Winston Peters wants Level 1 now – Not so fast Winston


It has been revealed that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants New Zealand to go to Level 1 now. Mr Peters, who believes we have been at Level 2 for too long, said that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted at a Cabinet Meeting that she thought we need to get to Level 1 as quickly as possible.

Not so fast Mr Peters. Whilst it is true that at the time of sending this to publish, there had been no new cases for 5 consecutive days, New Zealand needs to 28 consecutive days of no new cases to completely break all transmission. After 28 days with no new cases, two full incubation cycles will have passed. After 28 days if the current run continues, there should also be no active cases left in New Zealand.

Then we can move to Level 1. And I would fully expect to do so at that point. I understand the desire to get out of Level 1 quickly, but COVID19’s tail is still thrashing around. There are still 22 live cases that need to be fully recovered before we can move along from running at 2/3 speed.

At Level 1 COVID19 will be like a bad storm disappearing into the distance, and people can get on with cleaning up the mess it left behind – all the while hoping that when the borders reopen a second storm does not come marching in and put all the hard done recovery work back to square one. New Zealand will need to have a much more robust quarantine system in place than the one currently in use to protect the country from those who are coming from jurisdictions where COVID19 has not been so well managed.

We will need to work closely with Australia and our Pasifika neighbours whose weak health systems cannot sustain the level of care that COVID19 hospital patients require. So it was welcome news yesterday to hear that $37 million has been allocated to supporting research for a vaccine and to help ensure that our Pasifika neighbours do not miss out because of nationalist politics in larger countries.

For myself personally, Level 2 still seems like Level 2.5 despite the easing of restrictions. My work requires cars to be sanitized before they are handed over to customers. Our staff room still observes social distancing and higher level sanitization requirements. We bring our own cutlery and glasses. I still observe the distancing where possible in public.

At Level 1, with COVID19 hopefully permanently consigned to the history books, we can overhaul hygiene legislation with the hindsight gained from from nine weeks of lock down. Among the changes I want to see are:

  • Requiring all people entering bars, restaurants, cafes and eateries to sanitize their hands
  • Require inspectors to check the availability of sanitizer stations as part of their (re)licencing of premises
  • Suspend licences for any premises that are non-compliant; cancel licences for any premises that do not meet requirements when the second check happens

 

Will there be a COVID19 sequel?


Up to yesterday 15 May 2020, New Zealand’s new COVID19 case numbers for the month had gone like this: 1, 2, 2, 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 0, 0, 0. Yesterday there was a solitary new case. Which is great because it means that the very long tail of COVID19 is something that we are well into.

However there is a problem. Aside from that very long tail existing, it also points to the need to display ongoing vigilance in the community against COVID19, which is very hard to do in a shopping mall where there are queues extending into the mall and

New Zealand’s hard work is at grave risk of being undone at some point in the future, because the pressure to reopen the borders and permit air travel again will become overwhelming. The pressures will be both internal, from the travel industry, from people wanting to go on holidays and see the world again and external pressures from trading partners wanting to do business with New Zealand again.

With the exception of Taiwan many of the other countries that were initially ones to watch and try to model our approach on, have since slipped markedly. This suggests that they eased their social distancing and isolation measures too soon.

One example is Singapore, which has a lot of migrant workers living in cramped dormitories has had a major jump in its cases to nearly 27,000. Yet miraculously its death toll is exactly the same as New Zealand. However, with only 6,000 of those cases having recovered, the death toll is almost certain to rise.

South Korea, after doing so well has also slipped. A single person with the virus who was apparently asymptomatic, visited Itaewon in Seoul, an area with nightclubs and popular with both locals and foreigners alike. He has infected a dozen people with 30 more probable and 7,200 people may have been exposed to the virus. South Korea, despite North Korea being isolationist and difficult to enter at best, has a potential 22 million strong incubator north of the Demilitarized Zone – North Korea does not admit to having any cases at all, but a combination of zero state transparency and a medical system that would not stand the strain, there are quite possibly cases.

As for Taiwan, incredibly its numbers are unchanged from when I last looked at them several days ago. 440 cases all up. 383 have recovered and 7 have died, leaving 50 outstanding cases.

New Zealand faces a testing balancing act in the coming days and weeks. There is no doubt that we need to get the economy moving again and that New Zealanders will not tolerate indefinite curtailment of their liberties – one day after the budget and two days after it was passed the COVID19 Public Response Act has already been referred back to a Select Committee for proper examination. There is equally little doubt that no one wants to go back to Level 4 or Level 3 restrictions any time soon, as the compliance issues would increase in inverse proportion to New Zealanders following recommendations.

Many questions also remain unanswered. One that I am keen to know more about is whether the warming weather in the northern hemisphere will exhaust the virus and prove the idea that it does not do well in temperatures above a certain level (I think 30ºC). Another is obviously whether a vaccine will be ready in 2020. I suspect not, just because even if all wealthy nations pitched in, it has to undergo a rigorous testing phase. If that testing is deemed a success, the ministries/departments of health around the world then have to be given instruction on its use, all the while waiting for a facility that can manufacture the vaccine in large enough quantities to be made ready. On top of that there are also outside forces – some controllable and some not so – such as geopolitical rivalries between the United States and China; poor medical infrastructure in some countries and conflicts all contribute to a myriad of challenges that a vaccine faces.

But the really disturbing thing is – as we have just seen in South Korea – one person in a bar or other potentially densely crowded meeting place is a mobile biological bomb exploding bit by bit. It would only take one or two such cases here and we might be locking down before we even known what happened.

And no one wants that.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 49


Yesterday was DAY 49 of New Zealand in lock down as we fought the COVID19 pandemic. It was also the end of LEVEL 3 lock down. It ended at 2359 hours last night. The LEVEL 2 transition to the post COVID19 future began at 0000 hours 14 May 2020.

The last couple of days in Parliament have been a massive bun fight over the legality of the new COVID19 legislation ensuring that the Government management of it under LEVEL and LEVEL 1 is legal. Without this legislation it would be nearly impossible for the Government to successfully wind up the war on COVID19.

It is legislation with some critical flaws. Some have been repealed to avoid potential legal challenges or because public compliance was going to become an issue. Some are still there:

  1. Initially the Government wanted a 2 year sunset clause that would see the legislation expire at the end of a two year period – National succeeded in getting this amended to a Parliamentary vote every 90 days or so
  2. An enforcement officer may enter, without a warrant, any land, building, craft, vehicle, place, or thing if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person is failing to comply with any aspect of a section 11 order (S. 20)
  3. The speed with which this has had to go through Parliament means there is no way it can possibly be solidly constructed legislation – in order for the legal basis of LEVEL 2 and LEVEL 1 to exist, the legislation had to pass by 2359 hours, which meant no public input and no select committee stage
  4. Section 11 orders appear to be a watered down version of the provisions of Section 70(1)(m) of the Health Act 1956
  5. Section 24(4) appears to void any legal appeal

The opposition has come from all parts of the spectrum N.G.O.’s such as Amnesty International talked about the concerns that they have for the . Human rights activists have registered their dismay as well, whilst people like Lizzie Marvelly expressed concern that it would unfairly target Maori.

The right have also expressed criticism. National, despite winning some concessions opposes the bill and will not be voting for it in Parliament. Nor will its traditional ally A.C.T. As I cannot recall any other time when legislation was crafted like this and with such haste – the passage of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Act was not attempted until late March, 2011, some several weeks after the Christchurch earthquake – I have noted the short time frames that have been provided in the advent of Section 11 orders. These can be made with 48 hours written notice; can if the Director General believes a COVID19 outbreak to be in progress be made in shorter time frames. Notably – and alarmingly – any appeal appears to be effectively void by Section 24(4).

As some kind of legal basis needs to exist to enable LEVEL 2 and LEVEL 1 to have any legal basis, this legislation will invariably pass since the Greens and New Zealand First are voting for it in addition to Labour. However that does not mean it is good legislation – it is crap and when you have both sides of the House attacking it and look at why this was not drafted earlier in the COVID19 emergency, it becomes clear that the Government did not do due diligence.

The only thing that we can hope for is that New Zealanders start to wake up to the fact that our constitutional framework is not adequate for keeping Government in check; that we need to strengthen the checks and balances. And soon. We also need to introduce civics in schools quickly because the longer we do not teach students about how the New Zealand legal system, Government and so forth work, the greater the number that do know understand their rights and responsibilities, will be when we need them the most.

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: DAYS 45 and 46


Today, the Government will make an announcement that determines the future of the lock down. In doing this, they will indirectly influence the end date for the New Zealand In Lock Down diary, and when the return to normal transmission will resume. For the remainder of lock down the diary will publish every second day.

Below is the entry for DAYS 45 and 46 of New Zealand in lock down as we look to end one of the grimmest peace time periods in New Zealand history.

There has been a distinct positive side to the COVID19 lock down. The enforced time off work, time in our respective bubbles at home has forced many people to get creative with how they spent their time. From trying new things like baking and crafts to working on maintenance jobs around the house, it would be a lie to say COVID19 lock down was all bad.

In our bubble, my father has been steadily knocking off a long list of maintenance jobs around the property, some of which date back decades. They include re-levelling the cobble path from the house to the garage. This is a more recent task that was started last week. Prior to that, joining was put in place where the brick facade of the house meets the roof so that water cannot seep into the house. The underside of the ceiling was given a new coat of paint

I have continued to make use of the lock down period. Whilst my father was busy outside, I got on with my study at a time when I was seriously struggling with my postgraduate paper and wondering if I would have to with draw from it.  Because of this, I have been able to claw my way back into the paper and and feel more confident than I did in March of completing it.

Outside of my study, I have spent anywhere between 30 minutes and 120 minutes a day walking, covering anywhere between 3 kilometres and nearly 12 kilometres. I have been doing two types of walking. You can see from the Google Earth image I have made, how the two types differ:

  • Infill walking – walking the length of a street in both directions by crossing the road just before I reach the end and walking down the other side, and takes considerably longer to do, whilst staying near home
  • Area walking – walking a path that rings in an area on the map, which I might do infill walking in later, which means one will walk considerably further from home than if they did infill walking

It has given me a good chance to look at neighbours and say “Hi” to people whilst passing. I have gone down streets in nearby suburbs that I never knew existed. I have walked through areas with state housing, often in quite run down state and through areas with B.M.W. cars and flash four bedroom houses with electric gates, beautiful gardens, swimming pools and even tennis courts. I have been to dairies and service stations I have not been to in the past. It is also deceptive in terms of how far I have walked. Take a guess at how far I have walked. Then take a second guess based on the first at how far you think I might walk if I am out for say 90 minutes a day at a steady pace by the time lock down ends.