Putting things in perspective

By Roger Childs

Coronavirus Ardern

David Clark is on the right.

This year about 500 New Zealanders will die from influenza — so far the Covid-19 death toll is 1 [and that person may have had quite limited longevity anyway —Eds]. So far the number hospitalized because of this virus hasn’t exceeded 14 at any one time and is presently 10.

What has happened with the spread of Coronavirus in places like Italy, Spain and New York has been alarming, and the speed of the transmission and the rapidly rising death numbers have created pressure on medical facilities unknown since the Spanish Flu pandemic 102 years ago. There has never been a time in American history when Convention Centres, ships and hotels have been turned into medical facilities, field hospitals set up in parks and refrigerated trucks used to store bodies.

In New Zealand the government acted quickly to close the borders, close all but essential businesses, close the schools and told people to stay at home. The formula has been “test, track and isolate”. This has probably resulted in there being relatively few cases — at the time of writing under 1,000, and just one death.  Most of the Covid-19 cases have come from travellers returning from overseas and of them many from clusters in certain places like Queenstown to Mt Albert. Has anyone caught it in a supermarket or from a shopping trolley?

The numbers of new cases has been levelling off in recent days and it’s time for the government to start talking about a Coronavirus exit strategy.

TV networks have been over-the-top

Layout 1TVI News and TV3 Newshub have devoted about 80%+ of their evening bulletins to the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s not a pandemic in New Zealand, but the networks and their reporters in the field have been scouring the country for stories to keep their crisis fever going. Last Friday night’s Newshub was typical with their lead story about the Health Minister, David Clark, breaking the rules by driving to a mountain bike park and then getting some exercise. There were calls for his resignation, but this was a story which was way over the top. He was probably unwise, but if that’s the best TV3 can do it’s pretty pathetic.

Some media suggested that the Minister of Health should be in Wellington, however, as regards official media updates he has been sidelined by the Director General of Health who has become a household name in recent weeks. Had anyone heard of the impressive Ashley Bloomfield back in January?

Excessive restrictions?

Coronavirus bubblesWe are constantly being told to “stay at home!” and if we don’t thousands may die. Really?  So in the meantime we are in lockdown in our own bubbles, and family and friends are not allowed to come into the house. However, if they did, they can’t pass on Covid-19 unless they have it. Obviously, it’s desirable for people with the virus to stay home, but surely those folk who don’t have it, at least as confirmed from tests, should be able to mix with others in the same category.

Social distancing is sensible, but there is an irony in the fact that you are not supposed to exercise with other people or let them past the front door. However, you can meet them on the beach, along the footpath or in a supermarket. Is running or cycling or playing golf or tennis with friends any more likely to spread the virus? 

Older folk are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than younger groups, and certainly those over 70 with health issues and on heavy medication would be wise to remain at home during the Covid-19 “crisis”.  However, there are plenty of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have cancer and heart problems, are diabetic, obese, unfit and often heavily medicated. These folk are likely to be susceptible to the spreading virus. So the government’s suggestions for people to stay at home should be based on levels of health and fitness, and not on age. There are more than 500,000 people over 70 and many are very fit and healthy. The latter group should definitely not be confined to barracks and kept out of the supermarkets simply because of their age.

I haven’t heard of anyone getting infected in Pak’nSave, Countdown or New World, so if other shops were open, would the virus spread? What about cafés and restaurants, would Covid 19 be passed on if they opened for business and the 2 metre social distance imposed for those not within one’s bubble? 

What’s essential?

The definition of “essential” has caused a lot of debate – it’s OK to manufacture cigarettes, but not to print and sell weekly magazines. Supermarkets can sell meat and bakery products, but independent butchers and bakeries have had to close.

Media 1The daily newspapers continue to be printed and distributed, but local papers like the Kapiti News and Observer have had to cease publication.  Surely the local papers have a very important function in letting citizens know what is going on in their communities. If the delivery system is efficient, every household gets the local journals — many don’t get the national dailies.

The recent announcement that the Women’s Weekly, North and South, The Listener and other magazines are going down the tubes because of the tight definition of “essential”, is very bad news. Will the closure of these publications stop the spread of Coronavirus and save lives?

Exit strategy

The number of cases does seem to be levelling off,” —Ashley Bloomfield, Saturday 4 April

Coronavirus ItalyIt’s time the government started talking about coming out the other side. The need for flattening of the Covid-19 infections curve, which the prime minister emphasised in the first press conference on Coronavirus, appears to be happening. Recovery, especially of the economy, needs to be the main focus. This could be staged with the reopening of shops and businesses, then schools and so on. Perhaps the last week of April could be designated as back-to-normal week.

A big question is at what point can people go back to work and school, retail outlets open, road building restart, normal social interaction resume and so on?  Perhaps the government should tell the public that when we are down to say 20 new cases a day, life can return to normal.

Once that happens, people can start earning money, all businesses can begin selling and servicing, normal trade and travel can resume, competitive sport can start again, taxes can be collected and government handouts can diminish.

Such a scenario has got to be good for the country.

The Mainstream Media are now backing off the claimed death toll in Italy 🇮🇹 — coronavirus deaths have been reclassified and now 88% of the deaths were not from Covid-19 — only 12% of the reported death toll has been. —Eds