Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Vaccine resistance.

No, I’m not referring to the ability of pathogens to become resistant to vaccines. Rather, I’m referring to those people who are resistant or hesitant about being vaccinated – particularly regarding covid. Many who understand the wisdom/necessity of taking precautions to limit the spread and harmful outcomes of the current pandemic, take a dim view of those who hold a different view. In fact some comments by otherwise intelligent people indicates that they have little to no sympathy for the unvaxxed, even wishing the unvaxxed succumb to covid as such fools don’t deserve a place in society.

While I have at times felt frustration towards those who fail to understand the benefits of health measures such as vaccinations, masks and social distancing, I do understand that how people think about various aspects of their lives are not usually based on willful ignorance. There’s usually many aspects of one’s background and experience that goes into how we develop the perspectives and attitudes we hold. An obvious example is how I, and most autistics, perceive and think of autism compared to those who are not autistic.

When it comes to resistance and hesitance towards vaccinations, there does appear to be more at play than stupidity. The University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study – an ongoing longitudinal study of children born in the city of Dunedin in 1971-1972 indicates that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are the most solid indicator of whether or not one is likely to be resistant or hesitant to vaccination.

At the extreme end they may have been sexually abused, been exposed to extreme violence, or psychological abuse. Others have been neglected, grown up in chaotic environments, left on their own or isolated in school. The study, now 50 years in the making, has shown that victims of ACE end up being slow learners at school, and by their early teens have concluded that their health outcomes are not under their own control.

By their late teens, it is apparent that they dropped out of education early, and have a below average reading ability. They are also suspicious of the motive of others, and tend to misunderstand information when under stress. By the age of 45 they are likely to have a lower socioeconomic status, be less verbally adept, be slow information processors, and have less practical health knowledge.

What perhaps is significant is that victims of ACE see themselves as nonconformists who value personal freedoms over social norms, whose distrust of authority figures runs high. And herein lies a problem. Measures to counter the pandemic, be they mandates or advisories are viewed with suspicion. The time for reasonable dialogue is long gone – by 30 or more years. When study participants were 15 years old, they were asked to complete a checklist of “things you want to know more about if you are going to be a parent”. 73% checked immunisation. That was when the discussion should have taken place.

Let me quote from the findings of the longitudinal study regarding vaccine resistance and hesitancy:

Today‘s Vaccine Hesitant and Resistant individuals are stuck in an uncertain situation where fast-incoming and complex information about vaccines generates extreme negative emotional reactions (and where pro-vaccination messaging must vie against anti-vaccination messaging that amplifies extreme emotions). Unfortunately, these individuals appear to have diminished capacity to process the information on their own. The results here suggest that, to prepare for future pandemics, education about viruses and vaccines before or during secondary schooling could reduce citizens‘ level of uncertainty in a future pandemic, prevent ensuing extreme emotional distress reactions, and provide people with a pre-existing knowledge framework and positive attitudes that enhance receptivity to future health messaging. Moreover, many of the factors in the backgrounds of Vaccine-Hesitant and -Resistant Dunedin participants are factors that could be tackled to improve population health in general, such as childhood adversity, low reading levels, mental health, and health knowledge.

Deep-seated psychological histories of COVID-19 vaccine hesitance and resistance (unedited version) – Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ

As always, the Dunedin longitudinal study provides a unique insight into significant aspects of a cohort of individuals born in 1971 & 1972, and the findings pose as many, if not more questions than they answer. With regards to handling future pandemics (and there will be future pandemics), this particular survey points to what needs to be done. What it can’t do is provide leads into how it might be done. Any suggestions?

Sources for this blog post:
Deep-seated psychological histories of COVID-19 vaccine hesitance and resistance (.pdf file)
Covid-19: Vaccine resistance’s roots in negative childhood experiences (RNZ)
Dunedin Study sheds light on New Zealand’s successful vaccination rates (Otago University news)


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A personal response to the occupation of Parliament grounds

Yesterday Aotearoa saw a level of violence between protesters and police we haven’t seen for forty years. That was in 1981 during the South African Springbok rugby tour of this nation. The government of the day refused to ban the tour on the grounds that governments should not interfere in sporting events. Also many at that time had convinced themselves that by continuing sporting contacts with South Africa, that nation would see how a multicultural society can function and so abandon Apartheid. My father was of this opinion and I admit as an idealistic teen in the 1960s I was hopeful that by maintaining sporting and cultural links with South Africa, they would learn from our example. By the mid 1970s I had come to the conclusion that Apartheid ideology had so closed the minds of the South African authorities that reason, persuasion and showing by example would not work.

Riot squads were created for the specific purpose of ensuring the rugby tour went ahead. They were confronted by thousands of anti Apartheid protesters who were determined to prevent matches from being played. There was violence on both sides but the public perceived the police as being brutal and the worst offenders. It shook the public’s confidence in the police to act reasonably, with restraint and with respect. It took decades for that confidence to be restored and I believe within some communities, confidence is still tentative at best.

For the past three weeks there has been an occupation of Parliament grounds. Protests on Parliament ground are an established part of our political system. But this was different. The protesters chose to occupy the grounds instead. Encouraged by the protests in Canada, they blocked the roads in the vicinity of Parliament and the Beehive – the building that houses the executive branch of government.

However it was more than a protest. Elements hurled abuse at passersby wearing face masks. Even children on the way to and from school were verbally abused. Faeces was thrown at police. The original core were mostly those objecting to covid mandates especially those related to some sectors of the workforce where the mandates effectively mean “no jab, no job”. In an interview, one protester described his situation as grim. He had lost his job, and was about to lose his home, and all he wanted to was to return to the work he loved. When asked what that was, he informed the interviewer in all sincerity that he was a caregiver looking after the disabled and elderly, but he didn’t want to be vaccinated. It seemed he genuinely did not understand the harm he could cause to those he cared for.

The original protesters were soon joined by anti vaxxers, covid hoax believers, QAnon believers, 1080 objectors (a topic for another day), 5G protestors and more. Before the end of the first week, there, were up to 3000 people occupying Parliament grounds and some of those present were openly hostile calling for extremes such as the arrest and trial by “people’s courts” of politicians of all persuasions, leading health professionals and advisers, and senior government officials and administrators. Some called for the military to take over – a coup.

For the police the occupation was a case of damned if we do, damned of we don’t. The right to protest is an integral part of our system and had the police moved in early, there would have been public disapproval, even though the occupation was illegal. Confidence and trust in the police is an essential component in their ability to carry out their role. Also, as the police commissioner has noted, if they had moved in to remove the occupation in the first few days, the response from the three thousand occupiers could have been very nasty, and the public would more than likely have been highly critical of the police action. From the perspective of the police, they had to balance the harm that was being caused by the illegal occupation against the harm that could occur if the occupation turned into a crowd of 3000 rioters rampaging within metres of the seat of government. There are no fences or other barriers to prevent or limit access to Parliament building or the Beehive. Had a riot occurred and government buildings breached, we would have been looking at a situation not dissimilar to that in the US on 6 January 2021.

Instead, the police waited while sworn staff from across the country were being deployed to Wellington. There are less than 9000 police officers across the entire country, and there’s certainly not enough within the Wellington region to control an unruly mob of 3000 bent on harm and destruction. The last thing the police wanted was to prod an angry bear while they were unprepared for its response. They were also concerned for the wellbeing of the many children the occupiers had with them.

By yesterday, the occupation had dwindled to a core of several hundred, and that’s when the police moved in. Even so, the response by that hard core sector was quite shocking to most Kiwis as the events streamed live into offices and living rooms. For a few hours, Ukraine was forgotten. We’ve witnessed many riots over the decades, but only from a distance. Not within our own borders. Not for more than forty years.

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, acknowledges the pain felt by many during the pandemic is real and many have fallen for misinformation and disinformation to such an extent, that not only is their belief strongly held, many are willing to act on it. As she pointed out, much of the false information comes by the way of social media. People are less trusting of authority world wide and countering it through traditional channels such as main stream media is less than fruitful. The disaffected have come to view such platforms as being complicit in causes they are fighting against.

Perhaps misinformation and disinformation are now the greatest threat to democracy and freedom. As it grows, the willingness of individuals and groups to act on strongly held but false beliefs will increase. Censorship or curbing platforms of expression is draconian, limits our freedom of expression and will ultimately fail. Suppressing protests and demonstrations is undemocratic and undermines our right to publicly disagree with authority. Placing those perceived as troublemakers under close surveillance reeks of a police state and makes us all fearful of possibly being spied upon.

I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps there’s none. Perhaps the very freedoms enjoyed by liberal democracies will be the instrument of their own destruction. Perhaps, but for now I prefer to believe that social dissatisfaction is caused through an ever widening gap between those with power and those without, the haves and the have nots, the educated and the uneducated. These we mostly have solutions for. What we now need is the willingness to put those solutions into action.

The Youtube video below depicting the ending of the occupation of Parliament grounds may seem tame by international standards, but for many, perhaps most Kiwis, it has been very distressing. On a brighter note, in less than 24 hours, more than 5000 volunteers have signed up to help clean up and restore Parliament grounds to their original condition.

The ending of the occupation of Parliament grounds captured by a Stuff reporter.


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The Beehive and tinfoil hats

Well, since the 1940s it’s actually aluminium foil (or aluminum if you’re from North America), but it’s still referred to as tinfoil here. And for those who are unfamiliar the our political system, the Beehive refers to the building that houses the executive wing of government. It’s named so because, well, its architecture has a more than passing resemblance of a beehive and there’s a lot of buzzing and scurrying around going on inside.

So what, you may ask, is the connection between the beehive and tinfoil hats? Well, according to some of the protesters camping out on the lawns in front of the Parliament, everything. The protesters, now into their third week of occupying the lawns and blocking surrounding streets with all manner of vehicles are a motley lot consisting of covid deniers, anti vaxxers, anti maskers, anti covid mandates, opponents of 5G technology, 1080 opponents, QAnon theorists, and more. There’s even some who want the military to depose the government and ban all politicians irrespective of political party affiliation from ever being a part of any government in the future.

As you can imagine, after two weeks, with no running water and no proper sanitation, there’s a high risk of diseases such as dysentery breaking out, and indeed it has. Some protesters are suffering from nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, blisters and “flu-like symptoms” which the protesters deny is covid. To quote one protester, “Only a fool would take a covid test”. Instead they put it all down to high powered EMF radiation being beamed at them from the Beehive. They’re “protecting” themselves with tinfoil hats, foil thermal blankets, and “holistic natural remedies”. I kid you not.

While they may have loony ideas, I’m not convinced that they necessarily have mental health issues. Most, but not all, of the protesters appear to be from the lower socioeconomic rungs of society and lacking in the skills necessary to think critically. And while it’s easy to scoff at their beliefs, I think it’s reasonable to to hold the view that there but for fortune go you or I.

Joan Baez – There But For Fortune. Music & lyrics by Phil Ochs

More challenging is how we can assist them and even more importantly how to assist their offspring learn the skills necessary to be able to think critically. Education helps, but even in this nation that had been (note the past tense) the most egalitarian of nations for over a hundred years, education benefits the affluent and privileged much more than the poor and disadvantaged. We shouldn’t write them off, but does anyone know what could be done to make a difference?


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The virus antidote: political leadership, progressive government, public services — Peter Davis NZ

I will let Peter Davis’ article speak for itself. There’s nothing more I need add.

Published in Social Europe, 21st. December 2021.

The virus antidote: political leadership, progressive government, public services — Peter Davis NZ


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Not so easy

Knowing that vaccination status certificates (vaccine passports) will be needed in little over a week, if I wanted to continue with the freedoms I currently enjoy, I decided that it was time to obtain mine. The exercise proved to be surprising frustrating, even more so when helping The Wife get hers. Here’s my experience. I wonder how many others will simply give up.

First question: where do I apply for the passport? The fact that they are available is one thing, knowing where to get it is another. The logical thing to do is google for it, so I typed get covid vaccination certificate into my browser, and lo and behold there were multiple links – news items about the certificates and instruction on how to obtain proof of vaccinations – for Australian, UK and US residents. Pertinent links for NZ residents were limited to news items only, none of which included the necessary link.

Some of the NZ related articles mentioned the term My Covid Record so I typed that into the browser. Yep, the first link listed was to My Covid Record | Ministry of Health NZ. Success. Following that link takes you to a page where you can log into, or sign up for, a My Health Account from where you can request your My Vaccine Pass (hereafter abbreviated to MVP) for use within Aotearoa or your International Travel Vaccination Certificate for use outside our borders.

At the top of the webpage an ominous message:

We’re experiencing a higher volume of traffic than usual. If you experience problems accessing My Covid Record, try again later.

Thankfully this didn’t prove to be too much of a problem, although some pages took a little while to load.

Question: do I already have a My Health account? I have a Manage My Health account where I can access my medical records, make medical appointments, renew prescriptions etc. I wonder it they’re the same? Nope. Click the Sign up link:

Click continue:

RealMe is an identity that can be linked to many central, regional and local government/authority websites. I’m reluctant to use it for all as the consequences resulting from RealMe being compromised are too horrible to contemplate. I use it for one government department only. Not everyone has a RealMe account, especially older folk including The Wife. The process of obtaining one is lengthy due to the need to prove your identity. I chose to sign up with email as the wife would need to use that option.

Ok. I see a problem: Many of our friends share a common email address between spouses/partners, usually one that is provided by their ISP. I appreciate those from a younger generation will probably have multiple email accounts, but it’s less likely for Baby Boomers. Sure most will have a mobile phone, and if it’s Android powered, probably have a gmail address associated with it, but the odds are they never use that address and don’t check their mail on their phone. Instead they’ll use their desktop or laptop machine for email and probably most internet activities. I’ll return to email addresses when it comes to installing the MVP onto the phone.

The wife and I have our own email addresses – I have many: several hosted on my own mail servers, several with Gmail, one with Outlook.com and a few others scattered around various providers that are kept only for historical reasons. It was the this point that we made the the first “tactical” mistake. We chose to use our personal (not Gmail) addresses, and I suspect this might be a hurdle some folk will be unable to jump over.

For folk who share an email address, it will be necessary for one of them to obtain a new address before they can progress further as the email address is the logon ID.

After entering an email address and clicking Send verification, a six digit code is sent to that address. Problem number two: The Spam filtering system I employ on my mail servers includes the ability to hold mail from specified geographical locations in quarantine for a specified period of time and rescan them before being released. This allows the system to detect new Spam patterns in real time between the original scan and the second scan. A number of ISPs do the same.

The greatest source of Spam on my servers is the good ol’ USA and mail from there is delayed 30 minutes before being re-scanned and delivered if still clean. Guess where the Health department sends its confirmation messages from. Yep, the USA. No, I don’t know why. I’m familiar with releasing email from quarantine before the 2nd scan, but I wonder If other people are. The Wife isn’t. When the email finally arrives, it warns you that the validation code must be entered within the next 20 minutes.

What it fails to do is inform you that the countdown started from the moment you clicked the Send verification link, not from when you received the email – another hurdle many people will be unable to jump over. How many folk are going to wonder why the validation code they were sent doesn’t work and after many attempts give up in frustration? This would have been an issue for The Wife, but fortunately I was there to help her out.

With the validation code accepted, we were each able to sign up for an account using our driver’s licence. Other options were passport, recent birth certificate or citizenship certificate. Once we were logged in, the system automatically linked us to our respective NHI (National Health ID) and verified that we have had two Pfizer shots. So far so good. At this point we were given the opportunity to have the MVP emailed to us.

Another hurdle in the making. I was cautious about how this might work, so we decided to experiment with mine before attempting The Wife’s. The web page had prefilled the email address with the one I had used during the validation process, so I simply used that.

The My Vaccine Pass received via email

The resulting email included a PDF attachment that can be printed out, and the body of the email includes links that can be used to install the MVP on your phone. We both have Android phones so I do not know what the experience is like for users of Apple Wallet. Here’s how we fared.

The Android link adds the MVP to Google Pay, and of course cannot be installed from a Windows or Linux machine. It means that the link must be transferred to the phone. In my case that was simple as I get my email on both all my devices. So I opened the email on the phone and installed from there. It installed successfully with just a couple of clicks and offered to place an app button on the phone home page, which I accepted. Job done on my phone. Now for The Wife’s

The wife had not set up her phone to receive mail from her personal account, and as far as she was concerned that was the only email account she had. I could have added the email account to her phone, but she had forgotten the mail account password. Not to be deterred, I reasoned she must have created a Gmail account when she first set up her phone. Yep, the Gmail account listed hundreds of emails, all unread.

So returning to her desktop computer I entered her Gmail address for receiving the message with PDF and installation links. Sure enough, within seconds, the email arrived (I had whitelisted the Ministry of Health email address so that it wouldn’t be delayed in quarantine), and confidently knowing the job was almost done clicked the Google Pay link. After agreeing to install the MVP I expected it to be plain sailing. WRONG!

I was advised that the MVP could not be installed until the software was updated. It didn’t say what software, so I assumed it meant the Android operating system. Nope that was up to date. So I tried installing the MVP again. Same result. Time to consult the oracle known as Google. No information forthcoming, so I consulted the lesser oracle known as Bing, with the same result. Duckduckgo, Ecosia, Yahoo! and Yandex weren’t any more enlightening. Nor was a hunt through the Ministry of Health Website.

Finally it hit me. Perhap Google Pay wasn’t installed on The Wife’s phone. Into Google Play and a search for Google Pay revealed that indeed it was not installed. Problem solved I thought (incorrectly) and proceeded to install the app. Once more I tried to instal the MVP only to have a request to confirm installation via fingerprint ID. If The Wife had set up fingerprint ID, she couldn’t remember, and even after trying every finger on both hands we were no further ahead.

At the first fingerprint ID failure there’s an option to use the screen lock PIN instead, so I suggested she try that. She did and after a few seconds…

The fingerprint prompt returned! After repeating the same process several times, she was ready to give up. I persuaded her that she should set up fingerprint ID.

It appears she had set it up originally but however she did it, it was no longer recognised. The Wife has very small hands and her phone is large – a 6.5 inch screen and she attempted to set the fingerprint ID with the index finger of the right hand while holding the phone in her left.

That was never going to work, but with a considerable amount of coaching from me, we managed to find a way for her to hold the phone in one hand allowing the index finger to make contact with the touchpad on the rear of the phone. Finally she was able to create a fingerprint ID that actually worked reliably.

Back to installing the MVP. This time she sailed through the fingerprint ID and finally reached the point where she was offered the option to install the app on the Home page, which she accepted. Except it didn’t appear on the Home page. Nor was it listed in the App drawer. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. She did, with the same result. No sign of the MVP anywhere.

Finally, in frustration, she handed the phone to me to “fix”. To cut an even longer story slightly shorter, it turned out her Home page consisted of eight horizontally scrolling screens, most of which were empty. The eighth page contained the MVP. Finally, after moving it to the default Home Page screen and removing the unused screens, The Wife is ready for 2 December!

The Wife’s computer skills are about average for a Baby Boomer, perhaps a little better than average. On her desktop machine she’s regularly on Facebook, and Pinterest. Her browser typically has ten or more tabs open at any time, most of our purchases are done online by her, and she’s likely to have a number of applications open besides the web browser and email client.

She’s less comfortable with the phone. At our age the small screen and font aren’t kind on the eyes, and fingers seem to be too big for the virtual keyboard, making it less than enjoyable. For The Wife, it’s main use is for scanning Covid QR codes at places of business via the Covid Tracer App, for video chatting with family via WhatsApp, and for use in case of emergencies.

She could not have installed MVP without my help, and I have absolutely no doubt that she’s not an exception. Given that amongst her friends, she’s viewed as someone “knowledgeable with computers”, there’s a great many people in the same situation.

Most people already have the Covid Tracer App installed on their phone. I thought it would have been logical to update that app to include the MVP. That app already records the NHI ID , although that’s optional. It would avoid the need to open two apps every time we enter a place of business. I do wonder how much consumer testing is done before this type of app is released to the public. My guess is that if there is any testing, it does not include Baby Boomers or older. Although our demographic isn’t quite as large as it one was, we nonetheless are still a significant proportion of the population.


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From elimination to protection

As many people are aware, Aotearoa has fared better than most countries in containing covid. We successfully maintained an elimination strategy while maintaining more freedoms than elsewhere in the OECD until the arrival of the Delta variant in August. While every infection still goes through isolation and contact tracing the numbers of infections continue to grow – now reaching (for NZ) the dizzying heights of 200 new infections per day, mostly within the Auckland region.

Some time ago the government announced the plans for moving from the elimination strategy to a “protection framework”. Personally I would have been happy for the elimination strategy to have continued until 90% – 95% of the population is vaccinated, and outside of Auckland that would probably have been practical. But as the city of Auckland is our gateway to the world, cases are always going to pop up there.

Currently there is a “border” between Auckland and the rest of the country and while it is effective in reducing personal travel in and out of the city, by its very nature it must be porous if commerce is to continue. Besides, with Aucklanders being in a Level 3 Lockdown while the rest of the country is relatively free at Level 2 (no lockdown, but masks and social distancing, limits on size of gatherings), the level of frustration, particularly in Auckland, has begun to grow.

The new COVID-19 Protection Framework is the government’s plan to provide a pathway out of lockdown. It’s taken a very long time for the plan to be publicly announced (too long in my view), although we all knew it was coming. Not only does the legal framework have to be set in place, and with the lengthy consultation processes that typically take place in this nation, that takes some time, but the logistics of putting it in place must be a nightmare as it will affect every sector of society.

For anyone interested in knowing how the protection framework (also referred to as the traffic light system as it uses codes of green, orange and red) will work, there’s a PDF chart and an easy read PDF version (43 pages!) available. It means that for those who are fully vaccinated, movement and gatherings will be mostly unrestricted. Others will find life more restrictive. Businesses will have to choose whether to accept everyone and live with regulations mandating social distancing, the number of customers and the types of services they can perform, or choose to accept only vaccinated customers, in which case it’s mostly “business as usual” – usual as it’s been for most of Aotearoa for the last nineteen months.

To quote the government covid-19 website:

Elimination and the alert levels have served New Zealand well. They delivered the lowest number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths in the OECD, gave us sustained periods of days without restrictions and a strong economy that sees GDP rising and unemployment falling to historic low levels. But it was never intended as a forever strategy.

We now have the unique advantage of moving to the next phase of managing COVID-19 in our community with a highly vaccinated population.

The COVID-19 Protection Framework brings us a world where we are freer to move and live with less disruption and offers the stability businesses need to plan for the future. It introduces a new traffic light system to manage COVID-19 in the community:

Green
Orange
Red

The framework is more flexible than the current Alert Level system because we know that businesses that only open to vaccinated customers pose a lower risk. We can move up levels when needed to control an outbreak.

The COVID-19 Protection Framework (23 November 2021)

Of course this framework requires the use of vaccination certificates or “passports”. On 17 November, the My Vaccine Pass website was opened to the public, where we could apply for the passport. The “traffic light system” starts operating from 2 December 2021. I left applying until today in order to avoid the rush and the inevitable bugs that slow down process, or worse, not being able to complete the process at all.

I’m a reasonably competent computer user, using it every day as part of my part-time, semi-retired business hosting and managing web servers and mail servers for a limited number of clients. And having been a I.T. engineer for most of my working life until ill health forced an early retirement 22 years ago, I suspect my skills are well above average. But today, when faced with installing the vaccination passports on my phone and the wife’s, I struggled. I wonder how those less familiar with the wonders of modern technology are going to fare. I suspect a great many people who qualify will not be ready by the starting date. My experience installing the “passports” will be the topic for another post.


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‘The pandemic is revealing our societal vulnerabilities’ — Peter Davis NZ

I have reblogged an almost identical post from Peter a short while back, but in light of the progress of the Delta variant of Covid-19 over recent months, I believe it’s well worth repeating.

Published in Everyday Society, a publication of The British Sociological Association, 15th Nov 2021

‘The pandemic is revealing our societal vulnerabilities’ — Peter Davis NZ


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Masks and communications

While most of my readers have been living under various forms of covid-19 restrictions for upwards of eighteen months, for us Kiwis in Aotearoa New Zealand, and especially outside of Auckland it is a novel experience. Social distancing and masks have not been everyday parts of our lives until around 2 months ago when the delta variant finally succeeded in breaching our border security measures and is proving impossible to eradicate, unlike previous variants.

Mask wearing is now mandatory for people aged 12 and over when taking public transport or visiting businesses, and recommended when away from one’s home or “social bubble”. Personally, apart from yet being unable to find a means to avoid the fogging of my glasses, I find my stress level definitely rises to the point where it can’t be ignored after about 30 minutes of continuous mask wearing, and I need to remove it, even if only for a minute, to restore myself to something resembling normalcy. I can usually achieve that by retiring to the car or finding an out of the way park seat or equivalent where the mask can be briefly removed in safety.

However, that’s not the most serious downside to mask wearing. I have always had impaired hearing. I was diagnosed as having 70%-90% hearing loss when I was around 7 or 8. Normally I can get by reasonably well, and when a word or two can’t be clearly recognised, I can usually deduce it by context. It’s only just in the past week that it has really dawned on me how reliant I am on lip reading as an essential component of my ability to understand the spoken word.

I’ve recently had several occasions where it has been necessary to converse with a shop assistant while making a purchase. In one case it was a quiet environment but I was unable to recognise even half the words spoken by the assistant. Often I was unable to understand even the gist of what he said. By the end of the transaction I suspect he was just as frustrated as I was about the slow progress of our conversation. I found the entire process embarrassing and somewhat humiliating.

Later in the week, I visited a somewhat noiser shop where I had gone to pick up some items I had bought and paid for online. Sure I could have had them delivered, but the delivery would have cost more than the products. I’m not a penny pincher, but we do have a fixed and somewhat limited budget to live on. In theory I should have been in and out of the shop inside of a minute, but it was not to be. It didn’t help that the online instructions for collecting online purchases were incorrect for the local branch. In fact it may have been less confusing if there had been no instructions at all.

After waiting at the counter under a sign reading “Collect online purchases here” and seemingly being ignored, I sought out a shop assistant and explained why I was there. To cut a long story short, it took over half an hour to collect my purchase and only then because I finally resorted to seeking yes or no replies or asking them to point or make a specific gesture order for them to communicate with me. At no time did it occur to them to initiate non-spoken communication. I found I had to give specific instructions. Even when I discovered that where I was waiting for my pickup is no longer applicable, and then asking where I should go, no one thought to point in the appropriate direction until I specifically asked them to point with their arm/hand/finger in which direction I should go.

I’m not sure what sort of privileged lives the young people working in that shop have “endured”, but it was apparent to me that they wouldn’t understand the irony of directing a wheelchair bound person to take the stairs to a different floor or instructing a blind person to read a sign painted on the wall. I would have thought that people with disabilities are encountered often enough that most non-disabled folk would have some level of understanding or empathy. Apparently not.

Come to think of it, while I don’t consider being autistic as being disabled, some of the hyposensitivities and hypersensitivities that result from being autistic can be made disabling by a lack of empathy, and sometimes by antagonism in the 99% of the population who are neurotypical. So in hindsight I really shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of understanding or empathy I have received over the past week or so due to no longer being able to augment spoken conversation by lip reading.

Perhaps I am on more common ground with neurotypicals when it come to reading facial expressions of those who are masked. I’ve heard and read many complaints about how much more likely it is to misunderstand someone or be misunderstood when masks cover so much of the face. I’ve queried a few acquaintances about this, and they tell me that it does reduce the amount of non-verbal communication they receive. The amount of perceived loss seems to vary considerably. When pressed, it’s varied from “some” to “heaps” (a lot).

Most people don’t think about how much body language and facial expressions contribute to spoken communication until it’s brought to their attention or they find it missing from others or they realise their own intentions are not always fully understood. The necessity to wear masks is bringing the significance of non-verbal forms of communication to the attention of some of the more socially aware folk.

My own (admittedly very anecdotal) investigation suggests that people rely on the eyes as much, if not more, than other facial expressions. So while a mask can reduce the amount of non-verbal information received, it doesn’t eliminate it. If anyone has tried the Mind in the eye test, they will realise how much most people can read from looking at the eyes alone. So spare a moment to consider the situation I now find myself in.

I do very poorly when reading facial expressions. I can recognise a few basic facial expressions, but if I rely solely on the eyes I’m lost. The average for adults taking the Mind in the eye test is 26 out of a possible score of 36, but varies from 17 to 35. Women average slightly higher than men. For autistics, the average is 22. I’ve tried the test many times, and the best I have ever done is 17 out of the possible score of 36. Typically I hover around the score that might result from random selection – a one in four chance of getting the correct answer for any given question – 9 out of 36. In other words, I haven’t a clue how to read eyes.

It is becoming clear to me that what emotions I can read from the face depend almost entirely on the mouth and now that they are effectively hidden behind masks, I am blind to emotions being expressed unless someone describes their emotion(s) in words. I’m really not sure how I can effectively remedy the the losses I now realise I am faced with, as I don’t see the likelihood of masks being done away with for some considerable time, if at all.

I’ve spent seventy years learning how to limit social faux pas, and more importantly, how to recognise them when they occur so that I can take remedial action. I can foresee that mask wearing will set me back decades. Perhaps it’s time I seriously thought about becoming a hermit as a full time occupation.


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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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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.