N.Z. in lock down: DAY 27

Yesterday was DAY 27 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

When I woke up yesterday morning and turn on my social media, my initial thoughts were to look for the latest controversy from United States President Donald Trump’s press conferences. Instead one of the first things that came up on Twitter was an article from well leftist blogger Martyn Bradbury (CitizenBomber). Mr Bradbury was trying to understand how the international oil market, which has slumped massively as a result of COVID19, could go into negative territory – i.e. be effectively worthless.

My reaction to this news was mixed. On one hand I thought no doubt there will be many relieved New Zealanders who hope that the costs will be matched to some extent by a significant drop in petrol and diesel prices here. With that, equally they will be hoping that the cost of transporting goods is reflected in a drop their prices upon arrival at their point of sale. Also happy, I imagine will be the environmental movement, who will be hoping that the inevitable revival is checked by a change in how New Zealanders get around.

On the other hand, despite those many people working in what the political left term a “sunset industry”, I could not help but feel sorry for the thousands of people who work in the immediate refinery and distribution parts of the industry. The industry will definitely try to mount a revival, but its greater challenge could be a long term one to see how willing it is to invest in biofuel and hydrogen research.

No doubt the petroleum industry would have been shocked by this historic low. One month in which the developed world and much of the developing world has effectively ground to a halt except for essential businesses will no doubt cause a major dip in profit margins. It is unlikely even if all developed nations started significantly scaling back their COVID19 containment measures tomorrow, that prices would recover for 18-24 months if not significantly longer. Many countries are now seeing literal air quality improvements from the absence of petroleum and diesel powered transport before their eyes – in Punjab, one can see the Himalaya’s for the first time in 30+ years; Los Angeles, long known for its smoggy skies will be enjoying its cleanest view of the San Bernadino mountains in a long time.

The greatest challenge will be political. The technological means to invest in hydrogen and biofuel research are already here. The challenge for politicians will be extricate themselves from big oil’s embrace and taking steps to ensure that the few silver linings of a crisis in world history that has otherwise been a monumental disaster, are not lost on us.



N.Z. in lock down: DAY 26

Yesterday was DAY 26 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Yesterday at 1600 hours Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an announcement of what the next few weeks hold for New Zealand.

New Zealand will stay at LEVEL 4 until 2359 on Monday 27 April 2020. With the start of the new day it will go to LEVEL 3 with restrictions.

The other key points about what can/cannot be done at LEVEL 3 are below:

  • Takeaways will be permitted
  • 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)
  • Social distancing is maintained

The Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges finds himself in an unenviable position for any Opposition Leader. He is facing a Government being led by a Prime Minister whose leadership is earning international accolades, which much of the country across the political spectrum is willingly following. With strong leadership, combined with a down to earth empathy often lacking in politicians Ms Ardern has attracted accolades from the U.S. newspaper The Washington Post; noted internet media website The Hill among others. Her communications with the New Zealand public have a clarity yet certainty about them that is completely missing in those of other notable countries – my thoughts on the press conferences of U.S. President Donald Trump are not printable; the United Kingdom and Australian Government pressers seem disorganized, and apparently Indian President Narendra Modi does not bother with them at all.

But as the Leader of the Opposition ultimately Mr Bridges has to say something, and in this case he has decided to call LEVEL 3 “LEVEL 3.9”, and said that the Government has not laid down the framework for moving the economy out of LEVEL 4. Mr Bridges also said that we should be following Australia’s lead, where restrictions are considerably less. Mr Bridges knows full well that Australia, whilst doing comparatively well compared to the United States, United Kingdom and other countries has had a lack of definitive direction from the Federal Government in Canberra. So too, does Dr Paul Goldsmith, National’s Treasurer spokesperson, who said that the Government is being too tight on the economy and needs to significantly ease restrictions now. He would do well to listen to the words of noted New Zealand economist Shamubeel Eaqub who said that at this time saving lives is more important than getting the economy moving again.

Clutching at straws might be a better description of A.C.T. Leader David Seymour. Mr Seymour’s response to the announcement seemed to be completely oblivious to why New Zealand is taking a cautious approach. Like Dr Goldsmith, Mr Seymour would be well advised to listen to Mr Eaqub.

At the end of the day, there was never going to be an entirely fool proof announcement today. What it has done is however the next best thing: an acknowledgement that we need another few days after the four week lock down period is up, then the start of a gradual transition into a hopeful post-COVID19 environment – to say “a return to normal” is not realistic. What was normal pre-COVID19 is simply obsolete now. Whether it is by societal impact of COVID19 or by a public decision to seize the opportunity we have now to radically overhaul New Zealand society, New Zealand has undergone a significant change from which there is no going back.

Am I happy with it? For the most part yes. The government has tried to listen to all sides. The first priority was defeat COVID19. Now that that looks somewhat attainable, we can start looking at getting the economy going again once LEVEL 3 restrictions are eased. It has spent billions propping up workers so that the economy does not disintegrate. Tens of billions of dollars more has been freed up to stimulate growth once New Zealanders start going back to work in large numbers.


N.Z. in lock down: DAY 25

Yesterday was DAY 25 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

I monitor a range of media, political, economic, environmental and social commentators on Twitter. They include columnists such as conservative columnist Matthew Hooton and socialist commentator Chris Trotter, China specialist Anne-Marie Brady and a host of others.

Over the last 3 1/2 weeks, it has been really interesting watching the commentary flow about how New Zealand is doing, how we compare to other nations. But one thing that everyone seemed to have overlooked was how are our little Pasifika neighbours going.

It turns out, very well.

Last night Professor Brady, who works at University of Canterbury, had an idea on Twitter that I quite like about how New Zealand’s border might initially reopen. Professor Brady noted that the vast majority of small Pacific Island nations are clear of COVID19. In this she is thinking of – but not limited to:

  • Fiji
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Vanuatu
  • Solomon Islands

Her vision is of a small islands super bubble. Other commentators on the thread thought that if we do that, New Zealand’s role would be to ensure that the bubble is not breached by anyone with the virus, which would be done by requiring them to quarantine at N.Z. facilities before they travelled to anywhere else in the bubble.

Due to the heavy reliance of many of these places on tourism, but also recognizing that outsiders carrying COVID19 could potentially completely destroy the smallest of these states, this would be the most fool proof way. The United States is too risky by simple virtue of their lack of organization in defeating COVID19 and Autstralia, whilst having a falling rate of cases, has in effect detuned from its South Pacific responsibilities.

Even if this idea does not fly, this is a great opportunity for New Zealand to steal a lead in the South Pacific by offering to help them build up their health sectors. An investment in that could be looked as both an investment in their well being, but also an investment in New Zealand’s national security, by helping to ensure that these nations are not crippled in the future.


N.Z. in lock down: DAY 24

Yesterday was DAY 24 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Every day that the weather is good, at about 1530 hours, I put on my sneakers and go for a walk. It is my time away from the house to get some fresh air into my lungs and see what is going on in the neighbourhood.

Some days if the weather is not so good or I have been busy doing other things and left it too late, I will shorten the walk to a brisk 20 minutes. However most days I am able to walk considerably further and am compiling a map on Google maps of all the routes I have taken. Some of the walks are as long as a 9km round trip.

Whilst I am out walking, I notice that there are a lot of teddy bears in windows, which follows a hashtag thing that has happened on both Facebook and Easter. Being down a right of way where the house is not visible unless one walks up the drive, we haven’t partaken in this, even though I am holding onto a bear that was given to me in hospital 30 years ago for when my brother and his wife are able have a child.

Today when I was walking in a suburb called Bishopdale, I noticed how the grass berms are getting long because council contractors are not mowing them and the council flats do not have storage for that kind of thing. The gutters were full of leaves from the deciduous trees that are shedding their load before winter. The community shopping mall car park across the road was completely deserted. One boy skateboarding in it and a couple of people walk around the fringe.

Many of the shops along the Farrrington Ave frontage are small Ma and Pa businesses that have folded because of the poor economic times we are in. They looked like they had been stripped before lock down started. As I walked along Harewood Road, normally one of the busiest roads in northwest Christchurch, I was taken by the fact that I managed to walk two blocks before a car went past. Normally that could only be done very late at night or early in the morning.

Lock down may end at the end of the four week period that started at 0000 hours 26 March 2020, or it may be extended a bit longer. New Zealand is tracking very well compared to other countries and we still only have 1422 cases, with 11 deaths. New cases are in the low 10’s.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 23

Yesterday was DAY 23 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Thus far in the unprecedented situation New Zealand has found itself, the country has performed brilliantly in terms of compliance with shut down regulations. On Monday the country will make a choice about whether to stay at LEVEL 4 or go to LEVEL 3.

LEVEL 3 as far as I can tell is basically LEVEL 4 lite or LEVEL 3.5:

  • No hair dressers will open
  • Most retail shops will stay shut
  • Tradies will be able to go back to work
  • Public playgrounds will still be off limits
  • Early childhood can reopen

For me there are no concessions made at LEVEL 3. I will still have no work. In terms of things I do outside of work, I will not be able to do any except go for walks.

But I feel sorry for those who have had deaths in their family and were hoping that LEVEL 3 would be kind enough to let them have a funeral/tangi – with a limit of 10 people, I cannot imagine the final opportunity to hold a service for a loved one will be taken up by any families in that time. One or two weddings might go ahead, with less formal celebrations for the 90% of guests who had to be cut out held later, but I suspect just because the wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of a person’s life and most will want their best friends and family there, a 10 person limit will almost be a disincentive.

I doubt very much early childhood education centres will want to reopen. Tots put things in their mouths by default, drop things like drinks and food on the floor. The only COVID19 proof way of ensuring they are safe is probably to simply not open since they will not be able to play.

The same article in The Press, briefly outlined what LEVEL 2 would look like, and it is basically a LEVEL 3 lite, like a LEVEL 2.5. A person working in the hospitality sector must be thinking that their industry will be the last taxi off the rank. For a number of my friends, this will hurt a lot. I suspect at least some of them will be jobless before their employers can fully reopen.

I give New Zealand 6 weeks all up before non-compliance with lock down starts to become a major issue. After that some basic, hard tests are going seriously challenge the authorities in the coming weeks, namely:

  • How long will people continue to observe social distancing – at the moment whilst cases and deaths are still happening it is understandable, but when we get to the point where the last new case was several days ago and the number of recovered patients is rapidly closing on the total cases, surely significant easing will happen
  • The number of people wanting to go to check on secondary properties will increase steadily the longer it takes to get to LEVEL 2 and there will be an associated surge in people who are prepared to run the risk
  • There will be a surge in people who are prepared to go out and partake in activities that are not permitted – those who are on farms with significant bush nearby will be wanting to go bush; cyclists will start cycling in groups again

This is the sad reality of the world that we live in. It is made worse by the fact that if we are the first to eliminate COVID19, we will still have to keep the border fully closed for probably the rest of 2020, whilst we wait for other nations who did not go in hard and early to catch up.

I admire the work of this Government thus far. They have done a fantastic job with no blue print on how to govern a country in a pandemic. There has been a few idiots deliberately challenging the authorities and a few naysayers with dollar signs for eye pupils, but the very vast majority of New Zealanders have complied. If there is a steady, progressive winding down of the restrictions that will be a massive achievement. But if we drag it out too far, the real trouble is still over the horizon.