the game worth the candle? Have the sacrifices saved lives, not just from death by COVID, but from other kinds of terrible and unnecessary terminations?


David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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