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Business and Media pimp for dodgy covid test. Govt caves. Questions Remain.

25 October 2021 4 comments

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Recent vociferous demands by business interests and the National Party have pressured the government into allowing Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) to be used throughout the country. The pressure has grown as freight-trucking companies and others have demanded the ability to move between Auckland and the rest of the country. Again, vociferous calls amplified by MSM  (mainstream media) eager for click-generating headlines.

Over the last few months, the MSM  have amplified calls to introduce RAT – often uncritically.

On 27 August, RNZ’s ‘Checkpointaired a story promoting RAT. ‘Checkpoint‘ reporter, Nita Blake-Persen, wrote effusively on RAT:

‘‘Delta’s reach is like nothing New Zealand has seen before – with Covid-19 cases from the Auckland outbreak today reaching 277 and contacts passing 24,000.

That reach has put a massive strain on New Zealand’s PCR testing capacity – the only recognised testing used here – with thousands of people waiting up to eight hours to get the test, and then up to five days to get results.

But there’s hope that rapid antigen tests – which are widely used overseas – could help alleviate some of that pressure.’’

New Zealand Aged Care Association (ACA) Nursing Leadership Group chair, Dr Frances Hughes, was hugely supportive of RAT, with six thousand nursing staff working in the ACA and many waiting for all-clear results from the currently used nasal (nasopharyngeal) swabbing:

‘‘If we could do this for our frontline health workers and get those tests back and have a system that gets them back quicker and gets them back to work earlier? Absolutely, it would be a great initiative.’’

Dr Hughes’ concerns that her priority was to get employees “back quicker and gets them back to work earlier” was obvious.

‘Checkpoint‘ also interviewed president and CEO of Innova Medical group, Daniel Elliott.  Innova is a major supplier of RAT and unsurprisingly sang the virtues of his company’s product:

They use the test to help keep schools open, to keep workplaces going, to be able to keep people that are working in closed environments that are critical infrastructure – police and fire – [going].

Now they’ve gained enough confidence with it and they’re starting to use it to open up pubs and sporting events, concerts, things like that.

While somebody may have a positive PCR test, it could be 20 to 30 days that they have an infection, but they may not be contagious to others.

What this type of test actually does is, is it’s really screening for people who have a viral load that is contagious or infectious to other people.

In what could pass as a free advertisement for his product, Mr Elliott stated:

‘‘They’re inexpensive, highly accurate tests that can be widely deployed in New Zealand and other places, that will certainly help open up the economy.’’

The statements were not challenged.

More to the point, someone at RNZ, putting together the ‘Checkpoint’ story quoting Innova’s CEO failed to noiced that eleven weeks earlier – the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had warned the public not to use their RAT:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning the public to stop using the Innova Medical Group SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test for diagnostic use. The FDA has significant concerns that the performance of the test has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health. In addition, labeling distributed with certain configurations of the test includes performance claims that did not accurately reflect the performance estimates observed during the clinical studies of the tests. Finally, the test has not been authorized, cleared, or approved by the FDA for commercial distribution or use in the United States, as required by law.

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On April 23, 2021, Innova Medical Group recalled their Innova Medical Group SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test. The FDA has identified this recall as a Class I recall, the most serious type of recall.

As at 20 August, the United Kingdom has continued using the Innova testing kit. That, despite the FDA recomending that purchasers  “destroy the tests by placing them in the trash or return the tests to Innova“.

RNZ had effectively pimped a product that the FDA had recalled, citing “a risk to health“.

On 6 October, twenty five of Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest companies added further pressure on the government to allow RATs to be imported and used:

  • Mainfreight
  • Foodstuffs North Island
  • Genesis
  • Hynds Pipe Systems
  • Mercury
  • Summerset Group
  • Wellington Airport
  • Christchurch Airport
  • Sky NZ
  • Queenstown Airport
  • Spark, Vodafone
  • The Warehouse Group
  • ANZ Bank
  • Contact Energy
  • Fulton Hogan
  • Woolworths NZ
  • Fletcher Building
  • Chorus
  • Carter Holt Harvey
  • Meridian Energy
  • DHL Express NZ
  • Air NZ
  • Auckland Airport

Mainfreight’s managing director, Don Braid, was clear in his priorities:

‘‘This is business wanting to take care of their people from a health and safety perspective and to keep their sites operational.’’

Genesis CEO, Marc England, said it clearly:

‘‘Huntly is a critical part of New Zealand’s energy network – it simply has to keep running, and the only people who can operate Huntly are those who work there.’’

Once again, the RNZ story offered no counter-balance to business demands. Their statements were presented uncritically.

Queenstown Airport CEO, Glen Sowry – though not medically or epidemiologically trained –  described RAT as  ‘‘a very efficient, less invasive and reliable way’’ of testing for covid19:

‘‘Alongside vaccination, efficient and accessible testing is key to ensuring we get our economy moving and reconnect with the world, while keeping people safe.’’

There was no critical analysis of Mr Sowry’s assertions.

It was left to TV3/Newshub to offer a note of caution to using RATs. University of Otago clinical microbiologist, James Ussher, warned:

‘‘Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than the PCR tests that have been used in New Zealand to date. We have been pursuing an elimination strategy and that has required the most sensitive tests so we don’t miss cases… As such, rapid antigen testing hasn’t formed a part of our response.

There are hundreds of these tests out there and they have very variable performance. The best ones can be about 80 percent sensitive compared to PCR, but many of them perform a lot worse.’’

Mr Ussher was candid as he further pointed out the unsuitability of RATs:

‘‘I can understand the desire of businesses to ensure continuity of business through regular screening of employees, however we need to make sure we’ve got appropriate processes in place before using these. An important thing to remember… a positive test needs to be appropriately followed up, because it would be more likely at this present time that it would be a false positive.

There is the risk of missing true infections and that’s particularly relevant in patients admitted to hospitals who have symptoms, in which case you really do need the most sensitive test – a PCR test. But there’s also the issue of when you’re doing screening in a population with a very low chance of having it, that any positive is more likely to be a false positive.’’

This was one of the few instances where MSM aired words of caution from an actual expert. Someone who knew the limitations of Rapid Antigen Testing and had no profit-motive to frame their narrative.

So the vocal demands from business were well canvassed by a (mostly) compliant media. Even our political servants added pressure on the government to introduce RATs:

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When, nearly two weeks later,  RNZ finally got around to asessing the worthiness of RATs, it was left to ‘The Detail’ – a programme aired at 5AM. Hardly the same high-participation coverage as ‘Checkpoint’s‘ 5PM to 6.60PM “drive  time” slot. The dawn programme also pointed out:

Rapid antigen tests, on the other hand, are nimble: they still involve a throat or nasal swab, but they deliver a result in as little as 15 minutes, and can be used by just about anyone, any time, anywhere.

On the other hand, they aren’t as reliable as PCR tests: when administered by a trained medical professional, their reliability is around 75-90 percent; but when used by an untrained person, that accuracy can drop as low as 50 percent.

Microbiologist, James Ussher, however, is 100% correct in his cautioning over the use of RATs.

In July this year, ‘Science Directreported a study on RAT, concluding:

The positive rate of RAD test using saliva samples was low throughout the clinical course. Poor concordance was observed between nasopharyngeal swab specimens and saliva samples (75.9%, kappa coefficient 0.310). However, a substantially high concordance between the RAD test and viral culture was observed in both nasopharyngeal swab specimens (86.8%, kappa coefficient 0.680) and saliva samples (95.1%, kappa coefficient 0.643).

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The sensitivity of the SARS-CoV-2 RAD test was insufficient, particularly for saliva samples. However, a substantially high concordance with viral culture suggests its potential utility as an auxiliary test for estimating SARS-CoV-2 viability.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) was clear on RATs in that it was:

Less sensitive (more false negative results) compared to NAATs, especially among asymptomatic people

The fact that this test is not as sensitive and accurate as current processes is an ongoing concern. RAT does not detect asymptomatic carriers of Delta – the most infectious strain of covid19 yet known (to be confirmed).

Which means infected workers such as truck drivers can return a false negative at the Auckland border and then drive on to their destinations throughout the country. The consequences would be costly in terms of extending lockdowns; closed or reduced-operating businesses; and hundreds of millions spent on wage and business subsidies. Not to mention hospitalisations; ICU wards full, and a mounting death toll.

Infected truckies from Auckland have already been detected in Tauranga and Palmerston North.

If we are going to continue elimination, then RATs are utterly ineffective for this task, as Dr Joshua Freeman, a clinical microbiologist and the clinical director of infection prevention and control at Canterbury District Health Board pointed out:

‘‘When elimination is the overarching strategy and the proposal is to, in any way, relax precautions based on a negative result, the relatively high rates of false-negative results with rapid antigen testing is a major drawback.’’

It is abundantly clear that businesses demanding the use of RAT to facilitate commercial activities.

Just as the doomed Trans-Tasman bubble was vigorously hyped by business interests and the National Party, and which resulted in a Returnee from Sydney transmitting Delta to another Aucklander, the wide implementation of Rapid Antigen Testing will also have dire consequences.

The comments from Dr Frances Hughes, Daniel Elliott, Don Braid, Marc England, and Glen Sowry above all had one salient point in common: they were advocating for business interests to take priority over peoples’ safety and wellbeing.

The RAT offers a quick, albeit inaccurate, test-result – something that businesses desperately desire to operate smoothly. That these tests are inherently unreliable and unsafe is of little concern. The priority of a commercial enterprise is to it’s shareholders. Public safety is for government and its myriad official bodies.

If businesses can succesfully implement RAT, it will have paid lip-service to containing covid19 with minimal hurdles to their money-making pursuits.

To paraphrase an old tv commercial from the 1970s/80s, the RAT is a “Clayton’s” test: the covid test you’re having when you can’t be bothered with a real covid test.

The Rapid Antigen Test is a short-cut we can ill afford. But Delta will love it.

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UPDATE

On 14 October, the government acceded to demands from the business sector. Citing the “coalition of around 25 businesses across a range of sectors”,  an “exemption was granted by the Director-General of Health, to import and use approved rapid antigen tests”.

Let’s hope this turns out better than the ill-fated Trans Tasman Bubble. If it is successful, National will take credit for it’s implementation.

If it fails, and Delta spreads throughout the country, they will point blame at the government.

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References  

RNZ: ‘We need clarity’ for Covid-19 test to cross Auckland border – business owner

RNZ: Checkpoint – Call for government to consider cheaper, quicker testing for Covid-19

FDA: Stop Using Innova Medical Group SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test: FDA Safety Communication

Dark Daily: UK Continues to Use Innova’s SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test Despite Recall and FDA Warning Letter

RNZ: Coalition of 25 companies want to import 370,000 rapid antigen tests – but need permission

Otago Daily Times: Call to allow rapid antigen tests

Newshub: COVID-19 – Expert warns business coalition calling for rapid antigen tests to proceed with caution due to unreliability

Twitter: Chris Bishop – rapid antigen testing – 1.18 PM,  September 16 2021

RNZ: Judith Collins reiterates call for use of rapid antigen testing

RNZ: The Detail – The lowdown on rapid antigen tests

Science Direct: Accuracy of rapid antigen detection test for nasopharyngeal swab specimens and saliva samples in comparison with RT-PCR and viral culture for SARS-CoV-2 detection

Towards Data Science: Cohen’s Kappa

US Centre for Disease Control: Interim Guidance for Antigen Testing for SARS-CoV-2

TVNZ: Small number of locations of interest expected from Covid-positive truckie

TVNZ: Auckland truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North positive for Covid-19

Stuff media: Covid19 – Nasopharyngeal swabs, PCR tests still the ‘gold standard’

Newsroom: Sydney returnee likely source of Covid outbreak

Youtube: Claytons Commercial Australia 1980s

Beehive: Government green lights rapid antigen testing

Scoop: National Party – Time to introduce rapid antigen testing

Reference Sources

MIQ: History and origins of MIQ

Covid19: History of the COVID-19 Alert System

MBIE: Managed isolation and quarantine data

RNZ: Timeline – The year of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A timeline of the Delta outbreak

Recommended Reading

The Bad News Letter: The Fifth Columnists

Knightly Reading: Media lessons from a pandemic

Previous related blogposts  

Free Speech, done Newshub-style

The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

The Virus, the Media, and John Key

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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Purpose-built MIQ: National’s sums don’t add up

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Parts of National’s document – to open up Aotearoa New Zealand “to the world” – has been recycled from various policy and media releases last year and more recently.

Despite demanding that the country open up to the outside world and end lockdowns by 1 December, and to “bring all New Zealanders home by Christmas“, National is still demanding that several hundred million dollars be committed to purpose-built MIQ facilities.

Their document, National’s plan to tackle COVID-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world, calls for “1,000 to 1,500 permanent quarantine units and associated facilities outside of urban Auckland and close to the international airport and health and security workforce“:

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It is unclear why we would need MIQ facilities if the country “opened up” to the rest of the world. With Delta’s ferocious infectiousness, putting anyone into MIQ – irrespective of whether hotels or purpose-built – becomes a pointless exercise in futility. Delta would already be endemic throughout the country; spreading like wildfire; filling our hospitals and ICU beds; and our morgues.

By that stage, MIQ facilities become redundant. (Although Returnees might actually be safer inside a facility rather than outside, protected from an infected wider population.)

However, more to the point, National’s costing for a purpose built facility – which excludes land – is given as “estimated build cost would be circa $200 million” for “1,000 to 1,500 permanent quarantine units and associated facilities“.

It is unclear how $200 million can apply to one thousand units, or fifteen hundred units. The price must surely increase if the build increases. If not, someone is playing loose with construction costs.

It is also unclear where the figure of “$200 million” has come from.

The un-named author of National’s document quotes figures from the Victorian State Government plans for a purpose-built MIQ facility:

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National references the Victorian government’s plans with this URL: www.vic.gov.au/victorian-quarantine-hub.

Except, National’s figure of $200 million – whether for 1,000 or 1,500 units – doesn’t add up.

As this blogger first reported in July this year after National first floated it’s purpose-built MIQ facility some months earlier, it was noticeable at the time that neither Mr Bishop, nor his (current) Leader, had offered any costing for such a massive project:

To provide some broad indication, a planned purpose built quarantine facility in Victoria, Australia, is estimated to cost A$15 million [NZ16 million] to design and a further “A$200 million [NZ$214 million] to build a 500-bed facility and around A$700 million [NZ$750 million]  if it was scaled up to 3,000 beds”.

By comparison, Aotearoa has between 4,000 to 4,500 beds in hotels in Auckland (18), Hamilton (3), Rotorua (3), Wellington (2) and Christchurch (6).

Using the above figures, building a 4,000 bed facility would cost the country well over a billion dollars. With inevitable cost over-runs, the final figure would be anyone’s guess.

Chris Bishop also called for returnees to be paid a wage whilst self isolating;

“We think the government needs to be more generous when it comes to supporting people when they’re told to self-isolate. Earlier this year we announced a policy of the government paying people’s wages when people are ordered to self-isolate. It’s pretty sensible – if the government is saying to you “stay home” and we don’t want you at work – they should pay.”

National’s calls have not been costed – and nor would they be. The agenda from the Opposition is not to demand a more effective Managed Isolation and Quarantine system. Instead, their unspoken aim is,

(A) to paint the Labour government as ineffective, for pure political point-scoring

(B) to pressure the Labour government to adopt costly policies, which would push up borrowing and debt.  Caretaker Leader Collins would then wag a disapproving finger; and tut-tuttingly exclaim,

“It is irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from… it is ultimately the government’s decision to waste enormous amounts of money and not to actually put the focus on where it needs to be.”

Clever strategy; force your rival to spend money – then blame them for spending money.

National has now costed it’s proposed purpose-built MIQ – but the sums still do not add up.

In April this year, the Victorian government costed three options for MIQ. The first two were specifically reliant on hired, or mixed new-builds and hired, structures. Option three, purpose-built structures is closer to National’s plans.

Under heading “3.3.3 Project option 3: custombuilt structures”, page 28, the Victorian government plan calls for “entirely of purpose-built structures designed to remain permanently on the site“. Furthermore:

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Victoria’s plan calls for 3,000 accommodation units costing A$701.675 million;

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National’s plan calls for  1,000 to 1,500 units for NZ$200 million. Let’s assume the NZ$200 million is intended for the maximum build number: 1,500.

1,500 is half of Victoria’s 3,000 accommodation units.

Halve the cost of Victoria projected price tag: A$350.68 million.

Converting that sum to NZ dollars, using Westpac’s*  currency converter, A$350.68 million is roughly equivalent to NZ$359 million.

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National’s costings appear to be woefully under-stated – by a factor of one-and-a-half times.

Which is unsurprising. The party of “fiscal responsibility” has a poor track record of costing its policies with any meaningful accuracy:

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Tragically, the true cost of National’s policies will not be measured in dollars.

It will be measured in lives lost to a disease that, while tough to suppress and eradicate, should not be tolerated to rip through our communities.

We cannot afford a National government. Not in money; certainly not in lives.

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* Westpac is the government’s official bank.

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References

National: Opening Up: National’s plan to tackle COVID-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world (p 27, 28)

TVNZ: National proposes building of purpose-built quarantine facility on Auckland’s outskirts

RNZ: National proposes reopening fully vaccinated businesses in ‘back in business’ plan

Newshub: COVID-19 – National’s ‘home by Christmas’ plan a tantalising prospect for tens of thousands stranded offshore

ABC News: Melbourne COVID-19 quarantine facility approved as Commonwealth, Victoria agree on site

Managed Isolation and Quarantine: Managed Isolation and Quarantine capacity

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Why the Government isn’t using purpose-built quarantine facilities

National Party: Ditch DHB merger, spend funding on medicines instead

Vic.gov.au: Alternative Quarantine Accommodation Hub Project Summary  April 2021 (p 27-29)

Westpac: Currency Converter

Stuff media: Election 2020 – ‘Fair cop’ – National’s Paul Goldsmith admits to accounting mistake as Labour points out $4b hole

Newshub: NZ Election 2020 – Paul Goldsmith calls ‘$4 billion gap’ in National’s fiscal plan ‘irritating mistake’

The Spinoff: The launch that fell down a four-billion-dollar fiscal hole

RNZ: Judith Collins downplays National’s fiscal error, defends Paul Goldsmith

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National’s fiscal hole appears to double to $8 billion as Paul Goldsmith denies double count mistake

RNZ: Explainer – How deep does National’s fiscal hole go?

Previous related blogposts

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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The Virus, the Politician, and the gang member

10 October 2021 4 comments

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The claim from NZ First Leader, and former MP, Winston Peters, was stunning: Harry Tam and an unknown woman had breached Auckland’s containment boundaries with falsified documents and headed north.

He told Newshub Nation host, Simon Shepherd on 9 October:

“This person came here with a gang member assigned essential worker status, falsified the reason she was coming.

[She] engaged with people at a hotel in Whangarei… and went to a marae up north which hid her from the public and dare I say it, the police. The police got a warrant to arrest her.

How he got up north, that is very difficult to understand in terms of the permit system, but he brought in, under false premises, this woman with him. The rest, sadly, is catastrophic.

I am absolutely certain of my sources, otherwise I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying.

Let them deny it, and they won’t. But when the press was told yesterday at 6:30pm by Minister Hipkins that he didn’t, that simply wasn’t true. Frankly, we will never get through this crisis if we aren’t transparent and honest.”

An uncomfortable-looking Simon Shepherd was obviously taken aback by Mr Peters’ alllegations and perhaps he was quickly calculating how far he could go to obtain more details from the former NZ First leader.

This blogger could only guess that the show’s producer may have had their finger hovering over the Big Red Button to cut quickly to an ad break.

The allegations were serious: Mr Peters had accused gang leader, Harry Tam, of a serious crime. He wasn’t presenting his allegations as opinion, they were stated as fact:

How he got up north, that is very difficult to understand in terms of the permit system, but he brought in, under false premises, this woman with him […]

I am absolutely certain of my sources, otherwise I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying.

Harry Tam denied Mr Peters’ allegation:

“If Winston said it, he needs to prove it… If he’s not going to apologise, we will need to look at legal action. I didn’t bring anyone with me. Where did he get his information from? What is his source?”

As reported by Te Ao Maori News:

Tam told Te Ao Māori News, Peters was off the mark, while he had travelled to Tāmaki under a government exemption to support efforts to get gang members vaccinated, he travelled alone and had never been to Northland since arriving in Auckland.

It would be difficult for someone as well know as Harry Tam to have been moving around Auckland without being spotted by members of the public.

His cellphone would have been picked up by cellphone towers around the region, making his whereabouts ridiculously easy to ascertain.

According to how Police are wording their search for the “other woman”, it is apparent that both travellers are women.

Harry Tam is known to be a male.

There will be fallout for Winston Peters.

His wild claims not only put himself up for being sued – but TV3/Newshub is also in the firing line.

It is eerily similar to various pro-Trump conspiracy theorists who have been sued by companies for alleging that their voting machines were “rigged” in favour of  Joe Biden:

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If it is correct that Mr Peters obtained his “information” from Facebook or via a conspiratorial email currently being circulated, he may be in for a shock. Such sources usually do not carry much weight in a Court of law:

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This may well have been Mr Peters last appearance on any mainstream media – at least for a live interview. No media outlet will want to risk a lawsuit because of his unpredictability with extravagant, potentially defamatory, claims.

It’s a tough day at the office when a politician’s credibility falls below that of a gang member.

I hope the 24 hours news-cycle notoriety was worth it, Mr Peters?

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References

Newshub Nation: Gang leader Harry Tam denies Winston Peters’ claims he helped infected woman breach COVID boundary, sparking Northland lockdown

Te Ao News: ‘Apologise!’ Mob leader slams Peters’ Covid, Northland allegations

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Search for contact of Northland case ‘extraordinarily frustrating’

CNBC: Judge grills lawyers for Fox News, Powell, Giuliani about election fraud claims in $2.7 billion Smartmatic defamation suit

USA Today: Fact check – False claim that Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell prevailed in Dominion lawsuits

Forbes: After Lawsuits Against Newsmax And OANN, Here’s Who Dominion Has Sued So Far—And Who Could Be Next

Vox: Sidney Powell gives up the game, admits Trump’s election conspiracies weren’t factual

Forbes: Trump Campaign Knew Dominion Fraud Claims Were False, Memo Reportedly Shows—But Giuliani Still Pushed Them

Business Insider Australia: Rudy Guiliani admits under oath that he got some of his ‘evidence’ of alleged election fraud from Facebook

Other Blogs

Kiwiblog: Winston vs Harry

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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

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Open letter to Michael Barnett, Julie White, et al

8 October 2021 1 comment

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Congratulations,  Mr Barnett, Ms White, and your business colleagues. It appears that we will end up having to “live” (ie, get sick, end up in hospital, perhaps in ICU, intubated on ventilators, and possibly dying as our lungs fail) with covid19.

But at least businesses will open up. Business will finally have *CERTAINTY*.

The Delta Strain on covid19 will run rampant. It is so highly infectious that it appears nigh on impossible to eradicate,  contain, or avoid. Especially as so many people refuse to take simple precautions; wearing masks, staying home if unwell, or getting vaccinated.

Our hospitals will quickly fill up with covid cases. It has happened overseas, I see no reason why we should be exempt in Aotearoa New Zealand.

So if you present at your local hospital with a broken limb, some other infection, heart attack, stroke, etc, well, be prepared to stand – or rather lie down – in line. Don’t expect treatment any time soon. Our fabulous nurses and doctors, the ones not yet worked to exhaustion and burned out, will get to you. Eventually. Maybe five or six hours? Or next morning?

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You know what else you can have 100% certainty about? The mainstream  media will report story after story after story of hospitals near collapse and grieving families. The click-bating headlines, radio and TV interviews, will be an hourly, daily, weekly event. Wait till the first toddler dies from covid – can you see the headlines? I can. That’s a certainty you can take to the bank.

If you thought media milked ‘heart string’ stories of New Zealanders trapped overseas – desperate for limited MIQ slots – you ain’t see nothing yet. You can be very, very certain of how media will feast – gorge themselves – on tragedies to come.

In turn, those relentless stories will feed public fear.

The media – your “unwitting allies” to push your agenda – will turn on you.

But at least restaurants, cafes, bars, theatres, conventions, etc, etc, etc, etc, can all open up.

Yes, you have certainty in that.

But you know what else you can be certain of?

A whole bunch of workers who will get sick. Expect your businesses to lose staff to many more sick days off. After last year’s lockdown, influenza and other viral diseases fell so low we’ve probably never been healthier.

That will change. And it will cost your businesses dearly.

As sure as evolution made li’l green apples, you can have certainty of that.

Oh, and you know what else will probably happen? A terrified population. Even vaccinated people like me will be even more constantly hyper-vigilant; more wary of crowded spaces, less willing to take risks.

So once covid reaches Wellington, no more restaurants, cafes, bars, theatres, conventions, etc, etc, etc, etc, for me or my partner. Though we’re both double vaccinated, we both still have underlying  conditions.

And I work in the wider health sector with vulnerable clients. Two of whom would not survive covid. It would be their death sentence. So no going out for me, even if I wanted to. (Which I won’t.)

But I digress.

So once covid reaches Wellington, it’ll be more quiet nights in. Perhaps a few contactless takeaways. Thank the gods for online entertainment; streaming means no more going out to movies.

And thank goodness for online shopping. Christmas prezzy shopping will be done from the safety of my computer screen. Hello, Amazon!

There may be many, many more people like us. The aging, propertied, cashed-up, baby-boomer generation  – the demographic your businesses rely on so much – may well share our reluctance to sally forth out on the town.

You can have certainty there.

So your businesses will be open. But maybe a little  – or lot! – less crowded.

So enjoy your open businesses.  Enjoy your certainty. You got what you wanted.

How does it feel?

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References

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

Previous related blogposts

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

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Acknowledment: Anthony Ellison

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The Virus, the Bubble, and the Trap

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In case people missed it, National’s de- facto 2023 election campaign was launched on 15 March this year.

The campaign – in the form of a petition to open a Trans Tasman bubble without need for MIQ – was uploaded onto National’s twitter account, and twentyfive minutes later onto Caretaker Leader, Judith Collin’s account:

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Pressure mounted from the business community. The usual vocal business, tourism, and hospitality industry lobbyists made their voices heard loud and repetitively to the point of being cliched “broken records”:

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Even state-owned, non-commercial RNZ was prodigious in platforming the clamour from business interests.

Voices calling for caution were few and far between. Apparently, calls for caution were not nearly as news-worthy and exciting as the prospect of re-opening our borders to our nearest neighbour after nearly a year cut off from the rest of the world.

One voice of caution came from Stuff Media’s travel journalist, Brooke Sabin. In October 2020, Mr Sabin posed five critical questions pertaining to any proposed travel bubble. One such question asked:

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One of the key questions around a travel bubble with Australia is what happens if a community case pops up? For example, if we have flights to Adelaide and a single mystery case popped up there, would flights to and from New Zealand be cancelled? If not, would we adopt Australia’s hotspot definition and stop travel if there were more than three cases for three days in a row? The New Zealand public may find that hard to stomach, but that’s why debate is needed now, before the election, to try and settle on a risk we’re happy with.

Travellers, airlines, insurers and the tourism industry need this certainty. We could see cases pop up once a bubble is underway, and nobody quite knows at what point travel would continue, or if tens of thousands would have travel plans disrupted by widespread cancellations.

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Events nine months later were to answer his questions, with grim, dramatic effect.

Ironically, Brook Sabin’s article was picked up and republished by a merchant banker, Fifo Capital. The financiers at Fifo obviously recognised the inherent danger posed to the Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy should covid19 – especially the highly infectious Delta Strain –  break through our borders. It was a pity other businesses did not share Fifo’s wise caution.

The strident calls to open a Trans Tasman bubble succeeded.

On 6 April this year, PM Ardern announced that “quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia will start on Monday 19 April“.

However, she also issued a clear, stark warning:

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“Quarantine free travel will not be what it was pre-COVID-19, and those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of ‘flyer beware’. People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak.”

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It was a warning that many either did not heed or understand.

University of Auckland epidemiology professor, Rod Jackson, who recently appeared on Newshub Nation (2 October), and who has a reputation for clear, unvarnished, truth stated with crystal clarity:

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“I’ve seen some things in the newspaper and the media about people complaining they are not being helped by the New Zealand government when they’re stuck in Australia and can’t come back.

I think that they need to suck it up, that anyone who wants to go to Australia needs to be aware that at a moment’s notice they could end up being there for weeks, if not months.”

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Again, people took no notice.

Eighteen days late, on 23 July, PM Ardern announced the closure of the Trans Tasman bubble. The Delta Strain was spreading through Australia and the risk that a traveller could bring it back to this country – as happened in June this year – could no longer be ignored.

PM Ardern pleaded with New Zealanders:

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“There is considerable pressure on our managed isolation facilities at the moment and my strong urging to everyone is do not travel to Australia in the next eight weeks.”

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Returnees were put in two weeks isolation upon return to Aotearoa New Zealand, putting a strain on availability of MIQ rooms. New Zalanders were now not only trapped throughout the world, trying to get home, but thousands were now also trapped throughout Australia.

Returnees demanded access to MIQ rooms. There were insufficient rooms. Calls became strident. The media shamelessly gorged itself on amplified stories of misery, stress, and hardship. There were emotive headlines and interviews. There were clicks to be gained; advertising to sell; and careers to build.

A few in the media bucked the stampede to exploit this human crisis. Writing in his column, Q+A presenter, Jack Tame, pointed out the blindingly obvious:

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“Remember – this is the way the bubble was designed to function. From the word go, there was risk for anyone who decided to go to Australia. You bought a ticket. You chose to travel. You assumed that risk. I actually think the people who’ve come back from New South Wales and into MIQ should consider themselves very lucky they haven’t had to pay for the privilege when everyone else does.”

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The truth is that business and political agitation for a trans tasman bubble generated considerable media stories. Once the bubble collapsed and New Zealanders were trapped overseas, there were yet more “human interest” stories to be made. The more tragic the story, the better the headline.

24 hours a day, seven days a week, the media feasted.

Critics of the Labour government; political opportunists; those dissatisfied with travel restrictions; and detractors of the MIQ system were quick to weaponise “human interest”, “heart-string” stories for their own ends. Where reasoned argument fell short against our covid19 and MIQ policies, emotive invective took over. That weaponisation of PM Ardern’s plea to Be Kind was turned back against the government and those who understood the danger which covid19 posed to us collectively.

And then, finally, our luck well and truly ran out.

On 17 August – four months after the Trans Tasman bubble had opened – a community case of the Delta Strain was detected in one person, in Auckland. The PM wasted no time, and the entire country was thrown into Level 4 Alert lockdown at 11.59PM that very night.

Since then, Delta has infected 1,420 people. Two have tragically died (as at 6 October 2021).

The response from National, amplified by the media, has been scathing:

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Voxy: ‘Short and sharp’ lockdown will be the longest ever - Judith Collins, Chris Bishop   http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/392524   National:  Time has run out on Government’s incoherent Covid strategy  https://www.national.org.nz/time-has-run-out-on-governments-incoherent-covid-strategy    Newshub: Sparks fly in Parliament as Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins deny pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout meant inevitable lockdown  https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/09/sparks-fly-in-parliament-as-jacinda-ardern-chris-hipkins-deny-pace-of-covid-19-vaccine-rollout-meant-inevitable-lockdown.html   National: Government has choices and needs to make them now  https://www.national.org.nz/government-has-choices-and-needs-to-make-them-now    National: New Zealand at Covid crossroads  https://www.national.org.nz/new-zealand-at-covid-crossroads   National: What is the Government’s Covid strategy?  https://www.national.org.nz/what-is-the-governments-covid-strategy    Newshub: Coronavirus: Judith Collins says 'no point worrying' about source of COVID-19 outbreak, Ardern should 'deal with it' or accept she can't change it  https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/09/coronavirus-judith-collins-says-no-point-worrying-about-source-of-covid-19-outbreak-ardern-should-deal-with-it-or-accept-she-can-t-change-it.html        National: No mention of Delta strain in Government plans  https://www.national.org.nz/no-mention-of-delta-strain-in-government-plans    National: South Island should drop now to alert level 2    https://www.national.org.nz/south-island-should-drop-now-to-alert-level-2    National: Labour has dropped the MIQ ball  https://www.national.org.nz/labour-has-dropped-the-miq-ball   Stuff media: Covid-19 NZ - Judith Collins says level 4 should be all but ruled out, Government lacks mandate to lock people down  https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/300412630/covid19-nz-judith-collins-says-level-4-should-be-all-but-ruled-out-government-lacks-mandate-to-lock-people-down     National: No mention of Delta strain in Government plans  https://www.national.org.nz/no-mention-of-delta-strain-in-government-plans       National: Labour recklessly delayed vaccine shipments  https://www.national.org.nz/labour-recklessly-delayed-vaccine-shipments    RNZ: New level 2 rules a 'bitter pill to swallow' for South Island, Collins says  https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/450975/new-level-2-rules-a-bitter-pill-to-swallow-for-south-island-collins-says    National: Minister won’t say how much more taxpayers will be up for  https://www.national.org.nz/minister-wont-say-how-much-more-taxpayers-will-be-up-for

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Every morning, afternoon, and throughout the evening, from Monday to Sunday, National and their fellow-travellers from business and right-wing media  excoriated the government for the current outbreak. The relentless headlines – of which only a small sample is presented above – does not even  include radio, television interviews and social media propaganda.

Demands for a Trans Tasman bubble was a carefully laid trap from National.

If the bubble  was successful, Chris Bishop and National’s current (?) Leader, could loudly proclaim success and claim credit for loosening restrictions and ‘liberating’ New Zealanders from our isolation. It would be a valuable, vote-grabbing ‘coup’ to take to the 2023 general election.

“See? This is what a competent government looks like! This is what a National does! Vote for us!”

If the bubble failed, Chris Bishop and National’s current (?) Leader, could blast the government for incompetence and every other ‘misdemeanour’ imaginable.

“See? This is what an incompetent government looks like! This is what Labour does! Vote for us!”

Truly, it was a win/win, no-lose, cunning gambit.

The Government fell for the trap. Delta got loose. Country forced into lockdown. Delta all but impossible to contain.

Checkmate.

If there is a lesson for Labour, it is this: As Opposition, National can demand whatever it can dream up. But as Opposition, it has zero accountability for consequences when things go horribly wrong.

Never listen to National. They are the the party of responsibility, except when National has no responsibility.

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References

National Party: Open the Trans Tasman Bubble Now (archived)

Twitter: National Party – Sign the Trans Tasman bubble petition

Twitter: Judith Collins – Sign the Trans Tasman bubble petition

RNZ: Tourism New Zealand forecasting billion-dollar economy boost if trans-Tasman bubble opens

Stuff media: Crack open the border, mate – Waikato tourist towns’ plea for trans-Tasman bubble

Stuff media: Tourism disappointed over delay in trans-Tasman bubble date

Newshub: Coronavirus: – Pressure mounting on Government to open trans-Tasman bubble soon to save tourism businesses

RNZ: Business community wants quick decision on trans-Tasman bubble

Newshub: COVID-19 – Concerns some small tourist towns will be gone before trans-Tasman bubble opens

Stuff media: Government pushed to act on trans-Tasman travel bubble

Stuff media: Covid-19  Five big problems with the proposed trans-Tasman travel bubble

Fifo Capital:

Beehive.govt.nz: Trans-Tasman bubble to start 19 April

Newshub: Coronavirus – Expert’s blunt message to the Govt as it ponders level 2 for Auckland – ‘How brutal do you want to go?’

Stuff media: Trans-Tasman travel: Prepare to be stuck ‘for weeks’ if you travel under re-opened bubble, expert says

RNZ: NZ government suspends quarantine-free travel with Australia for at least eight weeks

RNZ:  Australian traveller who visited Wellington has Delta variant

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A timeline of the Delta outbreak

Ministry of Health: 39 community cases of COVID-19; two border cases; more than 63,000 vaccines doses administered yesterday

Voxy: ‘Short and sharp’ lockdown will be the longest ever – Judith Collins, Chris Bishop

National: Time has run out on Government’s incoherent Covid strategy

Newshub: Sparks fly in Parliament as Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins deny pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout meant inevitable lockdown

National: Government has choices and needs to make them now

National: New Zealand at Covid crossroads

National: What is the Government’s Covid strategy?

Newshub: Coronavirus – Judith Collins says ‘no point worrying’ about source of COVID-19 outbreak, Ardern should ‘deal with it’ or accept she can’t change it

National: No mention of Delta strain in Government plans

National: South Island should drop now to alert level 2

National: Labour has dropped the MIQ ball

Stuff media: Covid-19 NZ – Judith Collins says level 4 should be all but ruled out, Government lacks mandate to lock people down

National: Labour recklessly delayed vaccine shipments

RNZ: New level 2 rules a ‘bitter pill to swallow’ for South Island, Collins says

National: Minister won’t say how much more taxpayers will be up for

Additional

The Spinoff: New Zealand urgently needs a serious opposition leader

Al Jazeera: New Zealand grapples with Delta – and Tucker Carlson

Reference sources

MIQ: History and origins of MIQ

Covid19: History of the COVID-19 Alert System

MBIE: Managed isolation and quarantine data

RNZ: Timeline – The year of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A timeline of the Delta outbreak

Other Blogs

The Knightly Views: Media lessons from a pandemic

The Standard: Smug hermit king

Previous related blogposts

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

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

The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

The Virus, the Media, and John Key

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson (15-21 March 2021)

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Liked what you read? Feel free to share.

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

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= fs =

The Virus, the Media, and John Key

3 October 2021 5 comments

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Acknowledgement: @komerata

 

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“People are crying on TV and on radio stations, every single day, because they are stateless, they cannot come back to New Zealand.”  – John Key, ex-Prime Minister, “Morning Report”, RNZ 

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The crocodile tears flew – albeit briefly – on RNZ’s “Morning Report” on 27 September, by ex-Prime Minister ex-Merril Lynch ‘banker’, and still-practicing smiling assassin, John Key.

The interview with Corin Dann showed a side of Key not often seen by the Great Unwashed Masses; condescending; quick to anger; and irritable at being questioned. His defensiveness was over the publication of his op-ed in no less than four major daily newspapers was either fortuitously achieved – or with great precision-planning and with the witting or unwitting collusion of the media involved.

This screen-cap from The Spin-Off (with associated excellent satirical piece, lampooning Key’s dangerous ‘reckons’) showed the four dailies involved in the synchronised, targetted release of the agit-prop article he purportedly wrote:

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The lampooning of Mr Key’s reckons – by Spinoff editor Toby Manhire – is pure cutting satire and the only possible way to deal with the ill-informed pronouncements of a man who was, at best, a mediocre prime minister and achieved nothing except a failed flag referendum; tax cuts for the rich; and a novel – if utterly barmy – idea of a sheep farm in the middle of the Saudi desert. (Who knew sheep preferred to eat grass, instead of sand?)

My ex-journo friend wondered:

“I see Key is also sounding off in the Sunday Herald as well. His business mates are likely channeling through him rather than coming out and saying anything directly so as to protect themselves from public backlash.”

Unfortunately,Mr Key’s (?) op-ed was not the first to be platformed in the mainstream media.

As has been pointed out by many on social media – and by my ex-journalist friend – it is almost as if the public are being “softened up”.

But softened-up for what?

The mainstream media has – and currently still is – flooding their platforms with “Open Up” (current version of Plan Bers) demands from business lobbyists, sports people, and a bunch of Kiwis who have the crazy notion that travelling overseas during a raging pandemic – or bringing in a flood of tourists and migrant workers – is a jolly good idea.

It’s like a small – but increasing vociferous number – have not been paying attention to New South Wales, Fiji, Brazil, United States, United Kingdom, and practically almost everywhere else on this planet. And every time platformed and amplified almost wholly uncritically by every media outlet in the country.

Including, bizarrely, state-owned, non-commercial, Radio NZ. (The profit motive may not apply to RNZ’s corporate structure, but personal career advancement might play a role.)

Only Stuff media has published an op-ed questioning this current, relentless push to live (ie, die) with covid:

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Yes, Dominion Post editor, Anna Fifield, has called it: Aotearoa New Zealand is not North Korea. Not even close. In fact, contrary to our geographically-confused American cuzzies’ belief, we are not Australia either.

North Korea. Australia. Aotearoa New Zealand. Three different countries.

You can tell they are different: we make a better Flat White and our rugby team is the best of all three. (Does North Korea even play rugby? Ask John Key: he seems up with communist dictatorships.)

Unfortunately, for Ms Fifield, there was a very brief comment in her 27 September editorial,  where she admits:

And we in the Wellington newsroom of Stuff have been actively reporting about the impact of our system on businesses, including the tech sector, and the long-term economic ramifications of it.

Not only is she correct, but every other mainstream media (msm) in the country has been fulsome in  “actively reporting the impact of our system on businesses“. Reporting every day. On every TV news and current affairs broadcast. On every radio station, including non-commercial RNZ. In every newspaper and probably most magazines.

Relentlessly.

Often repetitively – in case we missed it the first time:

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23 September, 5.20PM

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23 September, 7.30PM

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28 September

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Interesting how categories of the three, related stories above went from “Health/Politics” to “Business/Covid19“. When did Covid19 cease to be a Health issue for RNZ?

In fact, unless you stopped reading; scrolling, listening, and watching, the entire nationwide msm spectrum – you’d be hard-pressed not to be informed of “the impact of our system on businesses“.

To describe the msm as business-friendly propaganda would be apt, probably even under-stated.

Only communist nations have broadcast “positive” aspects of their economic system as constantly; widely; repetitively, and incessantly. (Yes, Ms Fifield, I have lived under a communist system. For about eleven months, in the late 1970s) in my parents homeland, the Hungarian People’s Republic, governed by the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party.)

The only way to avoid the incessant bombardment of negativity; whining; hysterical pleas to “open up”; never-ending stream of stressed businesspeople; onslaught of ‘heart-string’ stories of New Zealanders trapped overseas (often after voluntarily travelling overseas since March last year) –  is to avoid the msm altogether.

This blogger switched off all electronic media for three days during last year’s Level 4 lockdown.

This year, the off-switch was flicked for RNZ’s “Checkpoint“, which had seemingly perfected whinging and negativity to a fine art. This blogger ceased listening for about a week and a half, until Aotearoa New Zealand (minus Auckland) dropped to Level 2.

And what was the first story on “Checkpoint” on 8 September, the first full day of Level 2?

Guess…

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business whinging whining carping complaining

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Yup.  They just couldn’t help themselves, could they? The very first story: a business whinge.

I switched of.

If RNZ has become a subsidiary of the National Business Review, we certainly missed that memo.

Following John Key’s first salvo of op-eds, he was followed by Richard Prebble, Paul Henry, and Steven Joyce (on tediously numerous occassions). All three thankfully paywalled. The term male, pale, and stale has never felt more appropriately descriptive.

Mr Joyce’s reference to the current “Jacinda Ardern Government getting too big for its bossy boots” was a bit rich, considering his decidely authoritarian-flavoured comment to tertiary students almost exactly decade ago:

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Minister to students: ‘keep your heads down’

NZ Herald – 27 Sep, 2011 11:39 AM – By Claire Trevett

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has warned protesting university students to keep their heads down lest they draw attention to their relatively privileged position in hard economic times.

Asked about the student protests at Auckland University yesterday, Mr Joyce said university students had 75 per cent of the tuition subsidised on average and benefited from interest-free student loans.

“My general advice to NZUSA (NZ Union of Students’ Associations) on the cost of living for students is to keep your heads down because actually most people probably think you’re doing OK.”

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The steady stream of debilitating, depressing media negativity has not gone unnoticed by many fellow New Zealanders (including my own partner and other close friends and work colleagues – most of whom are sick of it all). Social media is full of people expressing their weariness of msm negativity:

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I’m in MIQ and yes it has its flaws & shortcomings, being away from family I desperately want to see but I’m prepared to do to keep Delta out. WTF are we doing listening to JFK when he just wants to be able to flit to Hawaii and back on a whim? F**k him and his self-centredness. – 1:19 PM · Aug 12, 2021

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Kia ora @1NewsNZ, @TVNZ, no matter the decision today, please, please, please can we not hear from the moaners & whingers. It’s the moaning that is getting to many of us here in L4 & it will greatly improve our outlook if we weren’t subjected to more. Kia ora mo o taringa. – 12:23 PM · Sep 20, 2021

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100% We’re doing the mahi and the constant moaning and complaining is not representative of most of us. It’s so hard to deal with. We need positivity – 2:52 PM · Sep 20, 2021

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Individual journalists may not realise the cumulative effect their negativity has. Yes govt should be held to account but that can be done w/o centring ignorance without pushback and exaggerating errors. Social license to lock down is only thing stopping us from turning into NSW. – 7:02 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Although my business is closed until we hit L2 I realise it’s the right thing to do to be in lockdown. I wonder if the media will ever go for comment from small business owners that accept that this is the way forward because we understand what that means for the economy? –  9:07 AM · Aug 26, 2021

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Are the media being responsible during our outbreak, or are they nitpicking, delving into the sewers, which includes foreign media, to make us all fearful and anxious? Some words do matter, be careful how you use them.8:51 AM · Aug 26, 2021

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It’s interesting that at no stage has any official said we stop elimination strategy now. But all the media are softening the public up to do just that. And more and more antivax coming up with extreme right “learn to live with it” bollocks. Manipulation is occurring why? – 8:37 AM · Sep 26, 2021

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Seeing journos moaning about the slating they are getting. Either be a tabloid hack and ignore the criticism, or do a better job, don’t write such rubbish then bitch when people don’t like it. – 12:52 PM · Sep 24, 2021

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Because the media live on playing games for profit. Now stakes involve human lives – they’ve never felt a more thrilling empowerment. – 7:25 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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I don’t get it honestly. I tend to back away from news sources now, I just cant even – 5:27 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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Because national disasters sell newspapers. – 8:49 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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Fair minded KIwis are sick to death with the barrage of MIQ and stranded traveller sob stories Kiwis have had opportinities over 500 days to get back to NZ . Those that went to Australia were pre-warned by PM Ardern flyer beware and get back on red flights or risk being stranded8:43 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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Totally sick of hearing about vaccine logistics stuff. We’ve just had a massive demand spike of a perishable product with very precise transport demands. Hell, the timber industry couldn’t even get its shit together with a few years notice, & we grow the bloody wood – 1:22 PM · Sep 7, 2021

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Agreed it seems like the media want to highlight every small thing that goes wrong in MIQ..it’s poor form given more than 170k kiwis have returned and they highlight the less than 5% that have had issues..  – 9:37 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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I agree. I would love to go & see my Dad in Scotland as he’s just had major heart surgery @ 84 but I decided early 2020 I would not be leaving NZ for anything ~ not to spread it around the globe, not to bring it back but most of all to survive. – 10:13 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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This genius departed for the USA to work in a summer camp on 13 June, and now can’t get a spot in MIQ, seriously? https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/travel-troubles/300408053/american-dream-turns-into-nightmare-for-new-zealander-desperate-to-return-home9:57 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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News junkie son in Melbourne tells me he has switched off all news. Professional comms daughter in Sydney has switched off all her private social media. I have turned off RNZ. Personal wellbeing decisions in stressful times. – 9:35 AM · Aug 31, 2021

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Moaning Report  – 9:57 AM · Aug 31, 2021

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NZ media has had more of an effect on my mental health than lockdown itself. I’m just finding myself being bombarded with right wing hatred towards our current government. I am always a supporter of valid criticism but this has gone past the line of criticism. – 10:09 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Very sad that NZ media is incapable of taking the pulse of the nation. – 8:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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It’s kind of a very New Zealand thing that the media are telling us we are “totally feed up”, and completely “over it” yet we are just stoically getting on with doing what we need to as a whole. – 6:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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I just can’t stand feeling ok, getting on with it, making the best of it, only to feel dragged down by the weight of the negativity on the 6pm news. We all know people are struggling. But just framing some things in a positive light would be nice – 6:38 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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There’s no money in stories about Kiwis just getting on with it…  Which is kind of sad… – 6:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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I deleted the Stuff app from my phone over this. (deleted NZ Herald a year ago) – 10:55 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Yep, for the first time in my life I’ve stopped checking in on media sites – their clickbaity, dramatised headlines are all too often misleading and unnecessarily distressing. I figure if anything important happens, I’ll hear about it pretty quickly here, and with some nuance. – 8:37 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Yep, feeling pretty much the same way. The constant negativity and political twattery all for the sake of scoring points is exhausting. I know that they don’t talk for the majority but their voices are so much louder than everyone else’s… – 1:33 PM · Aug 30, 2021

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My feelings exactly. I’m exhausted by the media negativity. – 7:42 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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So agree. The only thing that gets me angry is the platforming of RW, business viewpoints that just see workers as grist for their mills. – 10:59 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Delete any app that bring news. Mute those outlets’ accounts. I did, and it helps. – 11:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The equivalent of “some people say” and/or using their opinion writers as speaking for the nation while the nation is saying “who writes this shit”? – 9:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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to be fair to the media I think there’s a fair amount of them (outside of Granny, obvi) who do support the strategy, they just want more accountability and more preplanning, which is hard to argue against. The vaccine catastrophizing is utterly ridiculous though, lol. – 6:40 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Totally agree, it is really depressing being bombarded every day by sniping & negativity. Do they know that this is the effect they are having? – 8:51 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Remember by their own fruition the majority of NZ’s mainstream media are HQed in Auckland.
They gutted regional newsrooms & shut down external studios to base everything there.
Now the chickens have come home to roost & Auckland gets a month-longer lockdown than everyone else! –
7:34 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Couldn’t agree more! I’m not fed up at all…except with the crappy media!  Kiwis have got this! Around 85% thought we were right to lock down and since there is light at the end of the tunnel, why stop now!? – 11:27 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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It’s such a crack up when they have a story with a mayor or a business leader going on about how unhappy everyone is and then they cut to interviews in the street and the people they speak to are overwhelmingly for what we are doing. – 6:41 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Actually I am over it, I’m over the media telling me what I feel despite it not being anywhere near what I infact feel – 8:36 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Well, we are totally fed up….. with the media that is. I’m definitely over people with no health qualifications pontificating about how we ‘just need to live with it’ – 7:51 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The media need to take along hard look at themselves. I am totally fed up with opinion posing as journalism, reckons as facts, completely over it.  – 10:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The thing is “NZ media” as it relates to Covid is the press gallery, whose world revolves around listening to stand ups and having to interview the opposition for their daily shit takes. It’s no wonder their summation is “Kiwis are over it.” I would be too in their shoes. – 10:21 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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I’m so sick of the NZ journalists, fucking depressing bunch and all they want to do is bitch and moan. Meanwhile, the rest of us just get on with it – 7:02 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Apologies for the long list of comments. Believe me, there were way, way more. The above is only a small, random sampling of comments gleaned from Twitter.

More important from the comments on this issue came from Chloe Ann-King, a spokesperson for hospitality workers and founder of Raise the Bar Hospo Union (RBHU), this salient criticism of the media:

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So not only have media relentlessly amplified business voices – almost always complaining, criticising, and demanding – but inevitably no workers are ever (?) interviewed for their takes.

On 29 August this year, Stuff’s political reporter, Andrea Vance, published an overtly defensive “opinion” piece, dismissing criticism of media coverage of the covid crisis.

In it she opined that scrutiny of the government was an essential role of the media:

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has given a spirited defence of her Government’s decisions. She’s more than up to handling the criticism.

Of course, she must exude confidence in the strategy and maintain consistent and clear messaging. But it’s troubling when she says she doesn’t want a debate.

And that makes it even more crucial to have robust scrutiny from outside her inner circle.

Because if they are the right decisions, then they remain the right decisions. Questions and alternative viewpoints won’t change that, and we can be more confident we’re on the right course.

We shouldn’t run from transparent and open debate – scrutiny can only improve the decision-making.”

Few would disagree with that statement.

In fact, it was media scrutiny that revealed severe short-coming in MIQ facilities with security; lack of appropriate PPE gear, and behaviours of some staff which was less than ideal.

This blogger, and most people have no problem with media ensuring that MIQ, vaccinations, and lockdowns are appropriately handled.

We are mature people (generally, with minor exceptions) . We can take information that may be difficult to digest. We want bad news given to us unvarnished, with options for answers.

That is why, as Ms Vance writes – though in a vaguely dismissive way – that we value our scientists and medical personnel with such high regard:

It’s fantastic that the tight circle of academic experts advising the Government make themselves readily available to explain the modelling and the science.

In the pandemic, medical experts (the virologists, epidemiologists, statisticians and modellers) have become our modern-day talisman. It’s a refreshing change from the tendency to devalue expertise seen in recent years.

Physicist and covid-modeller, Shaun Hendy’s participation in the Government’s daily 1PM ‘presser’ on 23 September and Epidemioloist, Rod Jackson appearing on TV3’s Newshub Nation, on 2 October, did not ‘sugar coat’ what we were facing. They were blunt and honest with the facts and possible consequences.

Few people objected and those that did, in one instance, appears to have had a bad case of bruised-egoitis.

But what she and her colleagues fail to utterly comprehend is that it’s not scrutiny of the government that has provoked a torrent of criticism against the media itself.

Criticism – as comments above clearly show – revolve around non-stop, negative stories from business interests; New Zealanders stuck overseas (a number of whom are the authors of their own predicament); naked political opportunism; and giving voice to practically anyone with dissatisfaction. It is repetitive; lacking any real purpose (except click-generating headlines); and – I  submit – psychologically detrimental.

Individual journalists and media outlets seem to think that they don’t produce much in the way of negative stories. Perhaps one or two a day? But add all the media outlets together, many with different aspects of an individual organisation (eg; RNZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, ‘Mid Day Report‘, ‘Checkpoint‘, ‘Lately‘); each churning out their own ‘doom n gloom’ stories – and it mounts up very quickly.

Ms Vance and her colleagues are wholly responsible for the material they put out. The public has little in-put into decision-making. The things they write; the stories they publish or broadcast, have content that inevitably has an effect. (Why else preface some stories with warnings of “Content may be disturbing – viewer/reader discretion advised”?)

A constant diet of bad news stories cannot be mentally healthy. Especially to a nation already stressed with hyper-vigilance as covid bangs on our rampart walls. When five million people have experienced massive disruption to their lives with outbreaks; closures of schools and businesses; lockdowns; and advised to stay home – these are all pressures we have to face.

Most do not complain. We do what we must to save lives. We have seen the misery covid19 has caused overseas, bringing even the most powerful nations to the brink of disaster. So we have seen the lessons from overseas and the consequences of failure is not lost on us.

It is already tough-going for many and stressful. Adding the burden of negativity is not only unhelpful, it adds further despondency. It is a slow chipping away of our resolve.

So when we do speak up, it would do the media industry well to listen. After all, are media folk not part of our community?

The whole point of journalism and the media machine is to engage and inform the public (as well as sell toothpaste, pet-food, etc). The moment the public stop listening, reading, because of an onslaught of highly-emotive stories is the point they stop engaging.

When people switch off and refuse to engage any further, journalism has failed us.

The media are not above scrutiny or criticism. Just as politicians are open to scrutiny and criticism. Consider the criticisms – maybe, just maybe, critics have a point?

Think, before you publish yet another carping from Michael Barnett, or a traveller who is stuck in Sydney after the Trans Tasman bubble was closed. Is it really “news”?  What will it achieve? Will it inform us? Or is the headline simply geared to attract eyeballs and clicks and bugger the effects it might have on already-stressed people?

If it’s not ‘new’ then maybe it’s not news.

Postscript

Lest this blogger be another cog in the Great Negativity Machine, I point to today’s (3 October) episode of TV One’s Q+A episode.

The show presented critical problems affecting the nation’s vaccination programme.  There was vox populi and community workers interviewed. Solutions were suggested and discussed. 

No emotion-bombing; no ‘heart string’ stories. No whining from entitled sector lobbyists or ill-informed ‘reckons’.

The viewer was encouraged to engage, listen, and think on what was presented.

The same with the follow-up interview with Air New Zealand CEO, Greg Foran. No whining, no demands, no sense of entitlement; just a basic Kiwi attitude of dealing with the cards that have been dealt, and getting on with it*.

At one point, Q+A host Jack Tame asked Mr Foran’s opinion on government’s elimination strategy;

“Do you think the elimination strategy is sustainable?”

The CEO’s reply?

“Look, Jack, that’s something that probably the scientists and the government need to answer…”

It felt as if we were in a room listening to mature adults.

More of this style of responsible media, please.

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(* Note: Admittedly, Air New Zealand has a billion dollar ‘life line’ with the government. But their potential liabilities can also be measured in the billion-dollar range. That ‘life-line’ can become shortened very quickly; airlines can gobble up hundreds of millions of dollars almost as fast as their jets can fly.)

 

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References      

RNZ: Covid-19 – Young people need some rights taken away to encourage vaccination – Sir John Key (alt.link)

The Spinoff: Ranked – All of today’s op-ed columns by Sir John Key

Stuff media: Anna Fifield – No, Sir John Key, New Zealand is not like North Korea

Newshub: Auckland business leader Michael Barnett wants Government to listen closely to smaller businesses about improving COVID-19 support schemes

NZ Herald: Covid-19 Delta outbreak – Retirees stuck in Australia fear being stripped of pensions

RNZ: ‘We need clarity’ for Covid-19 test to cross Auckland border – business owner

RNZ: Orion Health CEO urges revamp of MIQ to allow business travel

RNZ: Business pushing for self-managed isolation for overseas work travel

RNZ: Businesses on home isolation trial – ‘This has been a long time coming’

NZ Herald: Covid Delta outbreak – Richard Prebble – Muldoonism looms large – and that’s a problem

NZ Herald: Paul Henry – I love this country – but I’m not sure I have the heartbeats for it any more

NZ Herald: Steven Joyce – Jacinda Ardern Government getting too big for its bossy boots

NZ Herald: Minister to students – ‘keep your heads down’

Twitter: @MightyBlender –1:19 PM · Aug 12, 2021

Twitter: @_seashelleyes_ – 12:23 PM · Sep 20, 2021

Twitter: @CamDouglasMS – 2:52 PM · Sep 20, 2021

Twitter: @fabtknz – 7:02 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @liberal_owners – 9:07 AM · Aug 26, 2021

Twitter: @MariaSherwood2 – 8:51 AM · Aug 26, 2021

Twitter: @vincristine –  8:37 AM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @DesiCommsMan12:52 PM · Sep 24, 2021

Twitter: @BozzyWozzer – 7:25 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @mlpgirl775:27 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @cleotibbitts – 8:49 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @LetsGetPfizered8:43 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @RobSuisted1:22 PM · Sep 7, 2021

Twitter: @Shawn675869439:37 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @sandzz7710:13 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @Tukeke70 – 9:57 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @Tikorangi – 9:35 AM · Aug 31, 2021

Twitter: @MarkcyCleary – 9:57 AM · Aug 31, 2021

Twitter: @IdioticTwinkles – 10:09 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @WormwoodNGall8:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @FoxyLustyGrover – 6:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @infinite_ink 6:38 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @SJPONeill – 6:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @pet_brain – 10:55 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @Kate_DowlingNZ – 8:37 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @fkleitch – 1:33 PM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @BoxyBristol – 7:42 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @kaffiene_nz – 10:59 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Writer_Caroline – 11:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Feebeekiwi – 9:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @MJWhitehead – 6:40 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @HantonSusie – 8:51 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @NapierinFrame – 7:34 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Lady__Seraphina – 11:27 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @douggie27 – 6:41 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @js_eighty – 8:36 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @MarieMenzies5 – 7:51 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @gracillus – – 10:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @platinumpixienz – 10:21 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @Hurricane15 – 7:02 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Raise the Bar Hospo Union: About

Twitter: @GGrucilla – 12:09 PM · Oct 2, 2021

Stuff media: If the Government is making the right decisions on Covid-19, it will withstand scrutiny

Coast: Brian Tamaki’s controversial new ‘hot’ advertisement

Ministry of Health: COVID-19 update 23 September 2021

Newshub: Coronavirus – Expert’s blunt message to the Govt as it ponders level 2 for Auckland – ‘How brutal do you want to go?’

Stuff media: Covid-19 NZ – Rodney Jones says Shaun Hendy’s 7000-death vaccine model doesn’t pass plausibility test

TVNZ: Q+A – 3 October 2021

Twitter: Shaun Hendy – 8:04 AM · Sep 26, 2021

Additional

The Spinoff: New Zealand cannot abandon its Covid elimination strategy while Māori and Pasifika vaccination rates are too low

The Spinoff:  Siouxsie Wiles – Why we need to stay the course on elimination

Reference sources

MIQ: History and origins of MIQ

Covid19: History of the COVID-19 Alert System

MBIE: Managed isolation and quarantine data

RNZ: Timeline – The year of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Other Blogs

Bryan Gould: The Herald’s Dilemma

The Daily Blog: John Minto – When will Michael Barnett stop whinging, whining and bleating?

The Standard: Smug hermit king

The Standard: Key’s baaaack

Previous related blogposts

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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