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David Hargreaves says the Government now needs to trust the people and let the economy be opened up again otherwise the unseen costs could be very high

David Hargreaves says the Government now needs to trust the people and let the economy be opened up again otherwise the unseen costs could be very high

I’ve been surprised how ‘easy’ it appears to have been to ‘close down’ economies both here and overseas.

A word from the Government - and tools are downed and it all grinds to a halt (well, all the ‘non-essential’ bits).

The real trick it seems is how, once you’ve shut the thing, you then actually open it again. Overseas countries, many with still rampant virus outbreaks, are grappling with this.

The machine has been stopped. How do we start it again?

And this is the decision now facing our Government too as it decides whether to contemplate a ‘real’ opening of the economy, possibly from some time next week, or possibly more likely the following week.

The big call

Strangely enough, this decision’s probably a bigger one for the Government than the decision to go for a lockdown itself. There was one aim from the lockdown. It was uncomplicated. Reversing the lockdown is far more complicated with many more moving parts.

A suitable balancing act needs to be found in a way that I don’t think was found when we moved from level 4 to level 3.

Quite simply, level 3 looked a hell of a lot different this time around to the initial level 3 we first entered prior to lockdown. The level 3 we are now in looks a lot like 4 with a different shaped numeral. The Government couldn't quite trust us to behave so tweaked the level 3 rules and left us largely in lockdown.

I think the Government has used up a fair bit of available goodwill on the part of the New Zealand public during this whole lockdown process (level 4) and the following lockdown-with-fast-food stage (level 3) that we are now in.

The Prime Minister, particularly, has sold the lockdown very well. She excels and communicates brilliantly in a crisis and is able to take people along with her.

People have bought the concept. We go hard. We go early. We try to get on top of the virus. We have done fantastically well. We have bought ourselves time.

What do we now do with that time?

What about the virus?

I think the real big thing now is deciding what our attitude, what our tolerance is, for varying degrees of viral outbreaks.

My big concern is what happens between now and next week if we do see a blip upward in virus case numbers. (I really hope not - but I'm guessing we might).

Is the attitude to be that we pursue zero cases at all costs? Even China with the full Draconian force of its Government has not, as yet, achieved that.

As an island nation it might be argued we have a shot at it. But let’s not kid ourselves, our borders are still ‘leaky’ even if they are officially closed. People are still flying planes in and out. Ships are still coming with freight. Cases of the virus will get here.

Look, I did grimace when I saw those pictures of people all crushed together over the prospect of some fast food. It looked like some sort of frenzied death wish. ‘My kingdom for a burger!’

But the problem is; the Government will have to trust people at some point. It’s in Labour’s DNA to want to ‘nanny’ people. But if you treat people like children, ultimately they will act like that. Kiwis now need to be given the opportunity to show they can be responsible.

And the Government will need to strike a balance between keeping the virus down and getting the economy moving.

I applaud the Government for how quickly it got stimulus out there. But now it needs to trust – that word again – the business community to find its own way to get up and running again.

Confusing tolerance with acceptance

There is a world of difference between the idea of ‘tolerance’ and that of ‘acceptance’. But sometimes the two are mistaken for the same thing – because outwardly they look the same.

People, if they are reasonable people, will tolerate unpleasant circumstances if it is for a perceived greater good. It doesn’t mean they are ACCEPTING that though. Tolerance has its limits.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been told what to do more times in the past two months than I can ever remember.

And yes, it is starting to wear.

I don’t think I’m alone in forming the view that this Government is starting to see the virus as a rather convenient cover for advancing some fairly strong ideological philosophies and policies.

Parliament has been on hold. And yet despite that we've seen the pushing ahead of, for example, things like residential tenancy legislation - albeit that this was already in the system and intended to be made law by the middle of the year. But why pick some things and not others? The Government seems to be cherry picking measures with an underpinning ideology. These things shouldn't just be pushed through at a time like this when they might not be subjected to the amount of scrutiny they would normally attract. The Government should be focused on just one thing while the country is in this abnormal state - the virus.

To be pushing an agenda at a time when the country has a handbrake applied in terms of normal functioning is wrong. The due processes of good governance and good government should be followed at ALL times.

The world will be changed by Covid-19, but we should allow that to happen as a natural thing. We shouldn’t now be looking to scrap everything and start again. There’s no particularly valid thread of logic that says we should and have to now head ourselves into some form of socialist nirvana, for example.

Don't make excuses

Yes, of course, anything that gives cause for re-examination of how things are done should be embraced. A crisis can focus the mind.

But simply rejecting everything as it was, starts to sound like a convenient excuse to me.

So, we get back to the decision ahead for the Government.

I think enough is enough. And I think there has to be a firm commitment made to getting the economy (as much of it as possible) back up and running.

We have bought time to deal with the virus. Other countries were swamped before they knew what hit them and are now grappling with how to start economies back up while still hopelessly afflicted.

We all know the drill now as far as social distancing and the kinds of behaviours that will help. Our health authorities have been given time to get mechanisms in place to deal with any rises in case numbers.

I think unless we get a really bad outbreak of the virus from here that we need to at all costs avoid going back, even to level 3 (which is really 4 with a different shaped numeral and fast food).

Counting the costs

The costs of a bad outbreak of the virus are fairly measurable.

The costs of a continually-hobbled economy are measurable in dollar terms. But the unseen costs are the worry. In the end, if this goes on and on, those costs could be extreme. And I’m talking mental health and everything else. ‘Wellbeing’ - that concept the coalition nailed to its mast -  will take a very big hit if there isn't an economy vibrant enough to weigh against general unhappiness.

So, this Government needs to be making a firm commitment to opening the economy. And keeping it open.

And it needs to commit to open Government.

And it needs to reaffirm commitment to an election this year.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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62 Comments

In absence of a rash of community spread of the virus - and there realistically are very few vectors for where this could start in NZ - we'll be going to level 2 next Thursday.

I expect the government will want to avoid going back to level 3, and probably it would only be done regionally if required - Jacinda was specifically asked a question along those lines today at the press conference and said to wait till tomorrow when she could answer it better in context of the whole plan for level 2.

The key thing between now and when we went to level 3 and then 4, is our contact tracing system. If some community spread is detected (thanks to very high availability of tests), the contact tracing can swoop down and quickly put a lid on things, and if got really out of control the affected town/city could be moved to level 3 as a short term measure (like 7-10 days or until they stop finding new positive cases) to keep the spread under control. We all know how to live in level 3, so while it will be frustrating for those affected, people know it's for the greater good and will (broadly) comply.

Bear in mind that they could still close schools, particular businesses and particular retail areas as a first response to a case of community spread being detected.

Sounds about right.
I was hoping for an announcement tomorrow for Level 2 on Monday 11th. But if it's a week tomorrow instead, so be it.

I really like this article, it has some nuance. It speaks to the complexity and uncertainty that we face.
I was really in favour of the initial lockdowns to buy time. Time to build testing and treatment capacity. Time to build emergency plan resources and time to learn more about the novel virus etc. Without those interventions, you are facing an unknown virus, totally unprepared. Bad idea.
However, its hard to justify strict quarantine measures once the aforementioned are in place. NZ appears to have no community transmission, even the original clusters are being closed at a rate of knots, NZ has increased its ICU capacity. They have stock checked, brought in additional ventilators and PPE. Testing has spare capacity now also....so why the hell are we still in a level of quarantine *significantly* more strict that all my fam in the UK who have the highest death rate in Europe?

Why aren't we moving faster to less restrictions? Serious question, can anyone fathom why?

Lockdown fatigue is not hypothetical. Tensions are increasing, as you would expect them to. Financial strain will also be increasing, every day. The financial fallout will be bad enough in a pandemic, but every day of unnecessary strict lockdown will be forcing another business, or household into financial stress.

Perhaps the answer lies in Davids comment - 'this Government is starting to see the virus as a rather convenient cover for advancing some fairly strong ideological philosophies and policies'. What better time for ideological 'reform' than when we have a business community dependent on government welfare for survival, compliant media in thrall to Jacinda mania, a population gripped by fear of disease and the unknown, servile public servants who are 20% of the workforce, insulated from real life out there and desperate to maintain that status, 300K plus out of work and equity erosion on a grand scale. It's an environment that every social engineer could only dream of.

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If you dare to speak out for the unemployed, for people dying not from COVID or people in mental anguish you are faced by the cry, 'be grateful to Jacinda you are still alive'.

Marie Antoinette said, 'Let them eat cake!"

A third of all France died in the course of the revolutionary wars of course. Actually it was about a third of Cambodia who died in their great attempt to, 'Make everyone equal' as well.

History does not exactly repeat but it sure does rhyme.

God save us from self righteous ideologues.

Yes, yes, yes but Ralph, thou slow of heart to believe, socialism remains the true path, the only reason it's never worked is because it has never been done properly.

Of course, I wonder how many more must die before they wake up and see how broken assumptions can't create workable solutions in a real world.

Socialism is only for universities and other places where theory is valued more than reality.

Malcolm Muggeridge said, "There Is nothing new under the sun, just old things happening to new people." So I suppose I hope in vain.

Actually, that's attributed to Solomon, 3rd king of Israel. :)

Ralph, oh Ralphy where were you during the Key years when the people you mention were progress cannon fodder?

Sooner or later we all have to learn to live in the present.

On this episode of Ralph the Revolutionary Freedom Crusader... thank god we have the National Party to protect us from government spying and overreach.

"If you dare to speak out for the unemployed"

Damn it you broke my irony meter

Funny ginga, cause frankly I thought it was a waste of words. This is a load of bollocks. Gum flapping at best.

my pick is for level 2 to begin on Monday 18th of May.

Variation in lockdown regimes across provinces or cities is unworkable. Roadblocks operated by local militia? Wait, we already have those don't we.

All there animals in the farmyard were equal. Just that some were more equal than others.

I think that the government needs to set out some scientific based and measurable criteria for moving from level 3 to 2. The judgment also needs to be made on a geographical basis. Something like :-
A -No active cases
and
B - At least 14 days since the last infection
On that basis we can open up:
- The Bay of Plenty
- The Lakes District
- The Whanganui district
- Tairawhiti
- Wairarapa
- The West Coast
The following are very close
- Mid Central only need one person to recover
- 4 more days without an infection and Taranaki can move
- 2 more days without a fresh infection and 4 recoveries and Northland can move
- In South Canterbury in 5 more days if their 4 active patients recover they can move
- In Southern region they can move when their 9 active patients recover

It is totally unfair and we cannot hamstring large parts of the country and economy because a few geographical areas have problems.
This system rewards regions who maintain tight discipline
The government will need to rigidly enforce road blocks around level 3 areas to prevent infection being carried to infection free zones. The Army should be used to man these. A temporary block can be made on secondary roads with about 5 truckloads of rock

https://covid19map.co.nz/

It's not "rewarding" anything. It's arbitrarily punishing areas that are unlucky enough to have COVID-19 cases.

So long as there's no community spread, there's really nothing to worry about.

But it is motivating
Besides which, it is irrational to allow an infected area, reinfect an area free of the virus. That way the virus will go round and round the country with areas going in and out of different lock down levels. I.e. we will never get ahead of the problem and do a hell of a lot more economic and human damages as a result.

Not sure why you're talking about "infected areas". People are infected, not areas. Very very very few people in NZ currently have active infections, and those that do, that we know about, are self-isolating.

"I’ve been surprised how ‘easy’ it appears to have been to ‘close down’ economies"

It's like buying on hire purchase. It's easy to walk out the door, it gets less easy when the bills start turning up.

We have hardly started paying the bills for this lockdown.

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'Tolerance has its limits'. Amen to that. I deeply resent my freedoms being curtailed but am prepared to accept it because I believe eradication/elimination is worth a shot, despite the huge economic cost. But Ardern will just as quickly lose that support if she advances any further down the slippery path of destroying the village to save it.

I don't think eradication is worth the cost. It is possible to contain the virus at low numbers, once you have the systems in place and it really looks like we have done that. Lockdown is worth it, when it is about preventing your healthcare system being overwhelmed and all the additional deaths that would cause. Lockdown is worth the financial hangover, if you need to buy time to increase testing and treatment capacity, because a widespread outbreak will devastate your economy anyway. We could potentially *still* eradicate the virus in level 2, provide we maintain strict border quarantine, supervision of existing cases and contact tracing of new cases at these low numbers.

AirNZ is gone. Almost the entire tourism industry is gone. A big bunch of retailers are gone. Investment is at a total standstill. 1,000 people a week are becoming unemployed, and the subsidy will end in a few weeks and the real pain will begin.

How much eradication can we afford?

Sweden is still the one to watch. Currently only 283 deaths per million people. If the death rate is anywhere near what the media has been selling (3% wasn’t it) they should get up to 30,000 deaths per million very soon (because it’s supposedly exponential).

So Ralph, do you think Air NZ and tourism would be thriving if we hadn't had level 4 and 3.
Where were all these tourists going to come from. Quick trip over from Oz and then quarantine for 2 weeks when you get home? Transit in Singapore or HK or LAX?

Hi Jaybeedee, well at one level it's speculation because we can never really know in detail.

What is at issue is scale, proportion or extent. No doubt damage was not avoidable in its entirety, but on the reverse of that argument, some suffering is a very poor justification for more suffering.

A theoretical argument might be that we could only have saved 1000 out of 6000 jobs so what's the point. But it's also true that every job saved is person with a family, with hopes and dreams but who is now facing a uncertain and stressful winter.

Individuals matter.

Well put gingerninja,

Be nice to know if we could get any guidelines as to what infection rate would overwhelm our health system and what that would mean in terms of govt action so there are some guidelines that are quantifiable

Uh Oh. You haven't been listening. The dear leader has already taught us that the value of a statistical life perspective you discuss, is wrong thinking. Despite this model informing multiple government expenditure decisions Jacinda says that when it comes to C19 judgements we are to not think of the trade off values in this 'dichotomous' way. Rather, we should have a 'not one left behind', no cost to great to bear approach.

Back in late Feb, early March, I freaked out because NZ only had around 250/260 ventilators in the state health system. By any measure, a widespread outbreak here would have been a disaster. But that disaster was averted and now both the resource and testing capacity is significantly higher and we managed to smash the infection rate into the ground.
We do have a competency issue at the airports though. From what I have heard from people who have landed in the last 8 weeks, very patchy checks and follow up. Unless border controls are anally retentive levels of tight, we will lose our hard won advantage.

Exercising my right to listen & trust what I hear, but verify & challenge with facts
So by your argument then middlemen, using the 'saving lives at all costs' approach
Why are we not throwing the rule book and cash book at the actual top causes of death in NZ? i.e. heart disease >5,000 deaths p.a.?
The priority seems to be based solely on perceived risk of contagion rather than the actual risk defined by facts

The 'dear' leader?, 'has already taught us?' - no bias there

GingerN.Yes, perhaps what I really mean is elimination, with acknowledgment of the distinction you explain. Strict quarantine is going to be hard. Snippets of the real C19 penetration in places like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc are now beginning to leak out. A belief that somehow these most highly congested populations with variable sanitation and different social norms to countries more developed (yet who still struggle to contain outbreaks) will somehow have more containment success than the rest of us, is delusional. An epic human disaster is surely brewing in those countries. Meanwhile aircrews and repatriated NZrs from those places arrive here daily, with our protection dependent on full compliance with quarantine rules.

Oh absolutely and I will confess to weeping in early March when it dawned on me how ill equipped many developing countries would be to face this pandemic. Human disaster is very possible, especially after how ill managed the response has been in some of those countries and with the addition of food shortages and an economic crisis meaning much more real and devastating consequences. My hope is that with low average age and obesity rates, they will have a naturally better chance to the fight the virus.

unlike you i dont think we can contain it if let in, our borders are still a weak spot if you talk to people that work there, no one is tested or checked at the airports unless they have symptoms. not even temp checked when they come to work , the ports are tighter as the sailors are made to stay onboard, and only the captain and first mate are allowed off but not off the port.
our contract tracing is too slow and fragmented, its still done by the DHB first and its done by phone calls.
the police have shown how they have no idea, as an aside NZ customs and airport security have been called in to help with the quarantine hotels as the police can not handle.

“ It is possible to contain the virus at low numbers” - what do you consider low numbers? I would have thought 1000 odd cases in a population of 5 million was pretty low? Why ever go into lockdown?

A good summary, David. Yes, I tired of the kindergarten admonishments on about day 10 and haven't seen the 1pm stand-ups for a week or three now. What won't, and/or cannot easily Be counted in terms of businesses coming back are situations like:

  • Small proprietors who realise that by moving a couple of key machines into their garage, they're off again without rents, leases, landlords and rates. A neighbour with a wide-format printer, and an engineering acquaintance with a triple garage, have worked this way successfully for years, It'll catch on.
  • SME's with employees but a proprietor near retirement may just decide to sell up and retire rather than face the burden of premises, employees, IRD, Worksafe, ACC, debtors, and banks. Sure, it may be close to a fire sale. But a bird in the hand....
  • The distancing constraints will make sole-traders a much more sensible move. No apprentices, employees, registers, overheads to worry about. A workshop in a van, trailer, truck or fifth-wheeler. The business will continue, but at smaller scale. This might be counterbalanced by new start-ups from those employees, apprentices and others, but don't bet the farm on That.
  • Drop-ship and other direct-supply methods will become more prevalent. It still needs intermediaries, because manufacturers and importers don't like many small debtors nor do they need sales functions of any size: that's the intermediaries' place. Orders via the intermediaries, dispatch direct to customer, customer pays intermediary, intermediary pays the supplier and clips the ticket. No inventory is a major plus for the intermediary. Works for some of the larger trading societies, could trickle down.

today we had two cases, one part of the mairst school and was only found because the school asked for everyone to be tested before they started up again and guess what there was a case lurking.
why did they not do that testing two weeks ago when they knew about the cluster, everyone that went to that school family friend etc should have been contacted.
the other has been a person in a bubble with a worker that caught it at the rest home, again questions, why leave people in bubbles with known cases? its not if they will catch it but when.
they also got one at the airport and that should be the place where checking and testing is weekly, not when someone gets symptoms.
we are still going to get cases come in but our contact tracing and ring fencing is the worry

guess what there was a case lurking.
why did they not do that testing two weeks ago when they knew about the cluster, everyone that went to that school family friend etc should have been contacted.

The student concerned was offered testing two weeks ago but it was decided not to be necessary because they were unsymptomatic at the time. It appears the only symptom they have ever had was a slight loss of smell that they didn't connect to COVID-19. Now that things have moved on and they government is effectively offering COVID-19 tests to anyone who wants one (just say you have mild cold symptoms) they feel they can and should be doing this sort of surveillance testing, and so they did.

The new positive test was 'weakly positive' and the student is thought to not be infectious at all, just a result of dead / fragmented virus particles left in their system that the sensitive test is picking up.

the other has been a person in a bubble with a worker that caught it at the rest home, again questions, why leave people in bubbles with known cases? its not if they will catch it but when.

Because they live in the same house together. What you're suggesting means the government would be splitting families up and keeping people in hotels, and there's a reasonable chance that anyone living in the same household would already have it by the time one person returns a positive test result anyway, so why bother with all that hassle? Only if the house is being shared with someone who is vulnerable does it make sense to split them up to avoid transmission as much as possible.

There's nothing wrong with COVID-19 cases in healthy individuals, the problem is stopping COVID-19 spreading between bubbles and to vulnerable people.

But we are still having people get the virus from a cluster that was shut down via lockdown 6 weeks ago! All it takes is one dude to walk around after lockdown with the virus and we are back where we were 9 weeks or so ago. I’m sure someone will say it’s different now because we have bought some time but I don’t really think it’s much different.

JJ. Recently down in Christchurch in front of obliging media cameras on Sumner beach the cops were dealing with people suspected to be not 'exercising' but only a few KMs away in Woolston they stood idly by on the street outside a large gang gathering, doing diddly squat. Apparently it was a funeral. A mate passing by stopped and asked the police why they were not enforcing the LD and got only shrugged shoulders in response. Selective enforcement.

I think it's misleading to call level 3 and level 4 the same. There are a huge number of people that were unable to work in level 4 but can in level 3 for example in construction and hospitality, obviously with some restrictions in place.

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Her and Bloomfield have spent two months hectoring us, calling us idiots, filling us with fear about the virus. I know people who now will be too scared to leave their house under Level 2 or Level 1 if New Zealand's case total is anything above zero.

And now we have to turn around and reignite a consumer economy? They don't understand the beast they've created.

The government has locked us in a meat chiller, and to solve the problem are also pouring petrol on us, while the RBNZ fiddles around with the Zippo trying to get a spark out of it. What a mess.

Yes. Princess should make the most of her popularity. It wont last.

The next elected government will inherit a poison chalice. So much misery now locked in and hard to avoid, whoever it is will be blamed when unemployment bites.

Rubbish. The number of people who both:

A. Have livelihoods that depend on being able to go back to work

and

B. Are genuinely too afraid to (and won't) go back to work when lockdown ends

...will be negligibly small. I understand your point, and agree that people will by and large be more cautious, but your example is far too extreme and irrelevant on the grand scale.

To be fair, they are retired. But many sound like they will shrink their dealings with the outside world.

Great piece. Lots of concern about where this lock down is taking us. Lets return to Parlimentary democracy asap and remind Labour they had no mandate to govern let alone make sweeping changes. Oh, and please put the "health guy" back in his box. I dislike being talked to like a child. Jacinda does a very good job of that without "health guy"chipping in.

The government has a majority. That's what having a mandate means (as much as it means anything at all).

The Labour Party had no majority. They were put in power by a bitter and twisted old codger who likes to keep his snout in the trough.

Amen!
Totally agree.

Me too.

There is quite a lot of carrying on as normal without any regard to the virus. Over the last few days Auckland has been buying radio ads telling people to be a water hero and only wash their clothes with full loads. An effective decontamination method is to wash your clothes and carrier bags immediately after going to the supermarket (or otherwise breaking bubble). Waiting for a full load increases the chance of community infections.

Actually the risk of contracting COVID-19 from surfaces is very low, and even then it's really only hard surfaces like plastic, metal and wood. Soft surfaces such as fabric are not good places for the virus to live, and the droplets get absorbed making them much less likely to transfer to your hands anyway.

Furthermore there really are very few vectors in NZ for COVID-19 to actually be passed on through community transmission.

You're more likely to die in a car accident under lockdown than catch COVID-19 from a reusable shopping bag.

''Now, now children, quieten down please.''

Lets face it, despite what all the lefty trolls would like us to believe the fearless leader and her bunch of muppets are totally clueless! You only have to read between the lines regarding the shovel ready projects and their total dislocation from reality is obvious. Restoring "wetlands" is not going to help bring the country back from the coming economic tsunami! If you actually listen to Adhern she is a very poor communicator. She only gets away with it because our media is a disgrace! The next difficult question they ask her will be the first!

'she is a very poor communicator'. Depends where you are coming from. To the social media sound bite set her word soup mangling delivery is inspiring oratory; sort of, you know, like a mix , really, of JFK, Ghandi and princess Diana. Don't be too harsh on those media reporting her press conferences - she decides who is frozen out and who gets to ask the patsy questions. Live interviews are more revealing, especially when she is rattled. Her acolytes are hailing the recent exchange between her and the buffoon Garner as some sort of masterclass in dealing with idiots but her sarcastic jabs at him revealed plenty about her vulnerability under live cross examination.

Even John Key came out recently to say how well he thought she was doing and how good her communication was.

Ha, one language mangler reviewing another. She has communicated well - to her target audience. The rest of us find her plain irritating. Key didn't lecture us like children.

Ok. I read the lot. I'll take.a wild stab and.say the writer owns property. You had a chance to really write something meaningful but frankly this is nothing.

And I not threatening anyone, I'm thearting EVERYONE.

The queues of people desperate to send funds overseas to foreign owned burger bars reminds us of why Jacinda has been able to carry NZ with her and her Health friends as they expound on, and put their philosophies into practice. Tell most Kiwis what to do, and being totally incapable of thinking for themselves, off they go.

Hoping L2 will allow trips to the family dunga down the Coromandel before the good folk down there have stripped the avos and feijoas.

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