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The bubble pops

Written By: - Date published: 11:32 am, July 24th, 2021 - 32 comments
Categories: australian politics, covid-19, health, jacinda ardern - Tags:

Just when you thought that the world has Covid under control the virus has chosen to reply by letting us know it is still alive and kicking, and even more dangerous than before.

In Fiji the spread is out of control and Vietnam which had been coping well it is also spiking.  China has locked down hard and eradicated it and Taiwan has it back under control.  But elsewhere it is spreading.  In New South Wales it is barely contained, and elsewhere in Australia the state governments are scrambling to deal with community spread.

There was previously a debate about whether we should attempt to eradicate the virus or whether we should accept that it is here and adjust.

One of the major proponents for the let it rip brigade was Plan B’s Simon Thornley.  Last New Year’s eve he complained that he was being shut down and prevented from speaking.  This article by Charlie Mitchell contains this passage:

Over the course of 2020, Thornley had become the most notable critic of the Government’s Covid-19 elimination strategy. It happened largely by default; he was the only known academic within his speciality to publicly disagree with it. Baker had been one of the strategy’s chief architects, backed by the overwhelming majority of public health experts.

The two men had traded jabs over the pandemic’s course. It started off politely, but had become more heated as their views diverged further. A week before the debate, Thornley and several other academics – known together as Plan B, a group proposing an alternative method for handling the pandemic – had published a letter in the British Medical Journal outlining their position against the country’s elimination strategy.

The letter contained several dubious arguments, prompting Baker to publicly describe it as “almost scandalous” and “patently absurd”; a piece both poorly argued and reliant on cherry-picked evidence.

The animosity between the two continued on-air, during the debate.

“It is shameful that some people have denigrated our efforts,” Thornley said, obliquely referring to Baker and other public health experts, many of whom had been critical of Plan B.

“They’re trying to shut down alternative views which have already been proven correct.”

This is an interesting claim because recently Thornley has been firing off lawyer’s letters to the Spin-off and Siouxie Wiles for an incidental reference to him in one of their articles.  Which is funny because the Mitchell article contains far more damaging comment.  I wonder why the former article was not attacked.

You have to question if Plan B actually got things correct.  And just in case it is said that I am misrepresenting them I will quote this from the front page of the Plan B website:

We said New Zealand’s attempt in 2020-21 to eliminate Sars-Cov2 and use lockdowns was unnecessary, and would cause more health, social and economic harm than the virus itself.

The experience throughout the world suggests that Thornley and Plan B are wrong.  And that eradication should have been the goal everywhere.  Because the rampant spread of the virus has increased the chance of mutations occurring.  This backgrounder from Marc Daalder explains how, and why Boris Johnson’s decision to open up England is the most reckless thing imaginable.

What most experts can agree on is that the United Kingdom is about to embark on a country-wide experiment in gain-of-function research. By abolishing all public health restrictions with just half of the population fully vaccinated, the UK could produce new variants that evade vaccine-induced immunity.

“If you are going to train a virus to escape vaccine-induced immunity, you would do exactly what they’re doing,” Jemma Geoghegan, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Otago, told Newsroom.

“You’re basically providing a training ground for the virus to overcome those selection pressures. You’re allowing the virus to continue to spread.

Chillingly Daalder noted that allowing the virus to spread through a population half of who are vaccinated will mean that it may find ways to render the vaccination worthless.  Viruses do that.

And surprisingly eradication in a short sharp lock down was much better for the economy than an insipid lock down that lasted for months on end.

There is so much more at stake now.  The Delta variant of the virus is much more able to be transmitted.

The BBC has this description of how much easier.

The cleanest way of comparing the pure biological spreading power of viruses is to look at their R0 (pronounced R-naught). It’s the average number of people each infected person passes a virus on to if nobody were immune and nobody took extra precautions to avoid getting infected.

That number was around 2.5 when the pandemic started in Wuhan and could be as high as 8.0 for the Delta variant, according to disease modellers at Imperial.

This is why the Government’s shut down of the bubble is the correct decision.  It is causing problems.  There are over 20,000 kiwi visitors in Australia right now.  Getting them back and through the managed green flight process or through quarantine will not be easy.  And this is why the Government took so much care in designing the bubble system and did not rush into it, even though it was being urged to.

But recent events highlight if we thought things were going to get back to normal any time soon we were wrong.  Hang on, this is going to remain tough.

32 comments on “The bubble pops ”

  1. Treetop 1

    The government has control over the trans – Tasman bubble. When it comes to having control over the Delta variant there is not a lot of certainty once it is in the community.

    There is some risk in the next week of the Delta variant crossing the Tasman. Minimising risk to prevent community transmission is all that humanly can be done.

  2. Andre 2

    If it were my decision, I'd also definitely be putting returnees from Queensland into isolation for 14 days. Spread of covid in Queensland seems high enough recently, coupled with how rapidly Delta spreads when it gets loose, that I think the government didn't get the balance of risk/reward right by allowing Queensland returnees an isolation-free return.

    And a bit of terminology pedantry: eradication is when the disease is gone worldwide. What we achieved locally within New Zealand was elimination.

    • mickysavage 2.1

      Thanks I will remember that about eradication/elimination.

      It would be a tough decision to leave 20,000 kiwis ove there. I hope the calibration is right.

      • Andre 2.1.1

        Seems to me requiring self-isolation at home would be a reasonable intermediate step between stranding them there and drip-feeding them through MIQ, and just letting them back in unrestricted as is currently happening. After all, self-isolation at home was enough to achieve elimination first time around. And would significantly reduce the risk of needing a large portion of our population needing to go into lockdown.

        • SPC

          There is self isolation for those from Victoria (until a day 3 test and negative result) – home isolation worked in 2020 because we had lock downs here at the time.

      • Patricia Bremner 2.1.2

        We appear to have a possible problem in Taranaki. Returnees shedding enough virus to show up in waste water, and now requests for people to be tested.

        We may have shut the gate a fortnight too late.

  3. SPC 3

    The government problem is they wanted to help those in NSW get back home via MI because it would have been a long two months otherwise (using all the allocated spare capacity for Oz bubble discombobulation) – leaving no space for those in other states should they also go into lock down.

    But for mine, the only real concern in the other states was Victoria – and it's likely they will be out of lock down in a week and no community cases confirmed within 2 weeks.

    So I would have left the other states (WA/Tasmania) within the bubble (maybe a few days where a negative test and no zone of interest connection for those from Queensland and SA and a “week off/maybe two in the end” from Victoria).

    • Treetop 3.1

      Once a case of Delta in a country there is no certainty. A flight attendant in Brisbane who is now infected with the Delta strain worked on 6 flights and may of been infected since 11 July. I read this on daily mail Australia or 9 news Australia yesterday.

      I read on daily mail UK that the Delta variant replicates 1000 times faster than the Alpha variant and people show symptoms earlier.

      The trans – Tasman bubble needed to close a week earlier.

      • SPC 3.1.1

        Their airport staff would have been vaccinated.

        For mine there is a higher risk from Victoria, so I would have put them on stand down for a week or two to process those out of NSW through MI first.

        There is a bit of risk of someone coming in from Victoria this week whose recent infection does not show up in the pre flight test and who has visitors and or other contacts during "home isolation" (before the 3rd day test).

        • Treetop

          Were the Olympic Games to ground to a halt MIQ spaces would be required earlier.

          I like the way you have thought about getting people home from Australia safely.

          • SPC

            That could happen but our team would have been vaccinated, so might be allowed to go into home isolation if they passed the pre flight test (the risk is those they live with not being vaccinated and so needing to isolate in the home bubble with them).

      • Patricia Bremner 3.1.2


  4. Sabine 4

    Honestly who 'thought' that the world has got Covid under control? Boris Johnson? lol. Some well to do Kiwis that feel they are owed an overseas holiday for the misery of having to live in their own country?

    Covid has the world under control and will do so for a few more years. Better be for everyone to 'think' that and behave accordingly.

    • greywarshark 4.1

      There are over 600,000 Kiwis living in Oz in various states of citizenship. So not just wealthy NZs as suggested, but sure there are some – from my own family perhaps. I can't say anything to them. They have been brought up with the nationwide idea that if they get qualifications, work hard, don't become drunks, druggies or gamblers and keep their houses painted, the world is their oyster. Even if they get bonimia occasionally and go off the menu.

      Mar 2020 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-31/new-zealanders-living-in-australia-silent-struggle-coronavirus/12060174

      • Sabine 4.1.1

        I am not talking about those that are there because they moved there for better pay or simply for a live they may not find here.

        I am talking about the people that went there, because they are bored, need to shop somewhere else, need to go to a game etc.

        We are in the time of the plague, there are many in NZ that would like to visit relatives overseas, and that refuse to do so until it is safer. No one needs to go shopping in OZ. No one needed to go there at least since Sidney went into lockdown a few weeks ago. We know what happens, we know how it works by now, and we need to collectively start respecting the virus and the damage it will do. Will do, not can do. Will do. This is literally only the beginning, as personally i believe we are still far from the end.

        • greywarshark

          Yes I pointed out that there are people such as you describe. But many are going for family reasons, that is my point. And some may be going to see if they can get a job over there – scoping the place. Some people get on okay, I think it is unwise but you need to have a look, renew friendships even if not family. It's exasperating that we are apparently being run by robots, algorithms that dont can';t differentiate between compassionate visits and otherwise. Some people should be paying more than others, and reading the link I put up – all should have a levy for a fund helping out Kiwis in Oz doing it hard while the Covid19 is causing extra hardship.

        • Patricia Bremner

          Online shopping instead of travelling , yes Sabine. There are many sad stories, but the self indulgent ones annoy!!

          The Victorian Premier explained "we are running but we find it hard to get ahead of this variant. What we see now happened a fortnight ago".

        • Treetop

          Self entitlement at the expense of others.

  5. Matiri 5

    Some stats from the Sydney Morning Herald just now:

    "There are currently 139 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 37 in intensive care, with 17 requiring ventilation.

    Of the 37 people in intensive care, 36 were not vaccinated and one person had received one dose of AstraZeneca.

    NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty said 28 of the people in hospital were under the age of 35."

    • Andre 5.1

      Ourworldindata sez that 30% of people in Australia have received at least one dose of vaccine. One out of 37 is quite a lot less than 30%, although if the infected ones are mostly under 35 then maybe they haven't yet been offered the opportunity to get jabbed.

      • Matiri 5.1.1

        Lots of communities from non-English speaking backgrounds in south west Sydney where this big outbreak is, who are way behind the vaccine uptake of other communities.

        A local GP has said “I think in terms of vaccine uptake, the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities are way behind, and part of it is to do with having less education in these communities, as well as a language barrier.”

        The extremely low incidence of vaccinated people in intensive care points to the vaccine preventing more serious illness.

  6. Koff 6

    163 cases in NSW today, 50 odd infectious in the community, so scary stuff. NSW has been cut off from all other states as well as NZ. NSW is the only state that has avoided short, hard lockdowns and this time has come a cropper. SA, Vic and Qld will no doubt squash their much smaller outbreaks. NZ has done the right thing, but Delta is a game changer, so with only 15% fully vaccinated is in no place to be complacent.

    • tc 6.1

      Imo sadly this was inevitable as NSW has not paid attention to how it went down in Melbourne a year ago.

      Had plenty of time to ensure clear guidelines and an informed community.

      Leadership fail at state and the usual ineffective federal level.

  7. barry 7

    Simon Thornley is very stubborn. At some stage you just admit you were wrong and move on. He is still saying that the IFR (Infection fatality Rate is 0.15% but the Population Fatality Rate in Peru has been more than 0.5%. For Thornley to be right, everyone in Peru would have been infected 3 times or more.

    • Andre 7.1

      Even worse, Thornley seems to have even gone full anti-vax – on the covid vaccines at least.

      (not really keen to link, but his apparent anti-covid-vax views can be seen by perusing https://www.covidplanb.co.nz/category/news-and-videos/ where there's a bunch of misinformation already debunked elsewhere)

      It's not just Peru with population fatality rates higher than the 0.15% infection fatality rate Thornley claims (that's apparently from a recent Ioannidis paper, which is another self-inflicted wound on Ioannidis' credibility). There's New York City, with a PFR of 0.4%, half a dozen states ranging from Arizona to Massachusetts with PFR at 0.25% or higher, a bunch of eastern european countries above 0.25% etc.

  8. Sabine 8

    In the meantime,

    For those in the Taranki region / New Plymouth please check if you had any contact with returning holiday makers from OZ..cause covid has been found in the waste water there, and well Sydney siders are not happy with the idea of an indefinite lockdown.

    We are truly living in interesting times.



  9. Bearded Git 9

    I happen to be in Darwin at the moment and have this arvo been watching the excellent ABC Live News TV channel

    This has been dominated by a big and violent anti-lockdown protest of 3500 in Sydney.

    A much smaller protest has also taken place in Melbourne at the same time

    Guess which protest the Stuff website is highlighting? Of course Melbourne. The team at Stuff are clearly under a pro-Boris directive

    • georgecom 9.1

      A few factual messages the marchers in Sydney and Melbourne might find useful

      Covid19 is real

      Jesus won't save you from getting ill

      Vaccines are effective

      Trump didn't win the election

  10. They can't say they weren't warned.

    Sick of this "poor me" attitude from those who travelled against advice

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