New Zealand Covid rate improving compared to Australia, maybe

Data shows that New Zealand began the lockdown with a worse infection rate than Australia but improved thiough the lockdown and is now better.

But our death rate went the other way, starting better (because we had very few deaths initially)  but is now a bit worse than Australia.

The pros and cons of New Zealand measures compared to Australia will no doubt continue to be examined.

NZ Herald: Revealed – the data showing the success of NZ’s lockdown over Australia’s

The daily case rate in New Zealand has been only 59 per cent that of Australia since the start of a 33-day lockdown, according to Otago University Associate Professor Brian Cox, a medically-trained epidemiologist and specialist in public health.

His analysis shows that New Zealand’s rate of confirmed cases per capita was far higher than Australia’s at the start of the lockdown, but drew level after about three and a half weeks and is now well below Australia’s.

Currently New Zealand has 229 confirmed cases (not including probable) per million people, compared to Australia’s 269 confirmed cases per million people.

“If we hadn’t locked down when we had, it would have just taken off and we would have been way above Australia,” Cox told the Herald.

His work comes amid calls that New Zealand could have had more lenient lockdown rules, as Australia has appeared to have achieved similar public health outcomes while allowing hairdressers, retailers, construction and manufacturing to continue operating.

Infectious diseases physician and microbiologist Professor Peter Collignon told the Daily Mail Australia that while both countries had seemingly quashed Covid-19, “Australia has achieved it with less collateral damage”.

“We’ve been able to achieve success results without the severe social or economic impacts the lockdown has had in New Zealand.”

Otago University Associate Professor Brian Cox's analysis comparing NZ's and Australia's rate of confirmed cases per million people. Photo / Supplied

Confirmed cases are just a part of the picture though. and complicated by New Zealand reporting both confirmed cases (as used by Prof Cox) and confirmed+probable, as shown below:

 

New Zealand

Australia

Total cases

1,472

6,731

Cases per 1m

305

264

Recovered cases

1,214

5,626

Active cases

239

1.284

In hospital

9

 
Serious/critical

1

42

Total deaths

19

84

Deaths per 1m

3.9

3.4

Total tests

126,066

530,679

Tests per 1m

26,143

20,811

It’s hard to get a clear differentiation from the various statistics, and it’s too soon to tell which approach is the best, Both countries have done very week compared to many other countries, with only 3 new cases in New Zealand and 11 new cases in Australia yesterday..

But he crucial numbers are yet to to be known – as lockdowns are relaxed whether Covid-19 remains contained or starts to grow again.

A vaccine may still be a year or more away, and how we manage to then is what will count in the end.

And this comparison may become a moot point, as there is talk that Australia and New Zealand may open up a dual country protection zone allowing relatively free trade and travel across the Tasman moat.

Contact tracing apps versus privacy

Covid-19 contract tracing apps for phones are seem as essential in identifying as many people as possible who may have been in contact with anyone who tests positive for the virus, but there are some obvious privacy concerns.

An app has just been launched in Australia: Coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe released by Government to halt spread of COVID-19 in Australia

Australia’s coronavirus tracing app, dubbed COVIDSafe, has been released as the nation seeks to contain the spread of the deadly pandemic.

Smartphone users can download the app for iPhones and Android and will be able to register their information on Sunday from 6:00pm AEST.

People who download the app will be asked to supply a name, which can be a pseudonym, their age range, a mobile number and post code.

Those who download the software will be notified if they have contact with another user who tests positive for coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged the app as being essential for Australia to be able to ease coronavirus-induced restrictions across the country.

Using Bluetooth technology, the app “pings” or exchanges a “digital handshake” with another user when they come within 1.5 metres of each other, and then logs this contact and encrypts it.

The data remains encrypted on a user’s phone for 21 days, after which it is deleted if they have not been in contact with a confirmed case.

The application will have two stages of consent that people will have to agree to: initially when they download the app so data can be collected, and secondly to release that data on their phone if they are diagnosed with the virus.

If a person with the app tested positive to COVID-19, and provided they consent to sharing the information, it will be sent to a central server.

From here, state and territory health authorities can access it and start contacting other people who might have contracted coronavirus.

Also from ABC: Government’s coronavirus tracing app released, Health Minister says misusing data could result in jail

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said he would be using the app.

“No Australian should have any concerns about downloading this app,” he said.

“It is only for one purpose, to help contact tracing. If someone becomes positive, that is all it is for and all that it will be used for.”

There are questions around what installing a data-collection app means for privacy.

The Government has explicitly said using the app will help save lives and has repeatedly linked its proliferation to any plans to ease restrictions.

It has also said it would not use any data for other purposes.

“The app cannot be used to enforce quarantine or isolation restrictions or any other laws,” the COVIDSafe website said.

Mr Hunt said unauthorised use of the data was a criminal offence.

“The data has to be kept on an Australian server. It cannot leave the country. It cannot be accessed by anybody other than a state public health official,” he said.

“It cannot be used for any purpose other than the provision of the data for the purposes of finding people with whom you have been in close contact and it is punishable by jail if there is a breach of that.

“There is no geolocation. There is no Commonwealth access.”

Data cannot be taken from phones that do not have the app installed and downloading it is not mandatory.

When the app is deleted from a phone, all contact information is also removed.

RNZ: New Zealand contact tracing app due within two weeks

A contact tracing app for Covid-19 will be available in the next fortnight, the Ministry of Health says.

The ministry said it would use mobile data to track the movements of people with the virus.

The first version of the app would allow voluntary pre-registration so the ministry had up-to-date contact details for users.

Respecting people’s privacy and security would be a key focus, it said.

In Australia, more than a million people downloaded an official contact tracing app within hours of its release last night.

In Singapore, the Tracetogether app uses Bluetooth for close-range swapping of contact information by smartphones, and is an opt-in smartphone app.

The Government has talked to the GCSB and Pallantir about contact tracing, which will cause a bit of concern for some.

RNZ:  Controversial tech firm Palantir had talks with govt on Covid-19

The secretive US data-mining firm Palantir founded by Silicon Valley billionaire and New Zealand citizen Peter Thiel has had talks with the government here about combating Covid-19.

Palantir has worked for spy agencies in the United States and New Zealand.

It is now parlaying its data mining power for governments around the world desperate to track how the virus is spreading.

RNZ asked the Health Ministry about Palantir after learning that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has been advising the ministry about Covid-19; and because of Palantir’s pandemic work in other countries.

The advice from the GCSB is about contact tracing technology which is needed to speed up tracing so teams can find 80 percent of contacts of an infected person within three days.

The bureau’s advice was to ensure any technology brought in from overseas complied with privacy and security rules, the ministry said.

RNZ asked what kind of technology Palantir was offering New Zealand – whether it was contact tracing, which can be invasive, or higher-end data pattern processing to track the virus’s spread.

Two hours later, the ministry issued a second short statement, saying it had got an email from Palantir on Monday this week, as a follow-up to the March meeting.

It had not responded to that email before Wednesday evening, it said.

Then it added: “We don’t have plans to and haven’t used their services.”

So that looks like Palantir is not going to be involved, but the GCSB are. Haven’t they used Palantir?

ODT (in 2013):  Spotlight shines on surveillance:

Palantir: This company mines data for some of the world’s biggest spy agencies, and has set up shop in New Zealand. It was reported this month that Palantir sifts through data, matching phone records, internet activity, credit card use and GPS locations to find patterns. Mr Key is not commenting on whether Palantir is working for the Government. Job vacancies listed on the Palantir website this week include the position ”Embedded Analyst, Government: New Zealand”.

But surveillance is going to be voluntary, for now at least.

Lockdowns extended in UK, Australia, some states of US but others want to reopen

While some lockdowns are being relaxed, others are being extended around the world.

BBC: UK lockdown extended for ‘at least’ three weeks

Lockdown restrictions in the UK will continue for “at least” another three weeks as it tackles the coronavirus outbreak, Dominic Raab has said.

The foreign secretary told the daily No 10 briefing that a review had concluded relaxing the measures now would risk harming public health and the economy.

“We still don’t have the infection rate down as far as we need to,” he said.

It comes as the UK recorded another 861 coronavirus deaths in hospital, taking the total to 13,729.

Mr Raab, deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from the illness, said: “There is light at the end of the tunnel but we are now at both a delicate and a dangerous stage in this pandemic.

“If we rush to relax the measures that we have in place we would risk wasting all the sacrifices and all the progress that has been made.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said similar when warning about rushing relaxations of restrictions – we won’t find out until Monday if the lockdown here is being scaled back next Thursday.

SkyNews: Australia in lockdown for another four weeks: PM

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says there are “no plans” to change the current lockdown measures for at least another four weeks.

Delivering an update in Canberra on Thursday, Mr Morrison said restrictions would only be eased if Australia met three key conditions: increased testing, better contact tracing, and the ability to lock down localised areas in cases of outbreaks.

“We want to be very clear with Australians, baseline restrictions we have in place at the moment there are no plans to change those for the next four weeks,” he said.

Mr Morrison also clarified what he sees as the end date for the “six month” timeline his government has referred to the response to the pandemic.

Australia’s lockdown conditions are probably more similar to our planned Level 3 lockdown than our current Level 4.

In the US the partisan divide is a problem, with Democrat governors extending lockdowns while republicans want to scale back:

New York’s stay-home order will be extended until May 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

Cuomo, during his daily briefing in Albany, said extreme distancing measures that began on March 22 have helped slow the coronavirus infection rate, but he’s not ready to let up on the far-reaching restrictions.

Wisconsin schools will be closed for the rest of the school year and many businesses will stay shuttered until the end of May under action Gov. Tony Evers took Thursday to extend restrictions to contain the coronavirus in the state.

The move will keep hundreds of thousands of school children at home for nearly three months — some receiving no virtual instruction — and comes as key Republican lawmakers are calling for Evers to roll back restrictions, not extend them.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no plans to move forward with a broader reopening of businesses during the COVID-19 emergency.

His spokesman said he will veto the GOP-backed Senate Bill 613, which the General Assembly sent to his desk on Wednesday. The governor plans to continue his aggressive measures to stem the spread of the virus.

Following President Trump’s lead, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday created a task force to plan for the “resurgence and reopening of Florida” from the coronavirus shutdown.

The governor also notably distanced himself from Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees’ comments Monday that social distancing could last as long as a year or more until there was a vaccine.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer faces at least two federal lawsuits challenging her April 9 executive order to combat the coronavirus outbreak, including requirements that residents stay at home and most businesses close.

In complaints filed on Tuesday and Wednesday, several Michigan residents and one business accused the Democratic governor of violating their constitutional rights by imposing her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.

The plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit “reasonably fear that the draconian encroachments on their freedom set forth in this complaint will, unfortunately, become the ‘new norm,’” according to their complaint.

The governors for Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky have formed a partnership to work together on restarting the economies in their states, they said in a statement.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday warned against reopening the country prematurely, saying the public health threat posed by the deadly coronavirus is a greater evil than the current economic hardship facing businesses and workers nationwide.

The Speaker is calling for more widespread testing around the country, to gauge the regional prevalence of the deadly virus, before scaling back locally imposed prevention measures.

“I heard one of them say: ‘Well, people will die — or we’ll open up the economy and people will die — so that’s the lesser of two evils,'” Pelosi said.

The White House plans to release guidelines Thursday to inform states on how to relax coronavirus restrictions and reopen businesses.

President Trump announced the plans during a news conference Wednesday, claiming data shows that the United States has “passed the peak” of COVID-19 cases nationwide.

The decision on what individual states do, however, will fall to governors across the country.

“The battle continues but the data suggests that nationwide we have passed the peak on new cases,” Trump said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.

x

Covid-19 cases recorded worldwide passes 2 million

The total number of recorded Covid-19 cases worldwide has just ticked over the 2 million mark.

  • Total cases: 2,000,734
  • Total deaths: 126,775
  • Total recovered: 484,781
  • Active cases: 1,389,177
  • Serious/critical: 51,603

 

 

That’s at 7:20 am Wednesday GMT so most countries haven’t updated for the day.

There are likely to be many more undetected or uncounted cases around the world.

Australia and new Zealand with today’s updated totals:

Note that both Australia and New Zealand have more recovered cases than active cases, which contrasts with the world ratio of 3 times as many active cases than recovered cases.

The USA in particular has a bad recovered ratio 549,362 active to 38,320 recovered.

From https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Covid-19 death toll now over 100,000

The official world-wide death toll is now over 100,000 – current numbers as at 8:00 pm Friday 10 April 2020 GMT (Worldometer):

  • Total cases 1.685,533
  • Recovered cases 375,221
  • Active cases 1,208,213
  • Attributed deaths 102,099

Cases rose yesterday (Thursday GMT) by 85,589 and deaths by 7,234, with similar increases looking likely today.

As at the end of 10 April GMT:

Over the past week about a third of new cases and a quarter of new deaths have been recorded in the US. Total US cases are now 493,426 and total deaths 18,331 (just 500 fewer than Italy).

Italy and Spain seem to have flattened off at around 6-700 deaths per day.

France (+987 deaths)  and the UK (+980) are increasing rapidly, as is Belgium (+496).

Largest death totals (9 pm Friday GMT):

  • Italy 18,849 (312 per 1m)
  • USA 18,430 (56 per 1m)
  • Spain 15,970 (342 per 1m)
  • France 13,197 (202 per 1m)
  • UK 8,958 (132 per 1m)
  • Iran 4,232 (50 per 1m)
  • China 3,336 (2 per 1m)
  • Germany 2,728 (33 per 1m)
  • Belgium 3,019 (260 per 1m)
  • Netherlands 2,511 (147 per 1m)

So Spain now has the most deaths per 1m population.

New Zealand currently has 1,283 cases and 2 deaths, and for now is ‘flattening the curve’ with daily new cases less than recovered cases.

New confirmed and probable cases over time

Australia has 6,203 confirmed cases and 53 deaths but also seems to be flattening:

This graph shows new cases of COVID-19 in Australia by date of notification. See the Description field on the publication page for a full description

New Zealand doing comparatively well with Covid-19

There is a lot of debate in New Zealand over whether our relatively stringent ‘lockdown’ restrictions are justified or not. There is no way of being sure what our situation would be if we had not clamped down on people movements and business so drastically.

We have to be careful comparing with other countries because of unique conditions and different timing of the virus in different places.

But at this early stage it looks like we have been relatively successful at curbing the spread of the virus, and in particular keeping deaths down (to just one).

Currently we have 1,039 cases (to 9 am Sunday), with 15 people in hospital and 3 in intensive care.

The rate of increase in cases seems to have flattened off despite much more testing.

While cases numbers are difficult to compare we have tested 36,000 people here with a middling rate of 7,509 per million.

Australia has about 5 times our population, about 5 times confirmed cases, nearly twice our testing rate,  but a much higher death rate currently 33.  Australia has less stringent restrictions than us with more businesses still operating.

But there could be other factors.  Ten deaths in Australia are from the Ruby Princess cruise ship that ended up in Sydney. That had been in Napier, and if people had had to disembark there it could have been a major problem here instead on in Australia. Perhaps our earlier ban on cruise ships helped us but not Sydney.

Switzerland has nearly twice our population, 21,000 cases and 715 deaths with a very high 16,256 tests per million. But they border Northern Italy so will have been impacted from the huge outbreak, and they also border badly affected France.

Sweden is separated from Europe, just. They have about twice our population and have had far lighter restrictions. They have tested about half as much as us but have 6,830 cases and 400 deaths.

Scotland is also separated from Europe (just) and a slightly larger population than us. They have recorded 3,345 cases and  218 deaths. Their test statistics are part of the UK which are  low at a third ours.

Ireland has a bit bigger population (6.5 million), nearly five time the cases (about 5,000), a similar test rate and 158 deaths.

Hawaii has a population of about 1.4 million. As of 4 April they had  352 cases (in proportion to ours)  and 4 deaths which is not much different.

From this it looks like comparatively New Zealand is doing ok with Covid-19, so far. But we have a long way to go.

Where is all the money coming from?

Businesses and economies around the world will take a severe hit from the costs and effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

New Zealand has already announced $12.1 in spending to prop things up. It equates to about 4% of our GDP.

That amount is likely to grow substantially, and will add to borrowings. But that’s only small change in the international finance pond.

Across the Tasman: What Australia’s $189bn coronavirus economic rescue package means for you

The government has announced a second major economic rescue package worth $66bn, on top of an initial $17.6bn package and more than $100bn in emergency banking measures to prevent against a credit freeze.

Framed as a “safety” package, the second wave of stimulus ramps up support for small business and also includes a major boost to welfare recipients and for people who lose work as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In total, the government has now committed economic support worth $189bn – almost 10% of GDP – and has also flagged more packages as the crisis unfolds.

UK Government: Support for those affected by COVID-19

On 17 March, the Chancellor announced an unprecedented package of government-backed and guaranteed loans to support businesses, making available an initial £330 billion of guarantees – equivalent to 15% of GDP.

This was on top of a series of measures announced at Budget 2020, the government announced £30 billion of additional support for public services, individuals and businesses experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, including a new £5 billion COVID-19 Response Fund, to provide any extra resources needed by the NHS and other public services to tackle the virus.

Just announced in the US: Senate, White House reach $2 trillion stimulus deal to blunt coronavirus fallout

Senate leaders and the Trump administration reached agreement early Wednesday on a $2 trillion stimulus package to rescue the economy from the coronavirus assault, setting the stage for swift passage of the massive legislation through both chambers of Congress.

National Post: Trump and his children banned from applying to US$2 trillion stimulus plan

Together with Fed intervention, the proposed legislation amounted to a $6 trillion stimulus, according to White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, or about 30 per cent of annual GDP.

The package will likely more than double a U.S budget deficit that was already set to hit $1 trillion this year before the outbreak. It also may not be the last infusion of government spending in response to the spread of the virus.

The US has had growing deficits and growing debt since the GDP in 2008:

As of February 2020, federal debt held by the public is 17.23 trillion and intragovernmental holdings were $6.02 trillion, for a total national debt of $25.3 trillion

 

At the end of 2018, debt held by the public was approximately 76.4% of GDP and approximately 29% of the debt held by the public was owned by foreigners. The United States has the largest external debt in the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_of_the_United_States

When the US package was announced the country was heralded as ‘the greatest country in then world’, as they tend to do. That may refer to the greatest debt in the world. That’s one thing trump has been biggest and best at, growing debt.

There’s some big numbers here, and this is just four countries.

Where will all this support package money come from? Are loans already secured?

 

Covid-19 climbs around the world, last day before NZ lockdown

Cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus and deaths continue to climb around the world, with many countries having significant increases.

Currently (JHU data):

  • Total confirmed 407,485
  • Total deaths 18,227
  • Total recovered 104,234

 

The February spike will be China, but the rest of the world is now picking up.

The toll across the United Kingdom rose by 87 in the last day to 422 (a 26% increase) and confirmed cases were up 21% to over 8,000. They are still having problems with crowded trains.

Spain has had more than 500 deaths in a day, making a total of 2,800 who’ve died from its 39,676 cases.

Germany has had a relatively low number of deaths from 31,991 cases but have jumped recently to 149.

https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

Either the spread or detection is slow in most parts of Africa.

Conspicuous is the lack of reported cases and deaths in Russia.

Official: Russia has no ‘clear picture’ of extent of Covid-19 outbreak

Russia, which shares a border with China and has a population of 144 million, has so far reported 495 cases of the coronavirus but no confirmed fatalities.

“The problem is that the volume of testing is very low and nobody has a clear picture” of the situation in Russia and the world, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told President Vladimir Putin during a meeting.

“The picture that is unfolding is serious,” said Sobyanin

This photo from a store in Moscow suggests it is a major concern of not a problem there.

A man, wearing a protective mask, walks past empty shelves in a store, due to the fear of Covid-19 outbreak in Moscow March 17, 2020. — Reuters pic

JHU data shows 519 cases in India and 10 deaths, which seem very low for such a densely populated country.

India’s 1.3b people to enter ‘total lockdown’

India is to impose a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced.

The restrictions will apply from midnight local time and will be enforced for 21 days.

“There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said in a televised address.

The US could soon become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic after a ‘very large acceleration’ in cases, WHO warns

  • The US could soon become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation warned Tuesday.
  • A WHO spokeswoman, Margaret Harris, noted that there had been a “very large acceleration” in cases in the US in recent days.
  • In the past 24 hours, 85% of all new coronavirus cases were in the US and Europe. In the US, 553 people have died from COVID-19.
  • President Donald Trump has refused to impose a national lockdown, however, and has instead insisted the US will soon be “open for business.”

Current John Hopkins data shows 49,768 cases in the US (third to China and Italy and ahead of Spain) and 600 deaths.

Despite this Pence says White House not considering a nationwide coronavirus lockdown (a number of states are in lockdown) and:

Trump, during Fox News coronavirus town hall, calls for re-starting economy by Easter: ‘We have to get back to work’

President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual townhall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.

Trump argued he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. He also said he worries the U.S. will see “suicides by the thousands” if coronavirus devastates the economy.

“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview.

“We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”

That’s contrary to how most countries are handling Covid-19, and also major US states.

And contrary to US officials:

During a coronavirus town hall with U.S. forces around the world, Defense Secretary Mark Esper estimated it could take up to 10 weeks, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley went a little further saying he expected the military to be dealing with the virus for the next three months.

Currently in Australia there are 2,139 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.

Many New Zealanders who have suddenly lost jobs in Australia and will get no Government assistance there are trying to come back here.

Australian states have taken different actions, but some restrictions have been applied to the whole country. Official information:

  • Tight new restrictions on weddings, funerals, fitness classes, beauty salons, arcades and play centres will be implemented from 11:59pm, 25 March. An international travel ban (with some exemptions) will also be introduced. Read more.
  • Some states and territories are closing their borders, meaning anyone entering will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Currently, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia have announced they will close their borders. Essential services are generally exempt from this requirement but some states require undertakings and/or evidence be provided to prove that entry into the state is essential.
  • School closures (both government and non-government) are a matter of the respective state and territory education authorities. Read more.
    (Schools aren’t being closed yet in Queensland but parents can choose to keep their children at home).
  • All pubs, licensed clubs and hotels (excluding accommodation), places of worship, gyms, indoor sporting venues, cinemas, casinos must be closed. Restaurants and cafes can offer takeaway options. Supermarkets, pharmacies and essential services can remain open. Read more.

Cases in New Zealand (confirmed and probable) jumped to 152 yesterday. We go into full lockdown (except for essential services, shops and petrol stations) at 11:59 pm tonight.

A state of emergency will be declared in Parliament today. A UBI is being considered as one option.

People needing to travel on domestic flights, trains and Cook Strait ferries to get home before the country moves into level 4 lock-down tomorrow night will be able to continue using the passenger services until midnight on Friday.

 

Community spread must already be occurring, further action implored

Nearly all confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand have been linked to international travel, and there has been no confirmation of contracting the virus via community transmission – but this may be happening undetected.

Epidemiologist Doctor David Skegg – NZ’s Covid response: We need to be more open

The New Zealand Government should be congratulated on many aspects of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is an urgent need for more openness about the current situation and the options for controlling further spread of this disease.

Community transmission

For some weeks I have been concerned by repeated statements that the probability of community transmission of the coronavirus in this country is low. Not nearly enough testing has been carried out so far. Since testing has been heavily skewed towards people who have been overseas recently, it is hardly surprising that most of the cases detected had links to overseas travel.

All the epidemiologists I talk with expect that community transmission is already occurring, at least in some places. Why should the virus behave differently in New Zealand than elsewhere?

Authorities have argued that decisions about testing are left to the expert judgement of clinicians. Yet some clinicians have complained about difficulty in arranging tests.

There have reports that even people with possible Covid-19 symptoms are not being tested because they don’t have links to anyone who has travelled internationally.

I know a nurse who works in an aged care hospital who was off  work with symptoms last and tried to have a test, but was told she didn’t need one as she had no travel links.

US Senator Rand Paul tests positive for Covid-19

Republican US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has tested positive for coronavirus…Paul has no symptoms and was tested out of “abundance of caution” given his recent travels

How many people with no symptoms are carrying and possible spreading the virus?

If this is common practice then community transmission won’t be detected because they are excluding that from testing.

People are surprised when I tell them that, allowing for population size, the epidemic of COVID-19 in New Zealand appears to be running only about 8 days behind that in the United Kingdom – a country that had no border controls.

The UK currently has 5,071 confirmed cases and 233 deaths.

We seem to be tracking a little behind Australia on spread, and they are making major moves this week, with NSW, Victoria and Queensland moving into lockdown on Tuesday.

ABC: NSW, Victoria and ACT jump the gun on PM’s indoor venue crackdown with early state-wide shutdowns

The Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and ACT beat the Prime Minister in flagging a host of closures across their states on Sunday, hours before the Federal Government’s crackdown on indoor venues.

In their announcements earlier on Sunday, the three states said schools would remain open on Monday, but Victoria’s school holidays would be brought forward to start on Tuesday.

Queensland set to follow NSW and Victoria in shutting down non-essential services.

Western Australia and South Australia have joined Tasmania and the Northern Territory in requiring visitors to isolate for 14 days upon arrival, effectively closing the borders.

ABC: Crackdown on social distancing sees pubs, indoor sporting and religious venues to close

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says parents can keep their children in school, but licenced clubs, pubs, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs and places of worship will close from midday Monday.
The following facilities will be restricted from opening from midday local time 23 March 2020:
  • Pubs, registered and licenced clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation)
  • Gyms and indoor sporting venues
  • Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs
  • Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery
  • Religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies).

Australia currently has 1,353 cases and 7 reported deaths.

Things are escalating in Auckland – Seven Auckland schools shut

Students of seven Auckland schools will be staying home today due to Covid-19 cases and precautions.

Glendowie College is closed until Thursday after a student tested positive for Covid-19.

Marist College for girls in Mt Albert, where a teacher has the virus, is closed, as is the next door Marist Primary as a precaution. It’s expected to reopen Thursday.

Mount Roskill Grammar School where a parent has tested positive for Covid-19 is also closed, however, this is a scheduled closure. The parent, who returned from overseas March 12, attended a school event the same evening.

A Randwick Park Intermediate School student is a “probable case” and the school will be shut for 72 hours.

Tests on a Pukekohe High School student and a Pukekohe Intermediate School students were both negative however, the schools will remain closed until Tuesday. The decision was made as a precaution to avoid difficulty communicating to parents over the weekend if tests were positive.

Another school in Auckland alerted parents Sunday evening a teacher, who is a close contact to a confirmed case, is now in precautionary self-isolation. The teacher does not have symptoms and the school is remaining open.

In a letter from the Ministry of Education parents were told the risk was low.

“The latest evidence shows that, unlike influenza, there is a very low risk that a person is able to transmit the virus before they have symptoms.”

At present the Government’s stance is that shutting schools down isn’t necessary as there is not widespread community transmission here.

There’s concern preemptively shutting schools could mean grandparents. who are vulnerable due to their age, would end up caring for children.

That’s exactly what I’m doing. A grandson is ‘immunne-compromised’ – he has type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease. We are taking him in and setting up in virtual self-isolation. I can do this because I can work from home. And we will talk to his high school about keeping him at home.

We see this as prudent because his other family contacts pose a greater risk – his father is still working which involves personal contact, he has siblings at two other schools, and his other grandparents work in exposed jobs – in a supermarket and as a taxi driver that does airport work.

The official stance on level 2 is that as a country we are not yet in lockdown – but the sooner that happens the more we can reduce spread of the virus.

The petition calling for moving immediately to Level 4 and a mandatory social lockdown has jumped to 55,000 signatures.

Stuff: Major benefits and dire consequences to lockdowns, expert says

The Ministry of Health says it will only encourage lockdowns in New Zealand if the local coronavirus situation changes dramatically.

But a public health expert believes a lockdown is critical sooner rather than later to fight the pandemic and save New Zealand from the catastrophic path of some other countries.

For now, appeals for people to self-isolate and follow social distancing remain pivotal to Government coronavirus strategy. But outrage is brewing about people who flout self-isolation guidelines and can’t seem to take social distancing advice.

As shutdowns loom in Australia, a comprehensive local lockdown now would offer New Zealand a “clear path forward”, Professor Michael Baker told Stuff on Sunday.

“All I can do is convey the epidemiological rationale for doing it very rapidly,” said Baker, from the University of Otago’s Department of Public Health.

“The alternatives are pretty dire.”

Enforcing limits in social movement could essentially suffocate the virus’ ability to spread, Baker said.

Baker expected Government leaders were already preparing for lockdowns.

He believed it was a matter of timing and taking into account logistical challenges, but said the sooner lockdowns came, the better.

Baker said he’d “be delighted” if a lockdown was announced immediately.

I want to avoid direand am concerned that Covid-19 may already spreading in communities.

I’m going to effectively lock down now – it will be enforced soon anyway, and protecting lives must be a priority. We all have this choice now.


Stuff: Close schools immediately, Teaching Council pleads

The Teaching Council has called for all schools and daycare centres to shut down immediately.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday, Teaching Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin made the call which she said was on behalf of 130,000 teachers.

The closure should be immediate, she said.

“As the voice of teachers, the council, on behalf of all teachers, implores you to act now and to move to Alert Level-4, closing early childhood centres and schools.

 

Prepare for lockdown

Rumours were rife in Australia on Tuesday that an internal lockdown announcement was imminent. That didn’t eventuate.

Here in New Zealand on Thursday afternoon internal lockdown rumours swirled – see Covid-19: Rumours, lockdowns and anxiety-fuelled social sharing – but media didn’t go public with the information. The  borders only were locked to anyone except New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. Australia followed suit.

But it looks likely we are headed for some degree of internal lockdown. From an interview on RNZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern…

…reiterated her message to be prepared, saying New Zealanders should be prepared to work from home and be prepared to cancel non-essential travel.

She said more than that, clearly implying the regional lockdowns were distinct possibilities, as was a national stay at home order, as has happened in a number of countries already, and has just been announced in California.

And Scott Morrison is signalling similar for Australia: PM flags further internal travel restrictions

Mr Morrison said Australians should “reconsider the need for unnecessary travel”.

Mr Morrison said further advice is being taken to the national cabinet next Tuesday night and will be available before people go on school holidays.

“I am just flagging that for next week, when we consider those issues on a broader scale,” he said.

So we have plenty of warning that we may be largely confined to our homes, possibly in the near future.

Most people I have talked to at work this week have been preparing for working from home.

I have been able to work from home for years so don’t need to do much more, but I guess need to mentally prepare for a major change in work and lifestyle.

It is being made clear that we all need to prepare for the possibility, if not likelihood, that we will be confined to home some time soon, and potentially for an extended period of time.


Jacinda Ardern is on Seven Sharp tonight to ‘answer questions’.

She has reiterated:

  • Prepare to work from home.
  • Prepare to not travel.