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.


Labour launches 2020 election campaign

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launched the Labour 2020 election campaign at the Auckland Town Hall on Saturday.

Her speech acknowledged the work of Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English to guide the country through the Global Financial Crisis, before noting the yawning chasm that had continued to grow between children in poverty and those are not. She acknowledged that there are things that she and the Government have not managed to do, and that the Government needs to continue to be honest with people about why.

Yes, this is the COVID19 election. Yes, COVID19 has put a lot on the plate of the Government in terms of impacts on the economy and the community.

But an election is a contest of ideas. It is about political parties putting their best policies out for public consumption and to see what New Zealand wants to do. Ultimately some policies need to be released. And one or two of them need to be biggish ones that get the public’s attention; that show a direction particular to that party.

As policy announcements seem a bit short at the moment, I have released a few below:

  • Ditch N.C.E.A., refine the old system to remove grading and require all courses to have both an external and internal assessment component.
  • Explore the possibility of hydrogen from the waste stream in place of petroleum – and if feasible, then explore the feasibility of a hydrogen plant supplying our market. Not a shovel ready project, and not one to likely happen under this government, but one that I think N.Z. will probably attempt at some point – so lets get started on the research.
  • Ditch the District Health Boards and go back to some kind of central model, with the democratic function being met by a central board of two members from each province. Savings of possibly $1 billion per year which would be used to fill in gaps in surgery, A & E.
  • Explore a universal proportionate income indexed to inflation – assumes a 40 hour working week, not eligible if working more than 32 hours (80%).
  • Fund the refurbishment of all state houses not marked for it.

There will be more ideas later in the campaign period.

52nd Parliament of New Zealand ends

It is over. The 52nd New Zealand Parliament formally ended yesterday. In a Parliamentary term that has had volcanic eruption, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a colossal National Party melt down and a cocktail of scandals showing the worst of “Parliamentarians behaving badly”, the headline makers have had a field day. We have seen some good policy, some bad policy; good ministerial work (Kris Faafoi in Civil Defence) and bad ministerial work (David Clark). But as we head into the election campaign period, both National and Labour are chilling on policy.

This sudden chill on policy bothers me. Maybe both parties are stalling for time because they have been so wrapped up in COVID19 issues that they simply have not gotten around to thinking about decent policy – there have been suggestions by the conspiracy theorists that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern might postpone or even cancel the election on COVID19 related grounds. These are clearly whack ideas from people with either little clue on how democracy works, or perhaps more sinisterly, they want to spread disinformation to invoke fear in the public.

Our constitutional laws require that we hold an election in 2020. There is no reason for the Government not to. Every Government wants to say that it won the election fair and square. Right now the election is Labour’s to lose. Cruising in the polls with Ms Ardern being the most popular Labour Prime Minister in modern times, they have every reason to want to have the election. So, where is the policy? Or are you suggesting we take up Bryce Edwards idea of postponing the election?

In the case of National the complete lack of decent policy can be in part traced to the party’s massive meltdown. Roads, roading, and more roads seem to be the only coherent policy that National have at the moment, which is bad news for a party wanting to spend only one term on the Opposition benches. One might have thought that even if it is a relatively typical National Party policy something might have been said about justice, defence, education, health, conservation and so forth. But as yet other than leader Judith Collins attacking Labour for having little policy, the silence is notable.

Labour are less explicable. With an election to lose I honestly thought they would be talking about a Labour legacy based on a mandate that they might not have again for 25-30 years. In building that legacy I thought comprehensive policy changes in at least one or more of the following areas might be on the way: social welfare, health, education, justice, and so forth.

I am sure many New Zealanders will have noted Ms Ardern’s comments about not expecting much big policy with some surprise and perhaps a bit of confusion. The dissertation by Thomas Coughlan on this matter a couple of days ago was comprehensive and should be pause for thought among all New Zealanders. Elections are meant to be as Mr Coughlan notes, a contest of ideas. They are not meant to be the partisan bitching contests that the recent ones have devolved into. The faster both parties realize this and start putting out some decent policy for me to debate with mates over beers in the coming weeks, the better.

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.