Saturday, August 15, 2020

Ryan Bridge: The team of five million is splintering

The team of five million is splintering and there are early signs Jacinda Ardern’s campaign that wasn’t a campaign for re-election is wobbling.

It’s becoming abundantly clear the Prime Minister’s sworn mission of stamping Covid-19 out of New Zealand is neither sustainable nor the right thing, morally, to do.

I’ve had business owners call me this week in tears at the fact their enterprise is again on skid row. Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult told me businesses there will fold because the resort town’s largest source of domestic tourists, Aucklanders, can’t leave the house let alone attempt a day’s skiing. A call from Kaikoura confirmed people were chanting “f**k the lockdown” in unison and spontaneously while queuing in a local store following Ardern’s Tuesday press conference.

The evidence has been just as damning.

Level Four was a body blow for business. The Productivity Commission found the extra five days we spent at Level Four the first time came with a net cost of around $750 million, which translates to 22,500, quality-adjusted, life years. That was just five days’ worth.

Even at Level Three in Auckland, ASB says Ardern’s approach is costing us half a billion bucks a week. That’s $100 per week per household.

Worse still is the uncertainty it creates for business. Uncertainty is like cancer to free enterprise and it can spread rapidly. Firms stop investing, stop hiring, stop planning and start acting with caution to preserve their arteries.

Those small and medium sized businesses able to hang on with the help of government subsidies for the first round are now asking themselves how long this can go on.

It’s not just commerce that takes a whack, either. Some 30,000 elective surgeries were delayed because of the first lockdown and some have still not caught up. The Southern District Health Board estimated it would take up to six months to clear, and require the help of the private sector.

The economic and social costs are too high. Her supporters argue Ardern’s approach doesn’t necessarily need endless lockdowns… in theory we can keep our borders secure, contact trace and test, remember?

Reality Check

We need look no further than our own backyard to see that Covid will regularly slip through our precarious border controls again and again.

We have 18 isolation and quarantine facilities in Auckland with thousands of staff marching in each day to work and marching out each night to a city of 1.5 million. It’s just a matter of time before there’s another slip up and, no matter how competent our dear leaders have been in ordering a lockdown, we can’t trust them to keep Covid out.

Despite being lauded for her fine communication skills, somehow the Prime Minister forgot to tell the boffins that regular testing of all border and quarantine staff should have been happening.

Not until Newshub’s Michael Morrah informed the nation on Thursday night that just a third of those working the borders had been tested at all did we realise just how loose this goose had been flying.

There have also been question marks over our so-called gold standard contact tracing abilities. As recently as July 7, five days into his new job, the health minister told me he was yet to be convinced we had the gold standard the Director General of Health said we had, and there was particular concern about our surge capacity.

Overseas, Vietnam and Australia should serve as warnings that no country can keep Covid out.

The dream of a vaccine arriving soon is just that.

The World Health Organisation has changed its tune on the timing of a vaccine. It’s now telling countries they need to learn to live with Covid in their communities and for a long time yet. The world record in terms of vaccine development is four years for the mumps vaccine and most take about 10 years.

Dr Simon Thornley, a senior lecturer of epidemiology at the University of Auckland, puts it this way: “In New Zealand we’ve talked ourselves into a corner that we’re going to be able to do this. A long-term strategy that is predicated on a vaccine coming and seeing New Zealand isolated from the rest of the world is unrealistic and detrimental to the health of our population.”

What about the death toll?

Every option comes with a cost. But it seems the cost to lives was initially overstated by the Prime Minister. Death tolls of between 8,500 and 27,600 were predicted and used as justification for the harsh measures imposed.

The then Health Minister David Clark told me he didn’t even know where some of those modeled numbers had come from and was unsure of others the Prime Minister had stated publicly.

Whatever the case, they need revisiting.

I spoke to a Swedish journalist a few weeks back to get a sense of how our two, polar-opposite approaches are working and learned their death rate is far lower than had been predicted. And that’s without any lockdowns (although there are low-level restrictions) and children still able to attend school.

Most interesting is recent news that Sweden's percentage change in new cases over the past fortnight has dropped by a third. This, as neighbouring lockdown countries endure the rise of second waves.

Moreover, the WHO says the death rate is now estimated at between 0.5 and 1 percent.

So the cost to life is not what it was but the burden on our businesses, workers and families is all too real.

The political problem
"Stay home, Save lives.
We will take a health first approach.
We will follow the health advice from officials.
We believe in science, not conspiracy.
We can beat this again.
We are the envy of the world in the way we’re handling Covid."
Ardern has made very clear how she will deal with Covid and it involves a lot of pain for kiwis. It’s an entrenched position and a change of course risks undermining her decision in the first instance.

But she must ask herself whether the health risks of perpetual lockdowns are worth the economic price.

Ardern’s ability to clearly communicate decisions has never been in doubt, but increasingly her ability to make them is.

We can’t insulate ourselves from Covid’s impact on the global economy, but can make sure we don’t exacerbate the problem by shooting our own in the foot.

Ryan Bridge is the host of the Ryan Bridge Drive Show on Magic Talk radio. This article was first published HERE.


Ross said...

Great article Ryan.

A couple of points. I do not understand this repeated point made by the media that the PM is a great communicator. She is a great actress who can read a prepared script well, but once questioned off script she stutters and stammers. That is not a good communicator, in my view.

There is no way this virus can be eliminated or eradicated and that should have been evident from the start. No other coronovirus has been eliminated so why do the medical "experts" think this, so called novel one, can be eliminated.

I think Governments world wide have delegated / abdicated their responsibility to the medical people. As politicians it is their role to balance up all areas of advice in a matter such as this. Medical, economic, social, educational etc. advice.

I pleased you highlighted the Swedish situation. While they admit they did not protect the care home residents well enough, they still have come out the other end in much better shape than many other countries.

I wonder how Victoria would look today if all the care home workers and residents had been given the HQC medication as a prophylactic, that Clive Palmer imported at his own cost very early on? But Australian health authorities banned it's use based on a very quickly debunked paper published in Lancet.
The fact that is has been taken by people for malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis safely for decades seems to have passed their notice. ( yes, there are some minor side effects for some people but they are widely known and could easily have been avoided, by not giving it to those people who could have been affected.)

Geoffrey said...

I agree with Ryan; great article..I also believe that the PM is not a great communicator. She selectively communicates, via a script, that which she want to make known. Almost always it is half the story and often untrue. Whether this is because she has been misinformed or has elected to guild the lilly is not clear. This pattern of delivery is not so much communication as it is propaganda.
The delay in holding the election is likely to make this pattern increasingly obvious and, whiteout an actual policy platform, Labour’s electability is much less promising than it was in March