Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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A covid free (Kiwi) Christmas

We might not be able to join with overseas relatives this Christmas, but the authorities have put in place measures to ensure that Santa will be able to visit Aotearoa New Zealand. He will not need to quarantine for fourteen days as do other visitors. As the interview with the Prime Minister illustrates, this country has pulled out all the stops to make sure Santa’s delivery run is as safe and Covid free as possible. Not sure if the same is true in other jurisdictions…


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Feilding Friday

Sometimes, when reviewing world news, my life seems surreal. I see headlines such as US virus deaths top 2,800 in a single day for 1st time and Coronavirus claims 1.5 million lives globally with 10,000 dying each day I wonder if I’m on the same planet as the news gatherers.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are going about our lives as we have always done. Sure there’s an expectation that we scan a QR code whenever when enter a shop or where crowds are, but most most members of the public conveniently “forget” to do so. And if we travel by air, then there is a necessity to wear a face mask while onboard the aircraft, but otherwise we go about our business just like we did twelve months ago.

The pandemic has affected us indirectly. For example many supply chains that cross our borders are broken or under stress. Part of the cause is demand for many goods has increased dramatically as Kiwis abandon international travel in favour of retail therapy and home improvement projects. Part of the problem is due to this nation’s isolated location in the South Pacific, so it can take some time for supply to catch up with unexpected demand. The pandemic only exacerbates the situation as international freight services have been reduced and freight terminals are struggling to cope with demand. A large part of their workforce is typically made up of international visitors on working holidays. They are conspicuous by their absence since the Pandemic started and delays are now a fact of life.

A typical example is the Ports of Auckland, where arriving ships are queued up at anchor outside the harbour for eight to ten days before being able to berth. It can take even longer for containers, once offloaded, to be delivered to their destination and some containers currently piled up at the port won’t be delivered until after Christmas.

The stressed supply chain affects the wife and I mostly by the lack of Japanese food products available from the supermarket and specialty food shops. What’s available arrived in the country prior to the current crisis and no one knows when, or even if, new stock will arrive. Where we were previously able to procure difficult to find products directly from Japan, those suppliers now inform us they are unable to ship to New Zealand. Even Amazon won’t ship – we’ve tried.

But apart from those relatively minor irritations, life goes on as normal. One ritual we often perform is to visit the Friday Feilding Farmers’ Market for local, in season produce. This morning was no different:

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Summer officially started here on the 1st of December, but strong winds made being at the market somewhat unpleasant, not to mention the the need to avoid occasional flying signage. Don’t be alarmed at the lack of face masks and social distancing. Neither are necessary.

The strong winds are more of an inconvenience that the pandemic at the moment. Most of the wife’s evening entertainment is derived from free-to-air television. That provides sufficient choice for her needs. but on Tuesday evening, the wind brought down our UHF aerial. I’m now at the age where I roof climbing fits into the “not me” category, especially as the roof is pitched at 45 degrees and the ridge where the aerial is was mounted is a little over 9 metres (30 ft) from the ground.

The electrical company I called sent around two youngish electricians this afternoon, but they decided that due to the height and strong wind, discretion is the better part of valour. Neither were height certified (I didn’t know such a thing existed) and the work would necessitate the use of safety harnesses. I’m beginning to understand why multistorey homes cost much, much more to maintain than the typical NZ single floor home. So we need to wait on the availability of their only height certified tradesman, which apparently won’t be until the middle of next week. I hope the wife survives.


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101 days and counting

We all know that it can’t last forever.

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

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

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

Face masks

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

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

Elimination versus suppression

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

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

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

Complacency – I’m guilty

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

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

Trump’s alternate reality

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

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

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

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

If When the worst happens

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

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


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Unemployment down during COVID-19 pandemic

Kia ora!

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

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

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

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

Underutilisation is defined as all those unemployed and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Draconian measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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And on the fourth week…

Kia ora e hoa

It’s getting difficult to remember when it was “normal” around here. I’m not referring to COVID-19. That returned to normal many weeks ago. In fact lockdown and its precautions are definitely a fading memory

No, the normal I’m referring to is the one we had prior to the commencement of bathroom renovations. Today marks the start of the fourth week of a major makeover of the upper floor toilet and bathroom including expansion into the roof cavity and the installation of a skylight, converting part of the roof cavity into a walk in wardrobe for the adjacent bedroom, the installation of a solar light tube to brighten up a dark corner of the dining room, the removal of two woodburners at opposite ends of the main floor that are too expensive to run and maintain, and the renovation of the toilet on the main floor.

Apart from weekends, the place has been a hive of activity with chippies, sparkies, plumbers and others constantly traversing between the basement garage and the upper floor via the main floor. Part of the basement has been taken over by storage of bathroom fixtures and part as a temporary workshop where larger equipment such as circular saws, framing jigs and whatnot have been set up. This way, most work can be carried out regardless of the weather.

The problem with this arrangement is that the garage doors and every door between the garage and the bathroom seem to be open more often than not. To make matters worse, for much of the last three weeks, the renovation area has been open to the uninsulated roof space. It’s the middle of winter here, and the stairwell extending over the three floors has been acting as a funnel drawing all the heat generated on the main floor up to the top floor and out into the roof space. In the process it draws cold air from the basement and distributes it across the main floor.

The airflow from basement to roof space has been exacerbated over the past ten days by strong easterly winds that rush through the open garage doors and create a hurricane-like gale up the stairwell. I’ve taken to switching off the heatpump when the first of the workers arrives at around 7:30 in the morning and not turning it back on until the last of them leaves when it starts to get dark at around 5:00 as its heat output, even on maximum is miniscule compared to the draught up the stairwell. Effectively, all the heat generated was being transferred outside. Let’s just say it’s been decidedly chilly over the last few weeks.

Thankfully the builders have almost finished their work on the upper floor bathroom/toilet renovation – The only major task remaining is the installation of the skylight. Weather permitting, that should all be done by tommorrow. After that, it should be much quieter for a while as the plumbers, sparkies, floorers and such finish off their work.

It never occurred to me to take some “before” photos of the project, so although I have captured a few at major milestones since, you’re all spared a series of photo blogs of “work in progress”. I’ve also realised that the phone camera is not up to the task of recording the work. Bathrooms are relatively small and unless the camera has a wide angle mode, which mine doesn’t, it’s not possible to capture more than a small section of wall/floor/ceiling at a time. I suppose it might be possible to use panorama mode to create a better field of view, but it’s not something I’ve experimented with. Perhaps a video clip that pans around the room might be another option.

My home office is almost directly below the upper floor bathroom and at this point in time the noise is becoming decidedly unpleasant. I’m not sure what they’re doing, but the sound that is emanating from above reminds me very much of a dentist’s drill. So I think it’s time to withdraw and find a quite corner in which to hole up. So for now, ka kite anō.