Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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101 days and counting

We all know that it can’t last forever.

But we hope that it will and live like it will.

In case you are wondering what I’m on about, yesterday marked the one hundredth day that this nation of Aotearoa New Zealand has been free of any COVID-19 transmission. Any Internet search of this country along with a term such as COVID-19 or coronavirus brings a multitude of news items and opinion pieces about our apparent success in controlling the pandemic.

Of course a search originating in NZ will produce a result that includes many kiwi websites, and as might be expected a good many of them report on news reports and opinion pieces from overseas publication. We Kiwis have a strange affliction – we don’t like to blow our own trumpet, but we have an almost unhealthy interest in how people and the media in other nations perceive us. I confess that at times, I too am also afflicted. We like others to blow our trumpet for us.

Face masks

Most of the news items were relatively accurate, but one glaring mistake frequently made was that there was a requirement to wear face masks as part of the containment measures. In fact health officials here advised against the wearing of masks as it was believed that they gave a false sense of security, needed to be properly fitted to be effective, and that people unfamiliar with wearing masks have a tendency to adjust or touch is frequently, negating much of its effectiveness.

Only in the last few days has that advice been replaced with a recommendation that we obtain reusable masks for each household member just in case there is an outbreak, and to store them with other survival gear in our earthquake kits. In fact there’s suggestions that we should introduce “mask practice days” so that we can get used to wearing masks should the need ever arise.

Elimination versus suppression

In many news items and opinion pieces, this country is compared to other nations that have also been successful in controlling the initial wave of COVID-19, but have since seen new waves just as severe or, in come cases, more severe than the first. The conclusion is that New Zealand will suffer the same fate.

What seems to be overlooked is that the strategy taken by the New Zealand authorities differed markedly from countries it’s compared with. Other nations sought to suppress the virus – bring community transmision down to a very low level. Right from the beginning, the strategy here has been to eliminate the virus – stop all community transmission.

And this has been clearly stated from the moment we learnt that the country was going into lockdown. I believe it was because the elimination strategy was so clearly communicated throughout the entire pandemic crisis that the result was indeed a “team of five million” that cooperated with a common goal in mind.

Complacency – I’m guilty

At the back of our minds I think we are all aware that at some time in the future – next week, next year, who knows when – an infected person will escape detection at the borders and infect one or more unfortunate Kiwis. Although we are repeatedly reminded that we must stay vigilant, I must admit that after 100 days it’s very easy to become complacent. I don’t think there’s any doubt that complacency is our greatest threat.

NZ could lose Covid-19 gains ‘very quickly’ if complacency sets in, experts warn

Trump’s alternate reality

According to Trump and the US Department of State, New Zealand is very dangerous to visit New Zealand and it’s necessary to take extra precautions while travelling here.

The reason? There’s 23 active cases in this country. Apparently that makes us more dangerous the the USA according to the President. What Trump, the US Department of State, and even the commentator on the video clip below, fail to understand is that those 23 cases are people who have just arrived in the country and are in mandatory managed isolation.

Effectively, new arrivals have not entered the country until they leave quarantine. All arrivals must go into isolation at a managed isolation facility for 14 days, and to have had two negative COVID-19 tests before being permitted to join the the rest of the non-masked, non-socially distanced Kiwis and attend sports events with 40,000 other fans and dance the evening away with hundreds of others in bars and nightclubs.

For the time being, you have about as much chance of being infected with COVID-19 as you have of being bitten by a snake in New Zealand. As there is no evidence of snakes ever living here, and the only ones permitted into the country are in the form of shoes or handbags, I think the odds are extremely slim.

If When the worst happens

New Zealand went into lockdown when there were only 100 known cases and no deaths. We we able to achieve elimination due to widespread testing followed by thorough track and tracing (although it was somewhat inadequate for the first few weeks). In general Kiwis have understood the necessity of the measures taken to squash the virus, and with a very clear message from the top, working as a team of five million has been relatively painless.

So long as a high level of testing is maintained (and we’ve dropped significantly over recent weeks – more complacency), any new outbreak should hopefully be contained before it gains a foothold as it has in the Australian state of Victoria.


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Unemployment down during COVID-19 pandemic

Kia ora!

It’s official! Unemployment is down in the second quarter of 2020 (4%) compared to the first quarter (4.2%). What’s more, hourly earnings are up 3%. Great news isn’t it?

But don’t let statistics fool you. It all depends on how the raw data is collected and how it is interpreted. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the source of official unemployment figures are taken from nationwide household surveys and the criteria for being unemployed includes actively seeking employment over the previous four weeks or due to start a new job within the next four weeks. Actively seeking employment means you have approached potential employers for the purpose of gaining employment. For example, applying for an advertised job, sending in a CV or making contact with a potential employer.

As this country was in various COVID-19 alert levels during the second quarter, including five weeks of full lockdown apart from essential services, it’s hardly surprising that meeting the requirements for being classified as unemployed was difficult, if not impossible to achieve. Thankfully, the surveys collect more data that can be used to identify trends and the real situation. All this information is available on the Stats NZ website, and summarised in COVID-19 lockdown has widespread effects on labour market.

While the number of those who are classified as unemployed fell by 11,000, the number of people not in the workforce rose by 37,000, no doubt swelled by the large numbers of Kiwis returning from overseas. Perhaps more significantly, the number of hours worked fell by a record breaking 10% and underutilisation of the workforce rose by 1.6% – another record.

Underutilisation is defined as all those unemployed and

underemployed – those who are employed part time (working fewer than 30 hours a week) and have both the desire and availability to increase the number of hours they work

available potential jobseekers – people who would like a job but are not currently actively seeking one; for example, a university student who has just graduated and wants a job but is not actively applying for one yet

unavailable jobseekers – people who are currently looking for a job but are not available to start quite yet; for example, a mother who has recently been looking after a child and in the next month will be able to start working again.

https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/covid-19-lockdown-has-widespread-effects-on-labour-market

This graphic from the Stats NZ website summarises the real picture:

What the graphic doesn’t show is how the pandemic has impacted some sections of society. 90% of those who have lost jobs are women, mostly from lower paid positions. This also explains why national average earnings have risen. Minorities are also disproportionately represented as they too are more likely to be in lower paid jobs.

The government is actively promoting large infrastructure projects where jobs are typically male dominated, but has done little for the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors where significantly more females than males are employed. Tourism and hospitality are the hardest hit mainly due the our borders remaining closed to overseas visitors.

Wage subsidies introduced to lessen the impact of the pandemic cease at the end of this month, and no doubt that will have a flow on effect on employment over the coming months. I expect the data presented for the third quarter will look much worse.

The question I ask is how much of the downturn is directly attributable to the effects of the NZ lockdown, and how much is attributable to the global economic downturn resulting from the pandemic and how other jurisdictions have responded. As this country is highly reliant on international travellers visiting our shores, I can’t see our fortunes improving until such time as overseas visitors no longer present a hazard to our population. And on that we are entirely reliant on other nations getting the virus under control within their borders.


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Draconian measures

I do wish there were fewer idiots. Without them life would be so much easier. And no more so than during the current pandemic. I can understand why authorities bring in draconian regulations that seem “over the top”. It’s to minimise the harm caused by idiots.

Take the Australian state of Victoria for example. Their lockdown was no where near as severe as the one we faced here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and may have worked. The idiots have not only delayed the state’s recovery, but have moved it into rapid reverse. There, persons tested positive are required to self isolate for 14 days.

Seems reasonable to me, but following evidence that some people were not self-isolating, the authorities checked on every person who should have been self-isolating. They found one in four people weren’t home! Yep, 25% of all those known to be infected were running around loose in the community!

The state government is now contemplating a lockdown similar to that which Aotearoa New Zealand was subject to for five weeks. Although in Victoria it might be for a longer period due to how widespread the virus is in the community.

I’m not sure whether we Kiwis are more sensible or more compliant. Possibly a bit of both. During all the stages of lockdown there were a few thousand breaches recorded in total, which have resulted a few hundred prosecutions. But on the whole, it was social disapproval of rule breakers that seemed to have had the strongest effect. The concept of a “team of 5 million” whether a myth or not, kept this country united and indeed is keeping this country (mostly) united in the fight against the pandemic.

Our attitude towards rule breakers can be clearly seen in our attitude to the borders remaining closed. Back in March when this country was first closed to non-residents, the government introduced mandatory self-isolation rules. Those arriving in the country were required to stay at home in isolation for 14 days. But it soon became apparent that a small minority (less than 5%) were not following the rules.

As the Prime Minister said at the time, the authorities placed a high level of trust in those in isolation. Had everyone followed the simple rules of self isolation, that’s where we’d still be. But no. A few idiots spoil it for everyone. The outcome has been that inbound residents are now required to undergo managed isolation in luxury hotels.

Originally security was minimal. Again the authorities placed a high level of trust in those staying in managed isolation. However it’s become very evident that a small handful of those returning to the country have little regard for the safety of others, and over time, security has tightened to the point now where every facility has a permanent police and military presence and perimeters have become more secure as the weeks pass by.

Over thirty thousand people have passed through managed isolation since March and there have been somewhere around ten incidents where an individual or family group have left isolation without permission. Originally the term “absconded” was usually used when the media reported these breakouts. More recently I hear the term “escaped” used instead. I think this reflects the community attitude to those who flout the isolation rules.

The public attitude towards those who now arrive in this country is unfortunately becoming antagonistic. While there’s always been a small minority of the population antagonistic towards immigration, there is now a widespread attitude that returning Kiwis should have stayed where they were. The wife has this attitude (and she’s an immigrant herself) and as far as she’s concerned every returning Kiwi is being selfish. As far as she is concerned, there’s no set of personal circumstances that can justify travelling to this country. In other words, she wants a blanket ban, even though our Bill of Rights guarantees the right of every citizen to enter and leave the country. Her attitude borders on draconian in my view.

The wife’s attitude is becoming more prevalent, and we can now see examples of graffiti sprayed on security fences around isolation facilities demanding the residents return to where they came from. Apparently some returnees have faced hostilities even after completing managed isolation. I find such an attitude understandable but totally unacceptable.

The negative attitude to returnees has culminated in a call from many, including some political parties, for all returnees to be billed for their stay in isolation. This is something the government has resisted simply because it’s likely to place an unreasonable burden on many families. Let’s face it, many of those returning are not doing so willingly. Many are returning because there is no support structures accessible to them in their country of residence. Others are returning to escape ill managed pandemic environments.

To placate the hostile attitude where returnees are seen as “living in luxury at the taxpayers’ expense”, the government has finally introduced legislation that will allow some returnees to be billed for staying in isolation. For this to occur, the government had to seek the cooperation of the opposition National Party as the Greens were totally opposed to any billing of those in managed isolation.

Eventually a compromise has been reached where those who return from overseas having been away for less than 90 days, and those who return to the country with the intention of staying less than 90 days will be billed for part of the cost of their managed isolation. The legislation also specifies grounds under which exemptions can be granted. So how many will be charged? Perhaps five or ten percent of those arriving in the country. I think a reasonable compromise.

Already we’re seeing comments in overseas media that such moves are another step in the erosion of our freedom and rights, usually accompanied by associating such moves with recent legislation that tightens some aspects of gun ownership. I’ve previously posted about ignorance some foreign media have about our handling of the pandemic, and no doubt the ignorance will continue unabated. I would like to remind such critics that the nation still has the highest level of freedom, ranking at number one or number two on every freedom index, but I suspect I’d be wasting my effort. Those people seem so willing to ignore the facts whenever it’s inconsistent with their prejudice.

So my question is: do most jurisdictions impose restrictions with the aim of gaining greater long term control of the population – in other words tyranny, or are restrictions reluctantly imposed because some idiots give the authorities little choice if they are to prevent widespread harm?


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Second wave? What second wave?

Yesterday as I was passing through the supermarket checkout I overheard two women in an adjacent isle complaining that New Zealand is doing no better than other countries and is now seeing a rise in new infections after being COVID-19 free for weeks They were convinced that the 14 cases now active in NZ are the beginning of a second wave. They are wrong.

Their concern appears to be widespread as the public demand for testing has soared over the past week to the point that demand exceeds the ability of the health system to process tests in a timely manner. The health authorities have had to apply limitations on eligibility for free testing.

We are now testing at a rate of 10,000 per day, which by way of comparison is equivalent to the US population being tested at the rate of 700,000 per day. The difference is that not one test over the last month has returned positive, whereas in the US, approximately one in nineteen tests is a positive result. NZ: 0%, US: 5%.

So why am I confident that the two women are wrong? True, there are now 14 active cases after being COVID-19 free for weeks, But those 14 cases are actually evidence that our system of managing the pandemic is working as planned.

For those who are unaware, NZ closed its borders completely way back in March and they will remain tightly closed for the foreseeable future. The only people permitted to enter the country are NZ citizens and permanent residents. Everyone else is excluded (although exemptions may be granted in exceptional circumstances). In effect we are closed off from the rest of the world

Expat Kiwis are returning home in ever increasing droves, and it does not seem that it will ease for some time. Everyone arriving in New Zealand is placed into “managed isolation” – quarantine facilities that are now overseen by the military. The number of daily returnees has stretched the capacity of the quarantine facilities in Auckland beyond breaking point, and new facilities are being set up in other parts of the country.

All those put into managed isolation are tested at day 3 and day 12 of isolation, before being permitted to leave after 14 days. Currently there are around 4300 people in isolation, and this is expected to increase significantly over the coming weeks and months.

All COVID-19 tests that have returned a positive result are from returnees while they are in managed isolation. These are people who have brought the virus with them on their journey home. So long as the virus is on the loose in the rest of the world, those returning will bring COVID-19 with them. It does not mean that it exists within the NZ bubble of 5 million people.

Community transmission of COVID-19 has been eliminated from Aotearoa New Zealand and remains so. As long as all cases are confined to isolation facilities, it doesn’t matter what the number of infections are. At the height of the pandemic here, there were less than 90 active cases on any given day, and even if the number of cases among returnees in isolation ran into the hundreds, its a reflection of the situation outside the country, not inside it.

Currently, hotels emptied by the lack of tourists are being used as isolation facilities, but as the rate of returning expats increases, the pool of suitable accommodation will become more and more fragmented, increasing the risk of of COVID-19 escaping from isolation.

How many Kiwis will return of the coming months and possibly years? how long is a piece of string? There are half a million Kiwis living in Australia, and hundreds of thousands scattered across the rest of the globe. I can foresee a situation where it might be necessary to restrict the flow rate of our own nationals into the country.

Public opinion here is swinging towards hostility of those returning home due to the perceived risk of returnees reintroducing the virus into the community, and the fear that they will swell the ranks of the unemployed , or worse, take jobs from those already working here. Now where have I heard similar sentiment before, but applied to a different group of people? The simple fact is that immigrants to this country are now almost exclusively Kiwis!

I’m more sympathetic towards returning expats, and this is one situation where the wife and I have agreed to disagree. Actually I’ve agreed to disagree, she’s adamant she’s right and I’m wrong. As far as she’s concerned they are placing us all in danger, and they are being selfish by choosing to return home at this time. And this is coming from someone who is an immigrant herself!

There’s probably as many reasons for returning home as there are returnees, but I think a major factor for many will be the lack of a support network in a crisis. For example Kiwis living in Australia are not eligible for unemployment benefits or other forms of social security, even though they are required to contribute to those services in the form of taxes and levies at the same rate as Australians. I dare say the situation is similar in other jurisdictions.

The cost of managed isolation is around NZ$4000 per person, and let’s face it, hotels are not really set up for prolonged periods of confinement. Currently the taxpayer foots the entire bill and there seems to be growing public demand for most all all of the cost fall on those who are quarantined. I disagree. Having to stump up with airfare up to ten times higher than pre-pandemic days, many will not be in a position cover isolation costs as well.

As an alternative to using hotels for isolation, there is one very under used resource that wouldn’t cost any more be person than currently, but would for a more pleasant confinement. Anchored all over the world are large cruise ships that would provide more secure isolation and provide facilities that would no hotel can. Why not transfer a few such ships to NZ waters where they could provide more beds than the total capacity of all the hotels in the country?


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Will there be a “new normal”?

During COVID-19 lockdown much discussion was made about changes in socialising and doing business becoming a “new normal”. For example, working from home where possible, staggering work hours to reduce the density of foot traffic and crowding in office spaces.

A great many businesses have discovered that productivity increased markedly in stay at home workers, and the majority of such workers found both work and general life-style more satisfying. While city centres were much quieter, pollution was down considerably. But now that all restrictions have been lifted there is pressure from central and local authorities for businesses to return to pre-COVID conditions.

The argument is that this is necessary to restore the “vibrancy” of city centres and to help inner city cafés, bars and such recover from dire financial situations. Is this a satisfactory reason to go back to the old normal? is it worth sacrificing the health and well being of thousands of workers for the sake of a few struggling enterprises?

How about considering the interests of the many as well as the interests of a few. Some of our major telecommunications providers have all but closed down their bricks and mortar call centres, with all or most staff working from home. Apparently this is what most of the staff prefer. The telcos benefit from increased productivity, happier staff, and lower costs associated with smaller premises.

Not only does it remove the stress and wasted travel time involved in commuting to work, but it allows staff a great deal of flexibility, particularly when it come to family, but also with lifestyle in general. A win all round don’t you think?

A major insurer here has announced that it too is to downsize its head office, moving much of its operation to the suburbs and to working from home where possible. Disappointingly, the government has criticised the the company claiming that it will harm the recovery of city centre.

Other businesses have found rostering staff on a 4-day week has improved productivity, staff satisfaction and staff loyalty. Other organisations have adopted a mixture of practices such as requiring office attendance only one or two days each week, and flexible office work hours. How many people wish to return to rush hour commuting that the authorities are pushing for?

Most of my readers are aware I’m not a fan of “vibrant” when it comes to city crowds, but I really think we’re missing an opportunity to re-evaluate the wisdom of cramming so much into city centres, and making suburbs little more than dull lifeless dormitories for city workers.

Perhaps, before the advent of modern forms of telecommunications, concentrating commerce into compact areas was the most productive means of conducting business. But does that still hold true today with modern forms of telecommunications? I’m not convinced.

At the least we should take the opportunity provided to us by COVID-19 to look at life/work balance, not just individually, but as communities and societies. Perhaps we’ll end up choosing the old normal, but unless we look, we’ll miss any chance of finding a better alternative.


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Freedom!!

Not that I’m looking forward to it.

COVID-19 has been eliminated in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In less than half an hour, COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted as we drop to Alert Level 1. Apart from our borders remaining tightly closed we’ll be back to pre-COVID conditions. We’ll be able to cram ourselves by the thousands into every type of venue imaginable and we can shake hands, hug and hongi to our heart’s contents with loved ones and total strangers if we are so inclined. I’m not.

One characteristic that I and many other ausistics have is an aversion to large gatherings, physical contact with other people and the need for greater personal space than many neurotypical people find acceptable.

I’ve never felt more comfortable around other people that I have during the past 70 days of the various COVID-19 alert levels. All alert levels have mandated a 2 metre spacing between people if they didn’t belong to the same social bubble.

I’m going to try to maintain at least one metre of social distancing. I find that anything less than that raises my level of discomfort. While I don’t think many people will think it odd to begin with, I wonder how long it will be before my minimum social spacing is deemed unacceptable by the community.

I’ve really enjoyed the occasional coffee and cake in a local eatery over the past month as the nearest person would be seated two metres away, and all food was delivered to the table instead of me having to dance around other patrons all trying to grab items from the display cabinets. What I have I to look forward to?

However, I appreciate I’m an exception and just about everyone else is looking forward to join the throngs and crowds, and get up close and personal to friends and strangers alike. I’m pleased for you.

But please be a little understanding if I take a step back when you take a step forward.


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To trace or not to trace, that is the question.

Aotearoa New Zealand has, for now, eliminated the virus causing COVID-19. It’s eliminated as there is no community infection, and the occasional one that appears is related to a known cluster, where the person involved is already in isolation, or the person has recently returned from overseas and is in a supervised quarantine facility.

One aspect of controlling the virus has been the success of contact tracing, which has improved considerably since the beginning of the outbreak, especially after the process became centralised instead of being the responsibility of each of the nation’s 20 health authorities.

In this this nation, contact tracing has relied on a call centre “interviewing” persons who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 and then contacting known or likely contacts. Unlike in Australia, Singapore and Korea, the process has not been automated through the use of technology such as smartphone apps.

There are a number of reasons why we haven’t adopted technology to assist in tracing contacts. The most obvious is privacy. Many of those offering a smartphone solution rely on Bluetooth and the transmission of contact information to a centralised database, both of which pose security and privacy issues. Bluetooth is inherently insecure, and I never have Bluetooth enabled unless I wish to transfer data specifically with another Bluetooth device belonging to someone I know and trust.

As Bluetooth cannot discriminate on the type of proximity to another device (on opposite sides of the same room or right next to each other but in adjascent and isolated rooms for example), most of the “contacts” are irrelevant or red herrings. Bluetooth also requires a high level of trust between devices, and this is not something I’m prepared to give up.

Perhaps automating a contact history might be useful in nations where community transmission of the virus is widespread, provided there is a means of separating the wheat from the chaff that will invariably result by such a collection system. But in the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, where their is no community transmission, any advantage is outweighed by security and privacy concerns.

However, today is the official release of a government approved app that also meets my approval. I downloaded it last night and am comfortable about using it.

The app makes use of QR codes that business establishments can set up at entry points, which you can voluntarily scan as you enter the premises. The data is stored within the phone only and is not transmitted in any form, but can be voluntarily transmitted to contact tracers on request. Data older than 31 days is automatically deleted.

In effect, the app is a personal “places I visited diary”, and as such I am comfortable using it. Unlike almost every other app this one does not need or request access to any smartphone service apart from the camera (to capture the QR code). What it lacks is any means of entering any locations that don’t have a QR code available to scan, and this is a serious weakness in my view.

I had been using my phone’s GPS and the Google Map Timeline to record my movements in case they were needed to trace my movements. But it is very unreliable both in recording where I’ve been and at what time. For example this morning I left home just before 11 AM and visited two locations. I was back home by 11:30.

The Google Maps timeline has no record of me being at the first location, but records me leaving home at 12:06 AM (10 hours and 51 minutes before I actually did), arriving at the second location at exactly the same instant. However, it did accurately record the time I left there, and the time it took to travel home, although it recorded that I arrived at an address three sections (properties/lots) away from home.

Yesterday, it recorded that I visited two places several blocks away, even though I never left home. The last time I visited the supermarket, it recorded the time I spent there as travel time between two other locations I passed by but didn’t stop at. Go figure.

While the typical Kiwi probably trusts our authorities more that the typical American trusts theirs, it’s not unconditional, and I believe the official NZ COVID Tracer does not require much in the way of trust while still being a useful tool in contact tracing if the need arises. I think on that basis, it’s uptake will be greater than if it relied on connectivity and/or external data storage.

One issue is finding the App on Google Play. You can’t. I don’t know what the situation is with Apple’s App Store. Searching for COVID tracers, results in only the official WHO apps being located, even if “NZ” or “New Zealand” is included in the search terms.

It seems that Google is filtering out every tracing app apart from the WHO Apps, probably due to there being a high probability of them being intentionally or unintentionally being open to abuse. Even typing in the app name “NZ COVID Tracer” does not locate it. The only way I could find it was to go to the Ministry of Health NZ COVID Tracer app Webpage and click on the link provided there. Thank you Google (not!)


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Two significant events today

We’re out of lockdown, and the 2020 budget was released

1. COVID-19 Alert Level 2

The lockdown has ended! No more isolation bubbles!

Most businesses are now open, although not necessarily back to “normal”. All businesses must operate under strict health and safety measures such as social distancing. One of the minor inconveniences is the necessity of businesses to keep some form of register (typically a record of name and contact phone number) to make tracing of possible infectious contacts easier if required.

Unlike in Australia, the government has not made any decision on employing an automated means of tracking movements and contacts. The issues of (a) privacy and (b) compliance have yet to be resolved to a satisfactory level. If community transmission remains extremely low or non-existent, then really there’ll be no need for any type of electronic tracking. There’s been no new cases for three consecutive days.

The hospitality sector has probably been faced with some of the most challenging requirements due to the requirements that patron must be seated, no buffet service, and only one waiter per table.

Bars can not open for another week, as there’s a concern that the lowering of inhibitions that often accompany alcohol consumption may lead to a spike in transmission of the disease. Some bars will no doubt make changes to what they offer so that food and not alcohol as the “principal purpose” of their business, thereby allowing them to open earlier.

Of course there are some aspects of the remaining restrictions that are perceived by a minority as being unnecessary and in some cases part of a long-planned scheme to create a “new world order”. One restriction in particular has bee singled out by the Christian fringe as being a plot by the government to destroy religion in general and Christianity in particular.

One of the restrictions is that no event can have more than 100 participants. However some events are more restricted. For example, weddings and funerals were to be restricted to 10 persons, but the funeral directors association provided evidence to the authorities that they could manage saftey requirements for larger groups. Consequently, funerals can now de up to 50 people, while weddings are still limited to 10.

Religious services are also limited to a maximum of ten people, and extreme Christians claim that as sports events and other venues can accomodate 100 people, the limit of 10 for religious services is a deliberate and targetted attack on religious freedom.

More reasonable religious leaders acknowledge that in many ways, religious events more closely resemble social gatherings where social distancing will be difficult to manage. Social gatherings are limited to a maximum of ten people due to the increased chance of community transmission at such events.

2. The Budget

The other significant event was the release of the government’s budget for the 2020/2021 financial year. It’s involves spending at an unprecedented level, Whereas the Labour government typically runs with a surplus (7 billion last year) it will occur a 20 billion dollar deficit over the next year. The government has allocted 50 billion dollars specifically for pandemic recovery – 30 billion has been allocated and a further 20 billion for future demands due to

While 50 billion dollars may not seem much compared to the recent 2 trillion package in the US, it can be put into better perspective by measuring the deficit against our GDP. The deficit will average 9.3% of the GDP over the next two years. It’s not expected that debt will return to pre-covid levels until 2028.

A significant outcome of the current pandemic is that it will necessitate a major restructure of our economy, not because of the shutdown but because of the changes occurring in world economy. I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball that can predict when or even if tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels. It’s an industry that employs one in eight Kiwis, and in the short term, it’s going to need intensive care if it is going to survive at all, and if it does survive, it’s only going to be a shadow of its former self catering for the domestic market for years to come.

The government predicts unemployment to reach 10% by the end of June and not return to pre-COVID-19 days until 2022.

Some perspectives of the NZ budget:

From NZ:
Newshub: Budget 2020: Where the Government is spending big to rebuild New Zealand after coronavirus
New Zealand Herald: Budget 2020: Government’s Covid 19 wage subsidy scheme extended by 8 weeks, now up to $14b
Scoop: Welfare Or Warfare? Military Spending In Budget 2020

From overseas:
The Guardian on MSN: New Zealand budget: Robertson lays out $50bn plan to return jobs to pre-Covid-19 levels
The New Your Times: New Zealand Unveils Record Spending to Stop Massive Job Losses


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Two to 2!

Kia ora!

Two to 2, or more precisely two days to Alert Level 2. At precisely 11:59 on Wednesday the 13th of May, Aotearoa drops to COVID-19 Alert Level 2. The announcement today came as a nice 71st birthday present.

Life at Alert Level 2

Life at Alert Level 2 means we will be able resume most of our everyday activities — but but with strings attached.

  • Businesses will be able to open if they can do it safely.
  • We’ll be able go in-store at local businesses.
  • Tertiary education facilities, schools and early learning centres will be open.
  • We’ll be able to travel between regions.
  • Gatherings such as weddings, funerals, tangihanga, religious ceremonies and social gatherings will be permitted — but only for up to 10 people.
  • We’ll be able to socialise with friends and family— but only in groups of up to 10 people.
  • We’ll be able to visit local cafes and restaurants bars and pubs to have a meal— but only in groups of up to 10 people.
  • We can return to our regular recreation activities— but only in groups of up to 10 people.

The 10-person limit will expand over time depending on the rate of new infections.

With strings attached

Life will still have some way to go before we can consider it “normal” and we will have some restrictions for some time.

  • We need to maintain physical distancing.
  • Tight controls at the borders. Mandatory 14 day quarantine will continue for all arrivals
  • Wide-scale testing will continue. We now have one of the highest testing rates in the world.
  • Self-isolation for anyone who feels unwell and the same applies to their close contacts.
  • Only small, controlled gatherings will be permitted.
  • Physical distancing, hygiene standards and contact registers will be required for most businesses.
  • A maximum of 100 people at any indoor or outdoor event. For example a restaurant can cater for 100 seated guests, but no group booking can be accepted for more than 10 people.

I can live with those for an extended period if need be.

kia haumaru, kia kaha
Keep safe, Keep strong