Thursday, October 7, 2021

A British view of Labour's Covid-19 strategy

 A follower of this blog has kindly forwarded the following piece from Britain's Daily Telegraph:

Jacinda Ardern has come crashing back to Earth

With little acquired immunity and low vaccination rates, New Zealand finds itself vulnerable to an explosive epidemic

UK Daily Telegraph


5 October 2021 • 12:06pm

New Zealand was to Covid what Kabul Airport was to the Taliban: the last bastion of hopeless resistance. Yesterday, it finally fell. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would ‘transition’ from an elimination strategy to one of vaccination – a journey which most of the rest of the world embarked on nearly a year ago. It means that residents of Auckland will be able to leave their homes to socialise – in a very limited way -- for the first time in weeks. So much for the boast, so often made last year, that zero Covid had given New Zealanders the sort of freedoms which our lax covid policy had stolen from us.

As Covid fires its guns in the air and Ardern scrambles on board the last transport plane out, it has to be asked: why did she, or indeed anyone, ever think it would be any different? It was clear from the beginning that Covid, by virtue of being able to transmit asymptomatically, had the ability to sneak into a population unaware – and establish itself before anyone had really noticed. New Zealand now is pretty well in the same position as Britain was in March 2020, with pockets of cases erupting into what threatens to become one large outbreak. What New Zealand has done for the past 18 months – attempt to become a Covid-free island by sealing its borders – never was an option in Britain’s case, just as continuing with a zero Covid policy is no longer a choice for New Zealand.

Was New Zealand’s experiment worth it? If the country can get its vaccination rate up quickly it might very well be possible to argue that yes, it was – although the economic damage will still be massive. Unfortunately, however, Ardern’s government has not used its extra time to get ahead with vaccinations. According to the CNN tracker, only 41.5 percent of the country’s population is fully-vaccinated, against 65.9 percent of the UK population. That puts it among the very lowest of developed countries. Moreover, because Covid has been largely absent from the disease to date, very few people have acquired immunity through natural infection. The country is vulnerable, therefore, to the kind of explosive epidemic that Britain saw early on in the crisis.

Ardern’s hubris was fuelled by her international status as a rockstar of the centre-left. I discovered the extent of this a year ago when I wrote a piece that was critical of her zero Covid policy – pointing out that in the initial fight against the disease she had done very little different from Boris Johnson’s government, and that as Covid became endemic elsewhere in the world New Zealand faced long years of self-imposed economic downturn as it sealed itself off. 

I have never had such a strong reaction to anything I have written, with tirades of abuse flowing in from all over the world. To many on the soft-left, Arden represented all that they advocated in a government: compassion, competence and vision. She was the living example of why we should have more women in charge of politics, business and everything else (this from the same people, naturally, who lost no chance to launch personal attacks on Britain’s two female Prime Ministers).

If Ardern is a rock star, I’m afraid she has reached second album syndrome. What looked so clever to many people a year ago no longer looks quite so smart. The world can finally see that zero Covid was a dead end which delayed but did not eliminate Covid, while drawing out the economic damage from repeated lockdowns as far as the eye can see. There was no easy policy for dealing with Covid, and Britain can hardly claim to have set an example – something which I am sure Boris Johnson and every other government minister would freely admit. 

Yet Jacinda Ardern did think she was teaching the rest of the world how to cope with a pandemic. She has been brought down to Earth with a very loud bump.

There's a lot that I agree with in this piece. But like several other critical commentaries from the UK (there's a certain type of condescending Pom who likes nothing more than to scoff at quaint little New Zealand), it overlooks one important consideration. New Zealand has had 28 deaths from Covid-19 compared with 137,000 in Britain. Reluctant as I am to defend Ardern's government, that must count for something. I'm sure the families of British victims of the virus would think so, as would many New Zealanders who are relieved to have been spared an uncontrolled outbreak, at least so far. As with many issues, it's a trade-off - but the government's approach (if not its relentless barrage of patronising, dishonest spin) is defensible, which is more than it's given credit for. 


Terry M said...

I agree that the original plan to seal off the border was pretty much logical given our location. With that advantage surely the object should have been to proceed with vaccinations as soon and as fast as possible.Reject the premise of it as much as she likes, they screwed up. Can still beat the Poms at rugby though.

Kiwi Dave said...

Given the initial uncertainties, the government can be excused for making wrong initial decisions, but the various delays, non-decisions, bad decisions, bungles, spin, abuse of information sessions for self-promotion, disregard of mounting evidence against its policy, plus pushing huge policy changes at the same time have long exhausted any benefit of the doubt I originally gave it.

Brendan McNeill said...

Rather than spending $1.0B per week on lockdowns in Auckland, a strategy that was never going to eliminate the virus, perhaps that money might have been better spent building Intensive care capacity in our hospitals, recruiting additional health professionals, ordering early treatment drugs, and otherwise demonstrating a level of insight and competence that remains (sadly) missing from our Government's response.

This is not being wise after the event. We only had to look as far as Australia, or Israel, or the UK or anywhere frankly to understand what was coming.

Furthermore, this disturbing report out of the UK shows on page 14 table 2, that infections for those over 40 years of age, are greater in the double vaxed than for the unvaccinated, per 100,000 of the population.

This unsettling evidence should alert us to two things. First it's not just the unvaccinated that will be admitted to our hospitals, albeit in proportionally less numbers than the vaccinated, but given the double vaxed can also transmit the virus to others, vaccine passports are little more than unwelcome political theatre.

We have to move beyond the politicisation of the virus, and (as we are constantly told) follow both the evidence and the science.

Brendan McNeill said...

Opps, that should have read "proportionally more numbers than the vaccinated". It is clear the vaccine does reduce hospitalisation and death.

GH said...

"New Zealand has had 28 deaths from Covid-19 compared with 137,000 in Britain."
At the cost of how many deaths due to undiagnosed cancer, postponed treatments, depression, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, family violence, increase in poverty and the comorbidities associated to it?
Of course, is easy to ignore those and don't mention their link with "lockdowns". Sure as hell the media will never mention them.
As Prof. John Gibson puts it: "While lockdowns have not worked to reduce deaths in the present, they almost certainly harm future life expectancy. This especially matters for New Zealand [...] Thus, the apparent kindness of locking down to limit Covid-19 deaths will, instead, be killing more people by making us poorer."

Doug Longmire said...

Yes - the mildly condescending. patronising Pommy tone is apparent.
And, although I agree with much of his analysis of Ardern, there is a stark fact that stands out:-
UK has approx 10 x the population of New Zealand.
So 137,000 deaths in UK is equivalent to 13,700 deaths in NZ.
So far we have 28.
So something has gone according to plan in New Zealand, better than UK.
Sorry Pom - do your numbers !!!!

Phil said...

The thing that really gets me is that much of the media has offered so much protection to this Government. If the governance structure of 3 Waters had been clearly explained and relationship to He Puapua I doubt Labour would still be on 45%.

Trev1 said...

The key failing is they had 18 months to prepare for what is now finally coming and they did virtually nothing. They spent the time instead planning a race based health system and fighting the nurses over pay. I call that criminal negligence.There will be many deaths as a result.

Russell said...

Oh, the acres of Kiwi thin skin that are always on display when someone overseas says something even vaguely snippy about us!

Karl du Fresne said...

No, only condescending Poms get up my nose. The rest of the world can say what they like. Are you English, by any chance?

Russell said...

It's only the poms that know we exist, which probably explains the correlation. And no, I identify as Kiwi. How dare you assume my gend...erm...nationality!

GH said...

Doug Longmire says: "So 137,000 deaths in UK is equivalent to 13,700 deaths in NZ.
So far we have 28."

As projected by Prof John Gibson (School of Accounting, Finance and Economics at Waikato University was previously Chair of Economics at Canterbury University, and taught economics at Williams College in the US.) in the article I've quoted above, the effects of the lockdowns long term will be: "equivalent to 46,000 deaths." Way more than the "equivalent 13,700 deaths". Even allowing for some error margin, it's a catastrophe.

46,000 deaths.

Of course, those effects will happen when the people responsible will be long gone.

Unknown said...

There is a small flaw in your comment at the bottom of the article. It is way too early to finish counting Covid deaths. As Clark points out the UK already has achieved a level of natural immunity which New Zealand has not. We are yet to go through Covid taking hold here, which it will. Not that I trust his number but Hendy, the beloved modeller of the Labour governemnt, predicts 7000 deaths per annum with only 80% of the population vaccinated (which includes over 5 year olds) although admittedly this is without restrictions. Two things are certain, we won't reach 90% vaccinated, far from it, and more people will die either from Covid or as GH points out above because of the measures taken against it. Wait a few years and then start the count.

Andy Espersen said...

“28 deaths as opposed to thousands”. Yes Karl – that “must count for something”, as you say. But if we are assessing Ardern and her ability and performance as a prime minister it counts for nothing. She and New Zealand were simply lucky. Our geography together with the most inhumane and harshest lockdown legislation on the globe managed to eradicate the virus here - for a time. How it will develop here over the next couple of years before the pandemic finally fizzles out - with perhaps another couple of ever-less dangerous variants spreading everywhere and with sporadic vaccinations being an important factor, is anybody’s guess.

Ardern and her cohort have nothing to be proud of. Arrogantly, and almost alone in the world, they set out to “beat the virus” – though it was well known then that an endemic corona virus can never be eradicated. It can only be made less potent through vaccinations. The ancient Greeks knew all about this human fallacy – they called it hubris (Ross Clark also comes out with that word in his article).

Our whole neo-marxist, woke, naive, ideological government suffers from hubris. They are wholly consumed with what philosopher and economist Thomas Sowell calls “unconstrained political vision”. Their little ideological fantasy world is about to collapse on top of them. Not just about Covid - but in very many other other spheres as well (I could mention many). I will hugely enjoy seeing it happen - and I will be so happy for my grandchildren's sake.

Roger Armstrong said...

Roger Armstrong

“Only 28 deaths”. Anders Tegnell said “judge me in a year”, I would say two, even five as it will take a while for the difference in the weak protection of a vaccineonly strategy versus natural immunity to shine through. As we eventually let the virus spread against what is a pretty weak and decaying vaccine this government will undoubtedly impose more limitations and demands on us, rack up a lot more debt and still see a reasonably large number of people die anyway.

At the end, the simple analysis (there are a lot more negatives one could add) will be the difference in government debt built up between say us and Sweden and the difference in deaths adjusted for population. I’m guessing the answer will be something between $10m and $20m per life saved and that each person saved might have been granted an extra year or two. And still we limit Keytruda and put up with risky single lane highways all over the country etc etc.

A lot has changed of our knowledge of the virus and vaccine has time has marched, and a lot of people agree with the government’s initial strategy, what has been indefensible has been the inability to adapt to changing knowledge and to use the 18 months the initial eradication strategy success bought us to build some more icu capicity and to put the nation on a diet.

Phil said...

Some people call the Telegraph, the Torygraph. While I am appalled by what has happened to the NZ media I don't like biased right wing newspapers either. This attack on Jacinda Ardern is really about protecting Boris Johnson.

Doug Longmire said...

Replying to GH.
Many of these "scientific" predictions are completely exaggerated.
Saun Hendy, last year predicted, using "computer modelling", up to 81,000 deaths in NZ from Covid.
And more recently he predicts 7,000 deaths per year from now on.

Seems to me that these are computer models similar to the ones used by the IPCC, in their predictions of dire apocalypse over decades, which have simply not happened.

Karl du Fresne said...

In response to various comments above:
Russell: "It's only the poms that know we exist". Now you're just being silly.
Unknown: "It is way too early to finish counting Covid deaths". If you read my comment again, you'll see that I said we'd been spared an uncontrolled outbreak "so far".
Andy: "The most inhumane and harshest lockdown legislation on the globe"? Hardly. Any number of countries have imposed stricter and much longer lockdowns than NZ.
And a point of clarification: I didn't applaud the government's handling of the crisis, which has been demonstrably poor in many ways. What I did say was that its strategy was defensible, and that the low death rate can be argued as vindication.

GH said...

Replying to Dough.

I'm with you on predictions. The one you mentioned is the one used to justify the absolutely disproportionate reactions to COVID and has been widely discredited.

What Prof. John Gibson is doing is not a prediction but an analysis using QALY of the already effected outcomes of the lockdown. The increase in poverty is not a future event but it has already happened. The postponed surgeries are not a future event but have already happened. And QALY is perhaps the best well-known and widely used tool to quantify any decision that has an impact on lives, especially used for public policy decisions.

May I suggest you read their papers? (they've released many about it). I think you (agreeing or not) will get good information out of them.

Best regards.

Steve B said...

$100bn borrowing cost to "save" supposedly 7,000 lives (with co-morbidities) equates to $15m per life saved. By that logic we should borrow to spend $5bn saving road lives and $10bn to save suicide lives. Let's borrow to fix every problem in society - if you are from the left that is.

Andy Espersen said...

The crucially important question, of course, will come up at the world's next pandemic. My educated guess is that we will employ no enforced lockdowns ever again. We will then know that the damage to our mental state, our economy and our children's education far outweighs any possible benefits.

This time round we will be just ruefully licking our many self-inflicted wounds - and cursing our Labour government.

Hilary Taylor said...

Our youngest daughter has spent the whole time in Italy, and endured the harsh NW Italian lockdown. It was a valuable benchmark for us back here in EnZed and she would smile wryly at our impositions/scene and remark 'you guys have hardly any covid, a tiny, well-spaced population and the ability to quarantine folk''...of course you'll look good compared to almost everywhere else. When restrictions eased there I remarked there'd never be another lockdown, the economic damage is too great...I was wrong, but it wasn't as severe. She has been able to travel within the Schengen, and returned here to MIQ to get a study visa for Italy. Our eldest daughter journeyed to Glasgow to re-unite with her beau there, having given up on the immigration dept here permitting him to return here. Both have nuanced and somewhat cynical views on our handling of covid, now.
I recall listening to the Swedish epidemiologist that Kim Hill interviewed way back and everything he said would come to pass, has. I would've preferred the govt establish a wide-ranging expert panel, instead of the favoured few that have become household a bi=partisan political approach....asking way too much evidently.

Frederick Williscroft said...

I think it utterly absurd to compare the UK to NZ in terms of deaths. The UK and NZ are roughly the same size land wise, NZ population 5 mill, UK 68 mill. UK 40 airports, multiple seaports and a train tunnel 20ks long linking them to Europe. As the article says it would be impossible for the UK to adopt the same strategy as NZ so I am nonplussed as to why anyone even makes the comparison.

The reason why NZ was successful is largely because we are a sparsely populated country, at the bottom of the world, surrounded by a massive moat. I can't see that NZ did anything different to any other nation. Just that with the aforementioned advantages and a dose of good luck we emerged relatively unscathed.

I am all for the UK papers having a go at us. We were almost unbearable in our gloating and back slapping at how marvellous we were. A little pin pricking of our inflated ego did not go amiss. My favourite UK headlines were "Jacinda is the modern day King Canute" and "A Nation of sheep hoping for flock immunity". But if you are annoyed at the UK press you can always turn to the Guardian. The NZ based journalist who writes articles for them still delivers unbelievably sycophantic articles oh now marvellous our Covid response is.

Karl du Fresne said...

Frederick Williscroft
I give you points for using your own name, which is more than many commenters do, but don't insult me by suggesting I might find the Guardian edifying, or that I ever gloated at how "marvellous" we were. All I did was point out that New Zealand's low death toll deserved to be taken into account in assessing how successful the lockdown strategy had been.
You seem to assume that because I object to condescending British media coverage of NZ, I must prefer to read only smug or self-congratulatory comment. In fact this often irritates me just as much.
These are not contradictory positions, though the tone of your comment suggests that you think they might be. (I'm making a real effort to be polite here.)