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COVID-19 Returns to New Zealand

On August 9th, headlines in London, Washington, and around the world announced that New Zealand had gone for 100 days without a single case of COVID-19 resulting from a community transmission. There had been a few imported cases discovered during the mandatory 14-day border quarantine period but these were already in isolation. Even so, laudatory headlines were tempered with notes of caution. Looking across the Tasman at the resurgence of the virus in Melbourne, officials and epidemiologists used the milestone to reiterate that people needed to be prepared for further outbreaks. Almost on cue, the streak ended after 102 days, with the discovery of a community transmission in Auckland.

Within hours of the test results, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced there would be a three-day Level 3 lockdown for Auckland and the rest of New Zealand would revert to Level 2. This was later extended to 14 days. This followed the established government policy of “go hard, go early” in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks. The strategy is to eliminate COVID-19 in New Zealand. There is no talk of “mitigation” or “herd immunity.”

New Zealand has four levels of COVID-19 alert. Level 4 is the most severe. At this level, only essential workers are permitted to go to work and only one person per household is allowed out to shop. Everyone else must stop work or work remotely. People can only leave their homes for exercise locally while maintaining social distance. While this level of restriction is draconian, it did eliminate the virus—at least for a while. In the long run, the government thinks, the best economic response is a strong health response. Better a short sharp shock, followed by a strong perimeter defence at the border, resulting in a return to the relative normality of Level 1 than more lenient alternatives which give you the worst of both worlds: more deaths due to infection and less trade for a protracted period due to people staying home to avoid the risk of exposure to a lethal virus still circulating in the community.

At Level 3, businesses not deemed essential are not permitted to open as usual but are restricted to contactless methods. In practical terms this means you order online and “click and collect” instead of browsing through the shop. If you can work from home, you must do so. Schools close—except for the children of essential workers. Universities close. Lessons and lectures are mostly conducted online instead of in person. People are encouraged to keep their “bubble”—the set of people they come into close contact with—as small as possible. Large gatherings are prohibited. Weddings and funerals can only have 10 guests. As a result of the recent outbreak, the Auckland area, where about one-third of New Zealanders live, was put on Level 3 alert on August 12th.

At Level 2, which applies to the rest of the country, the restrictions are less severe. Shopping remains fairly normal. Even so, at my local supermarket, staff put on face masks once again and the Perspex shields separating queues at the checkouts reappeared. At Level 2 and higher there is a requirement to sign into a public place. It is now compulsory for all premises to display posters with QR codes that can be scanned by the official COVID Tracer app released by the government.

Source: NZ Ministry of Health

COVID Tracer was launched at the end of May. At that time, New Zealand was at Level 2 alert nationwide, coming down from five weeks at Level 4, followed by three weeks at Level 3. When the app was introduced most businesses had been using manual pen and paper registers to keep track of visitors to their premises as required by the government. On June 8th, after 17 days without a new community transmission, New Zealand entered Level 1. At this level, there was no requirement to sign in and registers disappeared. Life returned to something close to normal. My local football team, the Crusaders, won the cut-down Aotearoa Super Rugby contest in front of a capacity crowd on August 9th.

Just prior to entering Level 1, 522,000 people had downloaded the app. Many places still did not have the QR code posters needed for the app to work. Some were using other commercially developed apps to log visits. During the long period of Level 1 running from June 8th to August 11th, the motivation to install the app dropped off as registers disappeared. However, due to the recent resurgence of community transmissions in Auckland and the fact that the government has now made it compulsory for businesses to display posters of government issued QR codes, the Ministry reported on August 24th that 1,770,000 people had registered using the government app. Of these, over a million had registered since the new outbreak and the imposition of Level 3 alert inside Auckland and a Level 2 alert elsewhere. According to the Ministry, the number of people registered now represents 43 percent of the population over 15 years of age.

The app remains voluntary but the government has orchestrated a state of affairs where not having it is a nuisance at Level 2 and higher. One’s choice at the shops today is to get out your mobile and scan the QR code, which takes a few seconds once you get the hang of the app or you write your name, your address, your phone number, and your email, touching the same surface as everyone else on that register page has done. Obviously, you douse your hand in sanitizer before and after you do this. Once you have done this a few dozen times, downloading the app becomes a compelling alternative.

Presented as a “digital diary,” the app is primarily designed to support human contact tracing. Ministry staff phone those who have come into contact with infected people. Contacts are assessed by interviews not algorithms. Distinctions are made between close contacts (e.g., in households or workplaces) and casual contacts (e.g., in churches or shops). The core functions of the app are simply to keep contact details up to date and to help people keep track of the locations they have visited using QR codes. Businesses are obliged to provide QR code posters and manual registers at their entrances for those without mobiles.

The New Zealand Privacy Commission was consulted on the app design. The infographic below illustrates the Commission’s advice on good practice in handling data generally.

Source: NZ Privacy Commission

COVID Tracer stores data on the user’s handset and works with push notifications. If it turns out an infected person was in the same place as the user, a user who has downloaded the app and opted-in can get an alert on their phone. If an alert is generated on the phone, the user will also get a call from a contact tracer. This can involve the user pushing a button to share their digital diary with the Ministry to facilitate further contact tracing.

Currently, the New Zealand app does not keep track of people via Bluetooth, GPS, or network triangulation. It provides a digital version of pen and ink registers. Obviously, contact tracing is much faster and more reliable when you can search digital diaries rather than retrieve data from paper sitting in filing cabinets across the nation. The app has the modest but vital goal of making contact tracing easier and faster.

While this seems a little cautious from a technical point of view, New Zealand does not yet need a more powerful app. After all, the country went 102 days without a community transmission. The best argument against introducing a mandatory contact tracing app is having no need to do so due to lack of new infections. However, if COVID-19 were as lethal as Ebola and had a shorter incubation period like a typical flu, the case for a mandatory Bluetooth-enabled app would be far stronger.

COVID Tracer might be updated with Bluetooth functionality in the future. However, New Zealand has a cautious approach to the use of algorithms by government. The recently released New Zealand Algorithm Charter requires the limitations of the data to be understood. It is unlikely Bluetooth alone can replace a human in the loop asking detailed questions about contacts. The best it can do is provide a list of people for contact tracers to interview. A Bluetooth enabled “CovidCard” (worn like a normal access card for a secure building) is being tested.

The outbreak has dented the exemplary record of the New Zealand government in dealing with COVID-19. There has been something of a scandal as some border workers have been asking for tests and told not to worry by their managers. It transpires many border workers had not been tested at all prior to the recent outbreak. While they were being asked to report if they had any symptoms, they had not been regularly tested.

A prominent epidemiologist, Professor Sir David Skegg, was scathing in his criticisms of the government when this story broke. He said: “I was really shocked to hear the Director-General of Health say a week or two ago that they were aiming to test people [border workers] every two or three weeks, every two or three weeks frankly would be quite inadequate. But it now turns out that nothing like that was being achieved and I see the reports that more than 60 percent of people working at the border have never been tested.”

He went on to say “weekly testing for frontline staff working at the border should have been compulsory as stringent border protection is vital for New Zealand’s elimination strategy.” To make matters worse for the government, there have been reports of frontline workers wanting tests but their concerns not being addressed by managers.

These revelations put Jacinda Ardern on the back foot politically for the first time in months. Prior to the Auckland outbreak, she was cruising to an easy win in an election scheduled for September 19th. As a result of Auckland moving to Level 3 political campaigning had to stop. The opposition argued that this placed them at an unfair disadvantage, as the prime minister had the ability to campaign from the platform of the daily COVID-19 updates alongside the director-general of health, which are livestreamed and have a large audience, especially when there are new community transmissions being reported. In response, the prime minister decided to delay the election by one month to October 17th.

As of August 24th, there were 104 active cases resulting from community transmission since the 102-day streak ended along with 19 imported cases, making 123 in total. As the outbreak appears to have been brought under control it is hard to see Ms Ardern not being re-elected with a clear majority. Looking around the world, it is hard to find democratic countries doing better in terms of eliminating the virus and returning to something approaching normal economic life, without the fear factor associated with the virus still being present in the community. US President Trump’s remarks about the “big surge” in New Zealand have been widely derided. Looking at recent figures it is easy to see why. On a per capita basis, the “surge” in New Zealand is barely a ripple compared to the continuing wave of infections in America.

Source: The author with data from Our World in Data

The government has expressed confidence it has isolated everyone in the Auckland cluster and has decided to end the Level 3 alert for Auckland on Sunday, August 30th. The rest of the country will remain on Level 2. These levels will be reviewed on September 6th. As of Monday, August 31st, the Level 2 alert level will be amended to mandate the wearing of face masks on public transport. This is in response to a recent community transmission on a bus.

While the Auckland outbreak appears to be contained, it only takes one “superspreader” to cause a new one. Levels of infection comparable to those of Melbourne, or another border breach resulting in a new cluster of infections, might yet upset Ardern’s chances of re-election. As things stand though, the public mood in New Zealand is rather like that after a missed tackle that leads to the opposition scoring a try in an All Blacks game. The setback is disappointing, but it is far from a defeat.

 

Sean Welsh holds a PhD from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He is co-author of An Introduction to Ethics in Robotics and AI, an open access freely downloadable book written for the general public, and author of Ethics and Security Automata, a research monograph on machine ethics. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_welsh77.

Image: Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand during the coronavirus pandemic. Alamy

Comments

  1. I can’t be the only one who is sick to death of the theme that “government action can beat Covid”. Jesus, I thought even leftists had a bit more humility than this… but I suppose if looking at a picture of Kim Jong Il can cure cancer and the very mention of the king’s name can exorcise demons then sure, why the hell not… in ten years’ time the world will be overrun with little girls named Jacinda instead of Brittany…

    The New Zealand government, along with its plucky population of wanna-be-dictated-to lacklusters will beat this thing once and for all! And once Trump is no more, whooosh!, Covid-19 will go the way of the dodo too…

    Keep the faith… Rock on… you’ll see the light if you squint hard enough…

    Ardern for queen of the universe! Why won’t she govern me too?

  2. Yeah, I have come down with a bad case of Covid 19 fatigue.There was a good article on Spiked: https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/08/17/the-last-pandemic-couldnt-even-stop-woodstock/
    Hong Kong flu wasn’t minor, but the people of 1960s brushed it off and forgot about it. So what’s the deal now: do we surrender 2021 to Covid as well? Does WHO get to press the world’s “off” switch ad infinitum everytime somebody sneezes? The lockdown was a stupid fucking plan, but everyone who questioned it was called a killer.

  3. I am over it. Don’t care if it spikes or doesn’t. The question is simple, if you may die in six months, do you want to spend them in your basement? Life comes with the risk of death the minute we are born and it eventually claims all of us…

  4. If most people’s vitamin D levels were in the same range as those of our ancestors - 40 to 60ng/ml 25 hydroxy vitamin D (25OHD) then very few people who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 would develop serious symptoms or be harmed. Most infected people would have no symptoms and a few would have mild symptoms. So there would be no need for lockdowns and hospitals would not be overloaded, even if the virus spread quickly through the population. (50ng/ml = 125nmol/L = one part in 20 million.)

    Furthermore, the average number of viruses shed per infected person would be so much reduced from today’s numbers - with 25OHD levels usually between 5 and 25ng/ml - that this corona virus would be far less infective than it has been, at least in winter months. If the virus spread widely, most people would develop some immunity and the spread would slow down. If it spread slowly, eventually most people would get it. Assuming immunity lasted a year or two, the spread of new infections would also diminish.

    There’s too little vitamin D in food or multivitamins to achieve these levels. Regular exposure to high elevation sunlight can raise most people’s 25OHD to these healthy levels - but far from the equator, this is impossible in winter, and some or many people have pigmented skin which greatly reduces their ability to generate vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in their skin. Any such exposure to UV-B light damages the skin and increases the risk of cancer. So the only practical way most people can attain ancestral 25OHD levels is to ingest vitamin D3 supplements. (D3 is converted in the liver to circulating 25OHD, which supplies all cells including those of the immune system. This is what is measured in vitamin D blood tests.)

    Average weight people need 0.125mg (5,000IU) D3 a day to attain 50ng/ml. https://aminotheory.com/cv19/d3/ There’s a lot of individual variation, so some would get to 25 and others would get to 70 or 100. This will be fine. Toxicity may be a problem over 150nn/ml (375nmol/L), but due to self-limiting processes, such levels can only be achieved after months of supplementation with 1mg (40,000IU) or more a day - far more than anyone needs.

    Obese people need about 0.3mg (12,000IU) or more. They are are at very high risk of COVID-19 severe symptoms partly because of their typically lower than average 25OHD levels, but also because their excess adipocytes (fat cells) produce pro-inflammatory cytokines and express the ACE2 receptor, which means SARS-CoV-2 can infect them. Furthermore, obesity involves ectopic adipocytes in the alveolar (air sac) tissue of the lungs.

    Average weight people need a gram of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) every 22 years. The ex-factory, 1kg lot, price of pharma grade D3 is about USD$2.50 a gram. It only needs to be taken every week or two. So for average weight people (less for children, more for the overweight and obese) 12 US cents a year is all that is required, plus the cost of making and distributing 26 or 52 capsules a year.

    The widespread acceptance of unprecedented levels of government surveillance and control of movement and property is a very serious concern. This acceptance doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable if it is assumed that the prevailing narrative is correct: (1) SARS-CoV-2 is highly contagious and harms or kills an unacceptably high proportion of people who are infected. (2) The only long-term solution is for most people, in any given country, to develop immunity to it. (3) While this could be achieved by letting the virus infect most people, the costs in terms of harm and deaths - and of hospitals being overloaded and so unable to treat many ill people - are unacceptable. (4) Therefore we must do all we can to minimise the spread of the virus until the great majority of people in the country are vaccinated. (5) Then, the country will only allow visitors from countries with similar high levels of immunity, with visitors from other countries being quarantined for weeks. Even though these measures will sill let infected people into the country, the idea is that the infection wouldn’t spread fast due to herd immunity.

    Governments take their advice from doctors - or at least from particular doctors whose views are compatible with the majority of other doctors. Almost everyone assumes that the majority of doctors are well informed. However, when it comes to nutrition - and in particular the importance of vitamin D and a few other micronutrients for immunity - the beliefs of most doctors are disastrously wrong. (Exceptions include 48 MDs and researchers who have been calling for 40 to 60ng/ml vitamin D levels since 2008: https://www.grassrootshealth.net/project/our-scientists/ .)

    Since March it has been well known that most of the harm due to COVID-19 severe symptoms is due to the hypercoagulative state of the blood causing microembolisms and large blood clots in all organs, including the lungs, brain, spinal cord, heart, liver and kidneys etc. This only occurs due to the body’s natural response to the destruction of endothelial cells which line blood vessels, including the alveolar capillaries. This destruction is primarily caused not by the virus, but by the “cytokine storm” - a phrase most people had never heard of until a few months ago. This is a flood of pro-inflammatory cytokine (signalling molecules) generated by multiple overly-aggressive, dysregulated, immune responses, similar to the responses which drive sepsis and which drive long-term low-grade inflammation which causes so many chronic diseases.

    This is all known to most doctors. However, most doctors have not read the research on how immune cells rely on at least 40ng/ml 25OHD for their autocrine (inside the cell) signaling systems to work, such as Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease Charoenngam & Holick https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12072097 . Nor do most of them know that COVID-19 patients with more severe symptoms have lower 25OHD levels than those with few or no symptoms.

    Most of them do not know that Kawasaki disease (a severe immune dysregulatory disease, triggered by multiple infections, including especially COVID-19) only occurs in children with very low vitamin D levels: Severe vitamin D deficiency in patients with Kawasaki disease: a potential role in the risk to develop heart vascular abnormalities? Stefano Stagi et al. https://sci-hub.tw/10.1007/s10067-015-2970-6 . The children averaged 9.2ng/ml and those with coronary aneurysms averaged just 4.9ng/ml!

    Nor have they read An autocrine Vitamin D-driven Th1 shutdown program can be exploited for COVID-19 Reuben McGregor et al. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.18.210161v1 in which Th1 lymphocytes isolated from the lungs of patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms have an autocrine signaling pathway which should be activated, to turn the cells off their hyper-inflammatory program which produces pro-inflammatory IL-17 and instead make them produce the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. However, this anti-inflammatory pathway is not working, due to lack of 25OHD vitamin D.

    Furthermore, most doctors - encouraged by drug companies and many of their patients and administrators - are overly enamored of drugs and vaccines, when in fact, numerous health problems, including especially COVID-19, would be vastly less severe if most people had 40 to 60ng/ml 25OHD.

    Most doctors are not aware that humans in general, with considerable genetic variation, are predisposed to overly aggressive hyper-inflammatory immune responses due to our immune system evolving in the presence of helminths (intestinal worms) which downmodulated many of our ancestor’s immune responses. Now, without helminths, some of our responses tend to be overly strong - even with the best nutrition. For instance, whipworm infestation puts Crohn’s disease patients into remission and reduces deadly asthma symptoms: https://aminotheory.com/cv19/#helminthsgone .

    Government standards for vitamin D repletion are usually 20 or 30ng/ml. In the UK the standard is just 10ng/ml (25nmol/L) - one part in 100 million, and less than a quarter of what our ancestors had. In the UK, adults are advised to supplement with only 0.01mg (400IU) D3 a day. Some doctors and nutritionists fear being deregistered if they advocate repletion levels or daily intakes which contradict government guidelines.

    In the UK, 25OHD levels are low (16ng/ml) in winter, even for whites. The white average summer peak is only 25ng/ml. Levels are lower still for Black, Asian and Ethnic minority women and men. From recent BIOBANK research: https://aminotheory.com/cv19/#2020-UK-vit-D-BAME

    Many people, including a few doctors, reject the current mainstream COVID-19 assumptions and the deadly, unsustainable, lockdowns which naturally follow from them. They also correctly doubt the safety and effectiveness of the mass vaccination programs which are currently being planned and progressed with dangerous urgency and confidence.

    Their most common alternative hypothesis is that the drop in daily new infections in many countries such as the UK, since about April, is due to herd immunity. They believe that many more people have been asymptomatically infected than is indicated by PCR and antibody tests. They also argue - correctly, I think - that early use of hydroxychloroquine is effective at reducing symptoms and the risks of harm and death, including among the elderly. The believe - again, I think correctly - that HCQ’s suppression by the WHO and other health authorities is motivated by a desire that more expensive, glamorous, profitable drugs and vaccines be widely used, instead of a decades-old drug which costs ten cents a dose.

    However, their belief in herd immunity is mistaken, except perhaps in a few parts of London, New York, Indian cities and refugee camps. If their hypothesis was correct, then daily new cases per million population would not be rising, as they have been for two months or so, in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daily-new-confirmed-cases-of-covid-19-per-million-tests-per-case?yScale=linear&zoomToSelection=true&minPopulationFilter=1000000&country=FRA~DEU~NLD~GBR~CAN .

    The explanation for these bathtub curves is partly strong, generally respected and continuing lockdowns and social distancing and mainly the summer rise in vitamin D levels - and now their decline. Mother Nature is conducting a crossover trial and countries far north of the equator are entering a deadly, new, phase of declining 25OHD levels and consequent increase in viral shedding, transmission and severe symptoms.

    The same pattern does not apply to all countries. China has exceedingly strong lockdowns and other measures against spread. Many parts of the USA, Latin America and Asia are closer to the equator, have fewer lockdowns and/or less compliance with these. More of their people have pigmented skin and in the USA and Brazil, for instance, obesity is much more prevalent. Meanwhile, some African countries are coping reasonably well, perhaps due to cross-immunity from BCG vaccinations, higher vitamin D levels and/or more helminths. Homeless people, including those in cities far from the equator, are also doing better than expected - probably due to higher vitamin D levels and perhaps due to anti-inflammatory effects of nicotine.

    For links to the latest research on vitamin D, immunity and COVID-19, please see Karl Pfleger’s Low Vitamin D Worsens COVID-19 http://agingbiotech.info/vitamindcovid19/ and my pages: https://aminotheory.com/cv19/ .

    Doctors and governments should be protecting their populations according to the knowledge you can read in these research articles. When they do, they will build new vitamin D factories with an urgency normally found only in times of war. They will ensure all their people are replete in this well-researched, safe, inexpensive and vital micronutrient. Most people’s immune systems would also benefit from supplemental omega 3 fatty acids, boron, vitamin D and zinc - but only tiny quantities of vitamin D are needed, and it is by far the most important neglected nutrient for immune system health.

    There will be numerous profound benefits giving all humans the operating conditions their bodies need to be healthy. COVID-19 makes this much more urgent. This is the only way humanity can co-exist with SARS-CoV-2 - and whatever it mutates into - without the twin rolling disasters of suffering, harm and death due to weakened, dysregulated, immune systems and the equally deadly, unsustainable, lockdowns and social distancing.

    I am an electronic technician and computer programmer. Don’t take my word for any of this - please read the research articles.

    2020-08-28 update: It is possible that the upswing in daily “new cases” is partly or wholly caused by increased used of antibody tests in the last month or two. The original PCR tests detected viral RNA and so indicated current or recent (weeks) infection. Assuming no false postiives, antibody tests are positive for people who were previously infected. A positive antibody test for a person who was not previously PCR tested, or who was and tested negative, may be counted as a “new case” even though their infection may have been months ago.

    For this pattern to significantly add to the “new cases” count, significant numbers of such people - who are presumably no longer symptomatic, and who may never have had more than mild symptoms - would need to be presenting for an antibody test. To the extent that antibody tests are widely deployed for such people and the results counted in this way, the rise in “daily new cases” does not generally represent people who were infected in the last week or so.

    This explanation is advanced by biochemical engineer Ivor Cummings, better known as the Fat Emperor https://thefatemperor.com in this 2020-08-12 video: Crucial Viewing - to truly understand our current Viral Issue #Casedemic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FU3OibcindQ . He points to graphs of rising new cases with no matching rise in deaths.

    I am unsure to what extent this explains the upswing. If summer vitamin D levels did suppress transmission significantly, such as by reducing viral shedding, then the coming months will show this, because genuinely new cases will rise inexorably as average vitamin D levels drop, unless there is a return to extreme lockdowns. As far as I know, there is some extra vitamin D supplementation occurring now, but not enough to protect entire populations from winter declines in vitamin D levels.

  5. There seriously needs to be a two-tiered response to COVID-19. Continue to operate shielding for the medically vulnerable, but ordinary healthy people should be free to go about their business taking sensible precautions. This whole process has shaken my faith in the rational powers of even relatively intelligent people I know- no-one seems capable of changing their mind once committed to a specific theory of the virus.

    I was all for early and brief lockdowns when we didn’t know what we were dealing with, but people seem to have taken leave of their senses since the scenarios have proven less worst case than originally anticipated. I recently heard that we have a total of 480 cases here in the UK, with only 100 cases in ICU’s against a backdrop of a 16,000 bed capacity specifically allocated to COVID. So much for a brief spell of three weeks flattening the curve- many workers have been furloughed for months, and many will be going back to businesses whose long term feasibility is looking grim, if they haven’t already shuttered for the last time.

    Meanwhile cancers go undiagnosed and untreated, and people are too fearful to go to their doctors with all the minor symptoms of a heart attack. Families are cloistered together in situations where a history of domestic abuse if likely to be exacerbated, with little to do at home but drink. Goodness know what the long-term consequences for mental health will be, but I imagine forecasts are pretty grim.

    I was just going to mention vitamin D, but it appears our own doughty and persistent @Robin-Whittle has beaten me to the punchline. He has been a consistent source of reliable information from the very beginning.

  6. It’s about time someone came along and wrote a 9,000 word plea for increased Vitamin D consumption. Vita-fucking-min C gets all the good press.

  7. Stronger in what way?

  8. I’m probably being overly pessimistic in this, Morgan, but that “something” visited my home for a few days, last week.

    A very dear friend lost his home in the recent California fires, and came to stay with me for a few days when the mandatory evacuation order was announced.

    He put his mask on immediately upon exiting his vehicle, declared his intention to reside on my backyard patio slab (to protect me and my partner from the virus) and couldn’t bring himself to enter the house.

    He relented, eventually, and stayed inside. We offered to mask up, indoors, for his entire stay, if that would ease his mind. After a day or two, he accepted that we weren’t going to live in terror, and accepted our hospitality.

    I tried to have a conversation with him about the various permutations of the way the narrative is being propagated, but I discovered that he no longer takes the time to read and obtains all of his worldview from the 24-hour news cycle.

    Having just lost his home, I indulged him in having the news on during all waking hours.

    I now understand why the general public is so ill-informed and utterly terrified. I don’t expect that to change.

    I hope I’m wrong or my perspective is too limited in scope. Please feel free to say something encouraging. My mind is still poisoned by the television news cycle, and my friend left for longer-term housing three days ago.

  9. Of course you’re correct… and far more precise in your approach and analysis than I was…

    My retort was a nasty stab-wound. Not so much a straw-man. Just a guilty pleasure.

    Effective government action can indeed be helpful and hopefully, should be efficient and well guided. But of course, the nature of the problem seems to override politics. The disease will not wait for election cycles. People, on the other hand, must now work this new item into their repertoire of tolerances. And it will take time. While mine may indeed be a bit of a tactless attack on the Kiwis, it still is worth noting that we can’t be certain that even these efforts are indeed “the best ones.” In an alternate universe where the reactions were not quite so strong and tendency towards over-protection not quite so “maternal” as evidenced by Ardern and her ardent brood, then perhaps the disruption to the entire globe would have been lessened by a more lax approach.

    One will never know.

    And if this is to be examined fully then we need to be a bit more fair about the sum total of costs involved. I, for one, have never believed in the religion of “safety at all costs” and I don’t think shutting down the planet has been a good thing at all. I think we would have been better served by a less severe response. The depth of loss in real economic terms has yet to be felt. The reckoning, I think, will be severe.

    It is likely too early to draw many certainties from the “rightness or wrongness” of any approach. But then let’s be honest about where we are talking about… The US state of Hawai’i doesn’t have stats quite like the rest of the nation. Maybe its because their government is so effective they’ve been using the Ardern playbook. Or maybe, because they’re on a bunch of fucking islands in the middle of nowhere…

    This was a puff piece for a puff-politician. So I got a bit puffed up about it…

    But if it makes you feel better, I promise not to be mean to my niece Jacinda about her trendy fucking name ten years from now…

  10. I live on Oahu (unfortunately) and it isn’t all puppies and sunshine. We have been under strict lockdown since April. The entire island is under a mask requirement to enter any business or public area, also since April. The island is about 50% asian demographic so the mask thing stuck really easily here.

    BUT… we also have 35% (last time I checked) unemployment because the tourist industry is gone. We have one of the highest homelessness rates in the nation as well (second place next to NYC if I recall). Couple these things with one of the highest costs of living in the country, and the homelessness is going to climb even higher. We may be an isolated island, like NZ, but isn’t going to stop it.

    COVID is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Get used to it. You need roughly 80% of the population to be immune (via prior infection or vaccine) in order to really curb the spread. Even if we get the best efficacy from the vaccine (typical flu is about 60%), that leaves 20% of people that have to be immune by exposure. Currently we are sitting at 5.9 million cases. That is 1.7% of the population… just 18.3% (60 million) people to go!!! Anyone convinced that it here to stay yet?

    Like so many of you, I am also just COVID burned out. I just don’t care any more. It is only the biggest thing in the world because there is nothing else to report.

  11. If he stopped watching CNN and took the time to read about previous pandemics, particularly the Spanish and Hong Kong 'flu’s, he might be reassured that this will all pass. There will be another pandemic someday, and that one will pass as well.

    Whether he’ll ever get over the mismanagement of California’s forests and woodlands, is another matter. Sorry he lost his house.

  12. Give it time… Greta Thunberg’s 18th birthday can’t be far away…

  13. Your state can become totalitarian surprisingly quickly. I can quite literally be arrested walking a yard off my driveway now, as it’s an hour past curfew. We are permitted an hour a day outside for exercise, but we may not use playgrounds or skate parks. We may not venture more than 5km from home. One person from the household may go shopping each day, but only for food - everything else has been closed. A 76yo man’s home was raided by police and he was arrested for “incitement to an offence” - organising a protest against lockdowns, which really rather demonstrates his point, I’d say.

    This still doesn’t reduce cases to zero, though, because authoritarian states tend to be inefficient and disorganised. Because they require a lot of personal loyalty to the Dear Leader, they select for connections rather than competence, which means you get a bloated confused bureaucracy and the occasional competent person who slips in by accident will be quickly silenced or turfed out. And so in time of epidemic, the government becomes the greatest infection threat.

    Which is why in Victoria our second outbreak started in government-run hotel quarantine, and spread from there into other government-run places, like hospitals and aged care homes, with a slight detour into warehouses and meatworks.

    Fear not! If we manage to get things under control, government will come along and fuck it all up for us, and with a heavy sigh return us all to lockdown.

    Interestingly, a study published in The Lancet told us,

    Rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and wide-spread testing were not associated with COVID-19 mortality per million people. However, full lockdowns […] were significantly associated with increased patient recovery rates.

    So… lockdowns - such as in NZ and Australia - don’t stop people dying from covid. But they do stop the healthcare system being overwhelmed. However, when it is overwhelmed you don’t get any more people dying from covid, those who were going to die, die anyway - it just takes longer for the “sick but not going to die” people to get better.

    Lockdowns mean less time in hospital for those who were going to live anyway, and mean you don’t have to pay as much overtime.

    Lockdowns also have the benefit of reducing future healthcare costs, since you have an excuse to cancel all the “elective procedures.” One day hospital I know of has had over 500 bowel cancer screenings cancelled - five months, with bowel cancer that’s the difference between life and death. So those guys will die, saving us the trouble of treating them later. Let’s look on the bright side, eh?

  14. It’s mean of me, I know, but I love hearing about this, while remembering some of the rotten things you’ve said here about American society.

  15. What part of ‘Nuvo Coronavirus’ do they not understand? It’s going to get us all because it’s new, it maybe weaker when it gets you, you might mistake it for another illness, you might be asymptomatic, but you and me and most everyone is going to get it in some form or other. The BIG SCARE has worked though, it’s going to mess things up for a lot longer time than the virus would have, left to run it’s course.

    Of course, all human live ‘matter’, in as far as we can stop people from dying needlessly, but any reasonable person who thinks that (for instance) keeping a geezer like me alive, at the expense of a young family having a place to live, is an idiot. “Lives yer life 'n takes yer chances!” I say.

    Get off your bellies you grovelling dogs!

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