Covid-19 testing criteria expanded to boost number of tests

The number of tests being done for Covid-19 has been an issue in many countries, including here in New Zealand.

This came up in the first day of operation of the Epidemic Response Committee in Parliament.

Newshub: Sir David Skegg urges Government to show clear plan to eliminate COVID-19

Professor Sir David Skegg, an epidemiologist from Otago University, appeared in front of Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday.

He said the Government did well to put in place early border restrictions and raise the national alert level to 4 but that it appears to lack a concrete, long-term strategy to stem the spread of COVID-19.

With the Government assuming the majority of those infected would have links to overseas travel – and therefore focusing its testing on them – it was hard to gauge the true extent of community transmission, he said.

“The actual number of people who have been infected will be far higher than the 589 notified and we really have no idea of the extent of community spread,” said Sir David.

“I’m afraid that only complacency can have allowed our authorities to imply that the virus would behave differently here than everywhere else.”

The number of tests done here has increased substantially over the last week (currently averaging 1,777 per day over a week) with a total of 21,384 done to date. The criteria for tests is to be loosened so more tests are done.

Newsroom: More testing needed, Ardern says

The number of tests for coronavirus is set to ramp up, with health officials relaxing the testing criteria as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for more testing to be done.

The matter was at the fore during the inaugural meeting of the epidemic response committee earlier on Tuesday, where Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield indicated a change was coming.

Now, Ardern has confirmed the technical advisory group overseeing the case definition of Covid-19 had agreed to expand it to include people who had symptoms potentially indicative of the virus, but without a link to overseas travel or a close contact who had tested positive.

The new advice would be circulated to Healthline, GPs and community clinics, with the Prime Minister expressing a desire to see testing levels ramp up further.

“I want more tests, we’ve built the capacity for more tests, more tests will only allow us to get a better picture of the spread of Covid-19.”

However, she pushed back when asked why the Government had not made such a change earlier, saying New Zealand had already been conducting a high level of tests relative to other countries.

The more tests the better the data to with which to model and base decisions on, but so far with a very low death rate (still just 1) it appears there hasn’t been a critical shortage of tests done.

Wider testing will be needed to determine just how much community spread there is  and where in the country there are problems as we get towards the end of the 4 week lockdown period and decisions will presumably be made on whether the alert level is reduced and restrictions eased, either countrywide or regional.

Skegg:

Suppressing the virus was only the first step in eradicating it, he said, adding that it was “worrying” the Government wasn’t clearly talking about eliminating it completely.

“A lockdown on its own is not enough. It’s like pressing the pause button on your device.”

Tackling a virus of this kind took a willingness to be transparent and change tactics when necessary, he said.

“If elimination cannot be achieved, when and how will we know that? And what will be the next goal? Those are the kinds of things I would expect to see in a strategy document”.

The Government and their health advisers will have been very busy but there is obviously a lot more work to do still.

 

Greens use coronavirus to promote policy (20% benefit increase)

National have been using the coronavirus as an excuse to promote policies like stopping the minimum wage increase and reducing regulations. The Green Party has joined in the opportunism, calling for a 20% increase in benefits – which just hapens to be something they have been promoting for years..

Stuff:  Greens urge huge benefit increase in response

The party are calling on the Government, of which it is a part, to fully implement the recommendations from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s report.

That would see benefits boosted across the board at a cost of around $5.2b a year. The current welfare system pays out about $24.5b in benefits a year, including $15.5b for superannuation.

Greens have been calling for substantially higher no questions asked benefits for years.

This proposal isn’t aimed at short term mitigation of the effects of Covid-19 but would be a big ongoing increase in Government spending.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson said given the impact the virus’ associated economic shock might cause for casual workers larger benefits were vital.

“The COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on the income of casual workers shows how flawed our social safety net is,” Davidson said.

I don’t know even how the possible impact on casual workers justifies a huge across the board benefit increase.

“It’s clear we need to change our welfare system, to absorb the impact of unexpected viruses and other issues that crop up in life. Whether it is COVID-19 or something else, our social safety net should be able to support us across the board when we’re struggling.”

The Green Party have long called for the full package of reforms suggested by the advisory group to be enacted.

Such a radical change in benefits should be debated and considered carefully, not rushed in because of the current virus.

Greens must know there’s no chance of rapid adoption of their policy. So this is straight out use of the virus for political campaigning.

“Massive increase” in MP funding, most for Government MPs

The Speaker has tabled a report in parliament proposing that MPs, especially Government MPs, may be given substantially more funding – like 20% – plus extra staff for Ministers, just two weeks after two weeks ago Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a’nobly prudent’ freeze of MP salaries – MP pay frozen and fairer system for increases developed:

“Today Cabinet agreed to freeze MP Pay till July 2019, and to reassess the funding formula used by the Authority to ensure it is fair and in keeping with this Government’s expectations and values,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Ardern made a big deal about this in some sort of principle of fairness and to close the income gap – “It is about values. We are focused on raising the income on lower to middle income earners”.

NZH: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces salary freeze for MPs

The latest pay rise, of 3 per cent, was due to kick in later this month and be backdated to July 1 but Parliament will pass a bill under urgency to freeze the current pay for a year.

Ardern said it is not appropriate for MPs to be subject to such an increase.

“It is about values. We are focused on raising the income on lower to middle income earners,” she said.

Ardern said the way the draft increase had been determined did not seem fair.

“We do not believe, given that we are at the upper end of the scale, that we should be receiving that sort of increase.

“The current formula isn’t meeting our expectations.

“What we have seen in this determination I believe is out of kilt with those expectations.

“This is about us acknowledging that we are at the top end … and this only extends that gap.”

But the salary gesture pales in comparison to expence increases proposed for MPs, especially list MPs.

David Farrar at Kiwiblog: Massive increase proposed for MPs expenses

The Speaker has tabled a report which proposes a massive massive increase in funding for MPs, almost all of it to benefit Government MPs.

We’ve got the Government turning down a 3% pay rise, which is chicken feed compared to the 20% increase in funding that has been proposed for them.

The details will make your blood boil. They overwhelmingly benefit the Government. The major changes proposed are:

are:

  • List MPs to get the same funding as Electorate MPs. 34 of the 49 List MPs are Government MPs. It is a huge boost for Labour, Greens and NZ First. It is also wrong as Electorate MPs have far greater demands on them. They represent an actual constituency and need extra staff to deal with all the constituent issues. Many List MPs do very little constituency work, and any extra funding will go on advertising and campaigning.
  • Parties won’t lose funding if they lose MPs at an election. At the moment a party gets funded based on their actual number of MPs. Totally sensible. This report proposes a gerrymander where National and Labour get guaranteed 38% of the funding regardless of their number of MPs, and NZ First and Greens get 8% minimum, again regardless of their number of MPs.
  • Also outrageous is it proposes Ministers get extra staff. Ministers already get totally funded for their staffing needs through Ministerial Services. And the number of staff is already 13% higher than the last Government. This report proposes each Minister also get an additional staffer funded through The Parliamentary Service. So a huge boost of 30 more staff for the Government. It also may allow Ministers to avoid the OIA by having one of their staff working for The Parliamentary Service instead of Ministerial Services.
  • And bad enough this $13 million increase in funding for MPs, but they want to have it get even bigger every year. They recommend an automatic 3.3% to 3.7% increase every year, which means Parliament will be the only public sector organisation that doesn’t have to make a business case to justify extra spending.

This proposal is a huge rort designed to massively increase funding for Government MPs.

And it is the Government that effectively decides whether or not to accept the recommendations.

Farrar seems a bit against this, perhaps for good reason. The quoted cost is accurate:

Our recommendations include indicative costs where these are available, and these show that the package of
recommendations will involve a significant investment in the first year to support the lift in performance of our
democracy. Across all of the funding, this represents approximately $13.0 to $13.5 million per year.

$13 million works out at $108,333 per MP, but it sounds like it will go disproportionately to Ministers and list MPs.

That’s a lot more than a 3% salary increase would cost.

It will be interesting to hear what Ardern thinks about this.

 

 

7.84% rates rise “a normal part of the cycle”

Saying that a 7.84% rates rise will be “in the lower quartile” won’t mean anything to ratepayers who face increases of $200-400. I am horrified by this level of increase – and it sounds like it is what much of the country should be expecting.

ODT: DCC approves second highest rates increase since 1989

The Dunedin City Council has backed a higher-than-expected rates rise of 7.84%, after agreeing to a series of last-minute funding boosts yesterday.

Plus:

The council has also signed off on a 4% increase in most fees and charges.

The waffle:

But Mayor Dave Cull insists the rates hike, like the fees and charges, are just a normal part of the cycle as cities invest in their futures.

That was within the council’s new self-imposed rates limit of 8% for the first year.

That’s about four times the rate of inflation.

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose said the city’s rates would remain in the lower quartile, while other centres across the country eyed increases of between 3% and 15%.

Lower quartile, about average, that’s tosh when trying to make excuses for an increase of about 8%.

It’s not as bad as 15%, but that’s like saying it’s not as bad getting two teeth pulled by the dentist as getting four teeth pulled.

Mr Cull said cities went through cycles of investment, leading to periods of higher rates increases, but the alternative would be worse.

Those cities that kept rates artificially low by not spending in the short term were eventually forced to catch up, leading to ”massive rates increases” later, he said.

”They pay the price in the end. The idea is to try to keep it smooth, but every now and then you have got to invest,” he said.

More nonsense. I think that rates have been rising ahead of inflation for yonks.

This is budget day news. I don’t expect to get any joy from the Government today either, but the budget shouldn’t be this bad.

60% rates rise proposed

It’s not uncommon for mayors and councils to play down rates rises. Like this:

Wellington Rates Snippet.png

Gwynn Compton:  Spin cycle shrinks rates as well as clothes

But for Wellington City Council, an attempt to spin the merits of reducing a potential 7.1% rates rise down to 3.9% has ended up with an announcement that they’re reducing rates down to 3.9%, which would be a 96.1% cut!

In this case, the words “rise” or “increase” appear to have been omitted from the article.

In contrast, in the ODT today:  Rates must rise to maintain momentum, mayor says

Dunedin faces a 7.3% rates rise as the Dunedin City Council eyes a decade of increased investment, but Mayor Dave Cull says it is essential for the city to keep riding a wave of activity.

Mr Cull was commenting before today’s start of public consultation on the council’s latest 10-year plan, which outlined proposed spending for the decade to 2028.

However that is a bit misleading too – the 7.3% rise is proposed for the first of ten years. More detail:

Rates would rise by 7.3% in the 2018-19 year,
by 5% the following year,
and by 4.5% each year
until 2027 when the increases would drop to 4%.

That amounts to about 60% over ten years.

Modest rates of $2000 would rise to $3190 after ten years.

2018   2,000.00
2019 7.3%   2,146.00
2020 5.0%   2,253.30
2021 4.5%   2,354.70
2022 4.5%   2,460.66
2023 4.5%   2,571.39
2024 4.5%   2,687.10
2025 4.5%   2,808.02
2026 4.5%   2,934.38
2027 4.5%   3,066.43
2028 4.0%   3,189.09

And that is without any knowledge of future inflation, which would presumably add to the increases.

The council had come out of a period of austerity, during which rates increases were limited to 3% and spending was cut, as the focus shifted to driving core council debt down below $230 million.

Rates had still risen faster than inflation over the last ten years.

At the same time, core council debt – excluding companies – was forecast to climb from just over $200 million now to $285 million by 2028.

So debt is forecast to rise despite the large rates rises.

Not helping, from ODT at the same time: Tender troubles mean more delays for cycleway

Dunedin City Council staff have voiced frustration after a call for tenders to complete an Otago Peninsula safety improvement and shared pathway project came in $20 million over an already-inflated budget.

The council last year announced a revised budget to complete the project alongside Portobello Rd and Harington Point Rd, which rose from an estimated $20 million to $49 million.

This is not the first ‘shared pathway project’ (cycleway) where the costs have blown out.

So even with large rates rises there must be little confidence that the ‘increased investment’ wouldn’t increase substantially more.

This was Mayor Cull’s pledge last election:

In the six years I have led our Dunedin City Council we have reduced rate increases.

That’s much like the Wellington example above – rates increases were ‘reduced’ to above inflation.

I wonder how what he will pledge if he stands again in next year’s local body election.