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