by Geoffrey Churchman
In politics it’s never possible to please everybody and often in the face of conflicting factors, government decisions need to be made on what does, or would seem to do, the most good for the greatest number of people.
The current pandemic entered the world scene rapidly at the beginning of the year after the Chinese government decided to make the outbreak there public. If the official statistics for China are true (and there are some who are suspicious), 81,470 citizens to date have been infected, of which 3,304 have died and 3,911 are listed as critical; most of the rest have recovered: thus a fatality rate of 4%. The next focus for news hounds was the cruise ship Diamond Princess for which the figures are 712, 10 and 9 respectively: a fatalty rate of 1.4%. In South Korea the figures are 158 deceased out of 9,661 cases, thus a fatality rate of 1.6%; in Japan deaths are 58 out of 1,896 cases: 3%.
Thus for those countries overall, Covid-19 has not been particularly startling as infectious diseases go; many more people die from other respiratory system viruses and diseases, in particular, regular flu.
But the situation became different when the virus spread in Italy: so far out of 97,840 reported cases there have been 10,789 deaths: a fatality rate of 11%.
Spain also has a high fatality rate to date of 8.7%.
Those European figures and their growth rates obviously caused alarm on the part of health authorities in NZ and when the NZ case numbers started to climb rapidly (albeit from very small initial figures) the understandable reaction was “we have to do something fast.” Which is what the government did: beginning on Saturday 14 March by closing the borders, and then on Monday 24 March the announcement of the lockdown.
We have known for several weeks that for most people the consequence of catching the virus is not much more severe than catching a cold; the two principal symptoms are fever and a persistant cough.
The explanation for the high fatality rates mentioned in Italy and Spain is clearly that the victims were already ill as the below pie chart shows; moreover, most were elderly — the average age of the deceased is reported to be 81.
Although the Mainstream Media has caused a tsunami of anxiety about this new virus, the scaremongering has not been endorsed by all medical experts; in fact many in various countries downplayed the the viruses’s potency and we have posted articles on, or links to their views.
It’s been known from early in the outbreak that the at-risk groups are those with compromised immune systems, respiratory illnesses and/or the elderly.
It seems that there must have been, at the least, insufficient isolation of those in these categories from potential carriers in Italy and Spain — and to some degree, in the rest of western Europe.
The major factors conflicting with the lockdown decision referred to above are:
- The economic impact of a substantial shutdown of a big chunk of the economy of several weeks, and in the case of foreign tourism, of several months
- The mental health impact of the alarmism and enforced isolation
The first doesn’t need much spelling out and we intend to post articles on the second shortly.
In the face of the global reaction to what the MSM was reporting, the government had little choice but to make the decisions it did. Many criticise the government for not closing the border earlier, but such a drastic step requires clear evidence of the need for it. From a Public Relations viewpoint, the government needed to repeat the “worst case scenario” as justification for the lockdown. The claim made by Jacinda that “tens of thousands will die” was highly tenuous.
We do know that:
- Over 500 people die in NZ every year from regular flu — source
- Underinvestment in health infrastructure has resulted in NZ only having 153 intensive care beds nationwide; 4.7 per 100,000 people, well below other developed countries: “In Europe the average is about 11.5, with Germany having close to 30.” says this NZ Herald article.
This Radio NZ article states:
“The Health Ministry survey shows there is space and equipment to look after another 80 patients in ICU.
“Also, an additional 231 beds outside of intensive care are capable of looking after ventilated patients, plus another 99 beds could be repurposed in other places like wards, high dependency and gastroenterology units. It all adds up to 563 beds and 520 ventilators in public hospitals.
“ICU and ventilator capacity would be carefully managed to provide enough capacity for essential non Covid-19 patients with the rest available for Covid-19 patients, the ministry said.
“In private hospitals and at other providers, the survey shows there are about 250 ventilators, though only 22 ICU beds.”
The lack of hospital capacity to deal with a comparable crisis that Italy and Spain have had was clearly a major motivation on the part of the government for its decisions. Fortunately, at the time of writing, only 2 C-19 cases are in intensive care with another 10 hospitalizations.
There have been many problems voiced in the past week with what the government lists as “essential services/businesses” and what leisure activities people can do. This was a result of rushed laws which, as we saw last year, results in big shortcomings. Some sense has started to emerge over this, though.
As a comparison with what is considered essential in NZ, the equivalent list in Los Angeles can be read here.
By Roger Childs
“Clearly Ardern is ahead of the group in the structured, well-explained, and calm response, depending heavily on specialists as if should be.” ––Expat Kiwi Neil Smith in Japan, comparing leaders in Japan, Australia and New Zealand
Competent, confident and compassionate
The Labour-led government has had a roller coaster ride since it was formed in late 2017. However, the Covid 19 crisis has brought out the best in our leaders. The combination of Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and Health Minister Director-general, Ashley Bloomfeld, has been impressive. The messages have been clear and specific, and the vast majority of Kiwis have been accepting of the government’s management of the pandemic so far and last week’s decision to go into lockdown.
The prime minister has exhibited the same charisma that rescued the Labour Party from a likely trouncing in the 2017 election, and has demonstrated a very good grasp of the detail and implications of the Coronavirus emergency. Obviously she has been following the advice of the scientists and health experts, and the unruffled Bloomfield has fronted up at the daily briefings with specific information on what’s been happening as the crisis has unfolded.
Ardern has also showed compassion, recognising what people were going to have to go through, as some basic freedoms were put on hold. She has also acknowledged the hard work of all the people involved in essential services to keep the country running from health professionals to supermarket staff. Is there any other world leader who could say “ I’ve been a checkout operator”?
Hitches in the medical response
In the face of this worst viral crisis since the polio epidemic of the late 1940s, it is not surprising that there have some problems and frustrations for people on the frontline.
- Some cases of people with Covid 19 symptoms not being tested.
- People referred by their GPs for testing being turned away at testing stations.
- Not enough protective gear in some hospitals.
- Carers of the elderly not being provided with enough protection to carry on their close contact work.
The Health Department has subsequently responded.
Sound economic management
The present Covid-19-forced downturn is worse than the Global Financial Crisis of the late 2000’s simply because New Zealand and other countries have voluntarily closed down which has not happened before; we are in uncharted waters. However, the Finance Minister has taken it all in his stride. The size of his initial $12.1 billion support package for businesses, workers and beneficiaries even took the National opposition by surprise. Grant Robertson made it clear in announcing the programme that austerity had failed in the past during major downturns and that this time around money needed to be pumped into the economy to keep the country afloat.
He now has $50 billion approved by parliament to tap into, but he doesn’t see this as a target. Economists call the approach “quantitative easing” — a euphemism for printing money. However, the alternative would be a general economic collapse with thousands of businesses going to the wall and hundreds of thousands of unemployed. Fortunately the large pool of money available, allows Grant Robertson to react quickly to needs and changes as they arise.
Setting up a cross-party committee lead by the Opposition to monitor the handling of the crisis is sensible, as the far-reaching emergency powers granted to the government need to be scrutinised. It’s good to see the level-headed ACT MP David Seymour in this group.
End of the first week coming up
There is a well publicised overall strategy as the lockdown closes in on its first week of operation. The rules are generally well understood, and are being adjusted as needs and anomalies arise. However, the definition of essential services is seemingly a moveable feast – manufacturing cigarettes OK but what about butchers and bakeries?
There are also some concerns over what over 70s can do. This “vulnerable group” of 500,000 is supposed to stay at home and get others to shop for them or order online. But what if they are fit and healthy? There is also confusion over exercising and the concept of “stay local” needs clarification.
The government with its emergency powers still has plenty of ironing out to do. No doubt the cross-party watchdog will have plenty to say in the coming weeks. How long the crisis will last is a big unknown as the number of positive Coronavirus cases keeps rising. However, one thing is certain: New Zealand will never be the same again.
The Free Speech Coalition is preparing to launch an urgent judicial review of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s decision to deem non-daily newspapers and publications not an essential service for the purposes of the COVID-19 Level-4 nationwide shutdown.
Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Jordan Williams said, “No High Court is going to uphold a bureaucrat deciding what media can and cannot operate. This decision was done without any consultation, and on the basis of only daily newspapers and broadcast media being deemed ‘essential’.”
“Assuming the smaller publications can take the same distance and health measures as the ones currently publishing, there is no justification in shutting them down.”
“Even at a time of emergency, no civilised society can justify the Government deciding what parts of the media are important and not important. The maxim ‘this is a dangerous precedent’ is overused, but in this case, it literally is.”
“Ethnic media, which have now been banned from publishing, reach audiences that the daily press does not. Similarly, in smaller or aged communities where online access is limited, local information is absolutely essential.”
“The decisions made by the Government in the last ten days are probably the most significant in our lifetime. Weekly and monthly publications like North and South, the Listener, and ethnic newspapers serve a vital role in the community’s conscience and holding our leaders to account. That is just as important as daily news. These magazines are functionally no different to the likes of music radio or entertainment television, which is allowed to continue broadcasting.”
“Even at times of war censorship, the Government didn’t choose who could print and who couldn’t. The Government must rethink this, or face a judicial hearing to review this abuse of public power.”
Act Leader David Seymour MP is asking the public to submit and vote on the questions it would like answered by the Government on its response to COVID-19.
“Keeping our democracy strong through the COVID-19 crisis will be vital”, says Mr Seymour.
“Parliament has been adjourned but we are still a parliamentary democracy.
Seymour is one of eleven MPs that will sit on the Epidemic Response Committee while Parliament is suspended.
“We want to make sure we’re asking the best possible questions of the Government. New Zealand businesses, households and workers are on the frontline of this crisis, and that’s why we’re crowdsourcing their questions online.
“The questions could be about the COVID-19 testing criteria, the wage subsidy package, or how Police are enforcing the lockdown. We will be able to ask better questions with the help of the public.
“ACT has said all along that we will offer support to and constructive criticism of the Government throughout this crisis. We will also continue to do our job as the Opposition and hold it to account. ACT is committed to keeping democracy strong through the COVID-19 crisis.”
Obviously not Waikanae, but it’s too cute not to share! 🙂
A time for keeping in touch
By Roger Childs
I have two friends who are partners, having many years ago lost a wife and husband respectively. They each run a household 4 km apart and are now confined in separate bubbles. However, they’ve devised a novel way to meet up – they walk to Paraparaumu Beach, sit at each end of a table and chat for 30 minutes before returning to their homes.
Kiwis are resourceful and enterprising people, and are overcoming bubble isolation by meeting “accidentally” while walking the dog, going for a run or getting out on the bike. Pam and I met a couple of self-isolating friends out for a walk earlier in the week before the lock down. They stayed in their Otaki electorate, but we were able to converse with them from our Mana constituency with just the Wharemauku Stream in between.
Getting the news and updates
This is definitely a time to get in touch by phone, text and e-mail. I spent 20 minutes yesterday morning talking to a friend on the phone and I had done this with other friends on Thursday and Friday. I think I’ll keep the habit going.
Our Outlook Express has been running hot, and plenty of family and friends are getting in touch to see how we are and catch up with the news. This sort of communication is always welcome in these restrictive lockdown times.
Getting the exercise and plenty of greetings
I’ve been out running and biking, and there have more people around than cars. Those I’ve passed, without exception, have been warm and friendly and even from across the street I’ve got waves from folk I’ve never seen before. Many are out with dogs and these people may find themselves getting fitter by the day. All the canines have had smiles on their faces knowing that with the folks grounded for four weeks there is no excuse for not taking up the leash.
It’s good to be able to get out walking, running and biking. I spoke with an Auckland friend yesterday and he regularly swims off the North Shore beaches. He hadn’t heard about the ban on that activity and didn’t understand what I was saying! Let’s face it, what’s the problem with experienced swimmers ploughing a few kms up and down the shoreline? Obviously the authorities don’t want the crowded Bondi Beach scenario over here, but that’s not happening.
Your editors were annoyed that the retiring Police Commissioner, with a checkered past, said on television that people can’t drive then walk or run. But you can do that!
This is a common cry from fans of the California’s Golden Bears Football team in Berkeley. It’s now being picked up by kids in New Zealand.
Putting bears in the window is great and started from a campaign originating in the UK. Our two teddy bears now feature in top storey and bottom. So if you are not yet in on the act and have windows visible from the street, put a smile on the faces of little kids going past by locating a bear or any stuffed animal you have in a visible position. Our two bears are grateful for having new roles. It’s good to see Jacinda getting in on the act.
It’s obviously restrictive in this lock down period, but there are ways and means of doing things at a distance. Obviously phoning, texting and emailing are key elements, however out of the house when exercising or shopping opportunities do arise – at a safe social distance of course!
By Gill Ward
Being kind comes naturally
Well here we go – no surprises, just a catch up. I know you will all be hunkered down and doing the right things. No need to tell you to be kind because I certainly know you are. At our poetry sessions I watch you all being encouraging about the person reading their poem and empathetic if the reader is nervous. And sharing your poems in a crowd of people is just the heart of kindness and I’m sure that you all feel you have a kind audience (which you do).
It was so sad to have to contact Julie Leibrich and Gail Lewis (at the café) to say we were cancelling the March Poets to the People. Many of us had been to Julie’s exceptional book launch at the beginning of March and you would have all loved her reading, but not to be. We are privileged to have such a stellar poet, writer and friend in our cluster of villages.
Communication in the age of Covid-19
It was a bit of a stretch getting it all organised on my cell phone while I was away but just now I’m sure 21st century communication will be a big help to those isolated in a house without a housemate/family member. Even a land line helps and the postal services are still working. But we know this distancing is our way of looking after each other.
If you are missing Poets to the people you could look up our Poets to the People page on Facebook. Sonya Byford started this some years back for us and we have suggested anyone might like to put a poem up during this lock down. One is already on it and I loved it. A poem about anything and I won’t be there to be bossy at the mic. either. Go for it!
On our webpage there are offers to do shopping etc … for people who can’t get out. If anyone has something they want delivered locally, for instance, I could pick it up from your letter box and deliver it to someone else’s. No human contact involved.
On hold for now
I have contacted Marty Smith who was to be our April poet and she had already realised we would not be operating (for want of a better word) in April. So everyone and everything is on hold at the moment – our first pause in over 15 years so not to be downplayed (I was going to say sneezed at but that’s a little inappropriate!). Watch this space.
Well my favourite saying is it’s not hoarding if it’s books so I have taken this to heart for years. This means I have plenty to read right now. Am just Reading “I never metaphor I didn’t like” by Marty Grothe, fun for the brain. He quotes from Francis Bacon’s Essays (1547)
If man be gracious and courteous to strangers,
it shows he is a citizen of the world,
and that his heart is no island cut off from other islands,
but a continent that joins to them.
Grothe suggests that this may have inspired John Dones 1694 “No man is an island sentiment”.
Forgive me for indulging myself but a thought for these times.
I asked Julie (above) if I could share one of the poems from her new book. She chose:
for Alan my Manchester man
The bluebells in me
are returning to seed.
The river in me is racing
back up the mountain to its source.
The curve of my time is a spiral now
returning to its spark.
I am the very quick of life.
Welcoming death was all I had to do.
Microscope and telescope converge.
My constellations are contracting
to a single point of light.
The alchemist in me is on fire.
Julie’s book is In the lost and found department of my life from Steele Roberts (2020) and if anyone wants a copy of the book it costs $20 and they should just drop her an e-mail at Julieleibrich@outlook.com
It’s a beautifully designed book and has a painting on the cover painted by Julie herself. Kia kaha Julie.
Stay laughing, stay kind and as a last resort write something!
Best wishes from Elizabeth and me
Neil Diamond parodies his own “Sweet Caroline”…
Amid a rainy March in which millions of Angelenos are observing orders to stay at home, sight lines in the city are getting a bit clearer, and its notorious smog is nowhere to be found.
For nearly three straight weeks, air quality maps tracking the region’s scores on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index have been nothing but green—the color that denotes the cleanest air.
According to the California Air Resources Board, the last time the ozone level in the Los Angeles area reached unhealthy levels was in February. Over the summer, the region saw unhealthy ozone levels every day for more than two straight months.
“We’re seeing very clean air all around California,” says Bill Magavern, policy director with the Coalition for Clean Air. “This time of year we usually have better air, especially with the rain, but the drop-off in traffic has definitely reduced emissions.”