Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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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Uninformed opinion

In my last post post I promised to comment on misconceptions that many Americans, especially those on the right, hold about my favourite nation – Aotearoa New Zealand. But before I start I need to make a small correction. In that post I included a link to Tucker Carlson’s opinion piece but I inadvertently referred to uninformed comment that was actually on a different Fox News article. That article is a news item titled New Zealand to enter nationwide lockdown after single coronavirus case found. I should probably have held off publishing the post until later that morning instead of at 2:30 am. I’ve been suffering from the effects of a migraine that won’t decide whether it should come or go, and I was up at that time because sleep evades me with that type of migraine. I should have had the sense not to click on Publish, but I did.

From a single case to five hundred

The Fox News item was published on the day we first became aware of covid being in the community, and perhaps one of the most repeated comments was that locking down for one reported case was idiotic. I’ll ignore all the comments about authoritarianism, fascism and comparisons to North Korea, and for the moment I’ll take for granted that an elimination strategy is the appropriate course of action for this this nation. My question to those who consider a lockdown on a single reported case to be an overreaction is this: If this nation is to maintain an elimination strategy, how many known cases in the community should there be before a lockdown is considered? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? As was has been illustrated by the events in Australia, gradually ramping up restrictions based on the number of known cases is simply too little too late.

Here’s something to consider: How many other cases were there already out in the community? Is this the only case or is it the tip of a covid iceberg? Remember that with the Delta variant, people can be infectious before they experience symptoms. There is also the question of how did the virus get into the community? There may already have been a super spreader event where hundred of people have become incubators for the next wave of infections. This has already proven to be true. The number of confirmed cases, only twelve days later is now 512. The detailed situation as it stands at time of writing can be found on the Unite Against Covid-19 website.

On the Sunday before the first case was discovered, members of the Samoan Assembly of God church gathered as a community for the day, including worship sessions and gathered meals. One attender had unknowingly caught covid and passed it onto hundreds of other attenders. And before anyone else accuses the church members of ignoring rules or flouting safety precautions, let me be quite clear: They were responsibly following not only the “letter of the law”, but also the “spirit of the law”.

Just like everyone else in this nation they were not subject to any rules regarding social distancing, mask wearing, or limits on the size of gatherings. After all, we’ve been having sports events and concerts with up to 50,000 attenders throughout the pandemic apart from the brief lockdown periods, and all without incident. I need to point this out as already members of the AoG church are facing a backlash over this. The congregation and its leaders had no reason to suspect that someone within their midst was infected. Why should they? After all, the last reported community case was way back in February.

The need for some sections of society to scapegoat minorities – in this case Samoans and Christians – is appalling and must cease. And just in case you require statistic to support my stance, of all ethnic groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Pasifika community has the highest vaccination rate for people over 40 years of age. They are also the most religious. So please no more talk about ethnicity or religion contributing to the current outbreak.

When we examine the number of ICU beds available in various countries, and see how even in the US, which has one of the highest number of ICU beds per capita in the world, still was stretched to capacity, and countries such as Italy had to ration access to ICU beds, it’s little wonder that NZ, with few ICU beds would look for another way to manage the pandemic. As a comparison, ICU beds per 100,000 of population are: US: 29.4; Italy: 12.5; NZ: 4.6. On a per capita basis, the US has more than six times as many ICU beds as NZ.

Freedom

Another common theme to run through the comments was that we suffer under an authoritarian government and our freedoms are on par with North Korea or life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The simple fact is that for the most part, this nation has had less stringent covid restrictions that the US, the UK, and yes, even more freedom than their golden boy model of covid management, Sweden

From 14 May 2020 to 11 August 2020 and from 31 August 2020 to 17 August 2021, Aotearoa New Zealand had fewer covid restrictions than the US, the UK and Sweden. Even during the period of 12 August 2020 to 30 August 2020, this nation was only marginally higher than the US and the UK. I included a Covid Stringency chart on my 2362 contacts post. But in case that is not enough, here’s some other freedom comparisons. I’ll restrict this to comparisons between NZ and the US as invariably, the accusations of a lack of freedom in this nation comes from Americans:

World Freedom Index

Economic
Freedom
Political
Freedom
Press
Freedom
Total
Freedom
Score
Ranking
Aotearoa New Zealand92.9298.0491.8494.261
United States of America82.8889.2279.1783.7627
2017 World Freedom Index

Cato Institute

Personal
Freedom
Economic
Freedom
Human
Freedom
RankingChange
from
2018
Aotearoa New Zealand9.218.538.871+0.01
United States of America8.668.228.449-0.11
The Human Freedom Index 2020

Freedom House

Political
Rights
Civil
Liberties
PointsRanking
Aotearoa New Zealand1199`4
United States of America228362
Freedom in the World 2021

Reporters Without Borders

ScoreRanking
Aotearoa New Zealand10.048
United States of America23.9344
2021 World Press Freedom Index (higher score = more restrictions)

Reporters Without Borders also classify the US as an Enemy of the Internet due to high level of surveillance carried out by the authorities. Currently 20 nations are listed as enemies of the internet, so the US is in good company with China, North Korea, Russia, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

Economist Intelligence Unit

Regime
Type
Electoral
process
and
Pluralism
Functioning
of
Government
Political
Participation
Political
Culture
Civil
Liberties
ScoreRanking
Aotearoa
New Zealand
Full
democracy
108.938.898.759.719.254
United States
of America
Flawed
democracy
9.176.798.896.258.537.9225
Democracy Index 2020

State of World Liberty Index

2021
ranking
2020
ranking
2019
ranking
2018
ranking
2017
ranking
Aotearoa New Zealand11111
United States of America2515202024
State of World Liberty Index 2017 – 2021

I freely accept that there are some criticisms of how the data is collected and rated for each of the indexes used above, but overall I think we can be confident that they provide a reasonable comparison of the two nations. I think it is safe to make the claim than Aotearoa New Zealand does not have fewer freedoms than the United States of America.

Slow vaccine take up

Several comments referred to the New Zealand population and made the observation that with such a small size the population should be able to be vaccinated in just a few months. Now think for a moment. If our population is one sixtieth the size of the US, it would stand to reason that the number of workers capable of giving a jab would also be one sixtieth of the numbers in the US. And given that a smaller percentage of the NZ workforce is employed in the health services than in the US, all things being equal it would actually take a little longer.

The fact that only 18% of the population is currently fully vaccinated also gave rise to the assumption the Kiwis are reluctant to be vaccinated. Wrong again. On many occasions over recent months we’ve learnt that there is only one or two day’s supply of vaccine available in the country. The problem isn’t on the demand side, it’s on the supply side.

None of the vaccine manufacturers have manufacturing facilities in this country, so all vaccines need to be imported. Given that practically every other nation is in a worse position than us, and that a number of countries have ruled that manufacturers must satisfy domestic requirements before they are permitted to export, is it any wonder that this country faces a number of hurdles in maintaining a regular supply of vaccine. The Government has also provided vaccines to our small Pacific neighbours as they are in a more vulnerable position and less able to cope with the pandemic if it arrives on their shores.

For there to be a high vaccination rate so that everyone can be vaccinated by the end of the year, there there needs to be a big increase in the number of people who perform the procedure competently. This is more than simply knowing how to jab a needle in someone’s arm, but also all the recordkeeping, safety protocols, etc that the vaccination rollout requires. Training has been underway for some time.

However the vaccination rollout is now in full swing. Anyone over the age of thirty is now eligible to be vaccinated, and currently 78% of those eligible have received at least one shot or have booked their first shot. From the beginning of September, everyone over the age of 12 will be eligible, and it is expected that everyone will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of the year. Currently the vaccination rate running slightly ahead of plan. Only then will the government look at other processes for managing covid.

Gun confiscation

Of course a number of comments brought up the mythical confiscation of guns in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings. This has been interpreted in two different ways by commenters.

  • That so few guns were handed in, is a sign that Kiwis have thumbed their collective noses at authority. This seems to be the NRA interpretation of the facts
  • Nobody is allowed to own guns in NZ and are therefore defenseless when it comes to resisting the government.

Obviously both theories can’t be correct. The simple fact is that there was an estimated 1.5 million guns that were in legal ownership before the shootings. That estimate today has not changed. The government buy back was for a specific type of weapon that, following a law change, could not be owned on a Category A gun holder’s licence. As firearms are not licensed here, the number of weapons affected by the change was unknown. Various estimates of the number of weapons affected ranged from 25,000 to 60,000. In the end the buyback resulted in 34,000 guns being handed in. While gun ownership here is estimated to be around a quarter of that in the US, we are still ranked in the top 20 nations for gun ownership.

Economic collapse

A claim by many commenters that the New Zealand economy has collapsed or is rapidly heading that way due the the elimination strategy. Again, the evidence is very different. GDP in Aotearoa New Zealand is now above pre covid levels.

GDP Growth 2021Unemployment
2020
Unemployment
2019
Govt dept as
% of GDP
Aotearoa New Zealand+1%4.6%4.1%41.3
United States of America-3.5%8.1%3.7%127.1

Given that international tourism and international students accounted for a significant portion of this nation’s revenue, GDP and employment, and have all but disappeared since the arrival of covid, I think that a positive grown in our GDP vindicates this nation’s elimination strategy.

Immigrants

A common misconception among many commenters was that the US could not close its borders because their immigration rate is too high and that no one immigrates to NZ. If so, how can they explain the fact that one in four Kiwis are immigrants while a mere one in seven Americans are? The simple answer is that Aotearoa New Zealand has a relatively high immigration rate.

Population density

Comment was often made of New Zealand’s low population density, and if the population was spread evenly over the whole country, the low density would indeed be a significant factor. However 77% of New Zealand’s population live in the smaller of the two major islands, and 35% of our nation’s entire population lives in the vicinity of the city of Auckland. The population density of the North Island is 80 people per square mile. This is comparable to states such West Virginia (76) and Missouri (88). One third of the entire population of Aotearoa New Zealand lives in a region where the population density is approximately 3,100 per square mile.

The conspiracies

And there are a lot of them:

  • Marxist plot
  • Fascist plot
  • Female leaders cause harm
  • New World Order
  • Vaccination causes more harm than covid
  • Covid is a fallacy

There are more, but Fox News being such a toxic site, I’ve had enough.


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Covid update 2021/08/26

I don’t normally include lengthy video clips on this blog, but today I’ll make an exception. The clip is of the daily briefing given by senior government politicians and public servants to the news media. Today’s briefing was conducted by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay. Most of it was (as could be expected) was about the current covid-19 lockdown, but other topics such as Afghanistan are briefly touched on as well.

For any who might be interested in observing how our leaders conduct such a briefing:

  • the Prime Minister starts her presentation at 0:01:40
  • the Director of Public Health starts presenting the statistical data at 0:03:00.
  • Question time starts at 0:19:55 and ends at 1:06:00.

For anyone interested in knowing how the current outbreak of covid is playing out in this nation (instead of guessing or listening to the likes of Fox News), I can’t do better than to point you to the official covid-19 website. There is a vast array of information available there, all based on solid science, not political posturing.

I, like most (but certainly not all) kiwis approve of this lockdown. As we have already proved, an elimination strategy can work. While it’s most likely an impractical strategy in the long term, it does buy us time to learn more about not only how this pandemic woks, but also other pandemics that are guaranteed to arise in the future. If the rest of the world had followed a similar strategy, then perhaps the world would be in a less chaotic situation that it is currently, and perhaps world economies would not have taken the hits that they have. The New Zealand economy is now above pre-covid conditions.

At this point, we cannot put the covid genie back in its bottle, and while I see much criticism of the route taken by New Zealand (especially from the American Right), isn’t it possible that the “New Zealand experiment” might provide some clues on how to better manage the next pandemic? I just want to remind our critics that the elimination strategy has never been thought of as a “final solution”. It’s a stop gap measure until a better way of handling this pandemic (and the next) is understood. It buys us time, something that most nations didn’t consider. As yet, science is has still much to learn about covid

To all those who say that covid will be with us forever, and it’s pointless to fight it, you might well be right. But what if you’re wrong? Once you’ve thrown in the towel, there’s no going back. Currently the jury is out on the best methods the world might be able to use to lessen the harm caused by pandemics. To those who claim we’re a bunch of scaredy cats, all I’m going to say on the matter is we’re not a bunch of quitters who gave up the moment the fight became difficult. To borrow from a popular commercial, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

I like to be reasonably informed on a large range of topics, and in light of our lockdown, I’ve been curious how people beyond our borders view our handling of not only our current lockdown but how we have handled the pandemic in its entirety. And to ensure I cover all bases I make a point of looking in, from time to time, on sources that express values contrary to my own. Afterall, there’s definitely a limit on how much you can learn by only listening to those who don’t challenge your current perspectives and prejudices. So I do make a foray into sources such as Fox News from time to time.

What strikes me about much online discussion, especially as it applies to Fox, is that as well has having those who are well enough informed to reach rational conclusions (even though they may reach a conclusion that is diametrically opposed to my own), there is a significant number who are, for the want of a better term, too ill informed to participate in meaningful discussion. And New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic is no exception.

Take a look at the discussion that follows the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” August 23, 2021. Although only a portion of the show was dedicated to the NZ lockdown, the discussion following is almost exclusively about that topic. I really couldn’t care less what Carlson’s politics are, but he really does need to learn that a sentence taken in isolation, out of context, and in a different cultural setting than the one he is immersed in does not necessarily convey the meaning understood by the conveyer or the receiver of the entire message.

Carlson makes a point of highlighting a sentence spoken by the Prime Minister, and failing to understand the context in which it was uttered makes the assumption that it must be understood in isolation from everything else she said at that news briefing, and everything else she has said since the pandemic first became a concern at the end of 2019. That sentence was “Don’t talk to your neighbours”.

Please Tucker, think for a moment. Since the beginning of the pandemic the Prime Minister has made a point of emphasising the necessity of being kind; checking on neighbours, friends and family; to help out whenever there is a need, including shopping for others who are unable to do so; to keep communications open with each other. How do you think that would be possible if we didn’t talk to our neighbour? The answer: it wouldn’t be possible. Period. Kiwis do understand the implied meaning of that short sentence, and while I don’t expect you to implicitly understand it’s context, I do expect someone in you position to at least discover the context in which it was uttered.

Just for your benefit, Mr Carlson, here is an expanded version of that sentence as every Kiwi will have understood it: “Don’t talk to your neighbors if it means breaking your bubble”. I really don’t want to go too deeply into what a bubble means to us in this context, but bubbles vary depending on the Covert-19 Alert Level. At Level 1, the entire nation is a single bubble, which means there are no restrictions with our borders, while at Level 4, each household is a seperate bubble. And I would like to remind you that for seventeen of the last nineteen months we have been at Alert Level 1. Can you say the same for the US? If you want to argue covid restrictions, first check out the COVID-19: Stringency Index.

I do find the discussion on that page rather interesting. If I ignore all the conspiracy theorists that seem to be attracted Fox News, there are still several categories that I can divide the comments in to: those who have made an attempt, to understand the NZ strategy for managing the pandemic; those who realise they lack sufficient knowledge and seek to understand it; those who do not realise they lack sufficient knowledge and make assumptions based on incomplete or false information; and those who are absolutely, and without a doubt, convinced that they have a better grip on the situation than the entire science community that advises the New Zealand government and policy makers.

It’s a complete waste of time trying to discuss the NZ strategy with the conspiracy theorists and those who are convinced they understand all there is to know about pandemics and how to manage them and refuse to even listen to the experts in that field. They are the willfully ignorant. Those who are the uninformed and the ill informed – the ignorant, but not willfully so – are a different matter. I don’t feel it a waste of time or effort in providing them with some resources that they can use to become better informed. I intend to do just that in the next blog post The aim isn’t to persuade them to agree with my perspective, but to provide them with some resources that will allow them to make their own informed conclusions.


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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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2362 contacts

At time of writing there are now 2362 known contacts related to the current delta outbreak that started with a single covid case identified on Tuesday. Of those contacts, 31 are known to be infected with covid, three outside of Auckland, and more than 300 of the contacts are dispersed throughout the country, including the South Island. This is precisely what I predicted in yesterday’s blog post. In just three days, a single known infection has snowballed to almost two and a half thousand contacts.

We’ve also learnt that we will not be coming out of lockdown tonight (I didn’t think we would, but I was hopeful we might). The nation will remain in lockdown until at least midnight on Tuesday. The three infected individuals outside of Auckland were there over the weekend, one group returning to Wellington by air, the other by car, stopping at four petrol stations and a similar number of cafes on the way. This will give rise to considerably more contacts needing to be traced, and given the number of places these three travellers passed through I can see the number swelling by several hundred at least. And of course any new infections discovered between now and Tuesday are also likely to result in dozens of addition contacts.

Thankfully, by Monday, if everyone has been following the rules, new contacts should have dropped off to near zero, barring the possibility that an essential worker is infected but has escaped detection. I doubt we’ll immediately drop from alert level 4 back to alert level 1 (near normal but with closed border) on Tuesday, but my guess we’ll drop to alert level 3 (a less restrictive lockdown) for a week or perhaps two then to alert level 2 (restrictions on large gatherings) for a similar period before returning to alert level 1. Unlike most of the rest of the world, we’ve been been living near to a normal life since May 2020 – well as normal is possible given that the rest of the world continues to flounder hopelessly in a sea rising infections. and I expect we’ll return to normality in a few weeks from now.

Today, I read the comments on a few Youtube clips pertaining to the lockdown. I wish I hadn’t. As well as the usual range of conspiracy theorists, there were those that have no understanding of what exponential means or how it plays out, those who judge nations on the gender and/or sexual orientation of the leaders (the Prime Minister is a woman and the Deputy Prime Minister is gay), those who judge a nation on the physical appearance of the leaders, and those who find it implausible for a nation to consider their leaders trustworthy.

What I find surprising, but perhaps I shouldn’t, is that so many Youtube conversation threads degenerate into two camps: one camp being mostly Kiwis supporting New Zealand’s elimination stance, and in the other camp consisting mostly of non-Kiwis being anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, covid hoaxers, and conspiracy theorists, most of whom believe this nation is under the control of a fascist or communist (take your pick) authoritarian dictatorship fighting a losing battle with covid. Any references to world freedom indexes, be they from a left wing think tank or a right wing think tank, ranking Aotearoa New Zealand the most free nation on the planet are written off as irrelevant. The vitriol (spouted from both sides) reminds me why I chose WordPress as my platform for expression instead of Youtube.

Even in regards to restrictions specifically related to covid, this country has much less stringent than most other nations, but our detractors don’t seem to be able to follow a simple chart. The detractors refuse to accept the evidence that even their “ideal” model of covid freedom, Sweden, is more restrictive than Aotearoa New Zealand:

Our World in data


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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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Improved service!

Over many decades (seven of them) I have had the occasional need to call on the assistance of health professionals. Most have fallen in to the non-emergency category, but there have been a few cases where without appropriate assistance I probably would not have survived – polio and hepatitis are two that come to mind.

In recent decades I have found myself in the emergency department of the public hospital in a nearby city, with no clear recollection of how I got there. I suffer from a form of migraine that often mimics the symptoms of a stroke. It requires an EEG and an MRI to rule that possibility out. Then there was kidney stones where I do remember the painful half hour journey by ambulance to the hospital.

However, today’s post is an observation of how the service of non-urgent medical treatment by General Practitioners (GPs) have changed in recent years. I can only speak of my experience in the town where I live – Feilding (population 15,000). It may be different in other parts of the country.

When we first moved here around 1986, we enrolled with a GP (general practitioner) in sole practice who shared a receptionist and practice nurse with another sole practice GP. This was an a change from what we had in our previous location. There, the family was enrolled with a sole GP where the duties of receptionist, etc were carried out by his wife. Generally an appointment wasn’t necessary. One simply turned up during surgery hours and waited. At the new practice it was necessary to make an appointment first, and usually one could be seen the same day or the next. If it was urgent, but not an emergency, then one could typically be seen within the hour. When our doctor decided to leave general practice and specialise in industrial health, we found ourselves looking for another GP.

Wanting a practice within easy walking distance limited out options to two and we settled on a group practice consisting of four GPs and a number of support staff covering several fields. At first, non-urgent appointments could be booked two days in advance, but over the course of a decade, waiting times became longer until it reached the stage where non-urgent bookings were typically a week away.

Since the start of this millenium there had been discussion about forming a community health centre for Feilding that could provide additional services beyond those that a typical small private or group practice could provide. It could be viable only if all the GPs in town provided services from the same facilities. It was a slow process but a few years ago Feilding Health Care Hauora Tangata opened for business.

While it provided radiology and other services previously only available in the city of Palmerston North (about a 30 minute drive), I can’t say there’s an improvement for non urgent medical attention. At this point I feel the need to mention that what constitutes non-urgent now includes conditions that would have been deemed urgent just a few years ago. Take for example my recent experience.

Weekend before last, I did something that caused an old injury to flare up. When I was 17, I suffered a lower back injury that resulted in one collapsed disc (two vertebrae now grind against each other wearing their faces down), one seriously compressed disc, and another with less severe compression. Over the years I have learnt to manage the injury, and for the most part, it doesn’t cause continuous pain. When I am careless and do something to silly, I can find myself in considerable pain exacerbated by any movement of the torso or legs. This was one of those occasions.

There are a number of exercises I have been taught to assist in recovery when my mobility is compromised like this, and generally within four or five days after a flare up I can reach the stage where the pain has been replaced by discomfort. However this time, the pain severely limited what I could do. As the weekend rolled around again, there had been no improvement and my mobility had become more restricted. So first thing Monday morning I phoned to make an appointment to see the doctor.

It was then that I was reminded how much of an improvement had been made over recent years. After describing my condition to the receptionist, I was advised that my assigned GP was away until August and even though I was in considerable pain and could scarcely walk, it didn’t qualify as urgent and there were no non-urgent spaces available for the next month! After some strong words from me she relented and said she would arrange for a duty nurse to contact me later in the day to evaluate my needs.

At four thirty, the nurse phoned and after a short discussion, she too said that I wasn’t able to book an appointment. However, I could see a doctor if I attended the after hours clinic which opens at six each evening, although I might have to wait a while before being seen. I was there before six but already there was a line of people at the check-in desk. Just as it was about to be my turn, the receptionist put an “Appointments closed” sign in the desk. I wasn’t pleased, and in the condition I was, I didn’t care who knew.

I think the receptionist took pity on me and said she’d try to have me seen by a nurse. Well, that’s better than nothing I suppose, and half an hour later one appeared. She told me the good news. All the doctors on duty were fully booked up for the evening, but if I drove across to Palmerston North I could attend an after hours clinic there. I asked if I could be guaranteed being seen, but no, they too ran their after hours service on a first in first served basis.

By this time my pain was so severe that I could only talk in gasps, and as best as I could I asked if it was reasonable to expect someone of my age, who has nyctalopia and cataracts in both eyes to drive to Palmerston North at night when they can barely walk or sit just on the off chance that a doctor might be able to see them. She conceded it wasn’t reasonable. How generous of her. I asked her what my options were to which she replied she wasn’t sure but she would find out.

She returned about ten minutes latter to give me “great news” that if I was prepared to wait and if a doctor finished all their cases before eight o’clock then he/she would see me, but there’d be no guarantee that I would be seen. I waited. And waited some more.

Some acquaintances tell me I have the patience of a saint, and on Monday evening that played to my advantage. Two people who were ahead of me in the queue were becoming more and more agitated as time wore on. Eventually one, then the other left in anger after waiting around an hour and a half. Ten minutes later, my name was called.

To cut a long story a little shorter, the doctor decided there was no new nerve damage (I’d already determined that) and that with some pain killers, I should be back to normal within a week. I was sent home with a single pain tablet to be taken when I arrived home. A short while later I received an SMS message informing me that a prescription had been sent to my preferred pharmacist and could be picked up in the morning.

The prescription was for Tramadol, which I’m supposed to take three times a day. No way! I tend to experience the worst side effects of every medication, and Tramadol proved to be no exception. Within an hour of taking it, I became fuzzy headed, unable to think clearly and found difficulty staying awake. Shortly after, my irregular heart beat became pronounced. I regularly miss about one heart beat in ten, but it increased to one in every four or five and was very noticeable to me. Then a headache set in. About time to research Tramadol’s side effects.

The possible side effects as described on Drugs.com make alarming reading, and the description on the NZ Health Navigator only slightly less so. I took two tablets yesterday, and only one today and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open as I compose this post. However, I think it has done the trick in relieving the pain as I am now able to do my exercises for managing back pain. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

On a brighter note. I received a phone call shortly after six last evening from Feilding Health Care inviting me to get my first Covid jab. They had a few surplus doses and if I came immediately I could receive my first of the two Pfizer shots. The wife and I were there and had our first vaccination within half an hour, and our next vaccination is booked in for later this month. We had been booked in for our first jab in August, and while there’s no sense of urgency here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is comforting to know that our personal risk is now even lower than it has been.


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The Jab

Living in one of a few truly covid-free nations, Aotearoa New Zealand, there has been little urgency for most people to be vaccinated. Border, quarantine, health and essential service workers have already been vaccinated and others at high risk are currently in the process of being vaccinated. The general population will be able to get vaccinations from the end of July for those over sixty and then progressively through younger age bands. By the end of the year, everyone over the age of sixteen will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

Being in our seventies, the wife and I are considered “at risk” and yesterday I received an SMS message inviting me to book an appointment for the first of the two Pfizer shots. So now we have a confirmed appointment for the 10th of August, at 2:40 to be precise. Yes, it’s still around six weeks away, but like most Kiwis, we don’t have a sense of urgency about being vaccinated.

As to whether the lack of urgency is good or bad depends on one’s fear and/or restrictions on freedom. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where we don’t experience restrictions such as social distancing, wearing of masks (except on public transport) or limits on the size of social gatherings (recently, 50,000 fans attended a Six60 concert in Auckland, and tens of thousands regularly attend sports events), life has been more or less normal for more than a year. Yes we are still encouraged to scan QR codes wherever they are displayed and to enable Bluetooth on our mobile devices to enable fast and effective contact tracing if necessary.

My observation has been that significantly less than 25% of the public bother to scan the QR code that is by law required to be displayed at all premises and locations open to the public. I have no idea what percentage of those who don’t bother to scan have the covid app and Bluetooth enabled on their mobile devices, but I’d be more comfortable about the ability for any future covid outbreak to be contained if more people took the the time to scan, especially in light of new variants that are highly transmissible. It literally takes only a second of your time to scan a QR code if you’re prepared. So why not do it?

Perhaps too many people here are a little too complacent about the potential dangers and have forgotten the effects of the lockdown in March/April 2020. If it wasn’t for the frequent overseas covid related news reports such as new variants appearing in some parts of the world and the dire effects such as has occurred in India, I suspect any thought I have about the pandemic would quickly fade into oblivion. It’s something that affects other nations, not Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is true that the quarantine-free travel bubble between this country and the various Australian states can be a bit hit and miss at the moment as covid still pops up over there from time to time. A bit like whack-a-mole. It’s enough for me not to consider travelling to Australia for the time being. What I find hard to fathom is why so many Kiwis feel they’re hard done by when they cannot return home without being quarantined, whenever an outbreak occurs over the ditch. It’s been made abundantly clear that the quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia is conditional on each Australian state being covid free, and that there is no guarantee that the situation in Australia will remain the same throughout their stay there. Are they unable to understand the risks or are they wilfully ignoring them?


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Observations on COVID in Aotearoa New Zealand — Peter Davis NZ

Peter Davis casts a health sociologist’s eye on COVID in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s worth the read!

By dint of a dash of luck and a quantum of good management, the five-million strong island nation of Aoteaora New Zealand, wedged between the continents of Antarctica and Australia, has to date come through the COVID crisis largely unscathed. There have been 25 deaths – most in aged care residences – about 2,500 recorded […]

Observations on COVID in Aotearoa New Zealand — Peter Davis NZ