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.