N.Z. in lock down: DAY 15

Yesterday was DAY 15 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

At the time of writing this, it was 2130 hours N.Z.T. on 09 April 2020 and I expect that the streets of Christchurch, like the streets of every other town and city in the country will be effectively deserted. As today is Good Friday, effectively only the service stations around the country will be open. Most dairies have shut because the absence of foot traffic does not justify them staying open. No doubt for a few in the lowest socio-economic groups, it could be a quite grim weekend.

There is no doubt that this Easter is going to be a very sedate, rather boring affair for New Zealand. Instead of Wanaka rocking to its bi-annual airshow, the streets will be empty. Instead of thousands of New Zealanders pouring onto the roads to reach their holiday homes, the Police have been turning the few silly enough to try, back at check points. Instead of people like myself going to the pub and staying there until being told to leave because the staff have to have locked up and left the building themselves by midnight, everyone is at home.

But – and I cannot emphasize this enough…

Yesterday I saw – or maybe I imagined it but still want to think its true – that just maybe the darkness in the COVID19 tunnel has just started to get either so slightly lighter. For a few days now, the rate of cases has been slowing. It will probably take another few days to taper right off, but instead of an exponential growth in case numbers and a matching explosion in hospital cases, the numbers have been quite linear in their growth. The one death recorded over a week ago was an elderly lady with pre-existing medical issues, and there has not been any since.

For staying the course and going in hard and early, New Zealand now has a realistic chance of becoming the first western nation to not so much beat COVID19 as completely eradicate it. This would be a major feat.

However, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the countries that New Zealand has drawn inspiration from in terms of making sure it was ready for a pandemic. Particular acknowledgement has to go to Singapore. Following the outbreak of SARS, Singapore realized that it was very vulnerable if it did not reinforce its medical system, have a plan for rapidly ramping testing up and a way to get the population on board.

It is also important to note work that was done in New Zealand preparing the country financially for a rainy day situation – natural disaster, pandemic, stock market crash, and so forth – that both National-led and Labour-led Governments contributed to. The last two Governments both set aside money for emergencies, but also they tried to keep the debt owed by New Zealand to relatively low levels compared with other countries. Without this, New Zealand probably would not have been able to so rapidly open to the extent it has the Government cheque book.

When I look at other countries and how they are handling the pandemic, I sometimes have trouble believing how lucky we have been here:

  • In the United States, 50 different states have 50 different ideas about what should be happening whilst the President is constantly undercutting those with medical knowledge, and more worryingly, trying to promote hydroxychloroquine as an effective vaccine.
  • In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in the Intensive Care Unit, and whose government initially wanted to try “herd immunity” – a rather dystopian and quite backward theory – that would have let hundreds of thousands get sick, the National Health System is critically short on protective gear.
  • In India, as far as I can tell India has no plan for how it will address the pandemic – its vastly underfunded health system is in no way ready for the millions of tests that will need to be conducted, and the nation wide lock down for 21 days will only be effective if the borders were closed.
  • In Spain a worsening situation has seen nearly 10,000 people die with over 100,000 cases. The country is in full lock down, but there is evidence that the curve in the new cases figure is starting to flatten, with hospital admissions slowing down.
  • In Italy, one of the first countries to feel the lash of COVID19 and one of the worst affected around the world, 17,700 have died from the pandemic. However like Spain, the hospitals are reporting a decrease in new patients coming in and a full lock down has been extended.

As the late New Zealand comedian Fred Dagg said in a moment of vivid wisdom that seems to getting brighter by the day here, of living in Aotearoa:

We don’t know how lucky we are

The annual chocolate shortage (Easter)

Every Easter on the Sunday there is a temporary spike in the collective weight of the humans living in New Zealand. It stems from the massive annual splurge on chcolate treats that comes with Him having risen from the Cross 2000+ years ago. Except that I am quite sure 2000+ years ago when Jesus was nailed to the Cross, no one could have had the foggiest clue that it would be acknowledged as much by the dollar as by the Christians around the world.

So, enjoy your chocolate overdose tomorrow. I am sure it will be fun and that many of you will go to bed wondering whether that was such a grand idea after all, yet already thinking about how you can make 2020 even better. I will not be one of these many people – unfortunately I do not see Whittakers making easter eggs or other Easter related chocolate treats, and I have sworn off Cadbury and anyone else who uses palm oil. And at  the end of the day to me, Easter has become one vast commercial con where the dollars speak louder than the meaning of it.

Of chocolate and bunnies

So, how many people’s waist lines are going to grow at Easter with a chocolate overload? My guess is quite a few given how many people, despite it being in their final hour of trading for the day, I saw at Countdown last night with chocolate in their trollies. I would further guess that all of this is good if you are looking forward to seeing whether or not a suggested shortage of chocolate materializes.

Yes, it is true. Demand for cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate is at an all time high. The suppliers in the tropical parts of the world cannot keep pace, and in some countries that export cocoa, the suppliers are even resorting to illegal clearance of forest that is protected and clearing those parts for cocoa crops. People cry foul over palm oil, but I do not hear very much screaming over cocoa.

Three years ago there was a shortage of cocoa to make chocolate with. People were talking about “Chocogeddon” as a shortage fuelled by unprecedented demand on the crop in Africa threatened to choke supplies. Three later, there is a glut in Africa and demand is at lows not seen for years. The rampant consumerism that goes with it at this time of year and at Christmas is completely counter to what both occasions are supposed to be about – and why I almost delight in being happy when either Easter or Christmas are done for another year.

So, will I have any Easter chocolate this year? I have had Easter eggs this year, but probably not many more, mainly for weight loss reasons than any particular desire to cut back on chocolate consumption.

I imagine it must be a pretty tough weekend to be a member of Save Animals From Exploitation, which I seem to recall a couple of Easters ago chiding farmers for the huge numbers of rabbits they shot dead in Alexandra’s annual bunny hunt. I found S.A.F.E.’s ignorance hilarious on one hand and disturbing on the other. Anyone familiar with why rabbit shooting is so widespread in New Zealand would know that rabbits are a noxious pest under the Resource Management Act because of their high breeding rates, the fact that they were introduced and compete with grazing animals for vegetation. In doing so they expose the surface of the surface, which allows an all smothering mat of a weed called Hieracium to cover the ground. Hieracium is nearly impossible to get rid of and therefore poses a major problem on grazing land. It is also a noxious pest under the National Pest Plant Accord, which makes it illegal to sell, distribute or develop Hieracium.

Because of statutory requirements to keep pest levels at a predetermined level, farmers have two choices. They can either do the control work themselves or let a Regional Council pest control do it and send them the bill. To this end, the Great Alexandra Bunny Shoot in some respects is also an attempt at pest control.

Anyway, happy rabbit shooting.

Easter trading laws still a mess

Every year at Easter a small number of hardy shop keepers ignore the Easter trading laws that generally prohibit businesses opening to conduct trade. These businesses cop fines when the Department of Internal Affairs comes knocking on their doors to find out why they are breaking the law. But defiantly with a dogged determination, they might just as well be saying to the compliance officers “See you again next year”.

To some extent I have sympathy with them as Easter is a religious holiday whose significance is obviously not relevant to all New Zealanders. It is also borne out of a genuine belief that the New Zealand trading laws surrounding Easter are out of date. And in the case of one persistent offender, gardening supplies chain Oderings it is not even about religion, but simply about the fact that a lot of people like to potter in their gardens at Easter. With plants and the weather transitioning between summer and winter, the public holiday is a good time to get their gardens ready.

I am personally not so sure that the laws are out of date, or just very poorly written. Certainly they are inconsistent in their application, and about as clear as mud in determining where stores can/cannot open. To that end I believe the Government law change that was announced in 2015 might have been good in intent, but was lousy in its application. By enabling the numerous district and city councils to determine which places shops can open or not, potentially 60 odd different bodies are going to have potentially 60 different interpretations.

Earlier blog articles have mentioned how I think the Easter trading laws in New Zealand need to change. I do not think any further change will happen under this Government. However as long as businesses such as Oderings continue to flout the law, it is worthwhile asking oneself not whether tougher laws are needed for dealing with violations, but whether the premise of the existing trading laws is correct.

Maybe Oderings has a point.