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Holding our covid nerve

Written By: - Date published: 9:31 am, October 6th, 2021 - 48 comments
Categories: covid-19, labour, vaccines - Tags: ,

A lot has happened in the past half week with covid in New Zealand. I’ve barely kept up, relying on social media and news headlines while I’ve been distracted by other things. The main message I’ve had has been fairly chaotic with an undertone of panic (and some bullshit narratives from the international MSM). Last night I finally sat down and listened to the 4pm press conference from Monday, and discovered that it was coherent and consistent with Labour and the Ministry of Health’s plans, and that it made sense.

Here’s what I heard from Ardern and Bloomfield,

  1. We haven’t been able to eliminate the Auckland outbreak with existing tools, largely because of the nature of the delta variant.
  2. The longer term plan had been to transition to less reliance on lockdowns, once most New Zealanders were vaccinated.
  3. The delta outbreak has brought this strategy forward, but it’s still an ongoing process with a lot of uncertainty.
  4. At this point the focus is on Auckland and helping the city transition out of Level Three, but we have parallel transitions: Auckland now down through the levels, New Zealand as a whole over a longer time where vaccination replaces lockdowns as a primary tool.
  5. To do this, we need to keep on vaccinating as many people as possible.
  6. The government will continue to do the same things it did with the elimination strategy, now and in the future: comprehensive testing, contact tracing, genome sequencing, managed isolation and quarantine, and various levels of lockdown as needed.
  7. The government is also adapting around the persistence of the Auckland Delta outbreak, being realistic about people’s ability to maintain the necessary behaviours under hard lockdowns. It intends to do weekly pause and assess of the plan as it monitors the situation.

So we know that elimination is probably no longer possible in an absolute sense at thist stage, but that we will keep doing as much as humanly possible to stamp out infections and contain covid outbreaks while getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

There are still a lot of unknowns. We’ve seen some recent modelling about hospital overload and covid deaths even with a 90% vax rate (not a lot yet about long covid but this conversation is starting). We don’t know how this will play out in real life, nor what the nationwide transition to whatever the next phase is will look like. It’s much clearer now that we should prepare for covid deaths, long covid, and pressures on the health system, it’s more an issue of to what degree. I can’t see any way that this can be predicted.

It’s also very clear that this is not a strategy of let covid into the community and let vulnerable people look after themselves. And while I am sure that economics is a major factor for Labour, it’s also not a strategy of economy over people which is what we would have if NACT were in power.

I remain doubtful about border reopening to anything like what we had pre-pandemic, and I think the idea that the vaccine would mean never having another Level 4 lockdown is naive. But I do still by and large trust Labour despite them not being perfect in the face of the biggest challenge New Zealand has faced in our lifetimes. And, critically, I trust them despite them not doing what I want (abandoning neoliberalism and embracing social justice, sustainability and resiliency). Our success isn’t that dependent upon on us all agreeing.

Uncertainty is the name of the game, or one of them. Adaptability is another. That it’s not working out perfectly doesn’t mean we or the government are failing. What I think we need more of at this point is stories about ‘what if things work out’.  Not in a Pollyanna or return to BAU sense, we’re probably not going to get what we want. But we can still be ok and we need strong narratives of what that might be like, us being ok despite the pandemic.

I was pleased to hear Bloomfield point out that most people in Auckland, and New Zealand, are adhering to lockdown rules without any oversight or enforcement. It’s just a beautiful reframing in the middle of a press conference focused on things not going well.

Also pleasing was Ardern reiterating that vulnerable groups such as Māori remain a high priority in the vaccination programme and that this isn’t a passive process, it’s about actively going out to those communities and doing the mahi to make it work. There’s something here about how encouragement can lift spirits as well as open doors to hesitant or distracted people. What reaches people and calls them in?

My personal hope remains that we step up and take advantage of the opportunities the pandemic offers us as the opening to climate transition. We are inundated with so many stressful and scary messages about the state of the world, let’s not forget we can also ask What could possibly go right?

This from Judith Schwartz in that post, regarding climate change but could equally apply to our covid life,

… I want to speak to the brilliance and importance of that question, because it’s a question we tend not to ask. Yet we need to ask that question, perhaps more now than ever, because if we can’t envision what we want, what we wish for, what we aspire to, then how are we ever going to get there? So I think that what we have been dealing with, to a large extent, is a lack of imagination and creativity. So let’s open up that creativity.

I felt a disconnect between the hope and excitement of people who are engaged in regenerative agriculture and different kinds of ecosystem restoration projects, and people who don’t know that this is going on, who say we’re doomed and don’t know where to put their energy. So I wanted to make that connection to say, Hey, we are where we are, and we need to accept that, and accept that we don’t know where things are going. But let’s look at where we do have agency. In particular, let’s look at where we have more agency than we think we do…

The bigger conversation here, the one that requires courage, and the one that New Zealand should be having, is what is the balance point between preventing death and disability, and maintaining quality of economic and social life? I don’t want us to leave this to a default position arising from Labour, the opposition and the MSM hashing it out.

The deeper conversation is what kind of lives do we want to be living given the constraints we will have to live with going forward. Not just the deaths vs economics equation we’ve been avoiding (thankfully) the whole pandemic, but what does quality of life look like now and in the future? What do we want it to look like?

We all should have a say in this.

48 comments on “Holding our covid nerve ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    I'm with Judith Schwartz!

  2. mickysavage 2

    Good post Weka. A lot of the shock horror response I have struggled with. That day when we had 46 new cases I am sure the collective heads of cabinet sagged. Elimination may be possible but it is not likely.

    Dealing with Covid is like skiing downhill very fast and having to make micro adjustments to keep going and trying not to crash.

    • weka 2.1

      Got to feel for all of Labour and the MoH and allied staff. We're such a harsh country, and forget about how it's humans running the show. It's not just front line workers carrying the heavy load, there are MPs, staffers and MoH people who've not had a break from managing this crisis in 18 months.

  3. Ad 3

    The two sentiments don't seem to overlap.

    The role of the state to intervene with strength deep into even the least available of New Zealand's citizens and groups is so much clearer.

    But that's not crossing over into broader idealism. We've come out of lockdown three times and the only protests wanting something different were from angry farmers, anti-vaxxer+liberatarians, and 1%-er capitalists. From those protests the only party rising strongly is Act.

    Perhaps it ought to be a moment for expanding idealism, but it just isn't.

    • Tiger Mountain 3.1

      COVID has exposed like little else could, that Aotearoa NZ is now absolutely a Tale of Two Cities–where 50% have just 2% of the wealth. Neo lib enforced inequality has also guided us to lack of ICU capability, and general DHB under capacity and inconsistency.

      Hello–there is an alienated underclass in this country! Those with full pantrys and home offices can survive lockdowns well enough, but those who cannot will still come back to bite the middle class when healthcare becomes less functional for non COVID related matters.

      A class left focused eco socialist path is the way forward, and what organisational shape that takes will be illustrated in 2023 and 2026 General Elections as the boomer replacement gens make their mark.

  4. Treetop 4

    It comes down to the health system being able to cope with a Covid outbreak and Covid being endemic.

    I would asap authorise an alternative vaccination to Pfizer for those who have issues with components in the Pfizer vaccine.

    I had a 30 minute conversation with a relative this morning that were there an alternative vaccine to Pfizer they probably would get vaccinated, even though the Pfizer vaccine has a good reputation.

    • Leighton 4.1

      What was their reason Treetops? What does the Pfizer vaccine contain which is objectionable that wouldn't be in a hypothetical alternative vaccine?

      • Treetop 4.1.1

        I need to be careful how I word this as Incognito will not tolerate any misinformation. Fair enough.

        I will be getting back to my relative as I think they do not realise they are misinformed as I looked up their concern.

        The relative thinks that there is a simian cell line component in the Pfizer vaccine. In development there was, BUT not in the final version of the Pfizer vaccine.

      • Cricklewood 4.1.2

        I know a few as well, they just dont want an mRNA vax and wont be convinced otherwise. They will take/accept an Astrazenca or Jenson sinovax Novavax which have a longer track record in terms of technology… Hep and menginacocal vaccines for example.

        We do have alternates approved it just seems we havent imported any. At the very least that seems dumb given some people are allergic to Polyethylene glycol.

        • Treetop 4.1.2.1

          Interesting that were an alternative vaccination available to using mRNA method, some people would get vaccinated.

        • weka 4.1.2.2

          What would help is in depth research on who is hesitant or anti and why. Specifically why, the actual details. Because the last, harder 5 – 10% to get us to 90% will be a varied bunch of people, and strategies need to be targeted to them as well.

          Having a non-RNA vaccine makes sense to me in those terms.Whether the numbers warrant that is another matter.

          • Cricklewood 4.1.2.2.1

            A couple I know that are very well educated (doctorate level) are in the hesitant camp. Their main concerns sit around the lack of longer term data which just isnt available yet and wont be for 2-3 years. Those concerns are very much lessened with the vaccines using tech with a longer track record. One thing they do say is that we are lucky to be in a situation where up until now we have had the luxury of being able to wafch and wait, with that seemingly coming to an end potentially they'll hold their noses and take a Pfizer if there isnt any other choice.

            Given the cost of Covid I suspect if getting even 1000 extra people dosed if they'll accept an alternative will be money well spent.

            • weka 4.1.2.2.1.1

              especially if that's a chunk of Aucklanders, front line workers, and vulnerable groups.

            • Brigid 4.1.2.2.1.2

              Does this couple except that if we all choose to watch and wait, there'd be nothing to watch or wait for?

              And that quite a few of us, perhaps even them, would be dead or seriously permanently damaged.

              • Cricklewood

                Sure, but as I say what would be the harm in having two options here? We've approved them but never actually imported them… thats the bit I dont get.

                • Brigid

                  If that's their preferred vaccine, what's to stop these people importing them themselves? They probably could afford it.

            • McFlock 4.1.2.2.1.3

              They want to wait a couple of years before getting a jab against delta, with its demonstrated short and long term problems?

              Are they just figuring getting the disease will be odds-on less severe than some latent adverse event down the line?

              • weka

                way I read is it they're not agin vaccines generally, but have a problem with the novelty of the RNA vaccine. I'm guessing they're not in Auckland, so the risk of getting covid is very low ("up until now" but still true for most of the NI and all of the SI). They would probably get one of the older tech vaccines, and if push comes to shove they will get the RNA one, but have been ok thus far to wait because the risk is low.

                I reckon there will be quite a few people thinking like that. They’re not anti-vaxxers.

                • McFlock

                  That's my take, too.

                  But it seems to me to have the same risk calculation as someone who never wears a seatbelt unless they think they're going to crash. Most of the time, by the time you have enough information to be scared it's too late to get the protective effect.

                  And that's the most charitable interpretation.

                • Cricklewood

                  They're in Auckland and yes they're well aware of the risks… and are very cautious bascially work from home, shop online etc very tight bubble.

                  Bringing in some Astra Zeneca would solve the issue for them, probably others. We've approved it just never purchased any it seems a big gap in the vacc program to me.

                  • McFlock

                    Seems to have been a pretty clear decision to keep the other jabs in reserve.

                    The pfizer apparently had advantages over others in being adapted to new strains, and I also guess that everyone having the same jab would make firefighting easier if one vaccine had shortcomings: everyone gets a booster, rather than "if you received this vaccine on the third day of the new moon when mars was in ascendency, see your doctor" sort of thing.

                    • Cricklewood

                      Yeah, can see and understand the reasoning. They do talk about having a reserve of Jensen but from what I can see that never happened.

                      Just think at this stage where we are getting to the harder end we should really be offering an alternate to mop up an extra percent or 2 be they hesitant or people who for various reasons are unable to have the Pfizer.

                      Will make a difference to the health system.

                    • McFlock

                      Well, the other part of it is the inefficiency of getting the individually-ordered jabs to people who believe they're too smart for school. 3 in remmers want Jensen, 2 in chch want the russian on, it's all been bought by NZgovt and needs distribution to the preferred vax provider at a time convenient for the folks…

                      Might be lower-hanging fruit with bigger returns than that.

                      Heck, they might not ever get the jab they want. If extra effort for Māori and Pasifika communities and a couple of mandates eg for teachers takes us to a "highly vaccinated" point, they might be fresh out of luck.

  5. esoteric pineapples 5

    "I was pleased to hear Bloomfield point out that most people in Auckland, and New Zealand, are adhering to lockdown rules without any oversight or enforcement. It’s just a beautiful reframing in the middle of a press conference focused on things not going well." – people and business are getting noticeably slacker by the day in the provincial region I live in

    • weka 5.1

      same, but I've also argued for over a year that we need different strategies for the provinces that haven't had community transmission for long periods of time. I was pleased to see my own are get up to speed fast in August, and while things are slacking off a bit, I see way more people wearing masks and scanning than last year.

      The worst places I'm seeing are cafes (and I assume bars), where there are attempts at social distancing but places are struggling. I can see the rationale for a vax certificate in those places because of that, even though I think there are long term problems of segregation by vax status. Is the certificate a carrot or a stick? Framing matters.

      • Gezza 5.1.1

        I saw a mum pushing baby in a pram along the footpath in our shopping village late this morning, while I was sitting in the car re-entering the car-radio/audio code. She wasn’t wearing a mask.

        It made me wonder how many other people weren’t wearing masks, so I dcanned the street. There were a couple of kids agec about 8 – 10 not wearing masks, but EVERY ADULT I could see was wearing one.

        Most of them are wearing cloth masks, some of very classy-looking design. It just doesn’t seem to be an issue around here.

  6. Many of us have moved on from this narrative of "unknowns" and "unpredictability".

    We have had this disease floating around the entire planet for a long time now.

    We broadly know enough to understand what will happen sooner rather than latter. People will get sick. And as anyone who has used the Public Hospitals in the last decade knows…these places can barely cope with the normal levels of patients. Auckland Hospital seemingly struggled with planning around with this last "outbreak" for goodness sakes.

    We need Central government plans and investment to hospitalise at home*.

    We need the drugs to minamalise covid effects and duration.**

    Most importantl… we need the Government to acknowledge this, and actually get ahead of the game… this government, after a one off initial proactive stance, has spent the entire covid epidemic seemingly two steps back, which is so very typical.

    ** https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/451512/government-urged-to-buy-game-changer-covid-19-drug-treatment

  7. There is a decided parallel between our response to Covid-19 and climate change, both here and around the world.

    Most of the world seems to have accepted the virus as endemic and, shrugging their collective shoulders, seem determined to live with it.

    Of course, ‘the economy comes before health,’ so a return to ‘normal’ is demanded by the death-cult capitalists.

    Unfortunately, our government seems to have succumbed to the demands of business leaders, who prioritise their wealth above the health of the poor.

    Our leaders, here and across the globe, will, likewise, pay lip service to combatting climate change, but, when the rubber hits the road, will shy away from the tough economic decisions because, to distort the words of Gerry Brownlee, ‘you can’t make a business case for saving the world.’

  8. georgecom 8

    One significant figure to watch, if we want to emerge from a seeming perpetual level2/3 malaise are vaccination rates – particularly the first dose as once the first is taken most people will follow through for the second (and even if they don't they will have a level of protection). first dose rates are running at 0.33 of the population per day, so its takes 3 days to get an extra 1% or about 42,000 people first dosed. ON the current rates, 30 days to get to 90% first dose and it's then I think the government will look seriously at structural changes, not necessarily immediately, but certainly start to signal it. Auckland should be there sooner as well.

    Some people have worried about the significant drop from the 1% per day we saw a month ago. And heck yes, we would have loved it had that trend continued. The rate has dropped off for sure, BUT it's not collapsed. Auckland is now, I think, 85% of first jabs. The Auckland first jab rate sets a potential ceiling on where we might expect things to get to, where it is possible to get to. So whilst the Auckland % continues to climb there is still room for optimism. Covid scares in the Waikato has focused the minds of some fence sitters, missing out on summer events without covid passports will focus the minds of others.

  9. Ad 9

    Hang in there Jacinda. You're doing a good job.

    You're not perfect but you're pretty good.

    • Puckish Rogue 9.1

      Hang in there?

      Is she having to find another job because shes been laid off, having to survive financially on 80% of her wage, having to consider that your business (and life savings) is gone, having to lay people off to keep your business afloat

      Yeah shes doing it real tough

      (there may or may not be some personal life issues in there)

      • DukeEll 9.1.1

        How many of her staff sacrificed 20% of their wages to keep their business afloat?

        Probably about the same that are prevented from travelling for business reasons.

        A rule for thee and not for me is a mockery

      • bwaghorn 9.1.2

        I'd imagine she'll be in full employment far longer than the woeful collins!

    • weka 9.2

      Aē.

      How incredibly fortunate are we that we count covid deaths one at a time. So much to be grateful to Ardern for that.

  10. Stuart Munro 10

    I was a bit down on it all a few days back when it spread to Waikato.

    But I caught the 1pm briefing (a day late), and it's clear that the same government and health professional team that crushed alpha are still calling the shots. I'm not about to second guess them.

    Reckon our PM just about rates a sparkly umbrella.

  11. miravox 11

    "My personal hope remains that we step up and take advantage of the opportunities the pandemic offers us as the opening to climate transition."

    That was my personal hope – that we'd transition to a new normal where climate change and social cohesion were included in the covid equation. I now feel that is not going to happen here. Clearly some places have worked in these changes. Paris streets are a good example, (albeit with teething problems) but mostly in NZ it's just mitigation, e.g. mask wearing rather than widening pedestrian areas where people can keep 2-metre distances. Any changes in farming practices were happening before Covid, and I don't have the slightest sense that anyone who is in a position to make changes is at all interested in social cohesion. house prices are still rising (that may change after today's intervention on interest rates), transitional housing and decent financial support are still pipe dreams. No wonder people who are struggling are avoiding vaccinations – it's a chance to give the big middle finger to authority – they can't be arrested for that.

    We're just working on how to mitigate Covid to allow the old normal to continue with masks. There's no will to move to a sustainable new normal.

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