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Monday’s announcement about moving to Level 4 changes the COVID-19 landscape. We are now back on track, says Keith Woodford

Monday’s announcement about moving to Level 4 changes the COVID-19 landscape. We are now back on track, says Keith Woodford

Monday’s decision by the NZ Government to move immediately to Level 3, and then to Level 4 in 48 hours, is the big step that was desperately needed. Now we have a chance to get on top of this disease. We are back on track after a week of delays.

The next 48 hours will be crucial in communicating to the public what is essential and what is not. It will need to be emphasised that tradesmen still need to go about repair work, but taking social distancing into account. Cows must still be milked and livestock still need to be slaughtered.

Our Prime Minister stated that people can still go for walks as long as social distancing rules are observed. This is important.

The big issue that Prime Minister Ardern did not address in her presentation, and no media asked of her, is what is going to happen to incoming passengers from overseas. This is of crucial importance because one way or another, directly or indirectly, every infection has come from overseas. That is the tap of infection that has to be turned off.  Therefore, stringent quarantine of any new returnees in Government-imposed isolation is now critical.

With these new rules, we are now all in it together. That was not the situation previously.

There will still be some who bear the brunt more than others, and health workers are the ones most at risk. All of the overseas data tells us that the virus transmits very readily in hospitals and rest homes. Medical workers can be exposed to heavy virus loads and this can influence severity, even for fit people, with their immune systems unable to ramp up quickly enough.

 Unfortunately, we are not going to come out of this unscathed. But the key difference now is that we are doing what needs to be done. And that in itself is uplifting.

The four-week initial lockdown seems realistic as it represents around three or maybe four cycles of disease transmission. It will probably be 10 to 14 days before we can see any effect on confirmed cases. There will still be lots of new cases each day thereafter, but the daily new cases will hopefully go into decline by then.


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If the Chinese experience applies to New Zealand, then from about ten days we should be seeing very few new cases outside ‘family bubbles’ and health care workers.  If that is not the case, at least by 14 days, then something is not working.  Rigorous application of social distancing would seem to be the key.

We now need to keep stamping until the virus is truly crushed. The harder we stamp the quicker that will be. 


*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 kbwoodford@gmail.com. Keith’s previous COVID-19 articles are available here.

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49 Comments

Seems to be a consensus we should have been where we are now, about 14 days ago. Sure that might have seemed then hasty, perhaps even draconian to some. But we have too many idiots. For instance the two Highlanders. The nurse from Zimbabwe straight into a rest home, without someone in that organization understanding that it has health and safety responsibilities, a light bulb moment surely. And then our jet setter from Germany of some intellect surely? Straight into a school meeting though. Afraid to say these incidents just illustrate what a big wide net must be cast in order to catch the slippery foolish little fish!

I agree, my previous positioning around the lack of official controls sooner was based upon a presumption that >90%+ of NZers returning from overseas would do the right thing and self-isolate and that people wouldn't be going to bars and restaurants willy-nilly. It's obvious that a significant proportion of people simply weren't taking appropriate measures.

In retrospect I think NZ avoiding any confirmed cases until late February was "exceptionally lucky" rather than just "very lucky" as I previously though.

Finally, we totally agree on something.

Are we testing/filtering the incoming passengers from overseas ?
Temperature scanning stations like at Singapore Airport ?
https://www.aucklandairport.co.nz/flights

Compare and contrast "By late December, before the coronavirus was on the world’s radar, Taiwan’s government was already sensing danger from rumours of a new respiratory disease emerging from Wuhan, and officials began boarding flights to check the health of passengers from the Chinese city."
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/06/taiwan-sets-gold-standard-ep...

And on the 27 January a Chinese national was intercepted incoming at Washington DC airport with a poly bag of dead birds in his suitcase. This personifies the problem. China has undergone a high velocity version of an industrial revolution in the last fifty years. They have produced in masses what could be described as urban peasants. These people are deliberately under educated, especially lacking in worldly nous. But they can take themselves and with them their own peculiar cuisine and other lotions and potions, to any part of the world in under 24 hours, without any thought or self awareness, of what biological danger they are transporting. There it bloody well is! (ed if you print that, pls excuse the swear word.)

10
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Our own urban peasants thought voluntary self isolation, fake border closure, 20 tests a day and kindness would make a difference. And here we are. Was that extra two weeks of tourism income we banked really worth it? Sacrificing other industries jobs to support low grade tourism jobs for five more minutes.

There's always an element of governing where the public have to be in tune with your message or it won't get uptake.

But perhaps rolling out the alert level system 1-2 weeks earlier could have meant we could have gone into lockdown last week rather than this week.

Perhaps closing the border with China like she said she would and doing more than 20 tests a day would have been more effective than "alert levels". She was desperate to have her March 15 hugfest so dithered - much to our detriment.

Yes, because Jacinda is the only person working on this, so her "dithering" around the March 15 memorial for victims of the worst massacre this country has seen in modern times set the country's planning back.

She can’t have her cake and eat it too. That was less than two weeks ago. It’s not as if Covid 19 wasn’t an issue then. Isn’t she making the decisions? The IOC have a similar tin ear.

Heard today the WuFlu now being renamed the Boomer Remover.

The tough as nails generation that didn't have things like safety cones, hard hats, insulation, double glazing and plastic bottles. They drank straight from the garden hose and walked for miles in the snow to get to school. No Ipads. Worked 170 hour weeks @ threepence a day because interest rates were 64% and they needed a second mortgage at 92% to buy an entry level doer upper.

Walked (uphill?) both ways to and from school, biked (fixies) without any protection whatsoever, baby-sat younger siblings from the age of 8 onwards, stoked coal ranges and open wood fires, and fell out of many. many trees and hedges. Drank from stock water races with dead wildfowl and animals flavouring 'em upstream. Left a bit of dirt on the spuds. The odd half-slug discovered in salads. Lotsa tough old mutton. And that was the Post WW2 generation.....

Walked backwards uphill both ways in the snow with beef dripping on the soles of their feet.

which doubled as lunch

Thanks guys...tears of laughter here.
Ps..I am a boomer too.

Remind me of an old Daily Mirror cartoon. Man answers door bell to pouring rain outside and exclaims “ oh mother in law, you are not fat you are dripping.”

Nice kind humanitarian thought Beanie. Adolf would approve for sure.

Thank you, Keith. You put your head above the parapet. The desired result has finally come. Now we need to execute level 4. Good luck everyone.

Hitherto at border control we have sprayed for fruitfly and other undesirable organisms, we have checked peoples' baggage for fruit and other foodstuffs, we do not permit people to bring in wooden ornaments and the like; before passengers board aircraft they are checked for weapons and explosives. In short we check everything but the people themselves. This virus should be a wake up call for border security that we need to devise and apply some sort of basic health check for everyone who enters the country. One infectious person can arguably create more havoc than a suicide bomber.

Agree - 14 days minimum to enter NZ.
Might have to put all the out of work hospo and tourism workers onto farms....living in the city is fast loosing its appeal.

Thermal cameras being deployed right now. At airports, bus and train stations etc.

Might become a permanent thing.

Keith is right, we are on target. Thing is, can the rest of the population rationalise the move made today? I thought J&G were a tour'd force this afternoon, we will be ok in the long run. As for the relatively few inbounds who didn't obey? NZ is quite a small place when you go looking for some one, they will be isolated soon enough.

You misspelled farce.

Keith's point about no quarantine for returning NZers is the most alarming thing I've read all day. The whole country is going into lockdown for a month or longer and there is no quarantine required of anyone coming in... just that they stay at home (and infect other people in their households, who then go out to shop and see the doctor)?
This is jaw-droppingly stupid and will likely undermine everyone else's compulsory sacrifice.

Graham we have two of our kids in self isolation on our northern farm. One flew in from New York 5 days ago and the other London yesterday. Both highly likely to have been exposed to Covid-19 over the last 3 weeks. One had a cold when coming through the Auckland Airport and was given the basic Covid test which was negative, she was allowed in and walked through the airport and into a waiting car that she drove straight up to our spare accomodation on the farm.
She has not been contacted by anyone from Health Line on a daily basis as we expected to happen.
The other that arrived yesterday from London and filled the new form out and walked right through into a waiting car driven by his sister who is in self isolation.
We wait to see if we hear from Health Line over the next 14 days.
My point is that I doubt that most people returning into NZ have the ability to self isolate as our kids have, and a lot of people have no idea what self isolation means so there has to be a huge number of cluster's in NZ already - lets hope Im wrong..........

Same here, two children in isolation on farm for 14 days ,going to get bored soon. Thank god for Netflix etc.
We just have a problem with one being married to a dr and he's going to be working. So we may need to isolate from our grandchildren.

Points to the same old suspicion. Plan - what Plan?

Thanks Keith for the pressure youve help put on our decision makers. Lets hope we get through this without to much fallout and finally it feels good that there maybe a chance our townies now wakeup and see how important the rural sector is to their survival.............

And its great the weather gods are how also on our side again with 138mm of rain dropped on our farm last night ;-)

Stay safe

Jacinda gave an interview on RNZ this morning where she said the next area of concern she was focusing on was what to do with people entering the country from overseas. The gist of it is that they're working on some sort of quarantine system for these people but they don't have the details yet, but there should be an announcement within the next couple of days about what measures will be applied to these people.

Couple of days mate. Maybe she should call Taiwan - they were implementing this is December. That she is only focusing on this now is disturbing.

Yeah, cause you can just snap your fingers to work out how to transport people from the airport to wherever the quarantine site is going to be, how to staff the place, get the supplies there, and all of that. Simple, I'm sure you could do it in your sleep.

Note that they did already set up a quarantine place for the people they flew out of Wuhan initially. They do have plans in place - they're not starting from scratch - it just takes a while to get things sorted. Announcing something without any of the details is not reassuring or useful to anyone.

It does take a lot of effort and a while to set this up , no doubt.
That had a long while to do it - it is shocking their just waking up now .

We too have 2 adult? kids returned home from varsity yesterday for shutdown period - why do they always hit the pantry first? Less than 24 hours in and already one saying "I'm bored".
More seriously how can we take the lock down seriously when The Warehouse stores will be staying open?
Supermarkets, petrol stations, essential services yes - general retailer - oh right great place to socialise.

I was thinking that would include Bunnings and Mitre 10 too.

That one decision added $100m to the share value of 'The Warehouse' this morning.
Big numbers - there are going to be winners as well as losers.

I just don't like the gov't picking them

If The Warehouse received a wink and a nod prior to making this announcement. It is crony capitalism at it's worst. It is beyond a F ing joke.
They had their chance to be a grocery chain years ago. They F'd it up. A couple of Isles of snack foods and cleaning products does not make you a supermarket.

If The Warehouse received a wink and a nod prior to making this announcement. It is crony capitalism at it's worst. It is beyond a F ing joke.
They had their chance to be a grocery chain years ago. They F'd it up. A couple of aisles of snack foods and cleaning products does not make you a supermarket.

As a farmer we are getting more and more emails confirming pretty much everyone we do business with is staying open. I think it is only now that the proportion of NZ people and economy dependent on agriculture will become apparent.
I just hope the lock down is not compromised by so many carrying on.

Wilco,
You are right. It is a huge supply and value chain.
But I think we might still be OK as long as everyone, or almost everyone, focuses on social distancing, better described as 'physical distancing'.
But it is a rocky path and there will be some snafus for sure.
There are multiple steps that currently are not in place.
My key concern remains for health workers. Italy has already lost over 20 doctors who have died for the cause.
In that context I remain nervous as to where our infection numbers might climb to over the next 10 days, remembering that it is typically 14 days after symptoms that it is evident that a person needs ICU care.
KeithW

Ok Keith, time for you to give it a rest lad.
The govt is taking advice from trained Epidemiologists, not someone who has watched Contagion 3 times.

Was it the Epidemiologists who advised them to just ask anyone coming in to pinky promise that they will be good lads and self isolate themselves? Without even securing how these poor souls will reach their destination? will they need to do shopping? etc. You do not have to be an Epidemiologist to know that things are not meant to be that way.
Now JA is saying that they are considering plan for people coming in. Did they really needed expert advise to tell them that the virus is coming in by people flying in?

Winston Churchill famously said " We can rely on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else" I think this aptly describes our government's belated response.

I think the Alert Level system will be with us for some time from now on. We could roll back to Level 2 or even 1 after the lockdown, but we wouldn't be able to go back to "normal" as long as the Covid-19 pandemic is still a thing.

What a massive waste of time and wealth.
Trillions of dollars being spent globally, to help some unwell 75 year olds live a year or 2 longer.
It is grossly unfair that our children will have to pay for this colossal waste of resources. They already have to suffer through the crap environment and a gig economy swimming in debt. But hey lets pile some more burden on them.
We could quarantine all over 70's, with existing health conditions, and the rest of us could get the herd immunity that will give the elderly longer term protection. And we could keep creating stuff and paying bills. That would be a fraction of the cost financially and in mental health terms.
This lockdown will make people fear each other. At the air rifle shop at the end of my street there is a que out the door. I have have seen maybe 20 people going in or coming out of that store in 12 years living here. Today there are cues..... This is what happens when you panic people.
The per capita death rate in Italy, the country widely regarded as the hardest hit by the virus is still only 0.0001% in a quite clearly defined sub group of the population. Yes some outliers exist, but most people who die of this disease are old, or already sick, or both.
New Zealand currently has 0 deaths. Italy's per capita death rate applied to 4.8 million New Zealanders gives 480 dead. That is at the higher end of estimated flu deaths every year of 300-500, in this country.
However, I would genuinely like to see the model Jacinda quoted that gave tens of thousands of deaths, if anyone has a link.
Maybe her numbers offer justification, but all the numbers I have seen do not justify this reaction. If we have 80% infection rate and 10% mortality rate across the board.....go hard shut everything right down, of course. But this? So far this is nothing unusual and gives no sign of being anything unusual.
I remind you 405 000 people are estimated to have died of malaria in 2018. I didn't know that until Coronavirus blew up and I bothered to look it up. When Malaria sweeps through Africa, do we have a daily death count? An update of when cases appeared in Sierra Leone? Constant bombardment on every media source?
No. Just some poor people dying somewhere. Nothing to see her.
This will cause long term damage to the society and wealth of this country.
For no reason other than panic.
Congratulations.

Long contribution and can’t say agree with it all. But regarding the seniors, and including others with the relative pre-existing health concerns. they should have been able to realise for themselves that it would be prudent to take themselves out of harms way as a priority. There was ample information, signalling their particular vulnerability, available long before the government spoke.

In the end Keith? - those young strong healthy carrier, will always tend to lives in the expensive yet moldy rental place, pondering daily what to do in live while the cost of living is prohibitively high (renting/buying houses etc.) - Landlord just busy to check the non-smoking policy for; cigarette, marijuana & that deadly P consuming tenants, akh stuff this life.. back from overseas.. Covids carrier (don't know it yet) - let's vape out my mind, landlord won't mind it's just a water droplets vapour...the bug is really loves to be around this chap. Also their friends upon friends, elderly relatives etc. Then the rest is a repeated history.

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