Why no one should be pleased about Trump having COVID19


United States President Donald Trump was yesterday diagnosed with COVID19, along with his wife First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump. Several key White House staff including an aide of Mr Trump, Hope Hicks have also tested positive for it.

There are people around the world and in the United States who will be happy that Mr Trump has been diagnosed with COVID19. They are happy for a number of reasons, not least they hope that it will teach Mr Trump to have some compassion for those who have had COVID, to develop some humility in the face of an unforgiving illness that has rocked America in ways its physical enemies could only dream about. They are happy because they hope that it will derail his Presidential re-election campaign and give Democrat nominee Joe Biden a better chance.

There are people who are happy here in New Zealand as well as in the United States, who wish worse on Mr Trump. Some say it is karma and that Mr Trump deserves everything that COVID19 might try to do to him. Some even go so far as to say outright that he should die.

I disagree. Vehemently.

Mr Trump having COVID19 will do no one anywhere in the world any favours. It will not bring back the 208,000 people who have died in the United States or cure the many hundreds of thousands of active cases that it has kicked up. It will not undo the eternal grief of nurses and doctors who have had to make devastating decisions about who can be saved and who should be let go; the morgues and crematorium who have to handle the remains of the deceased. Nor, despite Mr Trumps actions being largely responsible for the unholy mess that the United States now finds itself in, will wishing death on the President do anything to immediately stop the socio-economic schism now trying to form in what we referred to as the land of the free.

There are stridently anti-Trump voters here in New Zealand who will be breathing a sigh of relief. Their nemesis, their nightmare has some how been floored by COVID19.

I am not sure why they will be happy. We have a much more immediate issue here: the 2020 General Election. We have our own problems to be focussing on. With housing, social welfare, poverty, the environment, rebuilding the economy, keeping non-N.Z. political influences at bay and of course the rabble that is Advance New Zealand/N.Z. Public Party.

But also, how many of Mr Trumps many many detractors have looked at the credentials of Mr Michael Richard Pence, Vice President and the man who will succeed Mr Trump if he is incapacitated and no longer able to fulfil his role? How many people have looked who is next in line after Mr Pence, should he be incapacitated? Nancy Patricia Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. And in the oft chance that she is incapacitated? Benjamin Solomon Carson Snr., currently Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Mr Pence is an ardent Christian evangelist. His son is in the United States Marine Corps. He is anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, pro-gun and denies climate change. In many respects his views on Iran are harsher than those of Mr Trump.

As bad as Mr Trump is, there are worse people who could succeed him. Are you sure you want that?

Biden vs Trump: Round 1


Yesterday afternoon New Zealand time American Presidential candidates Democrat Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump had the first of three scheduled debates.

To sum up, it was a disaster. Neither Mr Biden or Mr Trump came out of it very well.

Mr Trump’s performance swung wildly between bullying, childish/immature responses and the downright terrifying. Several notable quotes came out of the debate from the Trump side which mainstream Americans would have found horrifying to contemplate. The award for the silliest goes to a claim made before the debate had even started, that Mr Trump had already won it. Then there were the alarming ones. They included a comment about white supremacy, which Mr Trump refused to condemn where he told the Proud Boys white supremacist group: “Proud Boys – stand back and stand by”, before saying that something needed to be done about ANTIFA and the left. And finally there were comments about whether he would ensure a peaceful transition of power in the event of him losing:

“It’s gonna be rigged. It’s gonna be a disaster. It’s gonna be a fraud, the likes of which you have never seen. This is not going to end well. But also we are going to win.”

It was not just Mr Trump’s conduct that should bother America. Mr Biden had lapses of concentration, which showed when he was asked a question about climate change.

But the worst thing Mr Biden did was to say that he does not support the New Green Deal for America. In other words he is – as Mr Trump once called him – “Status Quo Joe”. He is a person who is clearly showing a great reluctance to announce policies that will transform America for the better, and that clearly came out when he shot down the Democrat’s signature policy of a Green New Deal to get Americans into work; boost infrastructure and start the environmental sea change that is needed to make America more sustainable.

In a chaotic debate that had so many negatives from both the Republican and the Democrat candidates, it is much much easier to focus on the non-existent positives. The only positive I could find in this debate is that there are two more debates to go in which the audiences and the voting public will be wanting massive improvements from both sides. It bothers me that the best America would let itself come up with is two old pale stale males with no really radical plans that would bring about genuine benefits for America, no reassurance to America’s friends or reasons for America’s rivals to respect the United States. Mr Biden will be into his 80’s by the time he leaves office irrespective of whether he gets one term or two terms. Mr Trump will be 78 when he leaves office, if he gets another term.

COVID19 worsens around the World; New Zealand heading for Level 1 – again


Some days when I look at the COVID19 of New Zealand and then look at the response of other countries, it seems like we are a different planet all on our own doing our own thing. Having successfully fought off what I think was the second wave of the pandemic, New Zealand is once again heading towards COVID19 Level 1, where the country is effectively functioning normally, but with precautions in place. And as we do, I cannot help but look in the revision mirror at the madness engulfing other countries that did not so proactively respond to it.

What I find really off putting is how poorly the western world has done in fighting COVID19. With the exception of Germany, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand, most western countries have had and continue to have a torrid time – it is not to say that it was a walk in the park in New Zealand, far far from it, but thanks to a proactive response New Zealand has managed to avoid the case explosion that has happened in the United States, Brazil, India and elsewhere. With support across the House of Representatives, New Zealand has been able to tackle this as a nation and not as individuals. With effective communication, New Zealand has avoided the chaotic responses seen in European countries. And with the comparative lack of socio-political division, we have avoided becoming like the United States, the wealthiest country in the world tearing itself to bits as violently as it can without a second Civil War starting.

Yes, there are countries that we could be more like. I am particularly impressed with Taiwan’s effort. Taiwan has had in the 8 months that COVID19 has been around, 509 cases and 7 deaths. It is recording one or two new cases a day and its death toll has not increased in months. But unfortunately Taiwan is more of an exception, rather than the norm.

The few countries that have lesser cases than Taiwan and are considered to be first world are non-existent. The few countries at all that have less cases than Taiwan are Pacific island nations such as the Cook Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu, and so forth. These countries by their isolated nature, small size and lack of connection with the outside world pre-emptively shut down without waiting for recommendations to do so. However their very weak health systems mean even just a few cases of COVID19 could be disastrous.

Brazil, after peaking on 29 July at 69,000 new cases a day, has tapered off somewhat, but is still recording 33,000 new cases or the equivalent of the entire population of Blenheim each day. It has had 138,000 deaths from 4.59 million cases. Its President Jair Bolsonaro, denies the existence of COVID19 despite testing positive for it himself. Like India, like other countries whose cities have large slum areas, Brazilian urban areas have been swamped by COVID and my guess is that whilst 4.59 million cases have been recorded, there are probably hundreds of thousands more that are unknown.

India is finally facing up to something I had long dreaded would happen. Because of the relatively large size of India and poor transportation, I thought COVID19 would take a bit longer to spread around the country and it appears to have done so. But at the back of my mind I worried that when COVID19 did eventually arrive it would be potentially catastrophic. The acceleration of cases in India is truly shocking to watch – in one day last week, the equivalent of the entire population of Palmerston North (95,000) was infected; 5.6 million cases to date. Mortality rates though are not as high as I thought, with 1,053 dying on 22 September 2020.  With poor hygiene and sanitation practices, I expect that India’s case rate will worsen for a while longer yet.

And then there is Australia, a country that for the most part has COVID19 in check. Yet at the same time, Victoria, its second most populous state is locked down and has been for six weeks. Its politicians are arguing over whether to individually open up their states whilst Victoria finishes mandatory lock down. The cost to Australia, like New Zealand will be substantial, but if the former can successfully shrug off COVID19, it might be able to join New Zealand and other nations that have seen off the second wave in a COVID19-free bubble.

And so here we are. How did so many other nations with much greater resources, man power and expertise manage to mess up so badly, not once, but twice?

COVID Level 1 for New Zealand from Thursday


On Thursday at 0000 hours COVID Level 2 will take force in Auckland, nearly 6 weeks after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent the country’s most populous region back to Level 3 (2 for the rest of New Zealand). At the same time Level 1 will take effect across the rest of New Zealand.

The country has spent the last nearly 6 weeks at an elevated COVID19 level as it stamps out what appears to be the inevitable second wave. In that time 200+ more cases have been added to the New Zealand tally, whilst 3 more deaths were also recorded.

It has not come without significant controversy though as conspiracy parties such as Advance New Zealand try to make people believe COVID19 is a cover for a takeover of New Zealanders rights by the Government. They point to actions by the New Zealand Defence Force, and Police during the first lock down – actions that are actually sanctioned by decades old legislation: the Health Act 1956; Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act 2002 and the Pandemic Preparedness Act 2006.

However it also means New Zealand has possibly achieved something no other country has yet done: seeing off the second wave of COVID19 without it merging with the mayhem caused by the first.

COVID19 waves and their impacts (IMAGE: VICTOR TSENG)Whilst we had a second wave, the strategy employed meant that only the Auckland area was made to shut down to Level 3, whilst the rest of the country went to Level 2. For the second time this year Auckland will be reopening on Thursday to an elevated alert level and wondering how much of 2020 can be salvaged from two lengthy shut down periods. For the first time too, campaigning for the 2020 General Election will be able to take place.

Many on the far right will continue to say that New Zealand is bent on destroying its own economy. They will continue to claim that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a Communist whose goal is a takeover of the country. These people could not be more wrong, and potentially could not be less empathetic with the families of the dead and the people who have suffered it, if they had tried. But not only that, the level of deceit being foisted upon New Zealanders just trying to get their lives back on track in what has been a very testing year by any reasonable measure, is quite shocking.

As for other countries, Australia, despite having the misfortune of having to watch Victoria slump back into lock down, is still the best friendly country. Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales as well as the Northern Territory are all largely open to domestic travel. Like New Zealand their border is largely shut, with only a few people who are citizens or permanent residents being allowed back.

Watching from a far, it seems like COVID19 is some sort of sinking ship. New Zealand and Australia, plus a few other nations have somehow managed to paddle their life boats away from it, whilst the rest of the world continues to struggle to get away.

Australian COVID19 woes a warning to New Zealand


For most of the last three months, New Zealand has literally been in a world of its own. Whilst other countries have partially recovered from COVID19 and are trying to get back to something approaching normal in a post-COVID world, New Zealand has dialled back to being an almost normal society in terms of every day activities. Whilst the country is keeping a watching brief on what is happening around the world, the very business premises here that are struggling to open in most other countries are enjoying a surprisingly strong revival. A domestic market that is determined to make up for lost time is also seeking to rejuvenate itself, having been squeezed by international demand, that has effectively dried up.

At a time when there are wannabe political parties who think COVID19 is a scam and that New Zealanders are falling for it, the Australian state of Victoria has entered a complete lock down with only essential services able to function. Much like the New Zealand lock down, all bars, cinema’s, leisure complexes, shopping malls are closed until at least some point in September. And last night I heard that New South Wales has closed its border with Queensland as well as its previously closed border with Victoria.

Clearly Australia is losing control of COVID19. 726 new cases were announced in Victoria just yesterday, which about 40% of all the cases of COVID19 ever announced in New Zealand. This means that the border is likely to remain firmly shut for the indefinite future. It also puts in serious jeopardy the idea of a trans-Tasman bubble or a south Pacific bubble with our smaller island neighbours such as Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

The danger is real. Given the explosive growth of case numbers in Victoria, it would only take a small number of people testing positive without entering quarantine to bring back the virus to New Zealand. Australia has 18,728 vs 1,569; 10,000+ recovered vs 1,523; 232 dead compared to 22. But whereas New Zealand went as an entire nation from one level to the next, Australia has been acting state by state when perhaps there is a case for the Federal Government to move the country as a whole.

New Zealand should be watching what is happening in Australia with great wariness. Whereas Australia has greater resources at state and Federal level to tap we do not. New Zealand also has to be mindful of the fact that for many parts of the world we are the gateway to Polynesia and Melanesia, parts of the world that have almost no defences against COVID19 and which could – in the case of very small island states like Wallis and Futuna, be completely wiped out. Neither we – and certainly not they – can afford for this to happen.