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?

Dear Jacinda: The weather is a metaphor for our current politics


Dear Jacinda Ardern,

It is a grey old kind of day here in Christchurch as I type this. Looking out the window at the dreary overcast drizzly weather wafting past, it seems to be a bit of a metaphor for the world at the moment. Grim. Dreary. No sign of getting better any time soon.

No doubt as you watch other countries including some that New Zealand is meant to be great mates with struggle, you must be counting your lucky stars that you are Prime Minister of New Zealand. You must be extremely grateful not to be having to manage the unravelling nightmare of COVID19 in the United States or quietly despairing in Down Street at the sight of huge numbers of people at the beach, without any regard to social distancing.

But going back to that metaphor, compared to the world, it is relatively sunny in New Zealand. Big powerful cumulonimbus clouds might be roving around on the horizon with their wild volatile problems, but thus far thanks to your leadership we have managed to avoid them. I hope you keep that way, and I am sure most of New Zealand want you to keep it that way too.

But Prime Minister, we have some lumpy cumulus clouds overhead that threaten to spoil things a bit, and they are ones that you can control as Prime Minister. One of those clouds is David Clark, trying to accidentally blot out the ray of sunshine that is Dr Ashley Bloomfield. I know you said you were annoyed with Mr Clark and said that if it were not for COVID19 and the need for a stable leadership team, he would be gone. Fair enough. But that was then. That was before Mr Clark threw Dr Bloomfield under the bus a few days ago.

I am sure Mr Clark is a nice guy in person, but he is going rain on your parade unless you take the Health portfolio of him, like now. New Zealanders don’t like that ray of sunshine being blocked and have noticed the cloud that is blocking it. The cloud needs to move along.

As for the grey old dreary kind of weather that is afflicting Christchurch at the moment, it is fortunately not as volatile as the thunderstorms that have been crossing Auckland and the Bay of Plenty of late. But as a rental car groomer at a service yard near Christchurch Airport, the dreariness in the sky is startlingly appropriate in terms of describing the global outlook. Planes are coming and going. I hear their engines as they disappear into the cloud from the runway a few hundred metres away. The complete absence of foreign tourists, being a reminder that the COVID19 storm is raining heavily in many countries. The constant drizzle is a metaphor for the single figure COVID case numbers being caught in isolation – the fact that it has for the most part not turned to rain, hopefully trying to tell us that the strategy of isolation is working.

My American friends can hear thunder. It is the thunder of a COVID19 storm that is far from finished and reminds every time I hear of a new rumble through the media of just how lucky we are in semi-sunny New Zealand. Now if you do not mind, we would love for you to please move that cloud along for us.

Cheers.

 

Comparing conservative government and social government responses to COVID19


This is the first of two part series examining the response of conservative governments to the COVID19 pandemic. The second part will examine the response of socialist governments. The politicization of the pandemic world wide has seen a diverse range of responses arise. It is also in part a reaction to some of the commentary I am getting from friends in America at the moment about the failures of the Donald Trump administration.

In Brazil, despite statistical analysis of the known cases suggesting a massive upwards curve in numbers of people infected and potential deaths, President Jair Bolsanaro appears to be playing down COVID19. Brazil’s internal reaction has been slow compared to other countries, in light of how many countries now have cases. An estimated 2 million people could die in Brazil in the worst case scenario if adequate measures are not taken to protect people. Just on Monday Mr Bolsanaro again suggested COVID19 was some sort of trick.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: TENS OF THOUSANDS; ACTUAL DEATHS: 34*

In Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have gone into lock down without waiting for instruction from Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The Australian Government, so heavily criticized during the recent bush fire emergency has now come under further attack for lacking a co-ordination strategy. Schools have not closed and restaurants and cafes may continue to do takeaway’s. Nightclubs, casino’s and places of worship. The international borders closed in conjunction with New Zealand’s. Although Australia’s rate of new cases is falling, only a comprehensive response will ensure it continues to fall.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: THOUSANDS; ACTUAL DEATHS: 8

In India, where millions of people lack basic sanitation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has shut the inter-state borders as well as India’s international borders. Restrictions on all but essential activities include a largely nation wide lock down until 31 March. Concern exists about the readiness of India’s health system for an influx of tens of millions of cases, of which 4-8 million may be severe. Testing has only been done on about 22,000 people.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS; ACTUAL DEATHS: 9

In the United States, despite a U.S.$1.2 trillion bill making its way through to Mr Trump’s desk, there is no clear strategy for a nation wide response, despite U.S. COVID19 cases sky rocketing. Some schools have closed, but some are still open. A couple of states are in lockdown, but a couple are not. Some businesses are closed, but many are not. No clear testing regime exists and many younger Americans seem to lack appreciation of the gravity of the situation. Some think that America might now face a similar trajectory to Italy, where thousands have died.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: 2.2 MILLION; ACTUAL DEATHS: 582

In Britain, the centre-right Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be the best performing of those American allies with a conservative government. Mr Johnson has realized what New Zealand realized several days ago, that only a complete shut down for several weeks is going to get the country through without a huge casualty list. But Mr Johnson’s move was not before substantial controversy erupted when it was announced that a policy of letting the virus spread and developing “herd immunity” was suggested. It would have meant letting the elderly citizens get ill and potentially die in huge numbers, whilst the survivors develop immunity.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: TENS OF THOUSANDS; ACTUAL DEATHS: 335

Of the countries with centre-right Opposition’s, perhaps we need to look no further than National right here in New Zealand. After weeks of attacking Ms Ardern’s leadership, National leader Simon Bridges has realized that attacking leadership that is drawing praise from both left and right, is not going to help his election chances. To his credit, but also for his survival, he has wisely decided to back the Government and show bi-partisanship support at a time when it is most needed.

The potential death toll for New Zealand is in the thousands. So far no New Zealanders have died.

*Brazil’s media and Government are known for not publishing accurate figures. Based on the size of the population and its poor health services, this is possibly a conservative guess on my part.


This is the first of two part series examining the response of conservative governments to the COVID19 pandemic. The second part will examine the response of socialist governments. The politicization of the pandemic world wide has seen a diverse range of responses arise. It is also in part a reaction to some of the commentary I am getting from friends in America at the moment about the failures of the Donald Trump administration.

In Brazil, despite statistical analysis of the known cases suggesting a massive upwards curve in numbers of people infected and potential deaths, President Jair Bolsanaro appears to be playing down COVID19. Brazil’s internal reaction has been slow compared to other countries, in light of how many countries now have cases. An estimated 2 million people could die in Brazil in the worst case scenario if adequate measures are not taken to protect people. Just on Monday Mr Bolsanaro again suggested COVID19 was some sort of trick.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: TENS OF THOUSANDS; ACTUAL DEATHS: 34*

In Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have gone into lock down without waiting for instruction from Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The Australian Government, so heavily criticized during the recent bush fire emergency has now come under further attack for lacking a co-ordination strategy. Schools have not closed and restaurants and cafes may continue to do takeaway’s. Nightclubs, casino’s and places of worship. The international borders closed in conjunction with New Zealand’s.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: THOUSANDS; ACTUAL DEATHS: 8

In India, where millions of people lack basic sanitation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has shut the inter-state borders as well as India’s international borders. Restrictions on all but essential activities include a largely nation wide lock down until 31 March. Concern exists about the readiness of India’s health system for an influx of tens of millions of cases, of which 4-8 million may be severe. Testing has only been done on about 22,000 people.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: 500; ACTUAL DEATHS: 9

In the United States, despite a U.S.$1.2 trillion bill making its way through to Mr Trump’s desk, there is no clear strategy for a nation wide response, despite U.S. COVID19 cases sky rocketing. Some schools have closed, but some are still open. A couple of states are in lockdown, but a couple are not. Some businesses are closed, but many are not. No clear testing regime exists and many younger Americans seem to lack appreciation of the gravity of the situation. Some think that America might now face a similar trajectory to Italy, where thousands have died.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: 2.2 MILLION; ACTUAL DEATHS: 582

In Britain, the centre-right Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be the best performing of those American allies with a conservative government. Mr Johnson has realized what New Zealand realized several days ago, that only a complete shut down for several weeks is going to get the country through without a huge casualty list. But Mr Johnson’s move was not before substantial controversy erupted when it was announced that a policy of letting the virus spread and developing “herd immunity” was suggested. It would have meant letting the elderly citizens get ill and potentially die in huge numbers, whilst the survivors develop immunity.

POTENTIAL DEATHS: TENS OF THOUSANDS; ACTUAL DEATHS: 335

Of the countries with centre-right Opposition’s, perhaps we need to look no further than National right here in New Zealand. After weeks of attacking Ms Ardern’s leadership, National leader Simon Bridges has realized that attacking leadership that is drawing praise from both left and right, is not going to help his election chances. To his credit, but also for his survival, he has wisely decided to back the Government and show bi-partisanship support at a time when it is most needed.

The potential death toll for New Zealand is in the thousands. So far no New Zealanders have died.

*Brazil’s media and Government are known for not publishing accurate figures. Based on the size of the population and its poor health services, this is possibly a conservative guess on my part.

New Zealand’s hypocrisy on the burning of the Amazon


I find it hypocritical that we blast Brazil for clearing land to develop agriculture when our record over the last 800 years, and particularly since European settlement has been no better.

Hundreds of years ago Maori cleared vast swathes of Aotearoa to clear land for their agriculture. Back then they had no way of controlling the fires and they could often burn for days or weeks depending on rain and soil conditions. Landcare research estimates that about 50% of New Zealand’s known forest was cleared around 750-800 years ago.

And then starting in the 1800s still more was cleared by European settlers to make way for sheep, crop and dairy farming. If one maps the land that was covered in vegetation in 1850 and compare it with an equivalent map from 2000, they will see that in those 150 years massive vegetation loss occurred.

I understand that times have changed and that our knowledge of our environmental desecration and the impacts it is having is much better than it used to be. I know that the Amazon rainforests provide 17% of our oxygen but does this not seem rather rich for a country that has had its own share of land clearance to be telling Brazil what it can do? Shouldn’t we really be asking how we can help Brazil develop its agriculture without tearing up the Amazon?

My biggest problem with the West is we moralize about how other countries behave and we tell them to do this/that. But when it comes to leading by example the West is an abysmal failure. When it could be helping with education programmes and developing new farming methods, it is instead lecturing from a distance. We do nothing to help them on their way and when they start making progress, we take the credit for having got them to make the change.

I also note that large scale clearing is going on in other countries as well, but I do not hear a rush to criticize Indonesia, or equatorial African nations. I do not see anyone rushing to criticize Papua New Guinea for the loss of forest there even though its proximity as a neighbouring country in the southwest Pacific makes it more immediately relevant than Brazil. The former is causing another air pollution crisis in Malaysia, where smoke from burning fires in Indonesia has become a medical hazard. Indonesia’s vast 13,000 island archipelago is difficult to police even if Indonesia had the best police force in the world.

Or is our outrage going to be selective?