- Date published:
10:32 am, April 8th, 2020 - 62 comments
Categories: blogs, covid-19, david seymour, Economy, health, International, Media, Politics - Tags: anna fifield, maths, mike hosking
I feel that many kiwis are quite unaware exactly how exceptional our plague performance has been so far. Yeah sure we have a few dickhead surfers, the odd fuckwit playing ‘pranks’ who needs prison time, and the usual dimwits who don’t understand exponential growth curves. Not to mention our rather underskilled media who are still having problems coping with the reality of a pandemic.
But we’re on a course that should allow us to resume a more normal life without having to clamp down lockdowns periodically. We aren’t going to be able to have much overseas travel and incoming visitors for probably years – coronaviruses as a family have proven to be exceptionally difficult to vaccinate against.
But for a contrast of our local 20:20 hindsight prophets, and to show we look outside, consider this piece written by a now again resident kiwi that appeared in the Washington Post trying to explain the New Zealand response to Americans. In view of the hotspots in and around New York and things like the oncoming disasters that look to be unfolding in the southern states – this looks like a paradise
How has New Zealand, a country I still call home after 20 years abroad, controlled its outbreak so quickly?
When I arrived here a month ago, traveling from the epicenter of China via the hot spot of South Korea, I was shocked that officials did not take my temperature at the airport. I was told simply to self-isolate for 14 days (I did).
But with the coronavirus tearing through Italy and spreading in the United States, this heavily tourism-reliant country — it gets about 4 million international visitors a year, almost as many as its total population — did the previously unthinkable: It shut its borders to foreigners on March 19.
Ah – there is a news report that I can relate to. The economy of cutting to the essence of the news. The personal reaction. The reason why the reporter was so shocked at the lax border controls. The crucial economic impact and scale of our border controls. The difference in style of NZ politics. All in a few brief paragraphs. About the only thing that was left out was that NZ only has a population of slightly less than 5 million.
But also note that she has actually generated some genuine news, presumably by picking up a phone. It seems like that should be something that our local reporters should be doing. Instead I keep having to explain such basics of NZ government as the role of our Executive Council..
A group of influential leaders got on the phone with her the following day to urge moving to Level 4.
“We were hugely worried about what was happening in Italy and Spain,” said one of them, Stephen Tindall, founder of the Warehouse, New Zealand’s largest retailer.
“If we didn’t shut down quickly enough, the pain was going to go on for a very long time,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s inevitable that we will have to shut down anyway, so we would rather it be sharp and short.”
I didn’t know that. In hindsight it doesn’t surprise me at all. It is well worth remembering as the inevitable calls for relief from parts of the business community rise. Rather than just getting the views of those who whine the loudest, perhaps reporters should also listen to those who just give good advice.
When I read that, I went hunting for the bio, which was
Welcome back Anna. And may I say, I enjoy your professionalism and writing.
Further down, the nub of the article, and the contrast to the response in the articles target audience in the US must be marked.
But there has been a sense of collective purpose. The police phone line for nonemergencies has been overwhelmed with people calling to “dob in,” as we say here, reporting others they think are breaching the rules.
The response has been notably apolitical. The center-right National Party has clearly made a decision not to criticize the government’s response, and, in fact, to help it.
These efforts appear to be paying off.
After peaking at 89 on April 2, the daily number of new cases ticked down to 67 on Monday and 54 on Tuesday. The vast majority of cases can be linked to international travel, making contact tracing relatively easy, and many are consolidated into identifiable clusters.
Because there is little evidence of community transmission, New Zealand does not have huge numbers of people overwhelming hospitals. Only one person, an elderly woman with existing health problems, has died.
I have to say that I agree that the National Party has been acting at a level of responsibility that I find both welcome and rather surprising in its forward looking common sense. However I’m probably rather jaded after more than a decade operating this site, which was specifically started to counter the dimwitted partisanship of sites like Kiwiblog, Whaleoil, and a host of their wannabe imators in the mid-2000s.
But if you’ve been like me, closely looking at the alternative strategies, I think that we’re getting off super lightly. The economic impact will be hard. However letting a full grown respiratory pandemic epidemic into the country when our medical systems to deal with this particular disease aren’t much better than they were in 1918 would be a economic disaster.
We haven’t had a even moderate epidemic for so long in New Zealand. The societal memory of what epidemics do is so diffuse that we have a crazed selfish anti-vaxxer movement thinking that others should and will take the risk of protecting their kids. Which was why there is still a measles epidemic bubbling away waiting for schools to restart.
After all we had almost killed even the widespread childhood diseases of my 1960s youth like measles, chickenpox, mumps by the time I hit my 20s. You have to be in your late 50s at least to remember them. Not to mention the horror stories that my grandparents found unremarkable from their live at the start of the 20th century. The polio that caused extended summers for kids when the schools all closed. The waves of deaths from diptheria.
Even apparently intelligent people like David Seymour, our hapless MP from Act, don’t get it. “Covid 19 coronavirus: Govt should consider lifting lockdown early, David Seymour says” says nothing of interest (I couldn’t even find anything worth quoting in the article) because he clearly doesn’t understand even the basics about diseases.
He seems to think that because we’ve managed to hold the spread down to date, that it is time to open up again. It isn’t. We have bare weeks to get the systems in place to deal with outbreaks. We have mere weeks of medical materials available at the current rate of usage – and a minimum of months before we can safely say that we won’t get more silent clusters erupting.
The threat that pandemics was elegantly described in a ABC article the other day “The exponential growth of coronavirus can be explained by rice on a chessboard. And we should be worried“.
There’s a mathematical law driving the growth in the number of coronavirus cases globally, which makes health experts so fearful.
Frustratingly, some of Australia’s highest-paid commentators can’t wrap their heads around it, which is why they’re telling their listeners and readers the Government is overreacting by shuttering parts of the economy and enforcing strict social distancing measures for the winter.
The human brain wasn’t built to think naturally about complicated mathematical phenomena. It’s fine with basic maths, like simple percentages.
And then the example that David Seymour and the mathematical dimwits like him clearly don’t understand and should learn to cope with…
A famous example is the rice and chessboard problem.
If someone gave you a chessboard (which has 64 squares on it) and asked you to put one grain of rice on the first square, two grains of rice on the second square, four grains of rice on the third, eight grains on the fourth, and so on, how many grains of rice would end up on the 64th square?
It sounds like an easy question — it’s simply asking you to double the number of rice grains from one square to the next, from 1 grain to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 to 32 to 64, and so on, until the 64th square.
What’s the answer? You’d need 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of rice for the 64th square.
That’s nine quintillion, two hundred and twenty-three quadrillion, three hundred and seventy-two trillion, thirty-six billion, etc, grains.
And the amount of rice you’d need to cover the entire board — from squares 1 to 64 — would be 18.4 quintillion grains.
That’s 923 times the entire estimated global production of rice this financial year.
The educational joy of that problem comes from the lesson that when something tiny begins multiplying at a constant rate it can become mindbogglingly large within a surprisingly short amount of time.
That is the maths rule that viruses and bacteria obey when they’re let loose into a population without natural immunities.
Just as importantly is the concept of viral load. The more instances of virus that people are exposed to, the more likely that their immune systems will be overwhelmed. This is the underlying reason that cruise ships or aircraft with their large numbers of tourists jammed together like cattle are far more likely to have younger demographics dying.
The victims don’t get a few cells infected from a few viruses caught in a droplet. They get hundred or thousands of cells infected within a short period from droplets recirculated in ventilation systems.
In the first case the persons immune systems have time to respond before the viruses establish a strong foothold, and only those with diminished immune systems are at a generally high risk of nasty or fatal outcomes. In the latter case almost everyone regardless of age is susceptible to them.
That is why a lockdown is necessary. Like the body, our society needs to where it has infection, learn what to do and what it needs to rev up its medical and enforcement immune systems. We need the already extant hidden infection centres to reveal themselves and to be crushed. When the lockdowns are released, we need to know that we can deal with the inevitable outbreaks fats and cleanly.
What we don’t need to do is to listen to the mathematical illiterates who managed to make a statement to the press that in the article never mentioned a single issue related to the underlying medical facts.
But like Mike (the Moron) Hosking, David Seymour appears to be all about getting headlines and no obvious interest in dealing with reality.
He is rapidly falling into my personal category, like Mike The Moron, of people whom whatever they propose – then look at the alternatives first. They’re almost always wrong as to whatever they’re proposing. Usually their proposals are the worst possible thing to do.