Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

Covid restrictions

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Whenever media comment on the success the Aotearoa New Zealand has had in managing the pandemic, too often there is a mistaken belief that the citizens of this nation are living under some form of draconian authority that has made us prisoners in our own country.

In some cases it may be that messages to its residents from authorities or conversations between Kiwis is misinterpreted (either in ignorance or deliberately) to mean something sinister – for example the misconception that thousands of Kiwis are locked up in concentration camps indefinitely for refusing to take a covid test and by implication anyone who opposes the way the government is managing the crisis is also locked up. This myth is one actively promoted on Fox in shows such as The Ingraham Angle.

In most cases it’s a matter of making the “facts” fit a preconceived notion, one of which is that because they believe we are a socialist state (really?), we must have an authoritarian government that limits our freedoms and interferes in our daily lives. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

One only needs to see where this nation ranks on just about every freedom index known to see the fallacy of their beliefs. Whether it’s personal, economic, political, religious or any other freedom, Aotearoa New Zealand is ranked at the top or nearly at the top whereas their beloved America is seldom in the top twenty places. But specifically I want to illustrate that the approach to covid taken by our government has resulted in us having less stringent restrictions and more freedom than just about any other country.

Those who argue against restrictions often cite Sweden as a shining example of freedom during the pandemic. However Swedes do live under quite heavy restrictions – more so than the US. They also have suffered a heavy loss of life and the economy has slowed down significantly. Meanwhile NZ suffered a huge hit due to the lack of foreign visitors but the economy has bounced back to above pre-covid days and we go about our daily lives much as we did before the pandemic started. And while this country reports new cases almost on a daily basis, these are not cases in the community. They are new arrivals to this country who have tested positive while still in quarantine.

I’m going to present some information in the form of charts and tables that show that Aotearoa New Zealand is not a communist or fascist hellhole that many on the right claim it to be. I don’t intend to show whether or not the actions taken by our government are more effective than in other jurisdictions, only that they impacted on our freedom less than elsewhere. I’ve arbitrarily chosen four countries to compare with NZ: The United States because that is where the claims that we have lost our freedom are the loudest; The United Kingdom because their government seems to change their mind as often as most people change their underwear; Sweden because it has had no lockdowns and is looked upon by the the anti lockdown brigade as a shining example of how to manage a pandemic; and Japan because it’s the wife’s homeland, and like the UK and NZ is a group of islands.

First let’s look at the COVID-19 Stringency Index. The nine metrics used to calculate the Stringency Index are: school closures; workplace closures; cancellation of public events; restrictions on public gatherings; closures of public transport; stay-at-home requirements; public information campaigns; restrictions on internal movements; and international travel controls.

As can be seen from the chart below, the US, the UK and Sweden have had similar levels of stringency throughout 2020 and it’s only since the end of last year that measures in the UK have become more stringent.

Japan has had been significantly less stringent over all but still considerably more so than NZ. Note how New Zealand has responded. At any sign of an outbreak, the nation goes hard for a few weeks or days, but otherwise life is mostly “normal”.

The COVID-19 Containment and Health Index shows similar results. This index builds on the Stringency Index, using its nine indicators plus testing policy, the extent of contact tracing, requirements to wear face coverings, and policies around vaccine rollout. It’s therefore calculated on the basis of the following thirteen metrics: school closures; workplace closures; cancellation of public events; restrictions on public gatherings; closures of public transport; stay-at-home requirements; public information campaigns; restrictions on internal movements; international travel controls; testing policy; extent of contact tracing; face coverings; and vaccine policy.

Both the above charts clearly indicate when community transmission occurred in NZ and lockdowns were put in place. The first when around 1500 were infected, the second when around 100 were infected and the third where 4 people were infected. In each case, the restrictions were lifted only when health authorities were satisfied that the virus was had been eliminated from the community. And as can be seen, the containment measures taken during the last two outbreaks have still been less than the day to day containment measures in the US, the UK and Sweden.

If we look at some of the metrics used in the above charts we can see how these have worked out. Note that in some jurisdictions, management of the pandemic varies from region to region. So while the strongest measure indicated for a country may not apply everywhere, it applies to a significant section.

School closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required (only at some levels): US; Sweden
  4. Required (all levels): UK

Workplace closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required for some: US; Sweden
  4. Required for all but key workers: UK

Cancellation of public events

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended cancellations: Japan
  3. Required cancellations: US; UK; Sweden

Restrictions on public gatherings

  1. No restrictions: NZ
  2. Restrictions on large gatherings but above 1000 people: Japan
  3. Gatherings between 100 & 1000 people:
  4. Gatherings between 10 & 100 people:
  5. Gatherings of less than 10 people: US; UK; Sweden

Stay-at-home requirements

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: US; Japan; Sweden
  3. Required (except essentials): UK
  4. Required (few exceptions):

Face covering policies

  1. No policy:
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required in some public spaces: NZ; UK; Sweden
  4. Required in all public spaces:
  5. Required outside-the-home at all times: US

Public information campaigns

  1. None:
  2. Public officials urging caution:
  3. Coordinated information campaign: NZ; US; UK; Japan; Sweden

Public transport closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended closing (or reduce volume): US; UK; Japan; Sweden
  3. Required closing (or prohibit most using it):

Restrictions on internal movement

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommend movement restriction: Japan; Sweden
  3. Restrict movement: US; UK

International travel controls

  1. No measures:
  2. Screening:
  3. Quarantine from high-risk regions:
  4. Ban on high-risk regions: US; UK; Sweden
  5. Total border closure: NZ; Japan

Testing policy

  1. No testing policy:
  2. Symptoms & key groups:
  3. Anyone with symptoms: NZ; UK; Japan; Sweden
  4. Open public testing (incl. asymptomatic): US

Contact tracing

  1. No tracing:
  2. Limited tracing (only some cases): US; UK; Japan; Sweden
  3. Comprehensive tracing (all cases): NZ

Vaccination Policy

  1. None:
  2. Availability for ONE of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: NZ; Japan
  3. Availability for TWO of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: US;
  4. Availability for ALL of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: Sweden
  5. Availability for all three plus partial additional availability: UK
  6. Universal availability:

Income support

  1. No income support:
  2. Covers less than 50% of lost salary: NZ
  3. Covers more than 50% of lost salary: US; UK; Japan; Sweden

Debt and contract relief

  1. No relief: Sweden
  2. Narrow relief: US
  3. Broad relief: NZ; UK; Japan

So please tell me how New Zealand is in the grips of a brutal authoritarian regime after first removing our guns (another myth), while the US (or Sweden) is a model of covid management that should be emulated across the planet.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and was diagnosed as being autistic aged sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

4 thoughts on “Covid restrictions

  1. That was very interesting. I have always assumed that NEW Zealand’s success has been due to your location – you have the Pacific Ocean on your side – but obviously its more than that. If Canada was on that list, I suspect we’d be near the top. That, I believe, was due mostly to our quick lockdown and support of masks and distancing [lots of people have been charged, at least in Toronto]. But Canada has a long history of being more accepting of authoritarian rule. I’m weary of it now.

    • The early progress of the virus in NZ was similar to the rest of the world and I have no doubt that had we not gone into an immediate lockdown when there were only a hundred cases we’d be in much the same situation as Europe and North America. Don’t forget that on a per capita basis more people enter and leave New Zealand than either the US or Canada, and international trade makes up a greater proportion of our GDP (approximately twice that of the US).

      I agree that it might be somewhat easier to close our borders than elsewhere, but I’m not persuaded it’s the most significant factor in our success in controlling the outbreak. Most entry points in Canada and the US are controlled just as stringently as points of entry here. The success is mostly down to the politicians listening to the health experts and acting promptly on their advice, and the authorities being very clear on the purpose of any action undertaken. Kiwis are not generally known for obeying authority, but they are known for following reason.

      The reason that NZ went early and hard with the intent of eliminating the virus was because modeling showed that our health system would be very quickly overwhelmed even by trying to “flatten the curve” that most other jurisdictions attempted. As far as I’m aware, NZ is the only place where elimination was the strategy right from the start. Contact tracing, testing and genome sequencing has played a significant part in ensuring any infection that manages to bypass border control gets isolated within a day or two of appearing.

      As an aside, I added Canada to the list of countries compared, and on the Containment and Health Index, Canada is not that different to the US and the UK. I haven’t figured out how to add that chart here. However, you can go to https://ourworldindata.org/covid-government-stringency-index and make make your own chart comparing countries of your choice.

  2. As an American, I’ll try to speak up for America: Americans are idiots. Everyone thinks we’re #1 and it is soooo far from true. Now that a small fraction of our county has been inoculated and we ‘only’ have 60,000 new cases a day, the pandemic is declared over. Just watch as our fourth wave begins to grow. I’m pretty tired of the ignorance.

  3. You are ahead of us on vaccinating though. Here in Toronto it’s going forward very slowly. We’re still in lockdown – essential services only.

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