Monday, 8 June 2020

Free Press, 8 June 2020


Eradication And Elimination

Far back through the mists of time, the Government said New Zealand’s plan was elimination of COVID-19 from our shores. Then we learned a curious thing about epidemiology. Elimination doesn’t mean elimination. It means reducing a virus to a manageable level. What’s manageable depends on how good the government’s public health technology is. How fast can it trace and isolate infected people to prevent an uncontrollable outbreak?

Achieved Weeks Ago

In the last week of April, 33,000 people were tested and only seven new cases were detected. The Government says it is on top of contact tracing, so what have we been waiting for? After the initial confusion, the Government has quietly decided to pursue an elimination strategy after all. Why? At what cost? Is it a good idea?

Why?

The Prime Minister bathes in adulation. The more international the better. The team of five million is now being used for the greatest PR exercise of all time. No doubt the Guardian and CNN will be in awe of the country that eliminated COVID-19. There will probably be children’s books written about it. The problem is, the Guardian and CNN do not have to live in New Zealand or make a living here.

At What Cost?

Besides the odd filmmaker, we are now isolated from the rest of the world. While every other country is going to learn to live with elimination at best, New Zealand will be alone with eradication. What’s holding up the trans-Tasman bubble? The Prime Minister says some states still have some cases. Case numbers that are the envy of the world, but still not compatible with our strategy.

150,000 Jobs

Forecasters now say there could be 150,000 job losses. As the weeks go by we will find, for instance, that thousands of onshore fish processing jobs depend on specialist Japanese diesel mechanics coming to service vital equipment. That’s not to mention tourism, horticulture, export education, or any other industry that depends on global links. So much for Fortress New Zealand.

Is It A Good Idea?

It depends. If the most heroic assumptions of a vaccine becoming available to New Zealand this summer were true, then the whole world, including us, can open up. If the vaccine arrives next year, the year after, or never (we’d need three million doses for herd immunity), we spend the time in isolation. So, the calculation is: Early vaccine (and available to New Zealand), we draw. No, unavailable, or late vaccine, we lose. The strategy is terrible.

A Sneaking Suspicion

The reasons for prolonging the crisis are political. After the British people finished dancing in the streets, they turned to different problems and had no need for Churchill. A hackneyed example maybe, but the same thing happened to Bush senior as Americans turned from the Gulf War to the economy. If you are a crisis leader, declaring victory is a dangerous thing to do. Don’t be surprised if today brings alert level 1.5.

Time For An Enquiry…

The real danger for New Zealand is that, mistaking good luck for good management, the public keep trusting the wrong people with the wrong solutions. As Free Press outlined last week, our fiscal track and monetary policy combined with net external debt are driving us off a cliff. Young people not normally engaged in politics, at least not fiscal policy, are noticing. This morning epidemiologist Michael Baker called for an inquiry. ACT said this two weeks ago.

…And A Better Way

We all agreed to go into lockdown. We faced the fog of war, with very little intelligence of what was going on. That was in March and we know so much more now. ëlarm is a great example of the new possibilities. Parnell business Datamine has shown how COVID-19 can be detected using big-data analysis of heart rates on watches that cost as little as $50. This could be a game changer. If the New Zealand Government had the willpower, it could say ‘if you provide this data voluntarily there will be no, or a significantly reduced, quarantine period when entering New Zealand.’

The World’s Smartest Border

This is the kind of technology that ACT has been talking about all along. The 6-point plan in our Alternative Budget had as its first point a significant increase in border security, something that was conspicuously absent in the Government’s cash splash Budget last month. Of course, no system is perfect, and even a border this smart is incompatible with New Zealand’s PR-driven strategy of eradication. We need to rethink our strategy.

A New Kind Of Crisis Management

The public health crisis is over. As a country we need to stop fighting it but the current Government, for political reasons, cannot afford to. ACT is campaigning for accountability, and for critical thinking, applied to our current crises. Only ACT is leading on this kind of thinking. We do so because, crisis or no crisis, a country has to pay the bills. If you agree, please share this Free Press with a friend, a colleague, or a family member or three. We’re relying on you to help spread the word.