Warnings there isn’t enough data to make lockdown level decisions

Today the Government is going to describe in detail what a change to Level 3 and Level 2 lockdown levels will mean for us, and on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has committed to announcing a decision on whether to lower the alert level on Monday, two days before the initial 4 weeks on level 4 expires.

But experts are warning there isn’t enough data to make the decision.

RNZ: Data on contact tracing, tests, borders needed to inform lockdown level – scientists

Epidemiologist Michael Baker, who is on the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 technical advisory group, said some of the data he needed to see to be confident of going to alert level 3 may not exist yet.

“There’s a whole suite of data I would like to see, to make it really clear that we’re ready to … drop down our response level,” he said.

Prof Baker told RNZ he had been asking the ministry for weeks for certain key data about border control, contact tracing and testing but had not received it, nor had the advisory subgroup he was on with four other epidemiologists.

“I don’t think any of the epidemiologists I know have seen data covering all of these key measures.”

The public deserved to see that data before the Cabinet decision on Monday about changing the alert level, Baker said.

“Someone needs to see these data to say, yes, the system’s all performing adequately. I think that’s really vital.

“I’m hoping these data will appear very soon, because I think it is a critical input for making a decision of this magnitude.”

I would have thought that Prof. Baker would know if the data was going to be available soon or not.

Border control systems may be effective, and the data for them may exist, but it might not exist yet in the right form to be analysed properly, he said.

“It’s possible. I know getting the data into a robust form is a real challenge for our system because it has been under-resourced, progressively for many years. And this is really a massive increase in capability and expectations.”

He said clear data showing whether contact tracing was good enough to loosen restrictions should be available, but he had never seen it despite asking the ministry repeatedly for it.

It’s a bit alarming that a top Government adviser is not getting information and  data he requires to give informed advice.

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy is expected to submit to the government tomorrow his team’s modelling on the risks of an outbreak from easing the lockdown.

The team had about three-quarters of the data they needed, after improvements in how it was coming through in the past week, he said, but some of the contact tracing data was “really weak”.

He said the quality of data on testing was about eight or nine out of 10, but it was not easy to compile.

“Some of that information is still sent around by fax these days, so you can imagine that’s quite hard to transcribe. But we we are starting to get that information now”.

They send  data around by fax? Good grief. Not only is it ancient technology, it raises the risks if data has to be manually transcribed. I’m gobsmacked by this reliance on obsolete last century technology.

However, the team was struggling to get good data on contact tracing.

“We’re at the bottom end of the scale,” Prof Hendy said. “I understand the demands on the contact tracing operations at the moment, they’re working as fast as they can. But that’s a bit of a bit of a blind spot for us in our modelling.”

“We have some really weak idea of how much that capacity could be scaled. So let’s say we had another regional outbreak in a few weeks’ time, how much resource can be deployed to one of the regions to contain that outbreak.”

He was not confident they knew enough to make a call on going to alert level 3 region by region.

“If you’re going to relax that region earlier than the rest of the country, then there’s things you’d like to know about the way that public health is being deployed in that region that would minimise those risks,” he said.

“I think that’s a difficult call to make.

This doesn’t encourage me that information is sufficient or robust.

It also doesn’t sound  promising for a relaxation of alert level next week.

Leave a comment


  1. Tom Hunter

     /  16th April 2020

    It’s a bit alarming that a top Government adviser is not getting information and data he requires to give informed advice.

    It’s not surprisiing to me at all. NZ in general unfortunately has a reputation for not being very good at gathering data. Even our economic stats, which you would think are easier to gather than most data, lag behind other nations in timeliness, as pointed out by Croaking Cassandra

    And consider this: huge decisions were made several weeks ago by these same people, operating with the same, or lower, levels of data.

  2. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  16th April 2020

    Stephen Joyce has had great difficulty getting access to information about testing

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  16th April 2020
    • Blazer

       /  16th April 2020

      as far as relying on experts go…most politicians definitely need to.
      Pops in his standard self praise.

      We will see if he is right about Sweden…his track record at predictions says….NO.

      • Duker

         /  16th April 2020

        I read a comment of Jonesys from some time back, even his own companys ‘general manager’ doesnt like him coming into the office as hes out of touch and unaware of day to day events.
        The only thing worth listening to about Jones is his wisdom on property investment
        While he is widely read and travelled he has the shallow knowledge of the self educated outside his specialist areas
        The rest of his time is often pursuing trivialities to satisfy his ego
        “He is suing police for $210,000 for alleged unlawful detention, arbitrary detention, false imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure, negligence and misfeasance in public office.
        All though the principle in that case got consumed by the practice of the Court of Appeal at the time, through the registrar, dismissing what it considered were minor appeals. Eventually that rort was stopped.

  4. duperez

     /  16th April 2020

    When all the data is available of course the picture is clear and absolute and the subsequent decisions made well founded. Right?

    No. There will be quibbling about the accuracy of the information. There will be doubt about the parameters of it. There will be argument about the interpretation of it. There will be charges of inadequacy of the reporting around it.

    Perceptions of tardiness in availability of data abounding or criticism of incomplete information through haste? Never, not here.

    That’s just the way it is.

  5. Pink David

     /  16th April 2020

    If there was enough data to lock the country up, how can there not be enough to unlock it?

    • duperez

       /  16th April 2020

      It’s all very subjective isn’t it? There will always be someone to say the data collected is wrong or inadequate in some way and/or the judgements and decisions made from it are wrong.
      Opening up? The only certainty is the time will be wrong, the style and scope will be wrong.

      • Pink David

         /  16th April 2020

        There was never any evidence that supported a lockdown. None.

        The only justification was a computer model that has been proved to be wrong time and and again. There is plenty of evidence to the harmful effects of a lockdown and the deaths it will result in longer term.

        The ‘experts’ were never experts, they are just another group of people with opinion who have been given a voice they never deserved. The decision was based on nothing more than fear and hysteria.

        • Blazer

           /  16th April 2020

          as the whole world is basically in ‘lockdown’….you are badly outnumbered.

          In fact Griff on his own sends you to the….boundary.

          • Duker

             /  16th April 2020

            Reminds of the ‘seat belts save lives’ story decades ago.
            A small minority said they didnt , that people became trapped in their cars instead and terrible things happened to them because of it.
            There was a grain of truth in that , but the whole sugar caddy of evidence went the other way.
            The real evidence is that epidemics spread and kill people , PD hasnt found a way to dispute that.
            Look at last years measles epidemic In NZ , none dead , but that was because fools didnt vaccinate in their ‘high income’ groups . Spread to pacific islands , killed over 50 mostly kids in Samoa, didnt vaccinate because they were too poor
            Epidemic computer models would have predicted all that

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  16th April 2020

              Epidemic models don’t tell you anything until you feed data and/or parameters into them. If you don’t have data you know nothing.

            • Duker

               /  16th April 2020

              We are talking about about an infection from a virus …which works in various ways and a human population which is unfathomable.
              Luckily medicine doesnt rely on the sum your limited knowlege to take action.

            • Pink David

               /  16th April 2020

              “Epidemic computer models would have predicted all that”

              Again, it has been well researched. Computer models of epidemics have, in every instance, completely failed to have any use in prediction.

              Neil Ferguson, with his computer model, predicted swine flu would kill 200 million. Take a stab at the actual number.

              There is no evidence the lockdown has achieved anything useful, there is no data to support it has has any credibility, and it has come at a massive cost that will destroy jobs and cost lives for years to come.

        • duperez

           /  16th April 2020

          And there you have it in a nutshell.

          The ‘experts’ whoever they are, are not experts. What they said was fatuous and based on fear and hysteria.

          On the other hand there’s another group of people, who are just another group of people with opinion and also not experts, who should have been listened to and their notions acted on.

          Oh, and nothing supported a lockdown, it was simply a whim.

          • Gezza

             /  16th April 2020

            No, it was definitely based on recommendations supported by government advisers who were obviously looking at data & actions taken by overseas governments, as well as the initally confusing recommendations of the WHO, I believe. Not on a whim.

            • Duker

               /  16th April 2020

              The only one here who has experience and knowledge of a ‘working model’ and puts his money on it is the professional Lotto player.
              You cant run the country on that basis, and in fact the health professionals have a far better knowledge of what they dont know.

              In 1919 our population was 1.15 mill and 9000 died in the multiple waves of the Spainish flu epidemic ( another thing to worry about when you let it linger or relax too early, especially as we head into winter)

              So a worst case would be 40,000 dead now days. But we know from the past experience what not to do…but some for personal financial reasons want to repeat the experience again

            • Tom Hunter

               /  16th April 2020

              … who were obviously looking at data & actions taken by overseas governments…

              Well you’d assume it’s obvious, but as economist Michael Riddell points out on his Croaking Cassandra blog:

              And here I would interject to note that whatever modelling the government may have solicited or received unsolicited, so far we have none of the official advice (from the Ministry of Health, from Treasury) on what officials made of the modelling, how they assessed risks, costs etc. As I’ve noted before it is our country, our lives, not those of a few Cabinet minister and officials: transparency of key documents should have been an integral part of any sort of serious confidence-building approach.

              And that’s especially important when two of the University of Otago modellers, Professors Baker and Wilson, are the same people who wrote this in the Aus/NZ edition of The Guardian:

              One critical success factor that is, unfortunately, harder to guarantee is high-quality political leadership. The brilliant, decisive and humane leadership of Ardern…

              FFS! That’s stomach-turning. And then people wonder how <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysenkoism"Lysenkosim came about.

            • Pink David

               /  16th April 2020

              “So a worst case would be 40,000 dead now days.”

              Please show your source for this worst case.

            • Duker

               /  16th April 2020

              It wasnt a model it was an actual epidemic. The worst case was a from a simple scaling up , actual epidemics are more complicated when the population is greater, not as rural, more mobile etc .
              Could easily factor another 50% above the simple scaling of population. But Im no expert to advise those whos job is to take action.

              My very first job some years back used computer models to predict various things for 20 to 25 years ahead.
              For their base they used extensive field surveys to find what the public did and when .
              Took many years to do and I used to carry boxes of computer cards which had the coding and Id draw up the results on big plans.
              They needed the models else they were flying blind on spending $ billions of public money
              of course 20 years later the results were out of date, but from the base data they could do major updates every 10 years anyway.

              They had the time line of 20 years plus into the future , could spend 2 years gathering data.
              The current models were lucky if they had 2 weeks of data , couldnt pick and chose the parameters to gather, just what was available .
              And lives would depend on getting it all horribly wrong.
              Something I didnt have to worry about all those years with my boxes of computer cards and computer printouts and 24hr model run turn around

          • Yep, whims all over the world. It could only have been a coordinated conspiracy, they wouldn’t all think of similar whims.

            • Pink David

               /  16th April 2020

              Look at the negativity directed at Sweden for daring to do something different. Why is that?

            • A hint here:

              A group of 22 doctors, virologists and researchers criticised the Public Health Agency in an op-ed published by Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Tuesday.

              They accused the government of having failed to draw up a proper strategy, pointing out that the mortality rate in Sweden is now around double that of most of its Nordic neighbours.

              Random sampling carried out by the public health agency suggests that at least 2.5 per cent of Stockholm residents may already have been infected, implying a much higher figure of around six times the official stats.

              Epidemiology professor Bo Lundback of the University of Gothenburg, slammed the Swedish government as naive and irresponsible.

              He said “The authorities and the government stupidly did not believe that the epidemic would reach Sweden at all.

              “Sweden was poorly or even not at all prepared.”

              He joined researchers’ calls for “rapid and radical measures” to stem the outbreak seen everywhere else in Europe.


            • Duker

               /  16th April 2020

              The Sweish government hasnt been driving the decisions , its their Public health Agency , who have a lot more independence , more like our Reserve Bank in making decisions.
              Sweden could still be with large numbers infected come Xmas….and the neighbours have closed borders to them as they have greatly reduced cases.

            • duperez

               /  17th April 2020

              And while some were trying to have us believe whimsy was at our wheel they were trying to give the driver and navigators maps for the Sweden way.

  6. Where is the financial data? the liquidations/ redundancies? predicted unemployment? if this lockdown is extended. Our Grandchildren deserve to know the extent of the debt they will be paying interest on to “delay our death”.Mine probably want me gone sooner rather than later and i can see their point of view because i can be a pain in the arse. And i am spending their inheritance


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