Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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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Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – No man is an island; HIV/Aids epidemic lessons we can learn from — Peter Davis NZ

The following article Looks specifically at two recent (as in my lifetime) infectious disease outbreaks in Aotearoa New Zealand and what we have learnt and still need to learn and perhaps more specifically what we should do in light of such discoveries. As is often the case, marginalised communities are mostly invisible to the majority, even when they are the most impacted by epidemics such as Covid. HIV/Aids and the 1918 Flu.

The Delta variant of Covid reveals features of NZ society we prefer to keep hidden but perhaps the pandemic provides us with an opportunity to learn more about those features and what we can do to make society more equitable. Although Peter Davis discusses the situation as it specifically applies to Aotearoa New Zealand, I suspect similar opportunities exist in most parts of the world.

Perhaps the only terms that may need clarifying for those outside New Zealand is the term DHB (District Health Board). At an administrative level, NZ is divided into 20 health districts each administered by a board partly made up of elected representatives and partly by appointments from central government. Bulk funding for each board is provided by central government and each board determines how those funds should be spent. As Peter points out, only 5% of the expenditure of the Auckland DHB goes to primary health care and a paltry 0.15% goes to public health. Surely this is where we must in the first instance revise our priorities.

Published in The New Zealand Herald, 10th October 2021

Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – No man is an island; HIV/Aids epidemic lessons we can learn from — 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.


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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.


5 Comments

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.