Urge for immediate Level 1 based on leaked Cabinet paper

A number of politicians have been pushing for an immediate move to Covid Alert Level 1, notably from party leaders David Seymour, Winston Peters and Todd Muller

Calls increased after large #blacklivesmatter demonstrations on Monday failed to observe number limits or effective social distancing.

A leaked Cabinet paper has added weight to arguments for a faster wind down of restrictions.

ODT:  Leak fires up calls for Level 1

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is being urged to move into Alert Level 1 immediately in light of criteria in a leaked Cabinet paper that includes a 28-day window of no community transmission.

The most recent such case was reported on April 30, 34 days ago, but director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said the last cases of concern were actually from about two months ago.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and National Party leader Todd Muller, who quoted the Cabinet paper during Question Time yesterday, both used the community transmission criteria to push for a hastened move to Level 1.

But Ms Ardern is standing firm on making an announcement on Monday, saying there are other factors in the decision.

Ardern has said that level changes have been based on health and other advice received, but this make sit look like they hav been more cautious than advised.

From Question Time: 2. Question No. 2—Prime Minister

Todd Muller: Why is she so reticent to move to alert level 1, when Dr Ashley Bloomfield has said there is—and I quote—”no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m acting on the advice of director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He is the one giving us the guidance to remain where we are. He has expressed comfort with us making that consideration on 8 June, but that is not an accurate reflection of his views.

Todd Muller: Is it correct that—and I quote—”from a public health perspective alert level 1 means there has been a period of more than 28 days with no new cases of COVID-19 caused by community transmission and there is an extremely low public health risk from the virus”, as is says in the paper I have here in her name titled COVID-19 Alert Level Controls, which I understand was discussed at Cabinet yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member knows that we have made fully and widely available the settings of alert level 1, 2, 3, and 4, and in the criteria for decision making it does say, “trends in the transmission of the virus, with the threshold varying by alert level, including the director-general’s confidence in the data.” So, yes, we’ve included a period where we haven’t had cases—keeping in mind we’re only up to 12 days presently—but also the number of days where we haven’t had a case from community transmission, which was roughly about a month ago now. But that is not the only criteria. The director-general has to be confident in the data. We know there is asymptomatic transmission. We know there is a long tail. I would rather move once, do it right, and not continue to risk our economy.

But this ignores the risk to the economy of limiting the ability businesses to operate at full capacity. The longer the restrictions, the the greater the risk of businesses closing and and jobs being lost.

Todd Muller: When was New Zealand’s last case of community transmission?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I just said, it was at the beginning of May. However, that was not the last case that we had, which was, from memory, 12 days ago. I have to say I am alarmed at the suggestion from the member that, even with some of the loosest restrictions in the world, the member would still be willing to act against the advice of the Director-General of Health, open up before he has advised that we do so, and put at risk the huge effort and sacrifice of New Zealanders. I would rather do it once and do it right.

What Ardern is saying appears to be at odds with advice given by Bloomfield in advice given to Cabinet.

Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister: how can you match that answer with the fact that on 20 May you said—and I quote—”the last case of community transmission where the source was unknown was early April.”? That means we’ve had now three full cycles of transmission with no community transmission cases in New Zealand—60 days since—

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We had a case that was linked to overseas travel but the overseas travel was outside the period of infection. So the view was that it could either have been community transmission or overseas travel. Again, the member forgets that that is but one of many criteria that we take into consideration, and we must listen to the advice not only of the scientists and epidemiologists but also the Director-General of Health. If the member thinks he knows more than all of them combined, I congratulate him, but I would rather listen to the advice, get it right, and not risk our economy.

As happened also on Tuesday, Ardern had started answering questions with poise, but she seemed to getting increasingly annoyed with the persistent questioning from Muller.

I think Muller has been holding Ardern to account effectively here. Some seem to think each question should result in the resignation of the Minister or Government, but our system never works like that.

Some assistance popped up for Ardern:

Hon Chris Hipkins: Has the Prime Minister been advised that as recently as yesterday Australian states were reporting new cases of community transmission, and will the Government take that into consideration when considering the Opposition’s urging to reopen the border with Australia with urgency?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. We of course are mindful of the impacts of every restriction on our economy, on our businesses, but I equally will not jeopardise the gains and sacrifices made by those businesses by either opening us before we’re ready or moving alert levels before we’re ready. I reflect on the comments made by a small-business owner that they would rather live with the restrictions now than risk going back later on.

Ardern is trying to swim against the public tide here.

Todd Muller: Prime Minister, isn’t it time for a captain’s call on level 1 so that a team of 5 million New Zealanders can get back to rebuilding this country and recovering their jobs?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have proudly made captain’s calls all the way through and it is one of the reasons that, alongside our team of 5 million, we are the envy of the world in terms of our position right now. I stand by every call I’ve made and that’s why we are waiting until 8 June.

Muller has managed to get Ardern to take responsibility for “captain’s calls” on lockdown restrictions and the slow and ultra cautious return to business activity.

Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister, why wait till midnight Wednesday, when the whole country needs us to be in level 1 today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the whole country needs us to not go backwards. The whole country needs us to move once and to do it right, and the whole country wants to move with confidence. The member does a disservice when he explains that the decision-making process is as simplistic as he describes—it is not. We factor in a range of issues, including economic impact, including compliance, including transmission, and our unknowns. And I stand by every decision we have made to date.

Moving fairly quickly into lockdown in March was supported by a lot of the public, but Ardern is at increasing risk of getting out of step with public sentiment now the risks seem to have moved to negligible.

Ardern kept referring to things like “The director-general has to be confident in the data” and “We factor in a range of issues, including economic impact, including compliance, including transmission, and our unknowns.”

This makes me wonder if Ardern and Cabinet (excluding Winston Peters who has been calling for level 1 since last week) are putting a lot of weight on statistical analysis of data.

There will always be unknowns, and there will always be a statistical margin of error – statistics doesn’t work with 100% certainty.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  4th June 2020

    I love her outfit there. And her hair. That’s a cool dress & look.

    She’s going to need it.

    The media is turning on her.

    Reply
  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  4th June 2020

    Their “statistics” is plainly crap based on an incorrect model. It has been forecasting risk for weeks during which the outcome has been no risk. We have idiots leading the ignorant and claiming expertise they don’t have.

    Reply
    • The envy of the world ? I don’t think so. I have read about how the economy is suffering as a result of the draconian lockdown.

      Did she really need to do an interview with the New York Times with a full nappy bucket beside her ? Look at me, I’m a caring mum as well as a PM. There’s a stinking nappy bucket by my chair.

      The article talked about how hard the lockdown had been on the economy. She seems to imagine that this has gone unnoticed.

      Reply

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