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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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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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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Photovoltaic generation and more

PV generation

Since the 7th of May, our household has been generating some of its own electricity. Given that it’s only another three weeks until the shortest day of the year arrives, we’re achieving better savings than I expected. We have an all electric home (no gas, oil, coal, or wood), so we do consume quite a lot of electricity – 818.8 kW/h in 25 days of May to be precise. We generated 40% of that ourselves from 23 PV panels mounted on the roof.

In the highly deregulated electricity market of Aotearoa New Zealand, there is a considerable difference between the price supply companies sell electricity to consumers and the price they will buy back surplus home generation. Their sell price is typically around four times their buy price. The price differential made it tempting to install storage batteries so that we could call on surplus power when generation was low. But after discussing that option with several installers, we concluded the the return on investment was longer that the estimated life of the current generation of batteries.

Instead, we have installed an “intelligent” inverter that diverts any surplus electricity into the hot water storage system. Instead of maintaining a constant 55°C (131°F) the water is allowed to fluctuate between 40°C (104°F) and 78°C (172°F). Only after the water has reached its maximum temperature does the inverter allow electricity to be exported to the grid. Don’t worry, a regulator ensures that the maximum temperature at the tap (faucet) is no more than 55°C. In effect we’re using the hot water system as a sort of battery. We haven’t needed to use grid electricity to heat the water since the solar power was switched on. Even so that has been a few days where we have exported small quantities of electricity. I expect that in summer we’ll be exporting considerable amounts during the day, and as the heat pump will be switched off, our nighttime use should be minimal.

Covid alternatives to travel

For the most part we Kiwis have been largely unaffected by Covid-19 with the exception of international travel. In our case, it meant the cancellation of an extended holiday in Japan. We’ve concluded that at our age, it’s unlikely that we will feel the urge to undertake the journey once the dangers of the pandemic have passed. Instead we put the funds intended for travel towards solar power. Of course it’s not just a case of having the panels installed. The house, and especially the roof was in need of a repaint, so it made sense to paint the house before the solar panels were installed.

But if we’re going to paint the house, there’s a matter of some repairs that have been on the backburner for a while. The front door for example. Aging had caused fine cracks to develop in some of the wooden panels allowing daylight to be seen through them, not to mention a draft in windy weather. And if the door is to be replaced, why not replace the horrible single-glazed yellow sidelight with something that allows more light into the entrance lobby while reducing heat loss?

To cut a short story shorter, we had a new thermally isolated door and sidelight assembly custom made. The door has a digital lock so that’s one less key I have to worry about. The installers took only two hours to remove the old door and sidelight and install the new assembly. The transformation is quite amazing! Some of the recent changes can be seen in the images below.

The front door – before and after

The front (2 images) and rear (1 image) of the house before the repaint. The rear view clearly shows to state of the roof.

The final result with PV panels installed – 10 on the east facing front, and 13 on the rear facing west. The original paint scheme consisted of eight colours, the new has just four.


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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:

IMG_20201204_093117
IMG_20201204_092530

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.