Saturday, April 17, 2021

Best in show - really? Des Gorman on New Zealand's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic

If New Zealand were Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Professor Des Gorman would have had the Alexei Navalny treatment by now. Government agents would have broken into his house and spread Novichok on every surface.

Like the Russian dissident whom Putin’s goons tried to eliminate, the distinguished University of Auckland medical professor insists on presenting a narrative that’s jarringly at odds with the one pushed by the people in power.

Fortunately New Zealand hasn’t got to the point of liquidating dissenters, though you couldn’t blame Gorman if he made a habit of checking under his car bonnet before turning on the ignition.

In a recent Leighton Smith podcast, the eminent medical academic was witheringly disparaging about New Zealand’s response to Covid-19, saying the government was caught with its pants down when the pandemic struck and hasn’t got any better since. “The only thing we had going for us is our geography.”

He described the public health system as being in a parlous state, citing its failure to deal with measles and ’flu epidemics, and said the response to the coronavirus pandemic had been “driven by political optics”.

He highlighted the government’s initial reluctance to close the border and the Health Minister’s resistance to the compulsory wearing of masks – as urged by experts such as epidemiologist Michael Baker, and eventually adopted – as examples of dangerous complacency.

Gorman accused the government of cultivating a culture of fear while simultaneously spinning the message that New Zealand was “best in show – the envy of the world” when in fact, countries such as Taiwan had “left us for dead”.

Most damningly, he reeled off a series of government claims that were contradicted by the facts. “‘All Russian crewmen have been tested’; no, they hadn’t. ‘They’ve all been in quarantine’; no, they hadn’t. ‘All the border workers have been tested’; no, they hadn’t. ‘No people are leaving quarantine early’; yes, they are. ‘There’s no mixing and mingling’ [in quarantine]; yes, there is. ‘There’s plenty of ’flu vaccine; no, there isn’t. ‘Nurses have plenty of PPE’ [personal protective equipment]’; no, they haven’t.

“I don’t know how many times we’ve been misled,” Gorman said. Yet he acknowledged that most people think the government has done a wonderful job. People who are frightened are more likely to accept authoritarianism, he suggested.

Gorman didn’t let the media off the hook, either. He said that with a few exceptions such as Newshub’s Michael Morrah, NewstalkZB’s Mike Hosking and Smith himself, journalists were saying what they thought people wanted to hear. “When you have the media and the government navigating [by] a populist star, you get a low level of critical thinking.”

Gorman’s critique comes as the government’s credibility is looking increasingly thin. Morrah continues to do sterling work in highlighting discrepancies between what politicians and officials are saying about the management of the pandemic and what’s actually happening “on the ground”. The latest inconsistencies arose over assurances that GPs were primed and ready for action on the delivery of vaccines – a statement that obviously came as news to doctors on the front line, who had heard nothing.

The sainted Ashley Bloomfield, in particular, keeps getting caught out telling fibs, though most New Zealanders don’t want to consider the possibility that he might be just another public sector careerist who can’t be counted on to tell the full, unvarnished truth, especially if it reflects unfavourably on his ministry’s handling of the pandemic.

Peter Williams is the latest to cast doubt on Bloomfield’s reassurances about how well everything’s going. In a recent commentary, the Magic Talk host quoted Bloomfield as saying serious adverse reactions to the Covid-19 vaccine were being managed appropriately and none required hospitalisation. Williams continued: “Now I know, and you know, that is not true. Because we had a woman on this show the week before last who was admitted to hospital after getting the vaccine and she was off work for at least two weeks and when I spoke to her on March 24th she was only then getting back to normal after three weeks.

“I know who she is, and who she works for. So I’m very concerned that we are not being given the full truth here about the adverse reactions, and when these vaccine numbers are rolled out every week, I think we should keep a very, very close eye on those numbers from the CARM [Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring] in Dunedin.”

Meanwhile, Jacinda Ardern’s practised earnestness (you know that pained, imploring expression she wears when she’s explaining to reporters why the government has to do things it really rather wouldn’t do?)  is looking increasingly forced too, especially when she tries to wriggle out of an awkward corner by dumping on a security guard who supposedly lied to his employer about getting tested (neatly side-stepping the point that if half-decent systems were in place, the lie would have been picked up months earlier).

So much for Ardern’s entreaties to “Be Kind”. That one’s coming back to bite her.

Gorman, of course, is right. When the history of New Zealand’s management of Covid-19 comes to be written, it will record that almost every government action to protect the country happened too late, and then only after politicians and officials were forced into action because a sceptical journalist (there are still a handful, thank God) or alert opposition MP (not a lot of them either) exposed glaring deficiencies in their performance or flagrant porkies in what the country was being told.

It makes you wonder whether Hosking might be right when he says, as he did in this commentary on Thursday, that it’s only sheer dumb luck that’s getting us through.


Trev1 said...

This government's fortunes rest entirely on COVID. Without this "black swan" event coming to its aid, the Ardern administration would have been history at the last election after egregiously failing to deliver on its flagship promises. Now New Zealand looks like being left behind on vaccinations and reopening to the world, while the monopoly-money lolly scramble is coming to an end and we are confronted by a $100 billion debt with practically nothing to show for it. Meanwhile every social indicator is heading south and we are in a "double-dip" recession with household expenditure rapidly declining. The reckoning is due. What next? Well banning free-speech would be a magnificent diversion and keep the Left happy.

Max Ritchie said...

It is amazing - really, not just a wide-eyed comment but actually amazing - that this government got all those votes last election. Apparently Oppositions can lose elections too. That the PM could pull the wool over the eyes of so many gullible people defies belief. Yet it happened, a combination of an inept media and some equally inept National politicians. How Todd Muller can have the gall to stay in Parliament is also amazing.

Phil said...

We were also told that no foreign workers were allowed into the country and we suddenly found out Russian sailors were here when news broke about their Covid status. They were no doubt allowed in because of who owns the fishing company. We are now being told that there have been no health issues associated with the Pfizer vaccine but a few seconds on google brings up stories like this.

CXH said...

The media never fail to amaze me on their duplicity. On the one hand they abase themselves before Jacinda and Ashley and raise them to the heights of godliness. They then have tear jerking stories of how immigrant families are being torn apart by our unjust decisions.

The internal logic that is needed to allow two such opposing views simultaneously is certainly beyond my meagre powers.

Andy Espersen said...

There is no logic, CXH - only ignorance of what a free press is all about. Our young journalists in their naivety believe their God-given task in life is to educate us plebs to the current consensus on everything, a consensus reached via the new phenomenon of instant mass communication - and to write emotion-laden stories, rather than objective, properly researched, investigative local and global news.

Journalism used to have different motivations – all driven by universal ethics. You now find that kind of enlightened journalism only in the numerous, selected blogs (like Karl’s).

MarkJ said...

The New Zealand mainstream media are simply perpetuating what we are seeing overseas. We cannot rely on the MSM to report outside the scope of their owners political views. They are not seekers of the truth, and they sully the names of professional journalists that have come before them.

Russell Parkinson said...

There are four things that got us through this so called pandemic but one is never mentioned. The first 3 are well known , blind luck, geographic isolation, and a compliant community focused (possibly gullible) population.

The other one never mentioned is that by and large we live a reasonable distance from each other. Even in cities we like our bit of space (ie urban sprawl) and it is one of the factors that has kept us safe and restricted the spread whenever we have an outbreak. We don't live in cramped high rise apartments. When the covid karens out there go on about how bad it is overseas they never mention that the places with the worst records all have very high populations living in crowded conditions (new York, Italy, England France etc).

The reason this is not mentioned of course is that it doesn't suit the modern town planners desire that we to all live in crowded apartments. Councils continue to push this line of thinking or if you call it what it really is, forced social engineering.

Given that most agree that this sort of event is more than likely to happen again that our official's would rethink their ideology but I guess that's not realistic.

Russell Parkinson said...

To CXH re media duplicity. Never more obvious then on Sunday when the Sunday program ran a pretty one sided piece on live animal exports just a week after the government announced a policy banning it.

It was such obvious media support of a left wing government that it was almost laughable.

Odysseus said...

@ Russell Parkinson: you are right. Most Councils seem to be pursuing a vision of 1950s Eastern Europe, aspiring to build apartment complexes restricted to the existing footprint of the city and serviced by trams to take the proletariat back and forth to work. This socialist delusion has greatly exacerbated the housing crisis.

Hilary Taylor said...

When I first heard Gorman last year on the media he was impressive but I couldn't work out why he wasn't given as much airtime as others...usual suspects..Hendy, Jones, Wiles, Baker. I suspected he wasn't toeing the party line and this interview confirms that. His approach is much less politicised and more sceptical,in an informed way. Enjoyed this very much, thanks. Give me the sceptics of all stripes.

Johno said...

Not just Muller, Max. Also the enablers and leakers who put him there.

hughvane said...

Please allow me to offer what a senior diplomat told me twenty years ago. The conversation was how on earth some politicians get away with outrageous behaviour in both their public and private lives. M's answer was straightforward:
"Do not expect elected representatives (ie. MPs) to behave as one would expect Joe or Josephine Public to do. Politicians live in a different world, breath different air, and what the public might think of them is of supreme indifference."

Eamon Sloan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy Espersen said...

Eamon Sloan – As far as I remember Karl never expressed any opinion about the correctness, necessity or otherwise of lockdowns – most likely because at present we simply cannot present hard and fast answers to that. And we can expect no valid, trustworthy answers to that question for another couple of years - when it is all over and at last the world can look back and soberly observe objectively true facts and statistics.

Spontaneous, voluntary lockdowns were humankind’s only defence and reaction to pandemics in the past. Enforced lockdowns are a first in human history – are actually possible only because of instant mass communication and the internet. Our New Zealand gamble (i.e. draconian, enforced lockdowns to totally eliminate the illness) will pay off only if we manage to get an effective vaccine in time – which is not at all a certainty at this present moment. Until now we have been extremely lucky - probably for geographical reasons mainly.

And should we not measure enforced lockdowns with an ethical yardstick?? Is it right blithely to cancel Habeas Corpus legislation hundreds of years old, such as freedom to leave your home, freedom to visit friends or dying family, the right as a returning New Zealander freely to enter your own country any time you wish, the right to employ yourself and others in gainful, lawful occupation - just to prevent some people dying from a very natural, flu-like illness??

hughvane said...

Food for thought: