N.Z. in lock down: DAY 35


Yesterday was DAY 35 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Human behaviour must at times to an alien seem completely confounding. Here we are at LEVEL 3, which for most New Zealanders is basically LEVEL 3.5 – aside from a few changes, lock down continues like it has for the past five weeks. Because of that New Zealanders should still be observing two metres distance and maintaining a bubble. They should

Yet, on Tuesday morning, having seemingly completely forgotten or deliberately ignoring the rules, there were about 40 people outside a Burger Fuel store in Auckland. Heaven forbid anyone of them was meant to be in isolation, because potentially if one person was infected and passed it on to 6-10 people, suddenly 60-100 people might be infected and then 600-1,000. Given that New Zealand has so far lost 19 people to COVID19 and had 1470 or so cases, 600-1,000 new infections would put dozens in hospital and kill maybe another 10-13 people based on current numbers.

Suddenly we are back on LEVEL 4 lock down. Suddenly we have been made to watch weeks of collective hard work get vapourized just like that – all because a bunch of idiots could not or would not follow the rules. Yet, the vast majority of others who went out to get their first fast foods in weeks or coffees from their favourite barista, had no trouble being compliant.

It is not just random bunches of people who have forgotten. Politicians have too: A.C.T. Leader David Seymour wants to reopen the New Zealand border as soon as possible to international travel. All this in a week where – with the exception of our Polynesian neighbours and Australia – most of the countries nearest and dearest to New Zealand are by no means in control of their respective COVID19 outbreaks.

Now, I really should not be surprised Mr Seymour wants to reopen the border again. As the leader of a party that espouses small government and liberty it is totally in his political remit to be doing this. What seems to be missing though in Mr Seymour’s case, is a reading of the general sentiment around why we have been having lock down and what we hope to get out of it. Or maybe he simply thinks he knows better than the vast majority of New Zealanders who want COVID19 dead and gone once and for all – myself and my family included.

And then there are people like Dr Simon Thornley, an epidemiologist at University of Auckland. Dr Thornley believes that the entire lock down is unnecessary and that we should be coming out of it much faster than we are. Dr Thornley appears to intone that its okay if people with complications from other medical issues die, because they “were going to die anyway”.

I suspect Dr Thornley’s academic reputation has probably taken a bit of a hit with such an attitude. Very probably no one in the medical profession wants to see avoidable deaths happening. It also completely misses why New Zealand went into lock down in the first place: in the worst case scenario, 80,000 New Zealanders were potentially going to die and entire communities were going to be potentially devastated by COVID19. The 0.1% or so that might die might seem like a very low statistic. But that would still be 80 people. Potentially 80 separate families losing a loved one.

You cannot ever tell the family of a deceased loved one that their loved one fell within some sort of statistical margin that was somehow acceptable. Dr Thornley and others proposing a rapid reopening of New Zealand would do well to remember that.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 34


Yesterday was DAY 34 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Yesterday was also DAY 1 of what I – and New Zealand – HOPE is only 14 days in LEVEL 3 lock down. Past articles have already explained LEVEL 3 compared to LEVEL 4, so I will not dwell on it here.

My parents and I celebrated the end of LEVEL 4 today with a lunch of eggs, hash browns, tomatoes and bacon cooked on the barbecue. During those 33 days for a lot of people it would have been a good family bonding exercise over learning how to work with each other, finding creative and stimulating things to do.

Going out for my daily walk this afternoon I was struck by the sheer volume of traffic on Harewood Road. Surely it cannot all have been compliant with LEVEL 3 restrictions, which enabled bubbles to bring in one or two extra family members. Surely it could not have all been going to McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King or other places serving fast food, though I was reliably informed by friends that there were queues in some cases starting before 4AM of people wanting to be the first to get a fast food fix into them.

At our place my father laid into a list a of do it yourself tasks around the house, including deferred maintenance – some of which had been on the cards for decades! – which he is feeling quite pleased about. The greater sense of accomplishment may however come when a significant portion of our cobble footpath is relevelled and re-aligned for safety reasons, for which he intends on enlisting the author’s help. With no prospect of work for a few more weeks at least, it will help to ease the boredom that will eventually start to creep in.

For some families the test of COVID19 would have been a fatal blow to relationships and marriages. An article from the United Kingdom that I read told of one particularly sad case where a man’s wife moved out during week 2 of their lock down, leaving him to deal with two energetic teenage boys. In other instances mentioned on social media couples have had huge blow ups in front of their kids, and although in some cases they appear to have immediately regretted it, the damage might be terminal.

But the worst for me has been getting regular updates from an Aunty in Southland whose husband has worsening dementia and is pretty much bed ridden in a secure unit. Because of lock down she has not been able to see him and nor have his adult children.

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 33


Yesterday was DAY 33 of lock down as New Zealand fights the COVID19 pandemic.

LEVEL 4 ended at 2359 hours on Monday. LEVEL 3 began at 0000 hours this morning. For the vast majority of New Zealanders, aside from being able to enjoy takeaway meals and coffees from ones favourite outlets, little has changed other than the following:

  • 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)

This is something from which the recovery will be tedious and unlike anything anything in the memory of the vast majority of New Zealanders. To the chagrin of millions of people. It will test the patience of decision makers, the authorities and the public. It will test them in ways they had not thought possible.

The civil libertarians, whose eternal distrust of Government renders them permanently suspicious of the establishment, will be looking for ways to get around a set of cumbersome, odious and yet essential rules. There may be a few inspired by protests in Germany and the United States who think they are making a stand for their country, but are only making a stand for their misguided beliefs.

The mainstream will be happy to comply with rules if they are sure it will get the virus gone. The authorities will be wanting to be as close to 100% certain as they can, that the virus has been defeated before they openly support seriously relaxed rules; the Police aware that the potential for non-compliance will increase in inverse portion to public patience.

The decision makers, having the decisions will want to be sure that they were a) the right decisions and b) will stand up to the scrutiny of any inquiry or review that happens later. For those like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, their legacy and how well their policies survive into the future will depend in large part on how they handle the recovery from COVID19.

I hope we are compliant as a nation – like everyone I want the virus to be decisively defeated. But when the war on COVID19 is inevitably drawn to a close, the Government is going to have a difficult balancing act between systematically denying the virus the prospect of Round 2 and getting as much of the country back to work, back to having a life as quickly as possible. There will also be challenges on the side that need to be dealt with, such as privacy concerns over the new application that the Government is working on – who will store the data; what rules will there be around sharing; what security will there be to stop hacking or data misuse among other concerns.

In some respects it will be like walking along the narrow ridge between potential pits (COVID19 resurgence, all the while wanting to dodge crumbling cliffs (public compliance) and not knowing how long New Zealand can maintain this delicate act without seriously hurting itself.

And all the while remembering there is an election in September.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 32


Yesterday was DAY 32 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

After an initially sluggish response, Australia now joins New Zealand as one of the leading countries in the war on COVID19. Although the “lucky country” has a population 5.1x that of New Zealand, its death rate has per head of population been at a slightly lower rate to that of New Zealand. On 26 April the New Zealand death toll stood at 18; the Australian death toll at just under 90. The number of cases per capita has had a similar trend. Compared to New Zealand’s 1470 as at 26 April, Australia has recorded about 6800.

Initially Australia did not seem to be taking the matter as seriously as New Zealand and it – rightly or wrongly – suffered considerable criticism as a result. Multiple times, despite the risk at that point being well advertized there were reports of large numbers of people at popular leisure spots such as Bondi Beach in Sydney. State Governors and health officials warned the public that if they continued to ignore the warnings much more stringent, large scale stay-at-home orders would be implemented.

For the most part, Australia seems to be complying. Unlike the catastrophic bush fire season of 2019-2020 where the Government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison was blasted both domestically and internationally for its lacklustre response to huge fires ravaging large tracts of the eastern seaboard, the individual State Governments and Federal Government appear to be working together. On 28 March 2020 Australia recorded 454 cases of COVID19; on 26 April 2020 22 cases were recorded.

Like New Zealand and elsewhere there are proponents of Australia going back to work quickly, despite the risk posed by COVID19. Just a few days ago 150 scientists wrote to the Federal Government warning them of the dangers that go with loosening the restrictions too soon.

We need to – and I am pleased to see this happening – start co-ordinating with Australia a phased reopening of our economies and borders. We might have been poles apart on the bush fire response, but Australia is definitely proving to be one of the brighter stars in the COVID19 sky and New Zealand should be grateful for that and encourage them on their way. This is all the more important since it looks like more distant (geographically and COVID19-wise)friends like Britain, the United States and Singapore are not as far out of the proverbial woods as we would like to think. For a while we might have to accept a closed international bubble limited to Australia, New Zealand, maybe Taiwan and also our Pasifika neighbours.

Does that mean thing are going perfectly? No. Australia, like New Zealand and other countries, is facing internal calls to be done with the restrictions, despite the fact that they are still – like New Zealand and other countries – recording dozens of cases a day as well as deaths. But fortunately our trans-Tasman neighbours seem not to be suffering protests by gun toting anti-Government demonstrators like the United States, or demonstrations such as those happening in Berlin and other German cities.

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 31


Yesterday was DAY 31 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

As New Zealand moves towards the end of the LEVEL 4 phase of lock down and into a slightly less restrictive LEVEL 3 – basically LEVEL 3.5 for most New Zealanders – it is time to start thinking about some of the lessons learnt thus far during this pandemic. In a country that is being touted as one of the more successful countries in the west in dealing with this pandemic, it is important to note the social, economic, medical and political lessons that have been taught by COVID19. They are lessons that will go some way towards improving an already very good response, the next time there is a pandemic.

So what are those lessons? And how well has New Zealand learned them?

MEDICAL

The first lesson is that our D.H.B.’s are not fit for purpose and need to be replaced. Whilst it is true that they help to fulfill the upkeep of democracy by giving the public a say, the amount of resources tied up in administration is unnecessary, inefficient and is contributing to a seemingly permanently rising health expenditure bill. This is happening whilst not totally assuring that New Zealanders get the best possible return on the dollars spent. This is something that we have known about for years and not acted on. Thus I grade the Government with a C on this count.

The second lesson is the absolute criticality of hygiene. If New Zealand had permanent requirements such as everyone entering a restaurant/bar/cafe be required to sanitize their hands; a tighter compliance and enforcement regime, among other measures, many of the food related bugs that affect New Zealand would be significantly reduced. This would also make it harder for viral infections to take hold. Our hygiene could have been better before this. Thus a B- is awarded.

ECONOMIC

The third lesson is one that of having a rainy day Government fund. This is a lesson that New Zealand learnt some time ago, but it is worth repeating because at some point there will probably be another pandemic. How we are able to fund the economic recovery measures that are needed will depend on having such a fund ready to go. A lesson well learnt means an A+.

The fourth lesson is review past emergency responses to see what can be learned from them. Although this is as much a Civil Defence lesson as it is an economic one, it is very important to minimise the economic impact as many New Zealanders live from pay cheque to pay cheque. Also, this being the first serious pandemic emergency in a 21st Century society, there was no blue print for how to manage such an emergency and as such, there are plenty of things to learn from this. As there is still a State of Emergency, this lesson will not be graded yet.

POLITICAL

The fifth lesson is that great leadership inspires.  New Zealand has had consistently transparent leadership throughout the whole crisis. From choosing to go hard and go early, to the Prime Minister trying to get see things from the perspective of children, what we have seen has been brilliant. Here the Government must get an A.

The sixth lesson is to make sure the language is clear, simple and the message understood by everyone. This Government on the whole would get an A for its messaging, but there have been a few let downs, such as the first Police Commissioner seemed to consistently have a different idea of what constituted staying local. So to – at the probable expense of his Ministerial warrants – did Health Minister David Clark when he drove to a reserve to exercise in contravention of instructions from his own Government. Instead it gets a B.

SOCIAL

The seventh lesson is about the restoration civil liberties. This is one that is still in progress, so will not be graded yet, but it stems from how well New Zealand restores them to its population over the coming days and weeks. But not only that, it is one that will potentially influence the election in September – at this stage I am assuming the election will be in September, and an announcement confirming denying this will impact the grade I award.