Monday, 18 October 2021

Free Press, 18 October 2021


The Haps

The Government hyped up Super Saturday. Besides people who were going to have their second some time anyway, 39,024 people had their first dose. This was the 21st best day for first doses, the best being 67,903 on August 26th. Now we hope the Government will try plotting a practical route back to normal life. ACT’s MPs celebrated one year in Parliament with record polling. One-in-six New Zealanders now say they intend to vote ACT and want David Seymour as Prime Minister. ACT continues to defy pigeonholing. It is now the second most popular party in rural New Zealand, and Auckland.

A tale of two modellings

Twice in the past month, the Government has gone big on COVID modelling. Both times it held a press conference and promoted the findings as our reality. The thing is the two models came to totally different conclusions about what policy approach New Zealand should take. Here is how the Government uses data for message control instead of finding the truth.

On September 23, Shaun Hendy, best described as a political activist masquerading as a physicist cum COVID modeller, told us of untold carnage if COVID got loose. Seven thousand deaths a year was the headline, even with good testing, tracing, isolation, and quarantine, and 80 per cent vaccinated. You can read the full study here.

Hendy was zoomed in to speak virtually from the podium of truth, implying he spoke for the Government. Radio NZ reported scarier figures from Hendy’s modelling, ‘if vaccination was only 70 per cent… about 12,000 deaths,’ even though first vaccination rates were already 73 per cent by then.

The study was panned by Rodney Jones, who is also retained as a government advisor (to the Strategic COVID-19 advisory group, AKA the Skegg group). Jones said Hendy’s modelling was ‘implausible,’ pointing out the figures didn’t fit with actual experience overseas. He clearly wasn’t consulted before the Government put Hendy’s work front and centre.

Fast-forward three weeks, to October 14th. Andrew Little and Andrew Connolly confidently released new modelling. There might be 5300 cases per week in the Northern Region, meaning Auckland and Northland, but 5,270 of them would be managed at home. There might be 150 hospitalised at any one time, half Hendy’s hospitalisation figure.

The Andrews – both Little and Connolly – were calm and reassuring, pointing out that there would be home care, surge capacity for ICU, and altogether there’s not much to worry about at all. What changed in three weeks?

At the time Hendy’s modelling came out, the previous five days’ case numbers were 21, 24, 11, 24, and 23. These figures were good since the peak in August had been 79 cases in one day. Auckland had just gone down to Level 3. The Government still thought it could eradicate COVID from New Zealand, maybe even do a little dance again.

By October 14th, the previous five days’ cases were 48, 43, 36, 49 and a new record of 89. A few holdouts still thought the virus could be eradicated from our shores again, but they looked like those Japanese soldiers who kept patrolling abandoned islands well into the 1970s. Everyone else knew the war was lost.

When the Government thinks it can eradicate COVID, it releases modelling showing that to give up would kill 7,000 people. Modelling from the same guy who said 80,000 might die last year. When the Government finally knows it’s beat, new modelling says it’s all sweet.

Now, there will be people who try to say both models were right, they used different assumptions, we’ve misread them. We doubt it, but whatever. The point is not that the modelling is shonky, we are not even able to say which is wrong. Who knows, they could both be wrong.

The real issue is this. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Jacinda Ardern’s Government has used statistics like a drunk uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination. We must sit through the 1pm press conference to hear data we’ve all paid for selectively released.

They should just dump all the data they have in real time, but that would require the Prime Minister and her Ministers to show up and defend their performance rather than spruik it. If that sort of carry-on took hold, they might then have to perform. Who knows where it would end?

For a growing number of people every day, it’s critical that it ends very soon.