No COVID19 cases but National and A.C.T. still not getting the message

No new COVID19 cases were recorded in New Zealand yesterday. The good news comes as accusations of COVID electioneering are pointed at the Government. And with the 52nd Parliament just three weeks away from dissolving, the intensifying politicking is happening against a worsening COVID19 picture worldwide – Australia is facing a surge in cases, just like New Zealand; the United States and Britain are being forced to back track on reopening whilst Russia and India reach new rates of infection. And this comes in a week where the COVID19 outbreak world wide hit two alarming figures:

  • 500,000 dead world wide
  • 10,000,000 cases

The determination shown by National and A.C.T. to continue pushing for an open border despite COVID19 having its most dangerous week nation wide yet, never ceases to amaze me. It is almost as if they are in some sort of parallel universe: unable and/or unwilling to understand that reopening the border would be absolutely disastrous for New Zealand.

More incredible still as well as alarming is where some of the proponents of opening the border are getting their ideas from. I am in a group on Facebook called New Zealand Centre for Political Research, a group set up by former A.C.T. Member of Parliament Muriel Newman, that has a distinct right/far right flavour to it. Many of the active members think Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a Communist and that she is determined the non-binding United Nations Agenda 2030 is something New Zealand is going to help give effect to. Many think the Government wants to take away all our legally owned guns, property rights and destroy the economy.

With regards to COVID19, many of the members are in open denial that COVID19 exists. They believe Dr Ashley Bloomfield is spearheading some kind of agenda to take away everyone’s rights under the guise of a medical emergency; that Dr Siouxsie Wiles, whose preference for highlighter hair colours is somehow offensive and degrades her work, is some sort of conspiracy theorist. Somehow apparently Sweden is still going in the right direction and that United States President Donald Trump is being taken down by a media conspiracy because he insists on the reopening of America.

Like National and A.C.T., many of these people seem to think that New Zealand should reopen their borders. The Universities are not going to have the means or know how to be ready. Nor is it their role. Their role is to teach and conduct high level. It is not to be a mass quarantine centre. And the students are another story altogether. Most will come from countries with far worse management of COVID19 than New Zealand. AT least some will not want to go into quarantine no matter how necessary it is, and they will have to be returned to their countries of origin, because there is no way New Zealand should take them.

If you think that is alarming, it gets worse. The COVID19 pandemic was a “Plandemic”, which is their speak for getting COVID19 was a deliberately planned act. Part of this centres around legislation that moved under urgency through Parliament in the week ending 17 May 2020. The legislation was to enable the transition to Levels 2 and 1 under the COVID19 warning system. However that legislation has since been back to Parliament and is currently awaiting its Second Reading, having been open to public submissions for the last three weeks.

Did I say that the urgency was justified? A qualified no. Granted I am not sure what other legislative work the Government was doing during lock down, I am sure that if it was a case of suddenly realizing that Levels 2 and 1 might have no legality, then that is extremely poor handling of the legislation. On the other hand if the legislation took that time to be prepared, acknowledging Parliamentary Services staff could not come in and work from their offices, then perhaps one should be more understanding. Still, it is far from ideal to push a Bill of Parliament through the entire process in two days. The protests were substantial and organizations like Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission both opposed it.

The best thing that I think can happen to National and A.C.T. in this election is a sound defeat. And I am not saying that because I am opposed to them getting into power. I am indeed opposed to them getting into power, but my desire to see them get soundly defeated is because right now they genuinely want New Zealand to be exposed to the raging epidemic of COVID19. No responsible Prime Minister would ever knowingly do that.

Dear Jacinda: The weather is a metaphor for our current politics

Dear Jacinda Ardern,

It is a grey old kind of day here in Christchurch as I type this. Looking out the window at the dreary overcast drizzly weather wafting past, it seems to be a bit of a metaphor for the world at the moment. Grim. Dreary. No sign of getting better any time soon.

No doubt as you watch other countries including some that New Zealand is meant to be great mates with struggle, you must be counting your lucky stars that you are Prime Minister of New Zealand. You must be extremely grateful not to be having to manage the unravelling nightmare of COVID19 in the United States or quietly despairing in Down Street at the sight of huge numbers of people at the beach, without any regard to social distancing.

But going back to that metaphor, compared to the world, it is relatively sunny in New Zealand. Big powerful cumulonimbus clouds might be roving around on the horizon with their wild volatile problems, but thus far thanks to your leadership we have managed to avoid them. I hope you keep that way, and I am sure most of New Zealand want you to keep it that way too.

But Prime Minister, we have some lumpy cumulus clouds overhead that threaten to spoil things a bit, and they are ones that you can control as Prime Minister. One of those clouds is David Clark, trying to accidentally blot out the ray of sunshine that is Dr Ashley Bloomfield. I know you said you were annoyed with Mr Clark and said that if it were not for COVID19 and the need for a stable leadership team, he would be gone. Fair enough. But that was then. That was before Mr Clark threw Dr Bloomfield under the bus a few days ago.

I am sure Mr Clark is a nice guy in person, but he is going rain on your parade unless you take the Health portfolio of him, like now. New Zealanders don’t like that ray of sunshine being blocked and have noticed the cloud that is blocking it. The cloud needs to move along.

As for the grey old dreary kind of weather that is afflicting Christchurch at the moment, it is fortunately not as volatile as the thunderstorms that have been crossing Auckland and the Bay of Plenty of late. But as a rental car groomer at a service yard near Christchurch Airport, the dreariness in the sky is startlingly appropriate in terms of describing the global outlook. Planes are coming and going. I hear their engines as they disappear into the cloud from the runway a few hundred metres away. The complete absence of foreign tourists, being a reminder that the COVID19 storm is raining heavily in many countries. The constant drizzle is a metaphor for the single figure COVID case numbers being caught in isolation – the fact that it has for the most part not turned to rain, hopefully trying to tell us that the strategy of isolation is working.

My American friends can hear thunder. It is the thunder of a COVID19 storm that is far from finished and reminds every time I hear of a new rumble through the media of just how lucky we are in semi-sunny New Zealand. Now if you do not mind, we would love for you to please move that cloud along for us.



Why I trust our COVID19 plan more than I trust the Opposition

A few days ago National Member of Parliament, Michael Woodhouse made a stunning allegation. A homeless man had apparently talked his way past security and into a hotel in Auckland where COVID19 quarantine patients were being held. Who was he; why was he there?

The Government launched an investigation because such allegations are not to be trifled with. In making the allegations, National was alleging that there had been a significant breach of the containment facility that the hotel had been converted into; that the Government had no idea where a potential super spreader who could have gone on to infect hundreds of people had gone.

Except that there is a problem. There is no way of verifying it and Mr Woodhouse has not provided additional evidence.

National are plain desperate. It is a significant allegation to make, and I am not the first to do so, but it seems to me that National actually want the COVID19 pandemic to come back to New Zealand because that would give their claim that the Government does not know what it is doing, credence.

Despite having heard of some silly stuff in New Zealand politics, I find the idea that a political party could want a pandemic for their own ends quite unbelievable. Wanting a pandemic that might be only weeks away from overwhelming the United States medical system to come back and start raising merry hell here, just so National can get back into power. And yet, that is precisely what other commentators, not able to really believe their own eyes and ears are seeing and hearing too.

All this does is give me confidence that New Zealand is for the very most part on the right track in dealing with COVID19. Right across the emergency from when New Zealand realized it was going to have to enact measures unseen in this country before, through to today, the communications between the Government and the people have been outstanding. At all levels of society – from video updates aimed at children to the daily 1300 hour briefings for other parts of

Sure we are having new cases announced daily, but New Zealand was told quite clearly to expect an eventual second wave. Whether this is the star of that new wave, I do not know but that is mute. My point is the Government understood in its contingency planning that when the restrictions are lifted and people become mobile again we would probably see a spike in cases.

In terms of the people who have come through the border and gone on without appropriate checking, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield gave instructions in good faith. As such they had every reason like the rest of New Zealand to expect that those instructions would be duly implemented. And that anger displayed by the Prime Minister last week was not for show – it was an actual reaction to someone not doing a completely essential job and potentially letting down the entire country. My guess is that someone in middle management either made a bad judgement or was someone who thought that they knew better and exceeded the authority delegated to them. And if this is the case, middle management is an internal matter for the appropriate ministry or department and not something the Director General or the Prime Minister need to know about.

It was a good call getting the military to become involved in quarantine management as their logistical system, chain of command and resources has a clarity and structure sometimes missing in civilian organizations.

Do I have concerns? Yes. And so should everyone else, because COVID19 is anything but finished. It is incomparably more dangerous than the “minor flu” that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insists; the epidemiologists and all those other people working in the medical sector are far more in tune than the politicians seek to undermine each other on the subject of COVID19. New Zealand might be doing well, but as a small nation, we have to be honest that our economic ability to fight a major COVID19 resurgence is limited; that our I.C.U. capacity is not great (and never has been) and that no one really knows when a vaccine will be ready – never mind available in quantities that means New Zealand and our Pasifika neighbours get a fair use of it.

So, why do I have confidence if I have concerns? The answer is simple. Because the Prime Minister and the Government have put their trust in the medical profession who are dealing with the crisis. They are not trying to play down the danger at all and know that a move back up to Level 2, 3 or – heaven forbid! – 4, would be horrendous for everyone. The social cost would, like the economic cost, be something few would want to contemplate.


A stark contrast between the United States and New Zealand in war on COVID19

Yesterday a truly disturbing announcement was made about COVID19. Whereas the first 1 million cases world wide had taken 3 months to reach, the most recent million new cases took a mere 8 days. 125,000 cases or the equivalent of the entire population of Otago every day coming down with COVID19. And as we ramp up our efforts to keep the border secure, the contrast in handling the emergency between the country much of the West looks to for leadership and a country of two moderate size islands and a host of smaller ones 11,000 kilometres away, is becoming ever more stark.

New Zealand has made a few mistakes. We should have never allowed people in on compassionate grounds. From Day 1 we should have sent everyone to quarantine without exception. The Police should have gone in hard after a few days grace and done away with warnings and education.

I know there is a whole lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda in there, but if you look at earlier articles, you would see that I have acknowledged the mistakes. You will see that New Zealand has been – and I cannot say this with enough emphasis – very lucky to have had both the Opposition and the Government largely on the same page. For election year reasons as well as holding the Government to account, there have been obvious disagreements. When we look at how the Opposition and Government have worked or not worked together in other countries only then do we realize that for all their many faults, there are worse things than National and A.C.T. in politics.

But New Zealand has done very well to control COVID19 to the extent that we have. It has been a combination of circumstances and a brilliant response. New Zealand’s geographical location, so often the curse of the country in terms of our relevance to the rest of the world has paid rich dividends in this instance. Contrast that with Canada which has the United States on its border; France with Spain; India with Pakistan. The response, which was in the history of New Zealand, unprecedented, planning, announcing and implementing a complete national shutdown with the speed that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did was always going to catch some people out; was always going to have a couple of teething issues simply because so much had to happen so quickly, adequate planning simply was not possible for everything. Much of the desperate politicking by National and A.C.T. at the moment has nothing to do with COVID19 and is simply about the General Election on 19 September.

Before people say “the United States is much bigger than New Zealand, so more cases and fatalities should be expected”, yes that is true. But not on the disproportionate scale that the United States now finds itself in. The United States has 66x New Zealand’s population of 5 million people, but it also has vastly greater resources available to it, both in terms of Federal Government finances, equipment, personnel and so forth as well as an immense bank of knowledge to draw upon.

If the United States had some how managed to keep its cases strictly proportionate to New Zealand, prior to our case numbers starting to climb last week, the key equations would have been:

  • 1504 (N.Z. total cases) x 66 = 99,264 cases
  • 22 (N.Z. total deaths) x 66 = 1,452 deaths

If we were pragmatic we would acknowledge the social, geographic, economic disparities across the United States and the fact that a vastly larger population would bring individuals with a vastly greater range of medical conditions. On that basis, for arguments sake, one might then make a 3-4 fold allowance cases and deaths. But even that, horrible as the statistics are – and remembering EVERY life lost is a tragedy for a family somewhere, there or here – the following statistics still look comparatively good to what is actually happening in the United States;

  • 99,264 cases x 3 = 297,792; x 4 = 397,056
  • 1,452 deaths x 3 = 4,356; x 4 = 5,808

I honestly do not know what the answer is in the United States. With 2 million casualties and 120,000 dead it is clear that the United States has an unprecedented medical emergency on its hands, especially as the U.S. moves into the hottest months of its calender year. With major holidays such as Independence Day still a month away and an election campaign to come, the U.S. struggle to contain COVID19 is only going to get more and more desperate. It is not nice to see a country you were told to look up to in Primary School as a nation that New Zealand should aspire to be like, suffering like this, but it is one time I am truly, truly grateful that the lottery of citizenship had me born in New Zealand.

COVID19 bungle most probably happened at middle management level

Following the COVID19 announcement last week, New Zealanders rightfully went into a state of collective fury. At all levels of government, across the strata of New Zealand society, rich and poor, young and old had a massive “for Gods sake” moment as it was announced that two more cases of COVID19 had been found on the afternoon of Tuesday 16 June. Before long we knew it, the calls for resignations before we even had the details of how COVID19 came to resurface in a country that thought it had the virus on the run.

In a very New Zealand way, we demanded a sacrificial lamb. People were wanting the Minister of Health, the Director General or some other very senior official to take the fall. But did those senior officials actually have anything to do with the actual bungle being committed? Very probably not. Don’t blame Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Health Minister David Clark or Director General Ashley Bloomfield. Don’t blame anyone in Civil Defence or anywhere else the COVID19 outbreak this week.

Look at the middle management. This is an area where for whatever reason or combination of reasons, when you have a major managerial failure, the culprits are often found. I imagine someone had a decision to make, maybe at the border, maybe in assessing them at some point in the six days they were being held or maybe at some other point.

In good faith Dr Bloomfield, Mr Clark and Ms Ardern gave instructions on managing COVID19. In equally good faith, they had every reason to expect those instructions to be carried out. When those tasked with giving effect to those instructions failed to do so, their anger would have been just as palpable as that of the New Zealand public, and not just for show either. Having led New Zealand through the most comprehensive shut down of the country in living memory, achieved – or at least THOUGHT – they had achieved something no other nation had done, the anger shown by the Prime Minister at the press conference was palpable.

But about these people in middle management. They might have been responsible for a controlled entry point such as a border crossing at an airport. They might have been faced with someone who did not present any obvious symptoms at the time that unfortunate individual or individuals saw them.  And then there is their boss. Did their staff member/s do adequate/appropriate checks? Did they have anyone to cross check their work? If not then that means someone a bit higher up like a shift supervisor or team leader did not do due diligence. Was the boss of that person aware that they did not do due diligence. If not then that means the culprit is somewhere between the person at the check point and their supervisors boss.

So, let us not indulge in a witch hunt of Ministers, Director Generals and such. The problem is at a much lower level than them. If it were any of the public officials, then that would imply a much worse situation than what we are currently in.