Monday 20 April 2020

Sunday musings

I want to talk about the following graph which is doing the rounds on Facebook and is discussed in the article below.  It is all a way of patting ourselves on the back and telling us what a good job the government is doing.

But what is the reality?
These are not proportionate but absolute numbers. Are we comparing apples with apples, or apples compared to oranges.

The population of New Zealand is approximately 4.5 million and the population of the United States is 350 million.  According to my declining arithmetic skills if we calculated the number of cases in New Zealand accoriding to population it would mean that NZ has had a whopping 80,000 to 100,000 cases.

That does NOT, in my mind equate to a huge success by the NZ government. We are a very small country with a small population.

Perhaps they should have added the figures for Tonga and said they are doing better than we are.

If we were to make a comparison it should be with Ireland (that has a population of 4.9 million) with nearly 18,000 cases.

You cannot deny that the government has brought the numbers of cases back in a way that I did not foresee.

However, it did not need to be this way in the first place. We are a couple of islands at the bottom of the Pacific and if we had taken timely action by shutting off our borders back in February (the only way in is by plane or ship) so it should have been easy to avoid the explosion of cases we have seen in Europe and the United States.

But instead of taking strong action the government took the course of least resistance by listening to the Chinese communist government and its lackeys, the WHO who were telling us all that it was "racist" to cut off flights.

So, the government (which must have been under huge pressure from both the PRC and the WHO) took the soft action of telling people coming through our airports or off cruise ships to "self-quarantine" which is practically an invitation to violate the the "self-quarantine".  Not too long ago the authorities were giving out leaflets at airports that were recycled from the last scare about 10 years ago and there were no checks.

Even subsequent to the government locking down its citizens there was STILL ongoing discussion as to whether NZ should stop flights coming into this country.

What I would like to know is the seriousness of covid-19 in New Zealand. We have had a number of deaths here but they have all been among the elderly and in rest homes.  I have long wondered (since listening to Christopher Busby) whether we might have milder version of this virus in this country.

The lockdown is having a huge cost to this country, both economically and in terms of democracy and human rights and one does have to ask whether these draconian measures are proportionate to the risks that we face.

I cannot look into the crystal ball and predict the future as far as the coronavirus is concerned but my suspicion is that it is going to be round for a long time.

What I will say, however is that the economic consequences of this are going to be huge - much greater than anyone is talking about. And then there is our already deeply-flawed democracy.

It seems to me, from this Radio NZ interview that the population is being warmed up for a lockdown being round for some considerable time and waiting around for a vaccination

"Dr Smith said he believed social distancing would be needed for the foreseeable future, until a vaccine is available, or the entire population was immune."

Listen to the interview HERE

What exactly are we protecting ourselves against given the huge implications?
Here are Martyn Bradbury's  (of the Daily Blog) thoughts:
This is the article that is giving so many people false (in my mind) hope: 

Chart paints picture of how NZ has wrestled control of coronavirus

New Zealand’s success in getting a hold on the Covid-19 epidemic is laid bare in a chart published by the Financial Times

This chart from John Burn-Murdoch for the Financial Times shows numbers of daily cases on a 7-day rolling average (vertical axis) by the number of days since 30 daily cases were first recorded (horizontal axis). The stars show where national lockdowns kicked in. (China’s line has been shortened to fit.) Source: Financial Times
The UK-based newspaper is using figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the United States to track cases of the virus worldwide.
It shows how cases exploded, first in China, and later in Italy, Spain and the United States as well as other countries.
And it also paints a picture of how China got control of the epidemic over time and points to other relative success stories such as South Korea and even Australia.
But New Zealand’s rapid flattening and decrease of the curve looks particularly impressive, even accounting for a much smaller population size.
After going into full lockdown on March 25, New Zealand peaked at 89 new daily cases on both April 2 and April 5. New cases per day have now been at 20 or lower since April 12.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Health announced there had been just 13 new cases of Covid-19 and the death toll remains at 11.
The Government will decide on Monday whether to ease the lockdown slightly from Level 4 to Level 3 restrictions. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week: "Overall we have made a good start, but we need to keep going.” Projections had suggested New Zealand could have had “thousands of deaths if the virus got away from us", she said.
Despite the success in dramatically slowing the virus's spread, experts including Auckland University microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles have also warned against complacency and lifting restrictions too soon.
See all the FT’s charts here and follow John Burn-Murdoch on Twitter @jburnmurdoch

Questions, however, ARE being asked. Here are two articles from NZ media that do ask some relevant questions.

Coronavirus: New Zealand, Australia's economies 'destroyed' by COVID-19 responses - Jason Morrison

20 April, 2020

New Zealand and Australia's governments have attracted global praise for their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet while the countries reign in their respective outbreaks, they continue to grapple with their floundering economies - a casualty exacerbated by responses that did too little, too late, according to Australian correspondent Jason Morrison. 
The radio broadcaster says Australia's economy has been "destroyed" almost irreparably by the Commonwealth government's response to the COVID-19 crisis, despite Australia's measures being less stringent than those observed under New Zealand's alert level 4 lockdown. 

Businesses are still widely permitted to remain open if they comply with social distancing protocol, with many eateries operating on a takeaway basis. Activities that involve frequent human-to-human encounters - such as gyms and cinemas - are limited. State borders are shut, but Australians have greater freedom of movement inside regions or suburbs. 
In South Australia, gatherings of up to 10 people are still permitted and residents are not required to remain at home whereas in New Zealand, any excursion must be for an essential reason. 

Last week, Australia's national cabinet agreed to begin easing its restrictions in four weeks time. Yet also last week, Otago University professor and epidemiologist David Skegg told the Epidemic Response Committee that while New Zealand's lockdown could be lifted following the initial four-week period, Australia's could last up to 18 months. New Zealand has implemented an "elimination" strategy by closing all non-essential businesses, while Australia has opted for a "suppression" approach that has allowed huge industries, such as construction, to remain operational. Although this approach may mean Australia sustains less of an economic hit, if outbreaks were to worsen, major industries could still be shut down - prolonging an extended fight against the virus with major economic ramifications.
Opposition leader Simon Bridges has highlighted the disparity in trans-Tasman restrictions, arguing that Australia appears to be achieving similar success in flattening its curve with less of an impact on its people, businesses and economy. Both countries are seeing similar case numbers on a per-capita basis, and based on these comparisons, Bridges has called for New Zealand to move to the less restrictive alert level 3. His comments were echoed by a group of six academics, who launched a campaign to lift the Government's "overreaction" of a lockdown early and get New Zealand back in business. 
But Morrison, a columnist and radio presenter, claimed to The AM Show that despite the support for Australia's approach, the country is "enormously in debt". He says it's "hard to [compare] apples with apples" when it comes to Australia and New Zealand's economic impacts.
"Our economy has been destroyed, your economy is being destroyed, our civil liberties have been stripped away," Morrison told The AM Show host Duncan Garner. 
"Both of our economies will take ages to get back from this. I'll never see [Australia] not in debt - I doubt my children will. The only way back from this is to be damaging to business and enterprise in order to tax the backside off it to rebuild some of the damage we've caused. Tell me how that's a positive.
"In Australia, I would appreciate it if the government would stop taking money off of us while this crap is going on. We have a process of taxation where you have to pay regularly to the government... there are businesses closing with bank accounts full of money that they have to pay to the government. You're going broke while having an account chocca with cash that you could be paying your staff and staying alive with - but they're [taking] the money and [putting] it into the coffers that look at the process of not taking it away in the first place."

'Flip a coin' to say who is doing it better

Morrison says it's hard to compare New Zealand and Australia's responses to the pandemic as both government's failed to act with the urgency often being demanded of them. 
"Both governments failed when they needed to act, then they acted and they acted so dramatically, when the horse had [already] bolted - so we're splitting hairs here," he said.
New Zealand has been hailed for its rapid implementation of stringent yet effective initiatives, guided by a compassionate Prime Minister and the crystal-clear communication of the unflappable Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Yet there have also been hesitations and mistakes, with a shaky start to initial border controls, concerns over our capability to contact trace and our very own Health Minister disregarding lockdown protocol
"We've got this sense from the government that they want to be congratulated for doing, well - what they could have prevented. We're saying 'well done' for doing what you had to do because you failed to do what you should have done, back when it all started. That's sort of the problem," Morrison said. 
Morrison highlighted Australia's hesitancy to close its borders as an example of public calls for action being ignored. Despite Australia recording its first case of the virus on January 25, borders were not closed to overseas visitors until March 21 - two days after the closure of New Zealand's borders on March 19, which came less than three weeks after the first case announcement on February 28. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed the delay was guided by "medical expert advice".
"It was a month and a half ago where suggestions of closing the borders were considered... The craziness of all of this is being upset about causing some short-term pain to a small group of people from a corner of the planet, yet here we are having no hesitation [in] causing a huge damage to decent, normal and average people's lives," he claimed. "I always find it quite amazing with the government how easy it is to overreact for the mass[es]... they failed us in that opportunity, both sides of the Tasman.
"I guess it's easy to be a smartypants on television and radio... but I think we all know it, we all know they should have done it and it's pretty unforgivable that both sides didn't."
Just nine new cases of COVID-19 were announced in New Zealand on Sunday, bringing the country's overall total of confirmed and probable cases to 1431. The death of a man in Invercargill was confirmed to be linked to the virus following a post-mortem, bringing the death toll to 12.
New cases in New Zealand have dropped dramatically over the past week and a half, the country reaching its highest daily total - 89 - on April 5, followed by a swift decline a few days later. The majority of deaths have been linked to a cluster at the Rosewood Rest Home in Christchurch.
In Australia, which has a population of close to 25 million compared to New Zealand's nearly 4.9 million, there have been roughly 6540 recorded cases and 67 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's live global case tracker.

Coronavirus: A challenge to the well-meaning tyranny of busybodies

19 April, 2020
OPINION: The image of Charlton Heston falling to the sand in despair at the sight of the partly submerged Statue of Liberty has remained one of the most powerful scenes in cinematic history.
Released in 1968, in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis and an ongoing cold war, Planet of the Apes it captured the angst of a prosperous society enjoying the fruits of a golden age yet living on the edge of annihilation.
Life is precious. But it also ends. This is what makes it precious. In the shadow of extinction flowered a counter culture of rebellion, free love and psychedelics.
The backdrop of nuclear war was lifted with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Francis Fukuyama declared history was over; liberal democracy had won and all we had left were events to pass the decades.
It seemed he was right. Poverty was falling, liberty was in the ascendancy and our children were destined to live better, richer and longer lives than our grandparents could have imagined.
How cheaply we have squandered this legacy.
We've marched in passive and obedient lock-step into a police state with our eyes open and hearts content. Where we can shop, if we can work, even the right to be at a loved one's death bed are now out of our control and … nothing.
The general mood and opinion polling shows an exceptionally high level of support for the most aggressive governmental restrictions. A blank cheque to the executive passed through Parliament without a single dissenting vote and the wide acclaim of a subdued populace.
Our borders are more secure than East Germany's. Over half the labour force are dependent on some form of welfare. Police roam the streets, clear the beaches and have the right to enter private houses without a warrant to prevent social gatherings.
And when does this end? Covid-19 isn't contained globally and may never be. A vaccine could be years away and may prove forever elusive. Invasive, universal and mandatory testing seems inevitable. Omniscient monitoring via our phones and a battalion of the nanny state's little helpers will constrain even the most determined individualist.
All for the good, most of us seem to believe. We have traded agency over the minutiae of our lives to prevent a one-off jump in mortality that, as more data arrives, appears to be trivial. Sweden, the nation that has taken the least intrusive approach, has seen a thousand deaths. One hundred per million residents.
This is higher than their neighbours and it is sure to more than double. I do not seek to engage in the complex epidemiological sophistry surrounding Sweden's different path. We should not disguise the cost of an alternative strategy; hundreds and possibility thousands of premature deaths.
Yet, should we be so quick to embrace what could be a permanent expansion of the state and the destruction of the income and wealth of a vast swath of the population in order to prevent a one-off spike in mortality?

We accept a possibility of death as a cost for using our cars, smoking and working in forestry. There is a difference here only in that the risk is higher than we've been used to but the tolerance is subjective.
We lose 30,000 souls a year. Even if the death toll was the initially projected 14,000, a figure discarded by all but the most obdurate, this would have increased the background risk of death by 50 per cent.
You could triple it and I'd still go to the cinema. I'd even risk a stag do. I have maybe 7000 good days left, each a little lower in quality than that which preceded it. With each sunset the odds of my demise fractionally rises.
We obsess over infection and death rates but mostly fail to see the misery of business owners, employees and investors whose quality of life has been permanently shattered. Eventually schools will re-open but The Listener and thousands of other enterprises will not.
Quality of life is a function of economic wealth; which is why refugees willingly risk a high chance of death to reach the shores of Italy and Florida. We are making the journey in reverse and it is a decision our children will come to regret.
It is an intolerable position that we have willingly placed ourselves in and there isn't going to be any respite.
We will not change course for to do so will be to acknowledge that the cost incurred and the damage inflicted was unnecessary. We have declared war on this virus and will pursue it with the same vigour and effectiveness that we have conducted similar wars on drugs and terrorism.
The economic and social freedoms that we took for granted are now half buried in the sand. Only the remnants of what we once enjoyed remain.
CS Lewis articulated our current predicament perfectly:
"Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

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