Advance party to where?

The Advance Party may be the opposite of an advance in New Zealand politics. Their main aim seems to be to advance as many crazy conspiracy theories as possible.

But they have attracted thousands of followers, as evidenced by an anti-Covid rally in Auckland yesterday, which defied the level 2.5 restrictions currently in place in Auckland.

RNZ: Advance Party and crowd rallies against Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns

A crowd of a few thousand packed in Auckland’s Aotea Square this afternoon, at the “National Rally for Freedom”, organised by Advance Party co-leaders, Jami Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika.

There was little social distancing and few people in the crowd wearing masks.

When the rally was finished, the large group continued its protest down Auckland’s Queen Street before returning to Aotea Square.

There were a number of police present at the rally; they refused to comment when approached by RNZ and asked whether there were any concerns about social distancing given the size of the crowd.

In a statement to RNZ later, police said with today’s event it was “possible that attempts to enforce Alert Level restrictions would have caused tension in an otherwise peaceful protest, without being effective in managing physical distancing of participants”.

That pretty much gives any protesters a green light to do what they like regardless of lockdown laws and rules.

It is disgraceful that a current Member of Parliament be blatantly behind breaking the law, but Ross has disgraced himself a number of times already so this is just another step downwards for him. His chances of being re-elected in Botany are miniscule so he seems to be hoping Te Kahika’s popularity will get him back into Parliament.

But how popular? Several thousand at a rally is a significant number, and there will be more supporters around the country, but they would need somewhere around 150,000 votes to make the 5% threshold (last election ACT got 13,075 votes for just 0.5% and Greens got 162,443 votes for 6.27%).

Even if they made history and the threshold, their influence in Parliament would likely be small. Labour would be extremely unlikely to do a coalition or confidence and supply deal with Advance NZ, and Advance NZ would be hugely hypocritical to even attempt to work with Labour.

Somme of their prominent COVID-19 Response Policy but it is laced with highly questionable claims. Their opening paragraph:

The COVID-19 virus has led nations around the world to take radical action to prevent its spread. In New Zealand, the Labour government has adopted an approach of eradication at any cost. That strategy has failed.

They are basically saying that “nations around the world” are wrong and they are right with untested claims.

The approach here hasn’t been “at any cost”, and it has been relatively successful both health-wise and economically so far.

In the false hope of eradicating the virus, we now face Labour’s Second Wave of Lockdowns. There is no end in sight for the current lockdown or for ending COVID-19 restrictions at lower levels. Labour’s plan is for years of rolling lockdowns.

I haven’t seen Labour state anything like that. Most countries including New Zealand are hoping that a vaccine will be available in the next year or so.

As new information is learned about COVID-19, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the fatality rate of the virus is considerably lower than first predicted. In the early stages of COVID-19 entering New Zealand, fear spread with many believing mass deaths would take place.

First predictions were widely variable based on limited information and based on a range of approaches.

Predictions where that doing nothing to limit Covid, as Advance NZ seem to be promoting, would likely

Initial predictions of death have not materialised around the world, and COVID-19’s  case fatality rate is not unlike that of seasonal influenza. Flu or colds have never been eradicated, and attempts to do so have proved futile. The WHO and GAVI are predicting a similar situation for COVID-19, and it looks like we will have to learn to live with it and find ways to protect our most vulnerable without shutting down society.  (https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/could-covid-19-ever-be-eradicated)

That’s an odd claim considering what is prominent on the gavi.org home page:

#VaccinesWork

Vaccines are one of the most successful and cost-effective health investments in history with wider benefits that accrue across a lifetime.

Keep informed about the latest topics in global health, including top stories related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Also from Gavi: How COVID–19 is leading to famine and a ‘hunger pandemic’

COVID-19 has infected more than 27 million people, killing nearly 900,000 of them. As well as this devastating impact on people’s lives and health, there has been significant collateral damage from the pandemic – especially hunger and malnutrition, putting the lives of millions more at risk.

10 September 2020

That seems to be the opposite of what Advance NZ claim and promote. They also claim:

The reasonable question to ask now is – what long -term economic, social, and health costs will New Zealanders face…

That is a reasonable question to ask….

…in a futile effort to eradicate COVID-19 – a virus we now know we can manage as a nation without losing considerable freedoms?

…but it is followed by a claim that they can’t know. They don’t cite any examples anywhere in the world where Covid has been managed without losing any freedoms.

From their Policy in Brief:

Implement a risk-based approach where vulnerable citizens are protected and supported, but all others are free to continue daily life.

By segregating ‘vulnerable citizens’ from ‘all others’? That doesn’t sound like freedom for either group.

Their website tries to sound reasonable and considered but is littered with highly questionable claims and has major flaws in thinking.

Advance NZ is unlikely to make the MMP cut, and even if they did they would unlikely have much if any influence on policy.

But by promoting defiance of lockdown rules they are actually putting the rest of us at risk of more spread of Covid, and more lockdowns.

Lockdowns essential for suppressing Covid but not long term solution

Returning to Covid lockdowns in New Zealand, in particular in Auckland, has meant a return to arguments over whether they are effective or a sustainable means of reducing deaths and long term health problems inflicted by the virus.

People lacking in expertise pushing for so-called ‘herd immunity’ using flawed analysis based on limited data, even if well intentioned, adds to a lot of misinformation.

But while lockdowns are a short term means of preventing large scale infections and deaths, and by preventing barely adequate at the best of times health systems from becoming overloaded. But:

“It is clear that this is not seasonal flu.”

“No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine.”

Political pundits like Matthew Hooton are not knowledgeable enough about viruses to ton use their usual media ‘opinion’ advocacy to advise us what is the best approach to dealing with Covid.

In Hooton’s latest “armchair epidemiological reckons, I emphasised that he does not have the skills to analyse epidemiological data…he unfortunately makes rookie mistakes again.”

Dr Jin Russell takes issue with the opinion column by Hooton. This gives more insight into dealing with the pandemic than a political pusher.

In my last set of tweets on @MatthewHootonNZ‘s armchair epidemiological reckons, I emphasised that he does not have the skills to analyse epidemiological data. In his latest Herald piece, he unfortunately makes rookie mistakes again.

He includes a table of the 1330 covid cases in NZ; and describes a hospitalisation rate of 4%; with no deaths under 60 years; and “only” a 30% chance of dying in the 80+ group.

I think that most people would see a one in three chance of people over 80 dying from Covid as a very good reason to try to minimise it’s spread. Quarantining all the elderly only is not a viable option, nor i think socially acceptable, nor practical.

The gist is he’s minimising the risk of covid based on NZ MOH data; but this is really flawed.

Flawed in two ways:

1. The only variable he is taking into account in his mortality projection appears to be Age; and

2. Because he accounts only for mortality and not for morbidity associated with Covid-19. Let’s explore these.

Let’s explore these.

1. The only risk factor he highlights is Age. Yes, increasing age increases risk of mortality from covid, as we can see even from our small NZ sample. But that’s not the only risk factor for dying from covid.

This July paper published in Nature analysed other risk factors – Factors associated with COVID-19-related death using OpenSAFELY

Comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, and others are known to correlate with increased risk of mortality from covid. Let’s look at these risk factors for the NZ population.

Diabetes: We have very high numbers of people with diabetes in NZ. An estimated 200,000 people in NZ have diabetes; with the prevalence in Māori & Pacific persons three times higher than NZ Europeans.
– MOH: About diabetes

Obesity: New Zealand has the 3rd highest obesity rate amongst adults in the OECD, with 1 in 3 adult NZers obese, and 1 in 10 children. Once again, this is disproportionately found amongst deprived communities; Māori and Pacific families.

Asthma: NZ has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world; the Asthma Foundation estimates 597,000 NZers take medication for asthma (1 in 8 adults, higher for children) with a very high burden of respiratory admissions amongst children amongst deprived families.

The Nature paper also found that people of “Black” and “South Asian” ethnicity were at increased risk of mortality. It’s important to realise that so far our current NZ covid cases are overwhelmingly amongst Europeans.
– see Stats NZ: COVID-19 data portal

In epidemiological terms, we would refer to our NZ dataset of a miserly 1665 cases (cases! deaths only 22) to be a “biased” sample; with a hopelessly small sample size. In other words, we are unable to draw any accurate predictions on how covid would impact our population from the MOH data we have.

We can’t look at our MOH data and make inferences that the virus would have this many in hospital, this many dead or chronically affected, etc, as the sample is too small, and not representative of how covid impacts populations as a whole

This is why review of the literature, and understanding of other factors is so important.

It’s not just deaths that are a problem. There are serious long term health implications for people who get Covid.

Let’s talk about morbidity from covid – what complications can it cause?

A paper published in Nature Medicine describes non-pulmonary complications from Covid-19. If it doesn’t get you in the lungs, how does it harm you? Amongst those hospitalised or seriously unwell, 30% had acute cardiac muscle injury, up to 30% acute kidney injury, 6% stroke, up to 52% signs of liver injury, 8-9% confusion or impaired consciousness.

figure1

See Nature Extrapulmonary manifestations of COVID-19


It is clear that this is not seasonal flu.

On top of that, there is increasing evidence of a post-covid syndrome, with chronic breathlessness and fatigue.

So far, we have understood that we have a very high burden of comorbidities that would make NZers more likely to die or do poorly compared to other countries, and that it would disproportionately affect our Māori, Pasific and South Asian communities. What about other factors?

Hooton doesn’t discuss this at all – a really, really important variable to consider – our healthcare capacity. In March, prior to lockdown, NZ had a total of 153 ICU beds.
RNZ (March 2020) – 153 intensive care beds in country – survey

And, of those 153 beds, just to drive the point home, only 24 were at Auckland City Hospital. Of the 24 ICU beds at our country’s largest hospital, only 6 were isolation beds. Those beds are not empty all the time, they run close to capacity.

So…we had to lockdown.

The number of ICU beds was supposed to be tripled – RNZ (May 2020) ICU beds increase as ministry tries to triple capacity

I’m not sure if that has happened yet, but even if we had the target 358 beds, that wouldn’t even get us close to the figure we would need if things got out of hand.

Our healthcare workforce is VERY thin and PPE stocks are in short supply internationally. I work in paediatrics. During Level 4 lockdown, there were plans to completely reorganise health services to treat covid patients. Thank goodness we didn’t need to go there.

To sum up – Hooton has a LONG way to go to draw any valid conclusions from our MOH data on covid. To form great public health policy, you need more skills than this. You need local understanding of our inequities, health care capacity, and distribution of comorbidities.

You need to be informed by the literature, and come to considered judgements. This is very sloppy opining, what a shame he didn’t contact some of the many very lovely, very experienced epidemiologists and infectious disease experts within his own institution.

As well as business and economic experts.

Covid is too serious and too complex for the pundit political pusher approach.


See also, from WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 21 August 2020

Globally, there are now more than 22 million reported cases of COVID-19, and 780,000 deaths.

But it’s not just the numbers of cases and deaths that matter. In many countries, the number of patients who need hospitalization and advanced care remains high, putting huge pressure on health systems and affecting the provision of services for other health needs.

Several countries around the world are now experiencing fresh outbreaks after a long period with little or no transmission.

These countries are a cautionary tale for those that are now seeing a downward trend in cases.

Progress does not mean victory.

The fact remains that most people remain susceptible to this virus.

That’s why it’s vital that countries are able to quickly identify and prevent clusters, to prevent community transmission and the possibility of new restrictions.

No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine.

A vaccine will be a vital tool, and we hope that we will have one as soon as possible.

But there’s no guarantee that we will, and even if we do have a vaccine, it won’t end the pandemic on its own.

We must all learn to control and manage this virus using the tools we have now, and to make the adjustments to our daily lives that are needed to keep ourselves and each other safe.

So-called lockdowns enabled many countries to suppress transmission and take the pressure off their health systems.

But lockdowns are not a long-term solution for any country.

We do not need to choose between lives and livelihoods, or between health and the economy. That’s a false choice.

On the contrary, the pandemic is a reminder that health and the economy are inseparable.

But there doesn’t seem too be many experts on both epidemiology and economic matters.

Covid lockdown levels to remain for 12 more days

The official announcement:

14 August 2020

Help stop the spread.

Auckland remains at Level 3,
rest of the country at Level 2

The Government has announced that current alert levels will remain in place until at least 26 August.

The Prime Minister said the decision was based on a range of considerations, including the results of contract tracing, testing rates and results, genome sequencing, and other information gathering since the resurgence of the virus.

The Government is also making changes to the wage subsidy scheme, the leave support scheme and the mortgage deferral scheme

The details will be finalised next week, but the changes will be nationwide and will cover the period of time that level 3 restrictions are in place.

You can watch the livestream of the media conference here.

Travelling to and from Auckland is still restricted

It’s important we limit non-essential travel to restrict the spread of Covid-19. You can travel into, out of, or through Auckland if you are returning to your primary residence. Not to go to a bach or holiday home.

There are limited exemptions for some people to travel. This includes people are who are moving freight, and a range of government workers.

Police are enforcing this at road checkpoints around Auckland.

The restrictions on flying into and out of Auckland are the same as driving in our out.

Outside Auckland, people can still travel so long as they do it safely and contact trace.

Getting the right information matters

Beware of misinformation on social media and other sources. Only share information from official sources. Misinformation works against us at a time when we need to work together to beat the virus. Here’s where you can go to find accurate and timely information:

https://covid19.govt.nz/

Try and wear a face covering when out of the house

The Ministry of Health is encouraging the use of face coverings as an additional tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as maintaining those other very important hygiene measures like physical distancing and handwashing.

A face covering is most important in closed public spaces where it’s difficult to keep physical distancing, such as supermarkets and public transport. 

Remember, face coverings can be homemade. You can also use a bandana or scarf that fully covers your mouth and nose.

Over one million New Zealanders have the NZ COVID Tracer app

The latest surge in New Zealanders downloading the NZ COVID Tracer app has taken it over the 1 million mark of registered users.

Well done New Zealand. Do your bit. Start using it today.

The NZ COVID Tracer app gives us a strong head start in responding. It is not enough to rely on your memory or personal records.

All businesses will need to display a QR code for the NZ COVID Trader app by 11:59am on 19 August. It is easy for businesses to download a QR code for their business using a fast new process.

If you need help generating your QR code posters or have questions or feedback about NZ COVID Tracer:

Catching the virus by food is unlikely

The risk of Covid-19 transmission via food packaging is very unlikely and New Zealand Food Safety do not recommend disinfecting food products. 

Coronaviruses cannot grow in food. They need a host (animal or human) to grow in. Cooking for at least 30 minutes at 60°C will kill the virus.

Coronaviruses are most commonly passed between animals and people and from person-to-person contact.

Resources

Information for Pacific peoples.

Useful posters for your workplace or community.

Information in sign language and easy read formats.

Find out what support is available for individuals, whānau, foreign nationals, and businesses

Translations of essential information are available in 16 different languages on the COVID-19 website.

Up-to-date Alert Level information is on the COVID-19 website.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Levels 3 and 2) Order 2020 outlines current restrictions and requirements.

Contact information

Call Healthline if you have symptoms 0800 358 5453

Need to talk? Call or text 1737

Report breaches of self-isolation 105.police.govt.nz

Get the latest information on our website or Facebook


Govt to protect jobs and businesses with extra support

  • In-principle decision to extend wage subsidy to support businesses and protect jobs
  • Support will be nationwide in recognition of Auckland’s position in NZ economy and the impact of Level 2
  • Mortgage deferral scheme to be extended to support households

Announcement at 5:30 pm on Covid lockdowns

Cabinet will meet at 3 pm today to consider the latest information regarding this week’s Covid outbreak and will make a decision on whether lockdowns will continue or be lifted.

Then at 5:30 pm the prime Minister will make an announcement advising us what we will be allowed to do this weekend and in the weeks ahead.

Currently Auckland is in level 3 lockdown, and the rest of the country is in level 2 lockdown.

Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said:

After 102 days we have our first cases of Covid-19 outside of a Managed Isolation or Quarantine facility in New Zealand.

Actually that’s inaccurate. It is obvious we had community cases before the 100 days was up, it just wasn’t detected and announced until 102 days.

While we have all worked incredibly hard to prevent this scenario, we have also planned and prepared for it.

We have a resurgence plan that we will now activate.

At this stage, we have not yet been able to determine the source of the case. There is no immediate link to an MIQ facility that we are yet aware of, or to border staff.

Therefore we need to take a much more precautionary approach until we can find the source and access the risk of wider spread.

One of the most important lessons we’ve learned from overseas is the need to go hard and go early to stamp out flare ups to avoid the risk of wider outbreak.

As disruptive as it is, a strong and rapid health response remains the best long term economic response.

Ardern also said that she expects case numbers to rise before things improve.

This all suggests that extending the lockdowns if not increasing the lockdown levels looks likely, in Auckland at least.

On 15 July Ardern announced Next steps in COVID response

Experts tell us that even with the best precautions possible, the chances of the virus passing from a surface, or contact with someone who is a carrier are high.

We must prepare now for that eventuality and have a plan at the ready in the event that it does.

The first thing we need to do is continue to ensure our border and our managed isolation facilities stay as tight as they can be.

Not tight enough as this week has shown.

The first thing to note is that the Government’s strategy for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic remains elimination. That has not and will not change.

…So in the event of new community cases we would move immediately to implement our “Stamp it Out” approach again.

So drastic lockdowns can be expected.

But this time it could be on a regional basis.

Let me run through what each scenario might look like.

First a contained case or cases within a community.

We would be looking at applying strong restrictions but only applied locally in a neighbourhood, town or city to contain the virus and stopping it spread.

We would likely remain at Alert Level 1 nationally.

The local measures to contain the case would involve rapid contact tracing and isolation of cases and their contacts, scaled up and targeted testing of people connected to the case, such as workmates, those they live with or those in their neighbourhood.

The point with this scenario is we would look at act hard and fast, but local in an attempt to ring fence the virus. 

The second scenario is a large cluster within a region.

Here, a significant increase in testing would be the priority. We would look to undertake much wider community testing, on top of testing any contacts or potential contact of those with the virus. This could look like it did in Victoria where health staff went door to door to test people in affected areas.

We would also take steps to stop the spread to other parts of the country so a regional shift in Alert Level would likely be applied that restricted travel. This would mean travel in or out of the city, town or region could be stopped, people in that place asked to work from home, and local restrictions on gatherings implemented.

The aim here is to contain the spread away from other areas to avoid the whole country having to put in place restrictions so we can remain at Alert Level 1 nationally, depending on the evidence of risk of spread outside the region.

The final scenario is if multiple clusters, spread nationally.

In this scenario we would most likely apply a nationwide increase in Alert Level to stop transmission.

With the news this morning of cases around Auckland I think we will be at the second scenario unless there are positive cases found outside Auckland.

From yesterday’s media conference:

Dr Bloomfield says at this stage it is not thought necessary to expand restrictions, despite the movements of positive cases to Waikato, Rotorua and Taupō.

“At this point in time it seems very very clear that the focus of the outbreak is in Auckland.”

So currently (before today’s news becomes known) it looks likely Auckland will stay at level 3 lockdown at least, probably for weeks.

If no cases are found outside Auckland the rest of the country may be able to remain in level 2, or possible drop back to level 1 but I suspect that is unlikely.

If cases are found in Waikato, Taupo or Rotorua where people now tested positive have visited in the weekend than the Auckland lockdown may me widened to central North island or even the North Island.

And there is a possibility that people exposed to Covid have travelled around the country and spread it more widely.

We will find out later today what we can do in the weekend, but things are changing quickly so that could be reviewed again soon.

Uncertain times are back.


From The Bulletin (The Spinoff):

Could a full-blown level four lockdown happen? It exists as an option that can be used if necessary, but at this stage seems unlikely. That’s based on comments from finance minister Grant Robertson, who last night told Three show The Project “we’ve got no plans to go to level 4 at this stage. As long as everyone does the right thing in Auckland, at level 3 and around the rest of the country in level 2, then we should be able to get on top of this outbreak.”

Should the election be delayed?

Judith Collins and David Seymour are asking if the election needs to be delayed due to the new Covid cases.

RNZ: ‘Straight answers’ needed from government on Covid-19 restrictions – Collins

National was delaying its campaign launch, Collins said, and if the situation in Auckland didn’t improve the election might need to be postponed.

“I think it’s inevitable that people will be asking these questions and I actually can’t see how we can have the Government saying well it’s all just fine and we’ll get the Electoral Commission to do some postal ballots or something, that’s not going to be acceptable, this is a liberal democracy and people do need to be able to have a fair go.

“I think it’s going to have to be [delayed] unless it’s sorted out by Friday, so let’s see how Friday goes and I’m ever hopeful that we’ll have a decision straight away, we’ll have something that can tell us we can get back to where we have been.

ACT leader David Seymour wrote to the Speaker last night asking him to postpone the dissolution of Parliament.

“Terrible news tonight. It occurs to me that Parliament does not need to dissolve before the election.

“I strongly urge you to postpone the dissolution of Parliament tomorrow until at least this time next week when a clearer picture of the Public Health situation can be had.

“It is possible that the election will now need to be delayed. If that is the case, I believe the people would want to have Parliament available for an epidemic response committee or perhaps sittings,” Seymour said in the letter.

I don’t know why the election should be delayed at this staged at least.

This is more of a hiccup than a crisis. We have been told to expect more community cases ‘not if but when’. And now we have a few.

If the country rushes into lockdowns every time there’s a new community case we will have a very disrupted few months.

If the election has to be delayed because of these cases, for how long should it be delayed? Until there are no new cases for a month? Then it will take two or three months at least to get the election going – and what if there’s moire cases, as we have been told is likely? Keep kicking the election can down the road?

I think that we should be trying to keep things as normal as possible while dealing with a few Covid hiccups.

There may be something on this from Jacinda Ardern soon, she is having media conferences with Ashley Bloomfield at 10:30 am and 4.o0 pm.


Ardern says they are considering the timing of the election but it’s in the early stages of discussion and no decision has been made or looks likely in the next day or two.

Questions on Covid announcement and lockdowns

So we are back in Covid-19 level 3 lockdown in Auckland and level 2 everywhere else.

I get that the Government and Ministry of Health are committed to try to stop any community spread of Covid and are erring on the side of caution, but there are questions I think we deserve answers to.

Jacinda Ardern said we must take a “precautionary” approach as no origin had been found, or link to isolation facilities or people who work at the border.

But how much caution is appropriate, given the substantial disruption the alert level increases impose?

An ‘urgent’ media conference was called last night at 9:15 pm, but when was the positive Covid test first known about? One person was tested twice, and then their family was tested. the first test result at least must have been known by yesterday’s daily report at 1 pm.

The first case was a person is in their 50s who lives in South Auckland. They have returned two positive results. They have no history of international travel.

Six family members who reside in the same household have been tested. Three returned positive results, three negative.

Ardern says she was first notified at 4pm yesterday. The first positive test result at least must have been known well before then. So why was she only notified then (if she is being honest with us)?

It looks like the public testing of Ashley Bloomfield at 1 pm may have been priming the population for an increase in testing. I suspect he must have known at that stage that there were new cases, or at least one new case.

if urgent action was justified why was the urgent announcement not until 9:15 (actually about 9:25) last night?

if urgent action was justified why have the lockdowns been delayed until midday today? The horse could have already bolted by then.

Auckland going to level 3 for two and a half days may be fair enough. But why does the rest of the country have to be affected? I wonder if this is being used as a sort of a drill.

Pretty much no one wants Covcid spreading here again, so drastic action may be justified to try to contain it, but I think the Government may find it harder to get public support and compliance if the announcements look to be too PR staged.

Overreactions and claiming urgency when news has been delayed to suit packaged announcements run the risk of annoying people.

I don’t want Covid to spread here, but I don’t want to be played by the authorities.

And Ardern will have to be very careful with how she manages this through the election campaign. her first priority is to keep the country as safe as reasonably possible but also as unrestricted as possible.

It would suit Labour if Ardern keeps in the media spotlight with Covid announcements while other parties are restricted from campaigning. She isn’t the only one involved in decision making, the non-political Ministry of Health are presumably making recommendations at least.

It will be challenging for Ardern to manage perceptions. If she oversteps there could be a public and voter backlashes.

But there are also challenges for her political opponents.

There have been a range of reactions to that. During what has been labelled ‘the Covid campaign’ this is also very political.

Why is the Auckland lockdown only for two and a half days? A 14 day minimum has been standard until now to make sure that Covid has been detected.

Melbourne goes into level 4 lockdown

Covid has got out of control in Melbourne and Victoria, with record numbers of new cases and many hundreds of cases with no known source, meaning community transmission is happening on a significant scale.

Yesterday there were a record 723 new cases reported in Victoria. Total cases and total deaths in Australia have doubled in the last month, most of the increases in Victoria.

There are 760 ‘mystery’ cases, active cases where the source of the infection is not known.

The state government has now moved Melbourne into a drastic level 4 lockdown, and the wider state into a level 3 lockdown. a sttate of emergency has also been imposed.

ABC: Victoria has introduced a curfew and stage 4 coronavirus restrictions for Melbourne, and stage 3 restrictions for regional Victoria. Here’s what that means

Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton have introduced a stricter set of rules designed to rein in coronavirus infections, which have been spreading disastrously over the past month.

Key changes:

From 6:00pm on Sunday, metropolitan Melbourne will come under stage four restrictions.

Melburnians will only be allowed to shop for food and necessary supplies within 5 kilometres of their home.

Exercise will be limited to one hour once per day, within 5km of home.A curfew will apply from 8:00pm to 5:00am each night.

From Thursday, regional Victoria will return to stage three “stay at home” restrictions, while Mitchell Shire will remain on stage three restrictions.

ABC: Police have been given greater powers under Victoria’s state of disaster. Here’s what that means

Six months after Victoria declared a state of disaster to deal with the summer’s fires, the dramatic legislation has again come into effect to deal with the “public health bushfire” of coronavirus.

It came into effect at 6:00pm on Sunday and can be in place for at least a month.

It gives police and emergency services much broader powers to enforce new coronavirus restrictions, including the Melbourne-wide curfew every night.

It also gives authorities the ability to suspend Acts of Parliament and take possession of properties.

Under the Act, the Emergency Services Minister can “control and restrict entry into, movement within and departure from the disaster area of any part of it”.

In this case, that means all of Victoria.

The Minister can also delegate the Emergency Management Commissioner — who is currently Andrew Crisp — “or any other person” any of her powers or functions.

This means police and other emergency services will get the power to enforce the new restrictions.

These measures have been announced to be in place for 6 weeks.

This is obviously bad news for Melbourne and Victoria, which has a population of about 6.3 million, a bit more than New Zealand.

What is happening in Victoria will impact on all of Australia, which travel restrictions in place.

It will also impact on New Zealand. Many of us have family living in Victoria. And a trans-Tasman travel bubble now looks a long way off.

Australian Covid statistics:

  • 17,923 total cases
  • 208 total deaths
  • 687 new cases in the last 24 hours
  • 408 hospitalised
  • 3,506 locally acquired cases in the last 7 days
  • 31 overseas acquired cases in the last 7 days

In New Zealand we continue to have a trickle of cases coming into the country at a similar level to overseas acquired cases in Australia. The obvious difference is the flood of locally acquired cases.

We have been successful here in containing Covid, partly by good management, partly by luck.

It is going to take an ongoing effort and months at least of isolation from thje world to keep Covid under control here.

What has happened in Victoria shows how quickly and easily it can get out of control.

Total COVID-19 cases and deaths by states and territories

This table shows the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths reported in each state and territory since 22 January 2020. State and territory totals reflect where a person has been tested and undergoing public health management, this may differ from their normal place of residence.

JurisdictionTotal confirmed casesNew cases in last 24 hoursDeaths
Australia17,923687208
ACT11303
NSW3,7841250
NT3300
QLD1,08516
SA45324
TAS229013
VIC11,557671123
WA66919

Source: Department of Health, States & Territories Report 2/8/2020

Borrowdale challenge to legality of lockdown

It is widely accepted, by parliamentary parties and the public, that the lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 was necessary. The legality of the lockdown is more contentious.

The Government could have passed emergency laws to ensure the lockdown was legal, they would have had near unanimous support in Parliament for that. But the lockdown measures should have been legal, and it is important to find out whether proper legal processes were followed.

There have already been legal challenges to the lockdown. Because of the incompetence of the lockdown one was doomed to failure – see Court of Appeal rejects habeas corpus lockdown arguments but “questions needed answers” and Nottingham, McKinney named as habeas corpus lockdown litigants.

Nottingham and McKinney said they would try a judicial review as suggested as the appropriate legal approach by both the High Court and Court of Appeal, but they are unlikely to get much support, and going by their legal records they are unlikely to get much right.

Andrew Borrowdale, having a much stronger legal background, also challenged the lockdown via a judicial review – A better looking challenge of Covid lockdown legality.

Law professor Andrew Geddis summarisedthe arguments in support of and against the Government position on the legality of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions – More from Geddis on Covid lockdown legality.

Barry Soper has reported that Borrowdale’s judicial review is due to be heard in court ‘later next month (July), and there are some legal heavyweights getting involved – Legal groups join judicial review into police’s lockdown powers

Questions have been raised as to whether director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield had the legal authority under the Public Health Act to effectively shut the country down and to order people to stay at home unless they had good reason for being out.

Crown Law advice – leaked during the lockdown to Newstalk ZB – suggested Bloomfield did not have the required authority, which would throw into question all the arrests made during it.

The same advice was used by the former Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement to warn his district commanders about the thin ice they were on when it came to making orders in the name of Covid-19.

A judicial review that will consider the legality of the level 3 and 4 lockdowns has been given significant legal grunt.

The court last week heard from the Auckland District Law Council and the Criminal Bar Association, which wanted to become involved in the case.

A judge also wanted to give the Law Society the opportunity to become involved and gave them until today to declare its intention, which the society has now done, but their role as intervenor is neutral and independent of the parties to the case.

Law professor Andrew Geddis said the case “is very much a serious one in terms of raising issues that the legal world think are both genuinely uncertain and important.”

Geddis says Borrowdale was raising concerns in a proper fashion, unlike another private case taken by two men which failed, after they appealed the High Court finding.

President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Stephen Kos, said at the time that extraordinarily complex questions needed answers. He referred to an article academics Geddis and Claudia Geiringer wrote and a report of Parliament’s regulations review committee looking at government powers in emergencies, which he said was “hardly approving”.

Geddis said the intervention of the three legal bodies showed they were keen on the legality being properly tested in court.

He said if the judicial review finds the lockdown rules were legally invalid it would have implications for anyone charged with breaching the rules.

It is important that the legality of the lockdown is cleared up, for those who have been charged with breaching the rules, but also in case similar action needs to be taken in the future.

The initial actions were treated with urgency by the courts as we were still in lockdown when they were initiated, but now we are out of lockdown time can be taken to prepare properly for the case. Going to trial next month is still quite fast compared to normal court timing.

More from Barry Soper on this:  Legality of lockdown could come back to bite PM

It’s easy to say that who cares? The lock down had the desired result, we’re Covid free at the moment. That’s certainly the sentiment expressed, in much more vile terms, by the keyboard warriors when I ran stories last month about the legality of the lock down.

Of course all the warriors ignored the obvious dangers of a country being ruled by fear rather than the rule of law.

Borrowdale knows a lot about the law because he used to draft them at Parliament and he doesn’t have a nefarious agenda, he is simply uncomfortable like the rest of us should be that the most dramatic action taken against a population in a century may not have had the law behind it.

He also covers political ground but whether it affects public views will depend on the outcome of the court case. If the judgment is contentious any of the parties involved  could appeal so it could end up taking quite a while.

Borrowdale applied to bypass the High Court and to jump straight to the Court of Appeal to reduced the number of possible legal steps, but he failed with that : BORROWDALE v DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF HEALTH [2020] NZCA 156 [8 May 2020]

Mr Borrowdale has issued a proceeding for judicial review against the Director-General of Health in the High Court at Wellington. He alleges three lockdown orders made by the Director-General are ultra vires. That is, he says they exceed the powers vested in medical officers of health to make quarantine, isolation, non-association and closure orders under s 70 of the Health Act 1956. He alleges the orders are unlawful, ineffective and should be quashed by the High Court.

Mr Borrowdale applied for removal of the proceeding from the High Court and its transfer to this Court, under s 59 of the Senior Courts Act 2016.

I am not persuaded, in these circumstances, that the proceeding is unlikely to be determined urgently if heard first in the High Court. Mr Borrowdale’s submission as to his finite resources at least anticipates there may need to be one appeal (presumably from this Court to the Supreme Court). Any appeal inevitably raises the prospect of protraction and added cost.

But, as in Fitzgerald v Muldoon, what matters most is that a court of competent jurisdiction makes a fully considered decision on the evidence and the law. That decision will either invalidate or uphold the Director-General’s orders. If the former, the government then has two choices: appeal or seek assistance from the House. If the latter, Mr Borrowdale also has two, but rather different, choices.

The question this application begs is whether this Court should now limit the available judicial steps to two (Court of Appeal, and perhaps Supreme Court) rather than three (High Court, Court of Appeal and perhaps Supreme Court).

And behind that lies another question, which is whether we should thereby deny parties’ ordinary constitutional entitlement to a first appeal as of right (any appeal to the Supreme Court being by leave only). While leave might be anticipated, that is still a step this Court should be reluctant to take, especially where the issues are ones of such fundamental importance as these.

So it will inmitially be heard in the High Court in late July.

So we’re on Level 1

We’re now on Covid Alert Level 1 for the first time – we skipped it when we went up the levels in April, from 2 to 3 to 4.

This means that apart from international travel we are more or less back to normal. Social distancing is still encouraged but not required.

There is no limit to social gatherings. This means that sports and music events can resume.

Super Rugby Aotearoa kicks off in Dunedin (Chiefs versus Highlanders) on Saturday with tickets on sale to the public.  This may receive international coverage as sport world wide has been largely been put on hold due too the Covid pandemic.

The biggest risk now is people bringing Covid into the country. Incoming travellers will still go into 14 day quarantine and will now be tested twice – testing them should always have been a priority.

Reopening of international borders, even with Australia, seems a while away yet.

Hand washing and sanitising is still encouraged. This may have wider benefits unless there are unintended consequences.

Social distancing won’t make much difference generally as the public has most ignored it over the last couple of weeks under Level 2. But it does mean cafes and restaurants and bars can get back to operating as normal.

One thing that should change is the attitude to working and socialising while sick. Codral has revamped it’s winter advertising, which was necessary because ‘soldier on’ is the opposite of what is recommended by the Ministry of Health.

There is another contradiction – some people (including Minister of Finance Grant Robertson) are encouraging people who remain working at home to go back to their offices because centre city cafes and restaurants are suffering, but others want working from home to continue to reduce traffic and CBD congestion.

Business closures and job losses continue. Some of this is directly due to the Covid lockdowns, especially airlines and anyone involved in tourism, as well as a lot of hospitality.

Having to shut down or scale back will have been nail in the coffin for businesses that were already marginal. Some won’t reopen, some will struggle more and there will be inevitable business failures.

But it is obvious that some job losses and business and shop closures have used Covid as an excuse, or have just brought forward the timing of closures.

Yesterday The Warehouse announced the closure of shops and the loss of over a thousand jobs. In normal times this would be big news, but it can be shrugged off as ‘covid’. However the Warehouse admits these moves were on the cards anyway as they looked to change their business model.

The lockdown prompted a lot of businesses to move more towards online sales. Some of this move will continue, and will affect shops and jobs.

The extent of the after effects of the lockdown are difficult to predict, except that they are likely to be substantial. World wide trade and economies have been seriously affected and at more risk than usual – a recession was already overdue and predicted even before Covid struck.

There could be a crunch yet too come. The three month wage subsidy will run out soon. Many businesses will bebe able to take advantage of a further 8 weeks of wage subsidy, but will no doubt be reviewing their futures after that. There will be more jobs down the gurgler.

Some of us can sort of get back to normal but the covid cloud still hovers over us, and the effects have already been substantial and will be ongoing.

 

 

Pressure increasing on lowering to Level 1 and trans-Tasman travel

Opening up travel between New Zealand and Australia has been proposed as both countries appear to have Covid-19 well under control. It looks unlikely to happen before New Zealand drops to Level 1 restrictions (whatever they may end up being), and Cabinet are not due to consider lowering to level 1 for a week and a half and it has been indicated (on Monday) it may be up to 4 weeks away.

Winton Peters has been talking about a Trans-Tasman bubble for over a month, and is now breaking ranks with Cabinet and says he wants one “yesterday”, but Jacinda Ardern has indicated that September is more likely

24 April: Trans-Tasman bubble could start ‘more quickly than we think’ – Peters

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says some businesses could be saved if the country creates a trans-Tasman bubble – and he’s open to starting on a state-by-state basis.

Fifty-five per cent of tourists who visit New Zealand come from Australia and the foreign affairs minister said it therefore made sense to start planning how a trans-Tasman travel bubble might work.

“So, it requires us to put our best minds together here and in Australia. I’ve spoken to the Foreign Minister in Australia about the need for us to start thinking about that now,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on board and said it made sense to work with New Zealand on any relaxing of the border restrictions.

“I would have thought New Zealand would be the obvious candidate [for border openings] and that’s the nature of discussions we’ve had,” Morrison said.

Wednesday: Hopes to get trans-Tasman bubble flying by July

A high-powered group investigating opening up trans-Tasman travel amid the coronavirus pandemic hopes to put its proposal to politicians by early June, and get people travelling by the July school holidays.

The ‘Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group’ is made up of 11 government agencies, six airports, two airlines, and includes health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives from both Australia and New Zealand.

Started by Auckland Airport, and co-ordinated by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF), the team of 40 experts have been working for the past two weeks on recommendations for the re-opening of borders between Australia and New Zealand.

ANZLF co-chair Ann Sherry said the group wanted to focus on getting it right first on the Tasman before opening up to the Pacific and other destinations.

“We’ve got an early June objective to get recommendations back to government, but we’re testing it with government as we go along to make sure our thinking isn’t divergent at this stage of the process.”

Once the systems were considered by decision-makers, she was optimistic the trial might be completed in time for the July school holidays, she said.

Prime Minister Ardern was non-committal:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not set a date for how soon the bubble could be set up, saying both countries would need to be comfortable.

Ardern spoke with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday about the proposal, and said on Wednesday that there was enthusiasm on both sides of the Tasman.

The two countries were at different stages of easing restrictions, and New Zealand had had a bit more time to see how progress was going in stamping out Covid-19, she said.

“I’d say good work is taking place and it won’t be too long before we will be ready.”

Deputy Prime Minister Peters is pushing different aspirations:

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has broken rank with Labour, saying that quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel should already be allowed out of one side of his mouth, but has a different story out of the other.

However, Peters told a Trans-Tasman Business Circle briefing on Wednesday that opening the trans-Tasman border was urgent for both economies, but the two countries were not yet ready.

“If the decision was made today could we start tomorrow, I’m going to be honest and say no – but we’re working on it with the greatest of urgency now so that if the decision was made sooner rather than later, we’d be off and hopefully got every contingency foreseeable and imaginable covered,” Peters said.

Travel isn’t even allowed between states in Australia so opening up to New Zealand looks unlikely right now.

Yesterday in Parliament Winston Peters says he’d like to see trans-Tasman bubble implemented ‘yesterday’

National’s deputy leader Nikki Kaye questioned Mr Peters, who was answering on behalf of the Prime Minister in question time today, over recent disagreements within the Government on Covid-19 restriction timelines.

“Has the Foreign Minister (Winston Peters) advocated to her (Jacinda Ardern) or to the Cabinet to proceed faster around the trans-Tasman bubble,” Ms Kaye asked.

Mr Peters gave a direct response to the question.

“Take a wild guess,” he said with a wry smile.

Ms Kaye then pressed him whether he had pushed for a date that the travel bubble should come into force.

“Yesterday,” he replied before once again taking his seat.

But that may just be typical Peters posturing to an audience.

Margy Osmond, co-chair of the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group, told the Sydney Morning Herald they expected it to commence “as early as September”.

When asked about this, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said “that could be realistic”.

“I have been careful about putting down specific dates, but have been very focused on making sure we are ready, then we can move and we won’t be constrained by needing to do any administrative or logistical work at our borders,” she told media today.

Opening borders is dependent on moving to level 1.

ACT MP David Seymour has accused Peters of breaching Cabinet rules – Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters accused of breaching Cabinet rules in revealing Jacinda Ardern’s views on level 1 move

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning, Peters – NZ First leader as well as Deputy Prime Minister – openly talked about conversations had in Cabinet.

Asked if New Zealand had been in level 2 for too long, he said: “My party made it very clear we thought that. And the Prime Minister has actually admitted that at the Cabinet meeting – she said it.”

According to the Cabinet Manual – the set of rules for ministers, enforced by the Prime Minister – ministers are not allowed to talk about what happens within Cabinet meetings.

“Discussion at Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings is informal and confidential,” it says.

“Ministers and officials should not … disclose or record the nature or content of the discussions or the views of individual ministers or officials expressed at the meeting itself.”

Seymour said that by saying what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Cabinet on live radio this morning, Peters was in breach of this rule.

It is up to the Prime Minister as to whether or not a minister is disciplined for breaking the Cabinet Manual rules.

Ardern has a record of turning a blind eye to what Peters and Shane Jones do.

Regardless of this political posturing, the public may be adding to the pressure to ease restrictions and get back closer to normal. There have been no new Covid cases in New Zealand for a week, and there are now only 8 active cases, all in the  Auckland region. The case for continuing restrictions will get increasingly hard for the Government to maintain.

The country has virtually eliminated Covid – but the big risk now is if it comes back into the country when border restrictions are eased.

And while Australian Covid numbers look proportionally similar to here The virus figure Australian officials are most worried about

…despite the country’s achievements in overcoming the worst of the virus, there is still one concerning figure looming over its recovery.

Figures released by the Department of Health show that 732, or about 10.3 per cent, of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country have been locally acquired with no contact identified.

This means hundreds of people have caught the virus in Australia but the source of the infection could not be found.

That will be a concern to health officials here, and the Government says they rely on the officials for advice on easing restrictions.

But when should we at least lower to level 1 restrictions here? There has been no community transmission since early April, and business concerns are growing.

NZ Herald: Jacinda Ardern’s wriggle room on moving to alert level 1 early

Cabinet is set to look at whether New Zealand should move to level 1 on June 22, but pressure is mounting to move earlier, with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters saying it should have already happened.

Yesterday a top business restructuring expert, Grant Graham, whose firm KordaMentha partner makes money from insolvency work, pleaded for a move to level 1 to save “unjustifiable” job losses.

Yesterday was the sixth straight day of no new Covid-19 cases, and there have been no community transmission cases – whose branches are harder to trace and isolate – since the beginning of April.

It is possible that there will be no active cases in New Zealand by Cabinet’s D-day on June 22.

Meanwhile Stats NZ revealed that the number of filled jobs plummeted by a record 37,500 in April.

The decimated industries of tourism, hospitality, and events are hoping for an earlier move to level 1, where there will be no physical distancing requirements and no restrictions on numbers at social gatherings.

Ardern said on Monday that Cabinet would consider the settings of level 2 in 10 days, on June 8, and it will meet no later than on June 22 to look at whether the country could move to level 1.

She reiterated that timetable yesterday, saying it was based on Bloomfield’s advice.

But Cabinet could decide, based on his advice, to open up level 2 even more after June 8, or consider moving to level 1 before June 22.

“We have given us some space, just in case,” Ardern said yesterday.

Ardern seems to have one eye on health advice, hopefully she has one eye on deteriorating business news, and both eyes on the election.

June 22 looks a long way away as we move close to no active cases in the country.