COVID19 outbreak sends Auckland to L3; Rest of New Zealand to L2


It is back. Somehow after 102 days with no community transmission New Zealand has got a COVID19 out break in Auckland.

As of 1200 hours today Auckland will be moved back to LEVEL 3, where all non essential businesses and those with front facing only service functions have to close. All bars, cinemas, malls, places of leisure have to close. For the rest of New Zealand the country is moving back to LEVEL 2. Distancing will apply, restrictions of no more than 100 in bars and restaurants as well as people being seated will apply.

To Auckland and the rest of New Zealand, see you in a few days. With the exception of going for a COVID19 test I am grounded until the results are back, which I expect will be sometime on Thursday.

On another COVID19 note two rest homes in Christchurch are under lock down after patients there were found to have flu like symptoms.

It is important to note that the Government anticipated a probable move back into a higher level of alert for brief periods of time in their planning. They also warned people that New Zealanders should have masks available for when they go out, and to get tested if presented with the opportunity.

Maintaining vigilance in the COVID19 environment


Despite the 100 days that have passed since the last known case of community transmission, New Zealand has no room for complacency. Anyone wanting to argue this point need only look across the Tasman Sea and note the struggles of Victoria and other Australian states. They should also consider the fact that no one in New Zealand wants to go back into lock down for very obvious reasons. Only then, after asking themselves if that torpedoes their argument, can they debate the level of danger COVID19 poses to New Zealand.

For myself, my work, the risk of COVID19 coming back is one I/we cannot afford to ignore. The rental car sector has suffered with the plunge in tourists and other users wanting cars to drive. The fact that Avis Budget Group has announced potential job losses should not come as a surprise. More companies – if they have not already done so – will be considering whether they can afford to maintain current staffing levels. Most tourism comes from international tourists and the high season in summer is the busiest time of year for tourism businesses.

The same goes for hospitality businesses. Whilst New Zealand is largely back to normal, a number of small hospitality businesses such as bars, cafes, restaurants have been forced to close because the economic impact of everyone staying home was not something that they could afford. If a second wave of COVID19 comes, and medical experts say that there is a good probability it will, without a shred of doubt New Zealand will be in big trouble if we open our borders.

The need to maintain vigilance was noted in a newspaper article in The Press yesterday. Last week Ministry of Health Director General Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that New Zealanders should have masks ready to go in case New Zealand finds itself having to rapidly increase the COVID19 Alert Level. This warning has seen a surge in mask purchases being made around New Zealand.

At an individual level I now wear gloves all day every day at work. I wash my hands more frequently and use hand sanitizer upon entry to any store that has it available. I am more conscious of my health and am more likely to stay home if I have a minor cold instead of having a pair of Immunofort tablets to give me 12-18 hour relief.

However not everyone believes the danger exists. Aside from the fringe parties on the far right, such as New Zealand Public Party which believes COVID19 is a scam and that it is being used as a disguise for a government seizure of ones rights, there is more moderate – yet politically desperate – resistance emanating from National and A.C.T. who believe that the borders should be reopened so that non-New Zealanders wanting to conduct business here can enter. Neither National or A.C.T. have indicated any recognition of the fact that the very tourism industry that they claim to be supporting wants a reopening of the borders, because it is simply too dangerous.

If COVID19 is the scam that so many are saying it is, then why is it out of control around the world? Why is the public so trusting in the Government I have heard some ask. The answer is simple: just this once the Government of the day in New Zealand has largely done very well in containing COVID19. I know this because I have American friends who are openly jealous of how well we are doing. I cannot blame them.

 

Why I trust our COVID19 plan more than I trust the Opposition


A few days ago National Member of Parliament, Michael Woodhouse made a stunning allegation. A homeless man had apparently talked his way past security and into a hotel in Auckland where COVID19 quarantine patients were being held. Who was he; why was he there?

The Government launched an investigation because such allegations are not to be trifled with. In making the allegations, National was alleging that there had been a significant breach of the containment facility that the hotel had been converted into; that the Government had no idea where a potential super spreader who could have gone on to infect hundreds of people had gone.

Except that there is a problem. There is no way of verifying it and Mr Woodhouse has not provided additional evidence.

National are plain desperate. It is a significant allegation to make, and I am not the first to do so, but it seems to me that National actually want the COVID19 pandemic to come back to New Zealand because that would give their claim that the Government does not know what it is doing, credence.

Despite having heard of some silly stuff in New Zealand politics, I find the idea that a political party could want a pandemic for their own ends quite unbelievable. Wanting a pandemic that might be only weeks away from overwhelming the United States medical system to come back and start raising merry hell here, just so National can get back into power. And yet, that is precisely what other commentators, not able to really believe their own eyes and ears are seeing and hearing too.

All this does is give me confidence that New Zealand is for the very most part on the right track in dealing with COVID19. Right across the emergency from when New Zealand realized it was going to have to enact measures unseen in this country before, through to today, the communications between the Government and the people have been outstanding. At all levels of society – from video updates aimed at children to the daily 1300 hour briefings for other parts of

Sure we are having new cases announced daily, but New Zealand was told quite clearly to expect an eventual second wave. Whether this is the star of that new wave, I do not know but that is mute. My point is the Government understood in its contingency planning that when the restrictions are lifted and people become mobile again we would probably see a spike in cases.

In terms of the people who have come through the border and gone on without appropriate checking, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield gave instructions in good faith. As such they had every reason like the rest of New Zealand to expect that those instructions would be duly implemented. And that anger displayed by the Prime Minister last week was not for show – it was an actual reaction to someone not doing a completely essential job and potentially letting down the entire country. My guess is that someone in middle management either made a bad judgement or was someone who thought that they knew better and exceeded the authority delegated to them. And if this is the case, middle management is an internal matter for the appropriate ministry or department and not something the Director General or the Prime Minister need to know about.

It was a good call getting the military to become involved in quarantine management as their logistical system, chain of command and resources has a clarity and structure sometimes missing in civilian organizations.

Do I have concerns? Yes. And so should everyone else, because COVID19 is anything but finished. It is incomparably more dangerous than the “minor flu” that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insists; the epidemiologists and all those other people working in the medical sector are far more in tune than the politicians seek to undermine each other on the subject of COVID19. New Zealand might be doing well, but as a small nation, we have to be honest that our economic ability to fight a major COVID19 resurgence is limited; that our I.C.U. capacity is not great (and never has been) and that no one really knows when a vaccine will be ready – never mind available in quantities that means New Zealand and our Pasifika neighbours get a fair use of it.

So, why do I have confidence if I have concerns? The answer is simple. Because the Prime Minister and the Government have put their trust in the medical profession who are dealing with the crisis. They are not trying to play down the danger at all and know that a move back up to Level 2, 3 or – heaven forbid! – 4, would be horrendous for everyone. The social cost would, like the economic cost, be something few would want to contemplate.

 

A stark contrast between the United States and New Zealand in war on COVID19


Yesterday a truly disturbing announcement was made about COVID19. Whereas the first 1 million cases world wide had taken 3 months to reach, the most recent million new cases took a mere 8 days. 125,000 cases or the equivalent of the entire population of Otago every day coming down with COVID19. And as we ramp up our efforts to keep the border secure, the contrast in handling the emergency between the country much of the West looks to for leadership and a country of two moderate size islands and a host of smaller ones 11,000 kilometres away, is becoming ever more stark.

New Zealand has made a few mistakes. We should have never allowed people in on compassionate grounds. From Day 1 we should have sent everyone to quarantine without exception. The Police should have gone in hard after a few days grace and done away with warnings and education.

I know there is a whole lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda in there, but if you look at earlier articles, you would see that I have acknowledged the mistakes. You will see that New Zealand has been – and I cannot say this with enough emphasis – very lucky to have had both the Opposition and the Government largely on the same page. For election year reasons as well as holding the Government to account, there have been obvious disagreements. When we look at how the Opposition and Government have worked or not worked together in other countries only then do we realize that for all their many faults, there are worse things than National and A.C.T. in politics.

But New Zealand has done very well to control COVID19 to the extent that we have. It has been a combination of circumstances and a brilliant response. New Zealand’s geographical location, so often the curse of the country in terms of our relevance to the rest of the world has paid rich dividends in this instance. Contrast that with Canada which has the United States on its border; France with Spain; India with Pakistan. The response, which was in the history of New Zealand, unprecedented, planning, announcing and implementing a complete national shutdown with the speed that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did was always going to catch some people out; was always going to have a couple of teething issues simply because so much had to happen so quickly, adequate planning simply was not possible for everything. Much of the desperate politicking by National and A.C.T. at the moment has nothing to do with COVID19 and is simply about the General Election on 19 September.

Before people say “the United States is much bigger than New Zealand, so more cases and fatalities should be expected”, yes that is true. But not on the disproportionate scale that the United States now finds itself in. The United States has 66x New Zealand’s population of 5 million people, but it also has vastly greater resources available to it, both in terms of Federal Government finances, equipment, personnel and so forth as well as an immense bank of knowledge to draw upon.

If the United States had some how managed to keep its cases strictly proportionate to New Zealand, prior to our case numbers starting to climb last week, the key equations would have been:

  • 1504 (N.Z. total cases) x 66 = 99,264 cases
  • 22 (N.Z. total deaths) x 66 = 1,452 deaths

If we were pragmatic we would acknowledge the social, geographic, economic disparities across the United States and the fact that a vastly larger population would bring individuals with a vastly greater range of medical conditions. On that basis, for arguments sake, one might then make a 3-4 fold allowance cases and deaths. But even that, horrible as the statistics are – and remembering EVERY life lost is a tragedy for a family somewhere, there or here – the following statistics still look comparatively good to what is actually happening in the United States;

  • 99,264 cases x 3 = 297,792; x 4 = 397,056
  • 1,452 deaths x 3 = 4,356; x 4 = 5,808

I honestly do not know what the answer is in the United States. With 2 million casualties and 120,000 dead it is clear that the United States has an unprecedented medical emergency on its hands, especially as the U.S. moves into the hottest months of its calender year. With major holidays such as Independence Day still a month away and an election campaign to come, the U.S. struggle to contain COVID19 is only going to get more and more desperate. It is not nice to see a country you were told to look up to in Primary School as a nation that New Zealand should aspire to be like, suffering like this, but it is one time I am truly, truly grateful that the lottery of citizenship had me born in New Zealand.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 33


Yesterday was DAY 33 of lock down as New Zealand fights the COVID19 pandemic.

LEVEL 4 ended at 2359 hours on Monday. LEVEL 3 began at 0000 hours this morning. For the vast majority of New Zealanders, aside from being able to enjoy takeaway meals and coffees from ones favourite outlets, little has changed other than the following:

  • Tradies can return to work, but tools will need to be washed twice daily
  • Activities within your region are permitted, but the closer to home the better
  • Schools can reopen up to Year 10 (children under 14 must be supervised)

This is something from which the recovery will be tedious and unlike anything anything in the memory of the vast majority of New Zealanders. To the chagrin of millions of people. It will test the patience of decision makers, the authorities and the public. It will test them in ways they had not thought possible.

The civil libertarians, whose eternal distrust of Government renders them permanently suspicious of the establishment, will be looking for ways to get around a set of cumbersome, odious and yet essential rules. There may be a few inspired by protests in Germany and the United States who think they are making a stand for their country, but are only making a stand for their misguided beliefs.

The mainstream will be happy to comply with rules if they are sure it will get the virus gone. The authorities will be wanting to be as close to 100% certain as they can, that the virus has been defeated before they openly support seriously relaxed rules; the Police aware that the potential for non-compliance will increase in inverse portion to public patience.

The decision makers, having the decisions will want to be sure that they were a) the right decisions and b) will stand up to the scrutiny of any inquiry or review that happens later. For those like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, their legacy and how well their policies survive into the future will depend in large part on how they handle the recovery from COVID19.

I hope we are compliant as a nation – like everyone I want the virus to be decisively defeated. But when the war on COVID19 is inevitably drawn to a close, the Government is going to have a difficult balancing act between systematically denying the virus the prospect of Round 2 and getting as much of the country back to work, back to having a life as quickly as possible. There will also be challenges on the side that need to be dealt with, such as privacy concerns over the new application that the Government is working on – who will store the data; what rules will there be around sharing; what security will there be to stop hacking or data misuse among other concerns.

In some respects it will be like walking along the narrow ridge between potential pits (COVID19 resurgence, all the while wanting to dodge crumbling cliffs (public compliance) and not knowing how long New Zealand can maintain this delicate act without seriously hurting itself.

And all the while remembering there is an election in September.