Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Post Covid-19 freedoms

Terms such as freedom and liberty are often thought of as being clear cut in what they mean – everyone agrees on what those words mean. Or do they?

I think most Americans and Kiwis would agree everyone has a right to be able to drive on public roads. However we understand that driving can have serious repercussions if one doesn’t have the necessary skills to to do so safely. In order to limit the amount of harm, drivers need to provide evidence that they have the necessary skills to control a moving vehicle – a driver’s licence. Once you have shown you can competently control a motor vehicle, you retain that right until you prove that you no longer hold the necessary skills – a serious driving offence or a failed eyesight test for example.

While the US constitution guarantees some form of firearms ownership for the purposes of a “well organised militia”, and NZ doesn’t even have a codified constitution, both nations to have a long standing tradition of gun ownership, which might be reasonably be viewed as being a “right”. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the consensus is that the right to gun ownership is similar to the right to drive. It’s necessary to prove your competence to own and use a weapon safely, and this is done by a testing regime no less strenuous than that which applies to driving a vehicle.

My impression of the US is that the right to own, and perhaps more importantly carry firearms is more divided. While I think the largest block hold views not too dissimilar of the predominant view here, there are significant blocks that hold different views. At the one end there’s the card waving NRA membership that demand nothing less than a completely unregulated, uncontrolled “right” to own and carry weapons, even opposing background checks for goodness sake! Anything else is an attack on their constitutional “rights”. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a small group who call for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment or at least a reinterpretation of what it really means.

So when it comes to firearms, opinions in the US are more divided on what rights and freedoms mean and what limits, if any, should be imposed when balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of others, including the community as a whole. I believe most people understand that as well as rights, we have responsibilities, and that those responsibilities, if they are to be fairly shared, may need to be regulated in some way. I think the same is true when it comes to covid-19.

In his post “Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – Vaccine passport and smoke-free law” Peter Davis draws on the NZ experience of how the attitude towards smoking has changed over the decades – from one where smokers were exercising their “rights” to smoke and non-smokers had little or no recourse, to one where the dangers of second-hand smoke are understood and now prohibited in workplaces and most public venues – and how this precedent might be applicable to covid-19. It’s worth the read, and it might help some of those still sitting on the fence to understand why the unvaccinated may find they have fewer “freedoms” than the vaccinated.

Given that the evidence overwhelmingly confirms that one in three people who contract covid-19 have at least one symptom of long-covid, even 18 months after first being infected, the impact of long term health and social costs are, as yet, unknown. How can anyone on their right mind claim their “right” to unrestricted movement surpasses my “right” not to suffer long term health issues caused by their recklessness?

In many ways, we have been playing pandemic “Russian roulette” for decades – especially as the cost of international air travel has declined significantly. By way of example, when I first travelled to Japan in 1971, the return air fare cost the equivalent of 75% of my annual salary. International travel was not something one did without some long term planning and saving. It certainly couldn’t be undertaken on a whim. If I was still in the same job in January 2020, the same return journey would have cost as little as 1.5% of my annual salary. Pre covid, a trip from Aotearoa to Australia could cost about the same as a night out at an upmarket restaurant.

We must acknowledge that with so many people moving around the globe we have indeed become a global village. In the past the relative isolation of villages, towns and nations meant that pandemics were relatively rare, and when they did occur, they spread at a slow pace. That is no longer true.

We are far more mobile these days (well, pre-pandemic), than we have ever been in the history of our species, and this presents a greater risk of new infectious diseases spreading at uncontrollable rates across the planet. In many ways I think we have been lucky that this pandemic has been relatively mild, especially when it comes to fatalities. We may not be so lucky next time. And as sure as night follows day, there will be a next time.

It’s wishful thinking to assume we will ever return to pre-covid days. It’s not going to happen. The public (well most of us) now understand the harm a pandemic can bring – something epidemiologists have been warning us for years while we and the politicians we elect have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to their message.

As I see it we have two options: freedom from documentation and a restriction on movement, or freedom of movement accompanied by documentation, vaccination passports being one of them. I know which I would prefer. How about you?


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Rule of law

In the wake of yesterday’s terrorist attack in a supermarket in Auckland, I’m seeing a lot if ignorance being expressed in online comments. And while most of the criticism is from right leaning, pro gun, anti immigration, pro Trump, American exceptionalism groups, I see see plenty of misinformation from all quarters being thrown about with abandon, including some from within Aotearoa New Zealand.

The fact of the matter is, that even a day later, some information is sketchy, and will take some time for all the facts to emerge. While the government has successfully appealed a court ordered prohibition on some information regarding the terrorist, the court has required that his family have the opportunity to review that decision. So there is at least a 24 hour delay in some information becoming public. The government does not have the right to do as it pleases, hence the title of this post.

The government, as is every person and legal entity in this country is bound by the rule of law, and thankfully, in this nation there are no exceptions. This post is an opinion piece, and given my own biases and lack of the full facts, it should be treated that way. I have no intention that my interpretation of the facts based on the limited information available to me at this moment should be viewed as The Truth™.

We now know that the individual in question was on a terrorist watch list and was under close 24 hour close surveillance and had been for many months since being released from prison. He was surveillance averse, paranoid even, so it was necessary to ensure that the surveillance was as invisible as possible. At times that took the resources of up to thirty undercover agents at any time to avoid detection by that person. Enter covid. Given the current Level 4 lockdown in Auckland and lack of crowded environments, tailing an individual who is surveillance averse must present a number of problems if the intent is to hide the fact that surveillance is indeed being carried out.

The individual travelled by train from his home, then walked to the supermarket while being monitored all the while. Under level 4 lockdown, supermarkets strictly limit the number of shoppers allowed inside, so any “spy” nearby would be readily apparent to the individual. Therefore there were times when they were not in his immediate vicinity or in the same aisle as the individual. It was on such an occasion that the individual took a carving knife from a shelf display and he started his very short terror attack.

The most frequent question raised online has been why was the individual allowed to roam free. To this I say look at the title of this post. As it currently stands, there is no law that prohibits thinking about or planning terrorist attacks. An act of terrorism needs to have occurred or be under way. The current laws on terrorism suppression was enacted in 2002 in wake of the 9/11 attack in the USA, and due to the haste (by NZ standards) in which it was drafted has proved to be deficient. The 2007 New Zealand police raids in the Ureweras is ample evidence of this.

The terrorist had spent time in prison for the illegal possession of a knife and for possessing objectionable material (I presume extreme ISIS publications). The authorities had applied to the court for detention under existing terrorist suppression laws and/or alternatively GPS monitoring. These were declined by the court, which described the inability to detain those who were thinking about or planning an attack as the “Achilles’ heel” of the existing suppression laws.

And here is where I fail to understand the logic of some comments. On the one hand some say that the individual in question should have been locked up and the key thrown away, or deported, while on the other hand the claiming that the government has not got the right to limit their right to carry firearms while out and about in the community. Again I point to the title of this post.

Balancing the freedom of expression against the internal security of a nation is never going to be easy, and what puzzles me is why so many on the right and left demand their right to freedom of expression for themselves while demanding the suppression of those holding opposite views. Arbitrarily detaining someone or deporting them must never be allowed to happen. Never. Why can’t the critics understand this?

My point is that freedoms depend on those in authority acting only in accordance with the law. We saw a less dramatic case in the previous Labour led government when the minister in charge of granting oil exploration licences granted such a licence even though the Green Party, of which she was a member, strongly opposed oil exploration. She was strongly criticised by the environmentalists, some demanding her resignation. As was explained at the time, irrespective of her personal wishes, she was required to grant licences where all the requirements of such a licence had been met. They were. So her hands were tied. Her personal wishes or those of her political party were irrelevant. End of story.

Back to terrorism. Among the findings of the commission set up to investigate the Christchurch Mosque shootings was a recommendation that laws relating to the suppression of terrorism be strengthened, and of course many promoters of civil liberties, freedom of expression of all political persuasions expressed their concern about any move that might limit our freedoms. Even our Human Rights Commission had much to say on this. That is as it should be.

After considerable discussion, proposed changes were then drafted. If the authorities are to be prevented from acting from malice, over enthusiasm, or unintentionally restricting our freedoms, while the law being “fit for purpose” then proposed legislation will require careful consideration, with every T crossed and I dotted before it is presented to Parliament. I’m not surprised that that the drafting took more than six months.

Earlier this year, the bill was presented to Parliament, and as is standard practice here in Aotearoa New Zealand, after the first reading the bill was referred to a Parliamentary select committee. The select committee process can take considerable time – typically six to nine months. Any person who has an interest in the bill has the right to present a written and/or oral submission. After all submissions have been presented, the committee reports the bill, its findings and any recommended amendments back to Parliament for a second reading.

New Zealand Parliamentary Select Committees are somewhat unusual in that their decisions are generally by consensus. It is not a place for partisanship. Occasionally a consensus can not be reached in which case dissenting views are also presented to Parliament. I appreciate such a practice would be unworkable in some jurisdictions (I’m looking of you, America). It requires good faith discussion and accepting that compromise is a necessary part of politics.

The Prime Minister has had discussions with the leader of the Opposition who has agreed to cooperate in having the bill passed into law by the end of the month – considerably faster than the time such bills usually take. I’ll take this moment to remind readers that laws tightening gun ownership after the Christchurch Mosque shootings was not as a result of a dictatorial government. That government was in fact a minority coalition and could not pass legislation as it saw fit. That particular legislation passed through parliament only with the support of opposition parties. It was passed into law with every member of Parliament, except one, supporting the bill.

Personally, I think this single terrorist act is insufficient reason to hasten the passage of the bill. Any haste increases the chance that something might miss scrutiny – either to restrict our freedoms or to render aspects of the legislation ineffective under the law. I would not like to see this legislation to do either. Time will tell if my unease is justified.

Finally I’ll comment on the oh so many claims that confiscating guns does not make us any safer and this single terrorist act is proof of that. Gun confiscation is a myth and I wish the American gun lobby would give up on spreading this misinformation. Prior to the tightening of the gun laws there were an estimated 1.5 million guns in legal ownership. The 34,000 guns handed in as a result of the law change is but a drop in the bucket, but it does mean that access to military style weapons is more difficult for everyone including criminal elements.

No piece of legislation can remove every danger. But it can reduce harm. It reduces the opportunity for those who wish to do harm to obtain the resources needed to carry it out. No one in Aotearoa New Zealand is permitted to carry weapons of any type in public places. Even the police are not routinely armed. No, it doesn’t mean that nobody will ever carry a weapon, but knowing the sanctions the courts can impose on anyone convicted of carrying weapons in public means that most will think twice before arming themselves.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that the number of antisocial, violent elements in our midst would not be significantly different in either the US or NZ, yet if the argument that more guns makes for a safer environment, then this nation should be a very dangerous place indead. It is not. The statistics bear this out. Everything from police shootings (per 10 million, NZ: 2.10, US: 28.54), to murders (per 100,000, NZ: 0.99, US: 5.35). Crime rates in the two countries is, unfortunately, similar (per 100,000, NZ: 42.2, US: 47.7), so it would appear that lack of opportunity presented by restrictions of carrying weapons does indeed reduce physical harm.

This is apparent when we observe that burglary rates in NZ are twice those in the US, yet violence or deaths occurring during burglaries are almost unknown. Most are self inflicted by the burglar in their haste to escape apprehension.

No nation has a perfect set of laws covering every possible situation. Nor will any nation ever achieve such a goal. In the full knowledge that law makers and governments are just as fallible thas everyone else, our greatest protection is not a formal document in the form of a constitution (Aotearoa New Zealand doesn’t have one anyway) but the observance of the rule of law.


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Trust

It’s kind of odd, but it’s also kind of true. Aotearoa New Zealand often bucks the trends that occur in nations we have much in common with. Aotearoa New Zealand usually identifies as being part of “the West” even though geographically it is further east than the Far East (Farthest East perhaps?). Historically, the ties of the majority of Kiwis has been with Western Europe and the UK in particular, but this gradually changing as the ethnic diversity of the nation continues to grow. Just one more example of bucking the trend is the trust Kiwis place in the government. In this we are more like East Asian nations with advanced economies.

As a recent article in the Guardian observes, while the populace in most advanced economies have declining trust in their governments, it is reaching new highs in Aotearoa New Zealand, and offers some suggestions as to why that might be. The article doesn’t rely just on hearsay, but provides interesting links to a number of sources including:

Not having much in the way of tertiary education, I find the charts and commentary in the first two links above easier to digest than the the last, so my comments will mostly be restricted to the findings in those. I’ll refer the the virus as covid or covid-19 as they are the terms used most often in NZ whereas as I understand coronavirus is more commonly used in North America

Public support for NZ government covid policies

Contrary to many observations from some overseas sources, The Spinoff reports 84% of the population support the current lockdown (72% strongly support) while a mere 10% oppose it (7% strongly oppose). While that might dispel the notion that we entered the lockdown kicking and screaming, it will no doubt be cannon fodder to those who are convinced that we’re a bunch of “sheeple”. The same article reports 79% favourable support for the government’s overall response to Covid-19 (61% saying it’s excellent).

Nation’s response to covid

Page 20 of the Pew report indicates the majority of Americans (58%) felt their nation has done a bad job in dealing with covid, while in contrast, the vast majority of Kiwis (96%) felt their nation has done a good job of handling it. I’m taking a wild guess here, but perhaps the flip flopping of ideas proposed by the former guy, and contradictions in advice given by politicians and health professionals at both federal and state level is a significant factor in the perspective of Americans. In contrast, the advice given by health professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand to the government is publicly available and followed almost to the letter by the politicians.

Perhaps of interest to American readers is how the public’s approval rating of the opposition National Party response to the pandemic has changed over time. Twelve months ago, National received only a 15% approval rating, climbing to 21% a month ago and now leaping to 29%. Why you may ask? It’s not because it has been highly critical of the government – that is why it was down at 15% a year ago – it’s because they have become less critical and more constructive in their approach. Perhaps there’s a lesson there somewhere.

US & NZ support for covid restrictions

One thing that struck me from the Pew report is how much Japan is an outlier, having much more in common with the USA than with the other Asian nations surveyed, and at times the attitudes of Japanese are more negative than those of Americans.

I find it fascinating that only 17% of Americans believe the covid restrictions were about right while 80% of Kiwis felt the same (Pew, page 5). As 56% of Americans felt there should have been more restrictions, it seems the US administration missed an opportunity to do more to “flatten the curve”. But I guess the former guy wasn’t really listening to them as they are not his support base. Instead he seemed to curry favour with the 26% who wanted less restrictions.

Perhaps one reason why some Americans feel their their government has handled the pandemic poorly is because their lives have been affected more by long term ineffective restrictions than short sharp lockdowns in places such as Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. In fact these two countries were the only ones where the majority of the respondents reported that their lives had not changed at all on by not much. 67% of Kiwis reported their lives had not changed much or not at all, whereas 73% of Americans reported their lives had changed a fair amount or a great deal (Pew, page 22).

National unity

On page 11 of the Pew report there is a chart graphing how the respondents from each nation view the change in national unity following the covid-19 outbreak. Of the 17 nations surveyed, only 4 nations believe that unity has increased – Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan.

In the US, 88% of respondents believe the nation is now more divided and a woeful 10% believe unity has increased. Compare that to NZ where only 23% believe the nation is more divided but a whopping 75% believe it is more united. Perhaps this bears out the Matthew effect in that in a crisis, those who are distrustful of authority become more so, while among those who mostly trust authority, the trust grows. The Matthew effect no doubt contributes to many of the conspiracy theories and other misinformation that seems to originate mostly in the US before being propagated to other nations. The APA report indicates that conspiracy theories may have actually declined in Aotearoa New Zealand post covid lockdown, and that faith in science, politicians and law enforcement have increased.

Mental health

In the APA report I note than in Aotearoa New Zealand the findings were that there was no significant differences between pre and post lockdown groups in indicators of mental and physical health and subjective well-being: rumination, felt belongingness, perceived social support, satisfaction with life, one’s standard of living, future security, personal relationships, or health, and subjective health assessment. I suspect that the situation tn the US would be somewhat different. It would be interesting to see the results if a comparable study is undertaken in the US.


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What’s in a name?

Sometimes political “correctness” gets totally out of hand. Consider New Zealand Football mulling over whether they should change the nickname of the New Zealand soccer team, because some people might consider it racist. For those who aren’t aware, the nickname is All Whites. It has nothing to do with race or skin colour. It refers to the colour of their attire, which as the name suggests is indeed all white, in contrast the the national rugby union team who wear an all black uniform and unsurprisingly are known as the All Blacks.

Should the politically correct persuade New Zealand Football to change the team name, who will be next their next target? Many NZ national teams include a colour in their team names. Here’s a few:

  • All Blacks (men’s rugby union)
  • All Whites (men’s soccer)
  • Black Caps (men’s cricket)
  • Black Ferns (women’s Rugby Union)
  • Black Fins (mixed gender life saving, men’s underwater hockey)
  • Black Jacks (men’s and women’s lawn bowls)
  • Black Socks (men’s softball)
  • Black Sticks (men’s and women’s field hockey)
  • Diamondblacks (men’s baseball)
  • Futsal Whites (futsal)
  • Ice Blacks (men’s ice hockey)
  • Mat Blacks (men’s indoor bowls)
  • Silver Ferns (netball)
  • Silver Fins (women’s underwater hockey)
  • Steel Blacks (men’s American football)
  • Tall Blacks (men’s basketball)
  • Wheel Blacks (men’s wheelchair rugby)
  • White Ferns (women’s cricket)

Admittedly I’m not aware of silver being attributed to any racial or ethnic group, but hey, it’s a colour so get rid of that just in case. In fact there’s not too many NZ teams that don’t include a colour in their names:

  • Football Ferns (women’s soccer)
  • Ice Ferns (women’s ice hockey)
  • Inline Ferns (women’s inline hockey)
  • Kiwis (men’s rugby league)
  • Kiwi Ferns (women’s rugby league)
  • Tall Ferns (women’s basketball)

There has been only NZ one team name that in my view has had a somewhat inappropriate name and that was the New Zealand Badminton team. For a short while they officially adopted the name Black Cocks. However the International Badminton Federation was not amused. We don’t have smutty minds, and the name is still used as an unofficial name for the team.

Perhaps New Zealand sports teams don’t have very imaginative names – almost every name includes at least one of these words: black, white, sliver, fern – but that very fact makes them distinctly New Zealand. Leave them alone.


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To all those who said “WTF?”

To all those who have been so absolutely certain that this nation has gone mad because we went into lockdown less than 24 hours after a single covid-19 infection was discovered in the community, here’s why.

We’re in day five of the lockdown, and that one case has now grown to 72 cases, and there are now 8,667 close contacts who are required to isolate at home. There’s also 280 places of interest – places visited by individuals while they were infectious. These include potential superspreader locations such as a church, a gym, a lecture theatre, a public hospital, and six schools.

Waste water testing, which covers over 70% of the population has detected the Delta variant in a locality where there is currently no known covid case. It’s unlikely to be a recovered case still shedding RNA fragments as Delta is a very recent arrival in this country. If lockdown had been delayed for even a day, I’m sure that the number of contacts would be at least an order of magnitude larger than it is. If the authorities had delayed for several days, it would have been too late to put the covid genie back in the bottle.

Aotearoa New Zealand has a highly efficient and effective track and trace system, and genome sequencing has been carried out on every covid infection since the pandemic first arrived on these shores. To date, this has served us well and for most of the time we have had the freedom to move about and congregate in the same manner as before Covid arrived. Delta is a gamechanger.

What has become apparent is that with the Delta variant, a person can become infectious less than 24 hours after first being infected, and before becoming symptomatic. What this means is that if I were to catch delta right now, I’d be capable of transmitting it to someone else before this time tomorrow. But it could be another day or so before I recognise flu like symptoms and seek a test. In this country, most of those who are infected with the Delta variant are younger (typically in their 20s), more gregarious and socially mobile. This allows Delta to spread so much more rapidly than other variants, and has the potential to overwhelm the track and trace system, not to mention the entire health system.

All premises and places open to the public are required to display a Covid QR code for anyone to scan as they enter. I’ve been scrupulous in scanning in everywhere I go, but I’m an exception. As I’ve commented elsewhere on this blog, I estimate less than 10% of the public actually bother to scan. Due to Delta, this is about to change.

Locations where mask wearing isn’t always practical such as restaurants, cafes, churches, bars, etc, and events and locations that are potential superspreaders, will be required to enforce QR scanning. Personally I’d like to see it extended to include all retail outlets and places of business. But I understand placing the onus on the retailer to enforce compliance might be problematic.

On the other hand, I see scanning as a social responsibility, and I see no reason why the onus to do so shouldn’t be on me rather than the owner of the premises or event. As a member of society, I have responsibilities to do or not do certain activities, and I don’t see why this shouldn’t include scanning QR codes as well.

As new information comes to hand – the covid website is now being updated regularly, every two hours, with statistics and places of interest – I’m certain that an extension to the lockdown will be announced tomorrow. For how long, and how we’ll step back down from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 1, I’m not sure as my crystal ball seems rather cloudy at the moment. I’d like to think that regions outside of those where known covid cases exist will be relaxed by the end of the month, but as this is all unknown territory – no other nation has eliminated the Delta variant – time will eventually reveal how this will all play out. Being forever optimistic, and having been through it once before, I expect it will be “business as usual” by the end of September. But just in case, I’ll keep my fingers and toes crossed.

To all those who claim that covid is not potentially dangerous, and often quote deaths per 100,000 of the general population to support their argument, case fatalities tell a very different story, depending on where you happen to reside. For example, if you live in the Yemen and catch covid, you have a one in five chance of dying. In Peru you have a one in ten chance of dying and in Mexico, a one in 12 chance. In the UK it’s one in fifty and the US one in sixty. They are not odds I’m prepared to gamble with. In NZ the odds of dying are around one in 110.

Given that the fatality rate for the Delta variant is similar to other variants even though it affects more younger people, it seems logical to assume the odds of a person in my age bracket dying from the Delta variant will be many times greater than the average – perhaps as much as ten times greater. That would increase the odds of me dying to somewhere in the vicinity of one in ten if I’m unlucky enough to catch covid. If you consider your “right” to spread a potentially fatal illness surpasses my right not to be isolated for the rest of my natural life, then you deserve everything society throws a you. Hopefully it’ll be a ton of bricks.

The good news is that this country no longer needs to ration covid vaccinations as supplies are now meeting demand. Vaccinations are now ramping up and as from the end of August, everyone over the age of twelve will be able to book their shots. Supplies are now guaranteed to ensure everyone will be able to be be fully vaccinated by year’s end.

Kia kaha
(Stay strong)


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As requested: you are simple

There is one New Zealand blog I follow where I disagree with almost everything that is posted. I follow it to remind myself that there are locals who have a radically different world view from mine. My opinions of their postings range from ignorant claptrap to idiotic nonsense, although very occasionally (and I emphasis very occasionally) I find a post that I can almost agree with.

My impression of those who comment on the blog is that most are anti-vaxxers, covid deniers, conspiracy theorists of various types, and mostly right wing (by NZ standards). In a post today, the writer lamented the fact that they had to cancel a restaurant booking due to the yesterday’s lockdown notice. Let me quote part of the article:

Call me simple and definitely cynical if you like but I fail to see any value to any of our group, the restaurant and its staff and the New Zealand Covid extinction by locking down anywhere south of about Hamilton and locking down the South Island is surely over kill. 

Ok, I call you simple. It’s not about you.

In my view the blogger has a ludicrously overly simplistic understanding of how covid is transmitted. We know: the Delta variant is highly contagious – even a fleeting contact such as one person walking past another in a park; the case identified yesterday had been infectious in the community for many days and had visited at least 25 locations over that period, some hundreds of kilometres apart; the source of the infection is unknown; Kiwis are a highly mobile lot and I guess there’s been many tens of thousands of us who have travelled in and out of the Auckland and Coromandel regions from all around NZ over the past week. I can guarantee there have been hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who will have travelled between the poster’s home town and Auckland or Coromandel during the period in question.

While it’s highly unlikely that the writer or their dining friends will come into contact with an infectious person, the odds are very high that someone in their hometown who will be either a primary or secondary contact of the yesterday’s case or one of the six related cases identified so far today. Likewise, there’s probably thousands who have travelled between Auckland and the South Island in the week prior to lockdown. Sure, it’s highly unlikely that a specific person (the blogger in this case) will be a person of interest, but you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s at least one person in his hometown and the South Island who will be.

I think the blogger fails to understand the exponential rate of transmission of the Delta variant. It has an R0 factor of between 5 and 8. This means that a single person, on average, will infect between 5 and 8 other persons. In a best case scenario, one person will infect 5 who will infect 25 who will infect 125 who will infect 625 who will infect 3125. that’s a total of 3906 people in just five iterations. In a worse case scenario, and ignoring any superspreading event, the same number of iterations will result in a total of 37,449 infections.

Two independent modelling exercises indicate that with the immediate level 4 lockdown as of last night, the single reported case is likely to rise to somewhere between 50 and 130 before it’s squashed. It’s already at seven, and as yet we do not know the source of the current outbreak, the modelling may greatly underestimate what the final figure will be.

At the start of the pandemic, our government had intended to follow the same course that most other nations did – flatten the curve to prevent the outbreak from overwhelming the health system. However even the most optimistic modelling projections showed that the NZ health system would be totally overwhelmed in very short time. Hence the change to an elimination strategy shortly after covid arrived here. Given that this is the first lockdown we’ve had outside of Auckland apart from the initial 6-week lockdown in March last year, I am firmly convinced that it has been the correct path to follow.

We do know that this particular outbreak is related to the New South Wales, Australia strain of the Delta variant, so now there is a scramble to trace exactly how it arrived in this country. Genome sequencing can estimate how many intermediaries there have been between a known case and a newly discovered case, and due to the strictly controlled nature of entry into Aotearoa New Zealand, I think that there’s a good chance of tracking its path from NSW to NZ.

Update: As of 7 pm, today, the total number of cases has risen to ten. One case is a teacher at a high school, another is a fully vaccinated nurse in a public hospital, and another is a student who attended a lecture yesterday along with 80 others. These three instances are possible super spreading events that could seriously skew modelling estimates. One case is now known to have a connection with the border. Similar to the situation elsewhere most of the delta infections are in younger adults – here, mostly in their 20s.


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Go hard, go early…

For the first time in 169 days a case of covid-19 has been found in the community. It’s never been a case of if it returned but a case of when. At time of writing, no link to the border or managed isolation has been found. The result of genome sequencing will be available by the morning and that should identify the variant, if it is related to any known border contact or managed isolation source, and if so how many degrees of separation between that source and the single known community case.

As there is currently no identified source and in recent months most cases arriving at the border have been the Delta variant, and having seen the outcome in Australia where lockdowns have been too little too late, the authorities here have decided to go early and hard.

I’m sure in many in other parts of the world people will find it difficult to fathom why a whole nation should go into a total lockdown on the day that a single covid case is discovered in the community, especially as many nations are gradually coming out of various states of long term lockdowns or restrictions on social gatherings. Apart from the initial six week lockdown at the start of the pandemic, this country has been mostly in a state of “business as usual”, international tourism being the only exception.

However we only need to look across the ditch to Australia to see that by imposing minimum restrictions and then ramping up as they prove inadequate is not particularly effective. I don’t think they’ve reached the point of no return yet, but it must be getting closer by the day. In the other parts of the world, even where the rates of vaccination are high, hospitals are again experiencing overloads, and younger age groups are being affected compared to previous variants.

So for the first time since April 2020, Aotearoa New Zealand is going into a nationwide lockdown: one week for Auckland and the Coromandel, and 3 days for the rest of the country, starting a one minute before midnight tonight. Apart from essential services such as dairies (small convenience stores), supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, and medical and emergency services the nation will shut down. Movement outside our household bubbles will be restricted to accessing essential services or exercising in our neighbourhoods.

Masks have not been mandated here apart from on public transport, and it’s still rare to see them being worn in other public places. That might change in the next 24 hours. The Prime Minister has hinted that there may be some changes and they have been discussed in Cabinet, but until the regulations have been draughted and gone through the necessary legal processes, she will not speculate on what might change. I expect we will need to wear masks when going to the supermarket for the duration of the lockdown, perhaps a little longer.

This country is some way behind many other OECD nations when it comes to the rollout of the COVID vaccination. The prime reason is due to supply, but everyone over the age of sixteen will have the opportunity to be vaccinated before the end of the year. However, some ethnic groups – Māori and Pacifica in particular have relatively young populations. Even if everyone within those groups who are legible get a jab, it still leaves 30% of their population vulnerable. That’s not enough to provide herd immunity. It looks like those above twelve might soon be able to be protected, and I understand research is being undertaken on the safety and effectiveness of vaccinating those as young as 12 months.

Our borders are not going to open until herd immunity has been achieved. When that will be achieved is still open to speculation. I suspect that most Kiwis would prefer restrictions remain at the border rather than within it, and there is little appetite to open up to a covid ravaged world. For that reason I expect the any temporary restrictions imposed here will be be accepted with little opposition as it’s not much to pay for the freedoms we have enjoyed while the rest of the world has gone mad.


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Getting what one deserves

Over the last few hours I have read a number of blogs pertaining to the situation in Afghanistan. Many of those blogs are blaming the rapid fall of the nation to the Taliban on the inhabitants, often implying that it must be what they really want, otherwise they would have fought. What the bloggers seem to forget is that the West had already reached the conclusion that it was inevitable that the Taliban would eventually take control – perhaps in a few years. Long enough to appear that their withdrawal appeared “honourable”.

Think for a moment. If the West had reached that conclusion doesn’t it seem feasible that the Afghanis themselves, being so much closer to the ground, also reached the same conclusion. A sense of hopelessness coupled with a fear induced by the barbarity of the Taliban is more than enough for most people to become resigned to their inevitable fate. Few folk will fight, whether by way of arms, civil disobedience or the pen where there is absolutely no hope of a different outcome.

One writer suggested that as women are at least as numerous as men and have more to lose, they should take up arms, and if they don’t the implication was that they deserve (or want) what they get. History has proven time and again that a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and fear can be used by the few to control the many. How is the situation in Afghanistan any different than the rise of fascism and naziism in Europe between the two world wars, the rise of Stalinism, Maoism, Pol Pot, Apartheid, and in the US, slavery, Jim Crow and McCarthyism? How many nations and communities fell to colonial rule/occupation for similar reasons? Military might was not the only tool used.

It’s not only minorities that can feel a sense of hopelessness, it can exist in significant majorities for exactly the same reason: loss of hope. A hope that they might escape Taliban authoritarianism has led to some people taking stupid risks such as attempting to cling to the undercarriage of departing aircraft. In their mind, the risk was worth the effort whereas the risk of remaining and opposing the incoming regime seemed futile.

The advantage with fanatical beliefs is that they are separated from reality. While they are often religious in nature they don’t have to be. Taliban fighters are confident in their belief that their efforts will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in the next. Their blind faith that their cause is just and will prevail just as surely as night follows day gives them all the will needed to continue fighting regardless of what the true situation is at any given moment.

Meanwhile back in reality, the typical, man, woman, father, mother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt has to weigh up the consequences of their action. Would opposing the Taliban pose greater risks of harm to themselves and to those they care about than doing nothing – especially if they perceive their opposition is doomed to failure? I don’t think I need to remind readers, that the inhabitants of Afghanistan will be only too well aware of the atrocities that the Taliban are capable of inflicting on not only those who oppose them, but on their families and communities as well.

To a large extent, the West has only themselves to blame for the current situation, and for this reason I was less than impressed with President Biden’s speech. He considers himself blameless. Instead much of the blame he places on Trump, the Afghan government and military. His own military advisers had predicted the inevitable outcome of a quick withdrawal, although not the speed at which it would occur. Biden, like so many others I have heard and read today imply that the Afghanis will get the government they deserve. They don’t.

With few exceptions, the occupation of Afghanistan was based on military and perhaps political objectives of the West. Humanitarian objectives have been mostly ignored except where they were an advantage to the military and political objectives. If the same effort had been put into targeting humanitarian outcomes for their own sake, I wonder whether the current situation would have eventuated. I’m enough of a realist to admit there would be no guarantee of a better outcome, but on the other hand there’s no guarantee that it wouldn’t. However, from a purely military and political perspective, I don’t think any outcome, other than the one that is currently playing out, was possible – especially in the way the allies handled the two decades of occupation.

I do not know what should be done to reduce the harm that will inevitably occur to many innocent people in the wake of the Taliban takeover, and for this I accept my share of the blame. I’ve had twenty years in which to argue for a more humanitarian approach to moderating the effects of fanaticism on populations but have remained relatively silent until now. In the words of Nanci Griffith “I am not at the wheel of control, I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil“. Are any of us any different?

Feel free to substitute Belfast and Chicago with any other place of conflict of your choosing

It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go – Nanci Griffith

I am a backseat driver from America
They drive to the left on Falls Road
The man at the wheel's name is Seamus
We pass a child on the corner he knows
And Seamus says,"Now, what chance has that kid got?"
And I say from the back,"I don't know."
He says,"There's barbed wire at all of these exits
And there ain't no place in Belfast for that kid to go."

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in Belfast for these kids to go

A cafeteria line in Chicage
The fat man in front of me
Is calling black people trash to his children
He's the only trash here I see
And I'm thinking this man wears a white hood
In the night when his children should sleep
But, they slip to their window and they see him
And they think that white hood's all they need

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in Chicago for these kids to go

I was a child in the sixties
Dreams could be held through TV
With Disney and Cronkite and Martin Luther
Oh, I believed, I believed, I believed
Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can't drive on the left side of the road

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in this world for these kids to go


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The Case for a Non-Commercial Public Broadcaster — Peter Davis NZ

Once again Peter Davis has reflected on a topic that has been on my mind for some time – public broadcasting in the online multimedia age. It’s a topic worthy of discussion particularly in light of the trend towards the polarisation of ideas and beliefs.

The Government recently established a working group to look at the possibility of establishing a new public broadcasting entity. At present Radio New Zealand (RNZ) is almost the only agency that adheres to a public broadcasting mandate largely free of commercial imperatives. Television New Zealand (TVNZ) is in public ownership, but in all but name […]

The Case for a Non-Commercial Public Broadcaster — Peter Davis NZ


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The case for autistic pride — Yenn Purkis Autism Page

For a great many of us on the spectrum, Autism Awareness day/month in April is less than helpful especially in the form promoted by Autism Speaks – a “support” organisation that definitely does not speak for Autistic people. Instead, Autistic Pride Day (June 18) is the day to show the world we are not inferior but just equal and different. I might have something more to say on the day that is more relevant to my personal experience, but here is a post by Yenn Purkis that I believe most neurodivergent people (not just autistics) can relate to.

Friday June 18 is Autistic Pride Day so I thought I would write a blog post all about autistic pride. Sometimes people say ‘why would you be proud? You can’t help being autistic. It just is.’ I think for members of marginalised groups, like Autistics, pride is a political act and a way of asserting […]

The case for autistic pride — Yenn Purkis Autism Page