N.Z. in lock down: DAYS 47 and 48

On Monday afternoon at 1600 hours, the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand was moving to Level 2 at 0000 hours on Thursday.

Across DAYS 47 and 48, I have been thinking about the impact of the Government’s decision and the wisdom of it.

Whilst I generally support the move to LEVEL 2 I have wondered at times, in flashes of doubt brought on by a mixture of local goings on and international goings on, if perhaps New Zealand should have decided to wait another 10-14 days at LEVEL 3 and skip LEVEL 2 completely. Those pangs of doubt have been quickly silenced each time just by looking at  the number of people starting to raise credible concerns about our time at LEVEL 3

If we had decided to stay at LEVEL 3, whilst that would be very hard on a lot of people, I think the reward would have been COVID19 for the time being effectively eradicated in New Zealand. The country would have been able to effectively return to normal business. The Government restrictions would be all but gone and the Police would be able to fully focus on crime; hospitals and medical centres on the normal problems.

A part of me also worries that New Zealanders in their rush to get back to “normal” will completely forget the lessons of COVID19, which I will discuss later this week. And so for those reasons, my happiness at going to LEVEL 2 is tinged with wariness.

But the real worry is about a number of issues that people might perceive to be on the side, but which actually have had tangible impact on aspects of COVID19:

  • The legalese of the State of Emergency
  • The need for a hygiene revolution in New Zealand
  • How we approach health dealing with our elderly and more vulnerable people
  • The interconnected state of the world and the next pandemic

These issues are going to impact on how New Zealand recovers. But most probably few people have thought about them or their potential impacts.

Whilst I have laid down the case for the State of Emergency in previous posts. I believe that New Zealand needs to revisit as soon as this one is lifted the procedural steps that had to be taken to reach it. Each State of Emergency when it is lifted is immediately reviewed by its controller/s and senior staff so that before people forget what their roles and actions in it were, they are on a paper record in case question arise later about their legality.

New Zealand needs a hygiene revolution. And I can see it happening if we are serious about making sure we never have to do what has gone on in the country in the last seven weeks again. In some respects it will be simple things like requiring diners at a restaurant to sanitize their hands on arrival also patients arriving at any medical centre or hospital; in other respects, law changes might need to require people with the common cold/flu to stay home – is this enforceable? Don’t know.

Vulnerable people with serious long term conditions might now need to be marked as such on their files if this is not already happening. When emergencies are declared a community health worker might need to be sent around on a regular basis to make sure their needs are being met.

The pandemic made it around the world via cruise ships and long haul flights. There is no polite way of saying so. I see a necessary step in the future being to require anyone who has cold symptoms or worse to present a medical certificate at the border before being allowed to fly; require anyone entering the country with such conditions to present a certificate and agree to isolate until a Dr can see them. No agreement, no entry. Tough, but very probably necessary.

This is what I believe to be a common sense approach to the post-COVID19 future.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 42

Yesterday was DAY 42 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

This is a short article. For several days now A.C.T. Leader David Seymour has been pressuring the Government to release its legal advice on the legality of the lock down. Chair of the Epidemic Response Committee Simon Bridges has summonsed the Inspector General to appear before the Committee, something that has never been done by a N.Z. Parliament before.

Whilst the Government for reasons of transparency SHOULD release the legal advice unless advised not to, I do not think Mr Seymour is going to get the answer he was looking for. I now explain why.

The Government issued an Epidemic Notice on 25 March 2020 under Section 5(1) of the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006. This cleared the way for a State of Emergency to be declared on the grounds of an epidemic. On the same day at 1221 hours a State of Emergency was put into force across New Zealand. The description of emergency in Section 4 of the C.D.E.M. Act 2002 includes epidemic.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield was exercising powers that were accorded under Section 70(1)(m) of the Health Act 1956, which was triggered by the declaration of the State of Emergency at 1221 hours 25 March 2020. I have seen notices published per 70(1)(m) in my local newspaper regarding the Civil Defence emergency. Others said they heard about it through radio and/or saw it on television.

The measures permitted under the above, include shutting down premises/locations/regions as required.

In other words I do not see anything in the legislation that Dr Bloomfield or anyone else may have exceeded.


Brownlee needs to chill on Civil Defence

Reading the news on the internet last night, as I got up to date with the Christchurch fire emergency I was quite surprised to see that the Minister of Civil Defence criticizing the agency under his watch. It was all the more surprising considering the experience that the Minister has had during his time as a Minister of the Crown in dealing with large scale emergencies.

The purpose of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act is to provide for preparation in anticipation of a Declaration of a State of Emergency, the Declaration of States of Emergency, their conduct and subsequent lifting in a Civil Defence event. This can only be declared when a situation exists where the event is beyond the capacity of emergency services to respond and enables additional resources including the military to be used.

Civil Defence declared a local state of Emergency in Selwyn District and Christchurch City on 15 February 2017 at 1821 hours. It was in response to the rapid expansion of two large fires burning on the Port Hills of Christchurch and their rapid progress necessitating large scale evacuations, and an unpredictable situation.

Some people including the Minister for Civil Defence, Gerry Brownlee, have criticized the slowness of the Declaration of a State of Emergency. By the time it was declared several houses had been destroyed and hundreds were being evacuated.

I agree that 6-9 hours is a long time in a fluid situation where developments are happening every several minutes. But Mr Brownlee needs to chill on Civil Defence. As the Canterbury controller was quick to point out on Thursday, there are procedures that C.D. is legally bound to follow in the Act. Circumventing the Act to bring about a possibly earlier declaration would have caused confusion, and the threshhold for a declaration might not have been achieved at whatever time Mr Brownlee thought it should have been.

Having overseen the Christchurch Earthquake recovery, and been the Minister of Civil Defence at the time of the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016, Mr Brownlee should know by now that the initial hours of an emergency are often the most confusing. The situation is often uncertain. Different agencies might be at different levels of alert, and in the case of something like a fire, there might have been a perception among the fire crews on the front line that they had the situation in check if the blazes were not advancing.

A Situation Report (commonly called SitRep), is generally issued every six hours, and notifies the controller of what has happened at a particular post and a larger report A Controller overseeing a State of Emergency is not just the liaison between the Government and Civil Defence – s/he might have several Civil Defence wards under his/he watch, with each of which are interpreting the situation as they see it within their boundaries and reporting requirements.

After all, the first rule of disasters is that ever disaster is different from the one that preceded it and the one that – heaven forbid – should eventually follow. So too is the resultant emergency and how it is conducted. As Minister of Civil Defence, Mr Brownlee would do well to remember that.

North Canterbury earthquake a grim reality check

It struck at 0002 hours Monday morning New Zealand Time. Lasting over a minute in duration and measuring magnitude 7.5, the earthquake centred northeast of Culverden in northern Canterbury was one of two closely spaced events to rock central New Zealand. The earthquake, which is among the largest recorded in New Zealand in the last 100 years caused:

  1. Slips to block roads
  2. Slips to block and damage the railway line between Christchurch and Picton,
  3. A tsunami, estimated at 2 metres high to high to hit the Kaikoura coastline
  4. Widespread damage, which Prime Minister John Key estimates will run into the billions of dollars
  5. So far 2 deaths have been linked to the earthquake

Analysis of the earthquake suggest that two separate earthquakes occurred minutes apart rather than one very large event. In the first event a reverse dip slip motion caused a block of land to rise over the other. It was followed shortly afterwards by a more common strike slip motion event where land slides past the equivalent block on the other side of the fault.

At the time of writing this, the seismic data seemed to point towards a rupture of the well known Hope Fault, along between 150-200km of its length. However, the absence of displacement reports from inland Canterbury along the fault, or out of Hanmer Springs do not make this conclusive.

The earthquakes have caused widespread landsliding throughout northern Canterbury. A land slide dam temporarily blocked the Clarence River at the Dart Creek confluence, the lake behind which has since emptied. Other such structures may form in the next few days with a risk of heavy rain on Thursday and also further aftershocks may bring down more landslides from weakened slopes. Thus, further land dam burst floods may occur in other river catchments.

Wellington C.B.D. was closed yesterday whilst engineers undertook structural assessments of buildings. Most will reopen but some in older premises will remain closed. Damage from the quakes earlier today has been worse than the 2013 earthquakes, and caused the ferry operations between Picton and Wellington to be suspended. Wellington City Council will again be undertaking risk assessments and issuing compliance orders against building owners whose structures are found to be deficient.

Further south, Kaikoura is completely cut off. It has no rail, road or ship access. The damage to infrastructure means sewerage and water are also not working, though power has come back on. Since it is reliant on State Highway 1 or the railway line for freight, getting goods into the town is a difficult proposition.

It will be weeks before the State Highways or the railways reopen as a consequence of the quake damage they have suffered. Communities such as Culverden, Hanmer Springs, Rotherham and Waiau are largely cut off from the outside world by road damage. Severe weather warnings are in force for the next couple of days, which directly affect quake damaged areas such as central Wellington. If you want to donate to the New Zealand Red Cross 2016 New Zealand Earthquake Appeal you can do so here.