History may well record that today, 19 March, is the day that New Zealand lost the plot in stamping down on COVID-19.
Not only have confirmed cases risen again, this time from 20 to 28, up from six less than a week ago. More importantly, in the 24 hours from midday today there are 22 wide-body jets arriving into New Zealand from Asia and the Americas, and 47 Airbus 320 and similar flights coming in from Australia. I know this from checking the airport arrivals boards.
A rough total of today’s arrivals, based on a load factor of 75 percent, is 12,000 people. Even at 50 percent load factor, that would be 8000 people. Although these people go into self-isolation, the households they belong to do not have to do so.
So far this week there have probably been well over 30,000 people coming into New Zealand. Almost certainly, there will be multiple cases of COVID brewing in some of their households. Every day, the new arrivals pose greater risk than the previous day’s arrivals. Yet all other members of those households can continue going about their daily lives. This is crazy.
If we had put household restrictions on all of the people in these households, then in a few days we would be telling a different story than what is going to unfold. I say again, this is crazy.
Our Prime Minister has referred to Taiwan as the exemplar. On Sunday 15 March she said on TV1 that "We're going to follow, pretty closely, the Taiwanese model. They worked up a framework for mass gatherings that's been quite successful,"
At that time there were 53 cases of COVID-19 in Taiwan. Now, four days later there are 100, with 23 new cases there today.
I have previously pointed out how some things in Taiwan society are very different to New Zealand. They have multiple measures in place that we do not have, yet still their numbers are now growing fast.
When I listen to the Prime Minister’s words about Taiwan as an exemplar, I ask myself who is feeding her this information? It has to be her advisers.
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There is only one country in the world that has brought COVID-19 under control and that is China. We need to look again at how they did it.
This morning I received an email from my friend Lew Dagger in China. Lew has been living in China for close on 20 years as an agricultural project manager. I have visited Lew in China on multiple occasions.
Lew lives in the province of Yunnan, and currently manages a big project in the south of the province, close to the border with Myanmar. It is a great area for tropical horticulture.
What follows are Lew’s words. They were written as a personal email to me, but given their importance, I am reprinting them here with Lew’s permission.
I thought I would give you a little update on what is happening here in Yunnan and some of the effects that we are seeing due to the international situation.
There is no question that day-to-day down here in Jinghong things are normalizing. The cars are back, the off-key singing is happening in the KTV (Karaoke) and outside bars, and the restaurants are open. On Saturday night I had my first sit-down meal at a restaurant for two months.
Schools are still not back and there are still quite a few hotels closed due to tourists not back yet. Government is now pushing people to get out and dine and support local businesses.
The national new infection levels across all China are somewhere between 20 and 30 people each day and the death rates are in the low teens, but there is a real fear of the virus coming in from the international sources, so that whole area has tightened up.
Two cases were reported in Kunming this week, with one from Spain and one from France (local Chinese returning). The one from Spain resulted in 550 people being put in Government quarantine. Yesterday the new rule from Yunnan authorities is if you come from overseas, then immediate strict quarantine is required for 14 days and that is quite different to New Zealand-style self-quarantine.
As a foreigner, I am finding that I am treated more suspiciously, as no one knows where you come from, how you got here and how long you have been here. A couple of my colleagues found this earlier in the week when they were on local flights. Security targeted them and then a long process to prove they are OK.
However, given the economic and social cost to the Chinese people to date, you have to support the tough line.
For me, it’s almost like the whole virus thing has come back due to what is happening in NZ. Clearly with family and friends there it is a worry, so it is like entering the second cycle.
Given the actions that I see the NZ Government taking, I think NZ is at about the same stage as China was on the 26th January, so the bad news Keith, is you still have a way to go!
Lew’s words are entirely consistent with what I am hearing from elsewhere in my Kiwi-China network. China has acted very firmly and now life is coming back to normality. The Kiwis over there now feel increasingly sorry for us back in New Zealand, and they worry for their New Zealand kin.
As I have said previously, every day here in New Zealand that we delay, pussy-footing around, simply means more pain as a society that we are going to have to bear.
*Keith Woodford was Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University for 15 years through to 2015. He is now Principal Consultant at AgriFood Systems Ltd, and has had a longstanding interest in epidemiology. He can be contacted at email@example.com