N.Z. in lock down: DAY 30

Yesterday was DAY 30 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Instead of writing today, I thought I would do a bit of a photo essay so that you can see the effects of lock down through the eyes of a local.

Empty roads have become a distinct feature of my walks around Christchurch in the last few weeks. Completely devoid of traffic, the quiet has been quite startling to take in. The road in the photograph is Fendalton Road at the railway crossing. Normally at 4PM on a Friday, the traffic would be picking up as the working week comes to an end, but on this particular Friday I was able to walk straight onto the traffic island without stopping and no cars came from either direction for more than 2 minutes. Normally the cycle way next to the railway line would be busy with students heading home from school after extra curricular activities, people cycling home from work, people like me out for exercise or on their way to somewhere. It too, was largely devoid of traffic except for families with young children taking their kids out of the house for an hour.

When LEVEL 3 was declared playgrounds across the country were emptied. Local councils put tape across all features – see-saws, slides, swings, fortresses, flying foxes, skating rinks and other features. Lawns have become long and and resemble an unkempt state. At LEVEL 4, parks were completely deserted except for people exercising whilst observing strict social distancing. When the country goes back to LEVEL 3 at the end of Monday, these facilities will still be off limits for another two weeks at least.

In a moment of dystopian thinking this kind of reminded me of the television series Chernobyl, and the sudden abandonment that the city of Pripyat would have experienced. No one able to play on the swings, the slides, the see-saws or merry-go-rounds anymore. None of the useful laughter and happy playing that you’d expect from a child. COVID19 measures might be only temporary, but when you think about the potential transmission of the virus, the playground had a slight Chernobyl-esque look to it.

Today is A.N.Z.A.C. Day, the 105th Anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landing in France. Normally A.N.Z.A.C. Day is marked by dawn services the length and breadth of the country, ranging from thousands of people attending services in the large cities, to a few hundred attending smaller community services in rural towns. Despite the COVID19 restrictions, on line services, and a “Stand at Dawn” service for those who want to stand at the end of their driveway was held at 6AM. I have included two photos here. The first is of chalk and paper drawings of the famous red poppy done presumably by children as an out door activity.

The second is of poppies that were most probably ordered on line. Note also, the bear next to the lower ones. This was part of an spotting activity that was started for children, but also drew in a lot of adults. The idea was if one had any fluffy bear toys, they displayed them in the window or other prominent place where children and their parents could see them.

And finally, this is a nod to the children whose fun has been put on hold for a few weeks now, and the parents who have had to get creative to find things to keep their children happy. Chalk drawings have been prolific on every walk, with the messages, drawings and their meaning only restricted by the children’s imagination.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 29

Yesterday was DAY 29 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

One of the most constant – and least surprising – conversations that is being had is about the effect of the lock down on the economy.

As a Christchurch lad who witnessed the devastation of the 04 September 2010 earthquake, along with the February 2011 and June 2011 aftershocks, I think I have an idea of what could constitute grim times. It is certainly true that the pandemic has not physically destroyed any buildings, but the number of businesses closing around Christchurch, the jarring uncertainty about whether they will reopen, the massive job losses that are occurring, certainly have brought on a feeling of deja vu about it all.

I have huge sympathy for the many many people who have lost jobs, who do not know if they will have a job to go back to when most of New Zealand goes back to work. I know that the socio-economic toll grows the longer we keep the country in lock down and I agree that we cannot stay in it forever.

But that is where the doom and gloom ends. I am optimistic about New Zealand coming thundering back from all of this. Will it happen overnight? No, but with no past experience on shutting a country down and restarting it again, it was never going to happen overnight.

I am optimistic because there is a massive, almost unparalleled opportunity for an economic revolution right now in New Zealand. Earlier this year I wrote consecutive blog articles about why neoliberalism is a massive, abject failure here and why we need to be rid of it. Here now is that perfect opportunity to do exactly that. But not only is there a unique opportunity to get rid of an economic model that has failed the vast majority of New Zealand, the potential model that could go in its place is even more thrilling.

So what is that model that could replace the failed neoliberal experiment?

The model I am calling for is a massive investment in skilled trades; niche industries backed by a complete overhaul of the New Zealand no. 8 wire model of research. It will be green, it will be designed by New Zealanders and it will work for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

We have hundreds of tradies in bad need of a steady work stream. One thing that could sort a significant number of them out is refurbishing all of the state house inventory so that they have 21st century standards of warmth and dryness. This will indirectly partially pay for itself by helping reduce the problems many New Zealanders have around asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Another one is seismic retrofitting large buildings in high seismic risk areas with shock absorbers so that the buildings can sway backwards and forth, whilst the absorbers take the seismic energy. With hundreds of buildings in the South and North Island in urgent need of this and no idea how long before the next big earthquake hits, this is a priority we should take note of.

But it is not just singular buildings or jobs for a couple of people per site that we need. New Zealand is critically behind on infrastructure. We need a comprehensive overhaul of our railway system; we could be building a hydrogen plant and investing in that instead of fossil fuel; maybe a hemp crete research facility to help cut the carbon emissions of the concrete industry, which I understand puts out about 8% of total carbon emissions.

Much of the knowledge for these ideas is already there. But is the political willpower to do something truly radical?

You tell me.



N.Z. in lock down: DAY 28

Yesterday was DAY 28 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Ever since their formation in 2000, in order to give New Zealand health services and the financial expenditure on them a more democratic face, I have had a problem with the manner in which D.H.B.’s operate. It is not that I am against having a democratic representation of our health care expenditure. On the contrary I believe it is absolutely necessary. But is there a better way to govern the health system?

The D.H.B.’s have long been plagued by accusations, many of them valid, of poor fiscal management. In 2019 for example it was found out that they had underpaid thousands of staff over several years, amounting to $590 million having to be forked out. More historically nurses and general practitioners have complained about the lack of urgency in supplying P.P.E. and other equipment in a timely manner. In 2010 the Auditor General released a report into spending on supplies and services.

Another issue has been the prioritisation of key projects. In Christchurch a multi-story car park building is meant to be completed in mid 2020 for staff working at the central hospital. Construction is yet to begin. This is causing many medical staff to fear for their safety coming off late or early morning shifts when it is still dark – I know a nurse whose car was stolen, trashed and abandoned.

In 2004, the Ministry of Health released its National Health Emergency Plan: Infectious Diseases. Section 4.8 which looks at equipment and supplies, acknowledges that hoarding of equipment might be an issue. It also mentioned challenges facing the prioritisation and distribution of equipment. At the end of Section 4.8 it says:

In planning inventory levels, D.H.B.’s must consider the need to provide supplementary or additional equipment and supplies (e.g. P.P.E. and emergency medicines)directly to primary care services.

The regional co-ordination teams will be responsible for prioritising equipment supplies and allocating them to hospitals and primary care services in line with national advice and guidelines.

Appendix III of the same document is the plan for a pandemic event such as COVID19.

Admittedly not all of the problems facing D.H.B.’s are of their making. Staff are taking P.P.E. from examination rooms, which in late March just as lock down was starting was causing shortages in some facilities. It was also causing anxiety about adequacy of supply.

New Zealand needs to get a more efficient governance model than District Health Boards if we are going to improve the quality of care that our medical system can provide. This is a view shared by others. And something that has not been ruled out by the Minister of Health, David Clark. A review was being led last year by Heather Simpson into how well D.H.B.’s work.

So, my question is:

How well do the D.H.B.’s work? If they do not work well, can the be fixed or does the entire D.H.B. governance model need to go?

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 27

Yesterday was DAY 27 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

When I woke up yesterday morning and turn on my social media, my initial thoughts were to look for the latest controversy from United States President Donald Trump’s press conferences. Instead one of the first things that came up on Twitter was an article from well leftist blogger Martyn Bradbury (CitizenBomber). Mr Bradbury was trying to understand how the international oil market, which has slumped massively as a result of COVID19, could go into negative territory – i.e. be effectively worthless.

My reaction to this news was mixed. On one hand I thought no doubt there will be many relieved New Zealanders who hope that the costs will be matched to some extent by a significant drop in petrol and diesel prices here. With that, equally they will be hoping that the cost of transporting goods is reflected in a drop their prices upon arrival at their point of sale. Also happy, I imagine will be the environmental movement, who will be hoping that the inevitable revival is checked by a change in how New Zealanders get around.

On the other hand, despite those many people working in what the political left term a “sunset industry”, I could not help but feel sorry for the thousands of people who work in the immediate refinery and distribution parts of the industry. The industry will definitely try to mount a revival, but its greater challenge could be a long term one to see how willing it is to invest in biofuel and hydrogen research.

No doubt the petroleum industry would have been shocked by this historic low. One month in which the developed world and much of the developing world has effectively ground to a halt except for essential businesses will no doubt cause a major dip in profit margins. It is unlikely even if all developed nations started significantly scaling back their COVID19 containment measures tomorrow, that prices would recover for 18-24 months if not significantly longer. Many countries are now seeing literal air quality improvements from the absence of petroleum and diesel powered transport before their eyes – in Punjab, one can see the Himalaya’s for the first time in 30+ years; Los Angeles, long known for its smoggy skies will be enjoying its cleanest view of the San Bernadino mountains in a long time.

The greatest challenge will be political. The technological means to invest in hydrogen and biofuel research are already here. The challenge for politicians will be extricate themselves from big oil’s embrace and taking steps to ensure that the few silver linings of a crisis in world history that has otherwise been a monumental disaster, are not lost on us.



N.Z. in lock down: DAY 26

Yesterday was DAY 26 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Yesterday at 1600 hours Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an announcement of what the next few weeks hold for New Zealand.

New Zealand will stay at LEVEL 4 until 2359 on Monday 27 April 2020. With the start of the new day it will go to LEVEL 3 with restrictions.

The other key points about what can/cannot be done at LEVEL 3 are below:

  • Takeaways will be permitted
  • 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)
  • Social distancing is maintained

The Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges finds himself in an unenviable position for any Opposition Leader. He is facing a Government being led by a Prime Minister whose leadership is earning international accolades, which much of the country across the political spectrum is willingly following. With strong leadership, combined with a down to earth empathy often lacking in politicians Ms Ardern has attracted accolades from the U.S. newspaper The Washington Post; noted internet media website The Hill among others. Her communications with the New Zealand public have a clarity yet certainty about them that is completely missing in those of other notable countries – my thoughts on the press conferences of U.S. President Donald Trump are not printable; the United Kingdom and Australian Government pressers seem disorganized, and apparently Indian President Narendra Modi does not bother with them at all.

But as the Leader of the Opposition ultimately Mr Bridges has to say something, and in this case he has decided to call LEVEL 3 “LEVEL 3.9”, and said that the Government has not laid down the framework for moving the economy out of LEVEL 4. Mr Bridges also said that we should be following Australia’s lead, where restrictions are considerably less. Mr Bridges knows full well that Australia, whilst doing comparatively well compared to the United States, United Kingdom and other countries has had a lack of definitive direction from the Federal Government in Canberra. So too, does Dr Paul Goldsmith, National’s Treasurer spokesperson, who said that the Government is being too tight on the economy and needs to significantly ease restrictions now. He would do well to listen to the words of noted New Zealand economist Shamubeel Eaqub who said that at this time saving lives is more important than getting the economy moving again.

Clutching at straws might be a better description of A.C.T. Leader David Seymour. Mr Seymour’s response to the announcement seemed to be completely oblivious to why New Zealand is taking a cautious approach. Like Dr Goldsmith, Mr Seymour would be well advised to listen to Mr Eaqub.

At the end of the day, there was never going to be an entirely fool proof announcement today. What it has done is however the next best thing: an acknowledgement that we need another few days after the four week lock down period is up, then the start of a gradual transition into a hopeful post-COVID19 environment – to say “a return to normal” is not realistic. What was normal pre-COVID19 is simply obsolete now. Whether it is by societal impact of COVID19 or by a public decision to seize the opportunity we have now to radically overhaul New Zealand society, New Zealand has undergone a significant change from which there is no going back.

Am I happy with it? For the most part yes. The government has tried to listen to all sides. The first priority was defeat COVID19. Now that that looks somewhat attainable, we can start looking at getting the economy going again once LEVEL 3 restrictions are eased. It has spent billions propping up workers so that the economy does not disintegrate. Tens of billions of dollars more has been freed up to stimulate growth once New Zealanders start going back to work in large numbers.