Home > Global, Social Issues > Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 15 (@L3)

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 15 (@L3)

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1 September: Day 15 of living in lock-down…

Day’s beginning.

Current covid19 cases: 612

Cases in ICU: 8

Number of deaths: –

Day 15 of Level four lockdown in Auckland and Northland. For the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand, the first day of moving down to Level 3 – or Level 4 with takeaways, as others describe this alert level.

It’s a beautiful spring day outside. There are few clouds in our over-carbonised, clear blue sky.  According to 9AM news bulletin on RNZ, traffic around Wellington is “near normal”.

As I leave for work around mid-day (Wednesdays at the moment are short work-days for me) for my one and only client, I drive past the local railway pak & ride. A lot more cars today, around ten or a dozen.

Out on the motorway and the level of traffic stuns me. It is almost as heavy as pre-L4 lockdown. And… roadworks are back. Damn.

Though I notice that road-working crews are all masked up. It’s a warm, sunny day, and these guys are klitted up with work clothes, safety boots; flouro-jackets, and face-masks. They must be bloody hot with all that kit.

These guys are heroic. I hope their employers slip them a little “something extra” in their Christmas pay-packet.

On the Hutt River-bank, a few people are strolling or lying in the sun.

In Wellington I took a slight detour around Oriental Bay. My suspicions are confirmed: the footpaths are busy with strollers and joggers. And the beach has attracted a few families and others:

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Oriental Bay – northward

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Oriental Bay-Freyberg beach

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Only around half or two-thirds maximum were masked up. (Note: the photos do not do justice to the actual numbers that were present.)

So much for staying home during Alert Level Three. Some folk must have missed that memo.

This blogger wasn’t the only one who noticed the apparent, unannounced drop down to Level Alert 2, seemingly skipping L3 altogether:

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No wonder the government was so cautious before moving to Level 3. They had to make absolutely certain that there was no community transmission outside of Auckland before dropping a Level.

Government and Ministry officials understood that human behaviour being what it is, moving out of L4 would signal to people that there was no further imminent danger. To all intents and purposes, Level 3 and Level 2 are one-and-the-same for a significant portion of the population.

Danger over.

Slip back into complacency mode.

Time for fish and chips.

The Mystery of the Delta Strain

Yesterday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted that government and ministry officials had no clear understanding of the source of the current outbreak:

Contact tracers have hit a brick wall in their efforts to find the source of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Earlier, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield explained all while evidence points to Auckland Crowne Plaza hotel managed isolation facility, the virus’ exact path remained a mystery.

“We’ve gone down a number of roads and they’ve all turned out to be dead ends so far,” Dr Bloomfield told a news briefing. “We may never find the exact way that the virus got from the facility into the community but we are very confident that’s the place where it came from.”

All that is known for certainty is that the Delta strain emanated from Sydney (or somewhere in New South Wales). The virus entered through a Returnee from Sydney (“Index Case”) in early August soon after the Trans Tasman bubble – originally strongly supported by the National Party – was closed on 23 July.

But the Ministry of Health has been unable to ascertain how the Returnee transmitted the virus to others.

There is one possibility that has not been publicly discussed: that the Returnee infected a member of the flight crew. This is a real option, as flight crews are not required to isolate for fourteen days at MIQs like everyone else.

They are provided with separate facilities at Heartland Hotel situated at 14 Airpark Drive, Māngere, some 3.5kms from Auckland International Airport; at Grand Windsor in down Auckland’s Queen Street, and Ramada Hotels at Auckland CBD and Manukau.

For more information, I refer the reader to two previous stories on this issue:

If the outbreak was caused by the “Index Case” transmitting the virus to a flight attendant, it will not be the first time an Air New Zealand cabin-crew member has been infected and transmitted the virus to others.

Whilst flight crews are not required to isolate in MIQ for the full fourteen days, that are required to provide a negative nasal-swab test before allowed to leave their facility:

Air NZ crew returning to Aotearoa have to enter managed isolation, just like the passengers they are transporting, but are allowed to leave if they return a negative test after 48 hours.

However, as the most recent Delta case in Wellington showed, negative results are not always accurate. Not even two negative tests. Or three negative tests!

All but one of the cases reported on Wednesday were in Auckland, the other is a household contact of a Wellington case who had returned three negative tests and remains asymptomatic.

If that Wellington person had been an Air New Zealand flight crew member, they would have left their isolation facility after their first negative test.

For reasons that can only be guessed at – but may involve strong financial incentivess – Air New Zealand flight crews continue to be exempt from isolation rules that are strictly enforced for others.

Private Enterprise, a pandemic, and consequences

ACT Leader David Seymour is not short of ideas. Most of them impractical, to put it politely.

One such very dim “light bulb” moment – which government has thankfully dismissed as downright dangerous – is to allow private MIQ facilities to operate:

ACT’s plan for managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) – were it to be in Government – would be to allow private hotels to provide MIQ services under contract to the government as a way to relieve the shortage of MIQ beds. Governed under strict rules, both workers and guests in these facilities would have to be vaccinated.

“ACT has a plan to expand MIQ places and make it safer than what the Government is doing now. Under ACT’s plan, owners of currently mothballed hotels could seek a licence to operate MIQ according to strict criteria,” ACT leaders David said in a statement accompanying the release.

How successful would it be?

Who knows. But if two recent incidences are any indication: not very good:

Two students have now been caught breaching lockdown rules by flying out of Auckland, receiving fines for breaking the rules.

Over recent days, a Victoria University student flew from Auckland to Wellington without an exemption.

An Otago University student flew from Auckland to Dunedin.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said this was “disappointing”.

“These people should not be travelling, there will potentially be consequences for them, for breaking the rules.”

But more critically still, Minister Hipkins made it clear these students had breached critical security protocols to board their flights:

“They should be being checked even before they get into the airport terminal. Previous level four restrictions, and I just want to check to make sure this has absolutely operating as it has previously, have had people at the door at the airport terminal checking why people are entering the terminal, before they can even get anywhere near the plane.”

So the Auckland airport terminal – a private company – had such poor security that two students were able to breach the facility and board their flights, without being detected?

If those two had been carrying the Delta Strain, Aotearoa New Zealand would now be facing new clusters of the virus in Wellington and Dunedin. It would cost the country billions more.

Would Auckland airport pay the bill for the economic damage that would result?

And if private MIQ facilities failed, allowing Delta (or a worse strain) into the community – would David Seymour take responsibility?

Did National take responsibility for the failed Trans Tasman bubble they pressured the government to open up?

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The answer to all three questions is a resounding “no”.

As the sign on the wall states quite clearly:

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Wiping the Debating Chamber Floor with ACT

National and ACT got their wish: Parliament sat yesterday. Though going by Hansard and video, National’s Caretaker Leader Collins and  ACT Leader David Seymour may be ruing that it happened at all.

A series of questions from Mr Seymour to Minister Hipkins resulted in hard answers that the former was perhaps not expecting. Minister Hipkins wiped the floor with the hapless ACT Leader.

But matters took a dark turn when Mr Seymour asked:

“Has he, his officials, or anybody in the Ministry of Health at all—or the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, for that matter—offered to pay additional money to Pfizer, as Canada has done, to get additional doses faster?”

Minister Hipkins made his response crystal clear; Aotearoa New Zealand would not be bribing its way to vaccinating the population ahead of other countries:

“Pfizer have been very clear: their production, the production that they have of the vaccine, is fully committed around the globe and they are not willing to offer rich countries the opportunity to pay more in order to displace countries who cannot afford to do that—which suggests that big pharma has a higher ethical and moral standard than the ACT Party does.”

Mr Seymour quickly changed his line of questioning.

For good reason. Various cranks around the country have been pushing the line that we should outbid other nations for the vaccine.

Former minister; ACT politician; and relic from a by-gone age, Richard Prebble made the same disturbing demand in a NZ Herald article*:

“The government is innumerate. They are willing to spend $685 million on a harbour cycleway with negative cost/benefit but not $40 million for an early vaccine rollout to save billions of dollars and possibly many lives.”

As did NewstalkZB ‘host’ and right-wing fellow-traveller, Heather du Plessis-Allan who said on 7 July:

“Why did we agree to $56 and then baulk at another $10 to get it earlier? Why would we say ‘nah we’d rather be right the back of the queue thanks, literally last in the developed world’?

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I do not buy the government’s argument that it’s unethical to pay more to vaccines ahead of others

We didn’t elect them to prioritise citizens of other countries, they’re elected to look after us

[…]

But isn’t it an insight into the lack of urgency behind the scenes. For a mere $10 a person, we might’ve actually been front of the queue, instead of dead last in the developed world”

A free marketeer Twitter-user also called for jumping the queue by paying a “premium” (a polite way of calling an outright bribe):

“Of course you can. By drug companies selling to the highest bidder, they increase their resources to ramp up production. ECON 101 which this government, and its defenders don’t understand”

The only people who do not understand “econ 101” are neo-liberals who are so blinded by their simplistic ideology that they cannot see the consequences of their reckons.

Let me oblige them.

Assume that pharmaceutical companies auction of their vaccines to the highest bidder(s). What would be the consequences (because free-marketeers/neo-libs must accept that everything has consequences, whether intended or not)?

As I pointed out to the ACT-supporting Twitter user:

Firstly, it is just plain wrong. It is neo-liberal, hyper-individualist self-interest taken to it’s deadly conclusion. Even if we could, is that the soul of Aotearoa New Zealand?

Bidding for what’s already available just pushes up the price & we WILL lose out every time to richer nations. There is no avoiding that reality. 

There are 49 other countries richer (GDP, 2017 figures) than us. Calculated per capita, there are thirtyone wealthier nations ahead of us. Imagine entering a bidding war with the US, China, UK, France, etc. This would be the scenario confronting us if certain foolish people had their way. We would end up with nothing.

Bidding for vaccines creates a law-of-the-jungle instead of international co-operation. Again, there is no way small nations would benefit from a tooth-and-claw struggle with richer economies.

To assume otherwise demonstrates a childlike lack of understanding of international affairs and human nature.

Pharmaceutical companies are already producing at full capacity. A bidding war would not create more supply; just push up prices. (Our electricity supply has similarities.)

How would out-bidding poorer, developing nations to grab vaccines  benefit us? It wouldn’t. It would simply create vast breeding grounds of new mutant strains of covid. These mutations would likely end up with strains more infectious; more deadly, and more critically, more resistant to current vaccines.

In effect, bidding and grabbing vaccines would end up with covid spreading and evolving, becoming vaccine-resistant, and we would end up back at Square 1.

It is obviously from the witterings of the likes of Mr Seymour, Mr Prebble, Ms du Plessis-Allan, Mr Wrathall, et al, that none of them have thought this through. Their shallow thinking would doom us all to repeating cycles of vaccination; new mutations; new vaccines; new mutations; new vaccines, etc.

With a lot of dead people in body-bags along the way. But then, Mr Seymour is prepared for that eventuality:

“If vaccination doesn’t work, then we’re isolated forever. Clearly, we have to have a plan B from vaccination being the endgame. And if we’re not prepared to do it at the start of next year, then when are we prepared to do it?

That could mean living with Covid-19, even if that led to large outbreaks, more hospitalisations and even fatalities because the level of population is not high enough to keep health services from being overwhelmed.”

By Day’s End.

Current covid19 cases: 687

Cases in ICU: 8 (3 on ventilation)

Number of deaths: –

So ended the fifteenth day of our journey to beat this thing.

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* This blogger will not be linking directly to Mr Prebbes or Ms du Plessis-Allan’s articles. To do so would reward them and their media platform with “clicks” this blogger is not prepared to encourage.

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References

RNZ: Covid-19 update on 31 August – 49 new cases in the community

Twitter: @FranklNZwe missed the L2 announcement – 1.9.21

Newshub:  Coronavirus – Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak – Tuesday, August 31

Newsroom: Sydney returnee likely source of Covid outbreak

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Bluff wedding cluster – Air New Zealand flight attendant is possible origin

Newshub: Air New Zealand crew claim they’re being ‘forced’ to work on COVID-19 quarantine flights

Stuff media: Covid-19 – 75 new cases in Delta community outbreak, but curve is ‘gradually bending’

Stuff media: ACT proposes private MIQ and ending ‘the four horsemen of bad regulation’

RNZ: Uni student who flew from Auckland to Wellington didn’t understand guidelines

Twitter: National Party – Sign the Trans Tasman bubble petition

Hansard: Seymour, David; Hipkins, Chris; Mallard, Trevor

RNZ: Week in Politics – Learning to live with the virus – or not

Twitter – @SteveHWrathalldrug companies selling to the highest bidder – 31/8/21

Twitter: @fmacskasy – Bidding for what’s already available – 1/9/2021

Worldometer: GDP by Country

Worldometer: GDP per Capita

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – David Seymour -Open the borders next year regardless of vaccination levels

RNZ:  Covid-19 update – 75 new community cases in NZ today

Previous related blogposts

Is Air NZ the Covid re-infection problem? Possible evidence points to national airline

Does OIA evidence confirm possible Air NZ link to recent covid outbreaks?

Team 5 million vs Covid: Aotearoa on Three Strikes

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 1

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 2

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 3

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 4 – Caretaker Leader Collins, another rare mis-step

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 5 & 6

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 7 & 8

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 9 & 10

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 10 (cont’d) & 11

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 12

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 13 & 14

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Acknowledgement: Jeff Bell

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Have your own thoughts? Leave a comment. (Trolls need not bother.)

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