Home > Global, Social Issues, The Body Politic > One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?



The “Plan Bers” – including assorted right-wing politicians, privileged media commentators, faux “experts”, business lobbyists, et al – have a new argument they’re recently taken to trotting out, to justify opening up Aotearoa New Zealand to covid-19:

“We already have 500 New Zealanders dying each year from influenza.”

Overseas “experts” have been just as keen to join the But What About Influenza Club, like this character from the United States, Dr Amesh Adalja, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security:

“We don’t want anybody to die from Covid. Covid is a vaccine preventable illness, now is a vaccine preventable death, but I think there are many tools that you can use short of a lockdown to achieve that goal and I think what we eventually want to see is decoupling of cases from hospitalisations and death. But there’s going to be some level of deaths that occur, and I think it’s interesting because in New Zealand you had around 26 or so deaths.

But in the last flu season you had 500 deaths and I just worry about that precedent, because what is New Zealand going to do for the next flu season? How do you kind of square what you’ve done for Covid for flu? When the flu deaths are 20 times higher because of those actions you’ve taken and I think this is going to be something that your society has to to think about and debate, and I think it’s an important debate to have.”

So there we have it: allowing people to die from preventable disease is worthy of “debate”.

When do we get to debate if Dr Adalja should live or die. Or his family?

In the same “debate”, hosted by Nathan Rarere on RNZ’s “First Up“, Dr Adalja called our lockdowns  “as a last resort when nothing else works, and as a policy failure“.

He acknowledged that our current covid death rate was “around 26 or so deaths” (It’s currently at 27.)

Dr Adalja didn’t mention that the covid death toll of the United States – his home country – currently stands at 691,562. The US is currently experiencing 148,000 cases and 1,991 deaths reported per day.

Nor did Dr Adalja mention that the US is currently experiencing a massive resurgence of Delta Covid, with hospitals being over-whelmed.  Hospital care is being rationed as staff can no longer cope:



Dr Adalja mentions none of these inconvenient truths. Out-of-control Delta surge. Hospitals forced to rational care. Rising death toll. 

Not. One. Word.

But he is happy to  lecture us that lockdowns are “a policy failure“.

On a recent episode of TV3’s The Nation, political report Tova O’Brien asked National’s covid spokesperson, Chris Bishop, and ACT Leader, David Seymour what number of covid-related deaths would be acceptable to open up Aotearoa New Zealand.

Chris Bishop suggested that “he would like us to get to around 85% before we start to open up“. David Seymour offered no vaccination target.

According to one report from The Lancet, at 90% vaccination rate (including under 15s), our death toll was estimated at around 1,030 per year – twice the influenza rate.

Neither had the courage nor stomach to offer an acceptable death rate.

Mr Seymour, however,  did respond with a bit of Grim Reaperish ‘whataboutism’:




“Well, 30,000 people die in New Zealand every year.

The truth is that we cannot prevent all deaths. The important question here is how much more are we prepared to spend to prevent a COVID death than deaths from car crashes, deaths from cancer? Because at the moment, the money we’re spending on COVID, we can’t spend on preventing those other kinds of deaths.”

David Seymour has established a new benchmark by casually accepting the annual influenza death toll as an acceptable figure. If 500 covid-related deaths per year are also acceptable, we should look at other causal factors of death in this country, and apply the new benchmark:

David Seymour’s 500 Deaths Rule

Road toll for 2020: 320 + 180 more acceptable deaths = 500

Work Related Deaths for 2020: 66 + 434 more acceptable deaths = 500

Drownings for 2020: 74 + 426 more acceptable deaths = 500

Homicides for 2020: 142 + 358 more acceptable deaths = 500

There are probably many more categories that could have the 500 Deaths Rule applied.

If Mr Seymour can justify an increased covid death toll by pointing and demanding, “What about ‘flu?” then anything can be justified and made acceptable.

This is the benchmark set by David Seymour.  Let’s call it “Seymour’s Death Rule”.





RNZ: Covid-19 debate – When should New Zealand open up its borders?

Worldometer:  Coronavirus Cases – United States

RNZ: US hospitals ration care amid shortages and Covid-19 surge

Reuters: Some U.S. hospitals forced to ration care amid staffing shortages, COVID-19 surge

NPR: A COVID Surge Is Overwhelming U.S. Hospitals, Raising Fears Of Rationed Care

Vox: Americans are dying because no hospital will take them

New York Times: Idaho allows overwhelmed hospitals across the state to ration care if necessary.

Forbes: In Idaho And Other States, The Delta Covid-19 Surge Is Forcing Hospitals To Ration ICU Beds

CNN: As Covid-19 hospitalizations spike, some overwhelmed hospitals are rationing care

Newshub: Coronavirus – David Seymour says Govt ‘cannot prevent all deaths’, says money spent on COVID can’t be spent preventing deaths from other causes

The Lancet – Western Pacific:  COVID-19 vaccine strategies for Aotearoa New Zealand: a mathematical modelling study

Otago University magazine: Flu a major killer

Police: 2020 road deaths down on 2019

Worksafe: Fatalities

Water Safety: Water Safety Reports 2020

Police: Daily Occurrences of Crime and Family Violence Investigations

Previous related blogposts

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

The freezing cold invisible hand of neo-liberalism

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

The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs




Acknowledgement: Chris Slane


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