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The pandemic is resiliency training

Written By: - Date published: 12:17 pm, December 24th, 2021 - 12 comments
Categories: covid-19, health and safety, long covid, workers' rights - Tags: ,

The pandemic shows no sign of ending. There are some hopeful signs with the idea that omicron will turn out to be a milder illness and once it becomes the dominant strain we will be able to adapt to a different, kinder kind of pandemic response. Big ifs in that, with scientists, doctors, politicians and the public all jumping to their own conclusions before we have solid data.

I will always argue the precautionary principle for the New Zealand pandemic response. We are in a unique position with having low community rates contained within distinct parts of the country, and omicron is still only knocking at the border. We have time to wait and see how this plays out overseas. We are incredibly fortunate, and much of that is due to the early advisors who at the start of 2020 told the government to go for elimination rather than simply flattening the curve and having a Labour government that understood the value of valuing people.

The rest of the world was mostly unable to try that (for a range of geographical and political reasons), and we got to witness just how bad free covid is.

So here we sit and wait. The government has sensibly delayed the changes at the international border that were due to start mid January. By then we should have solid and a better range of data from a number of countries with different geographical, socioeconomic, population density and political factors, upon which to make decisions.  This isn’t about fearfully retreating from the rest of the world in the hopes that omicron never arrives. As Lprent said so succinctly a few days ago,

I don’t think we can keep it out.

But we do need to throttle the number of sources of import (ie the start points of the geometric progression) for the moment until we do understand how it spreads and what effects it has on the medical system.

Looks like the government has pushed everything out for about a month – seems about right. Let SA, UK, USA and Aussie test it for us.

I would add to this, that we cannot know how omicron will impact on long covid, because of the longer term nature of that post-viral syndrome. I argued in Long covid, omicron and the precautionary principle the rationales for taking a conservative approach and why we should be taking long covid very seriously.

It seems prudent to point out the differences between abstract data and theories about covid and how things play out in the real world. Data when looked at in isolation might be suggesting that we can loosen restrictions because omicron looks milder, but meanwhile, in Australia and the UK, both with high omicron rates, systems are struggling.

A good overview in the Guardian of the complexities of omicron meets real life. Hospitalisation rates are lower (“a  moderate reduction”), but other factors come into play

  • reduced efficacy of vaccines against omicron
  • overrun of health systems as omicron rates increase
  • shorter hospital stays overall, but omicron is less prevalent in older people currently and more data is needed on the impact on them (that’s a clear example of why raw data and theory can fail in real life)

And this (my emphasis),

It is too early to assess the risk of admission to intensive care and death, but the researchers say greater reductions in risk are possible.

We’re just not there yet. There is also the issue of less severity being offset by greater number of infections (lesser severity doesn’t necessarily equate to fewer serious infections).

In Australia where the federal government appears to be moving to a ‘let it rip’ approach, New South Wales is already struggling. This from the Sydney Morning Herald this morning,

NSW hospitals are facing looming staff shortages, with hundreds isolating and others asked to reconsider taking Christmas leave as the Omicron surge forces the state government to reintroduce mask mandates and density limits.

With about 1500 hospital workers across the state’s health system in isolation due to COVID-19, some staff have been asked to reverse holiday leave to bolster the workforce as the outbreak grows.

NSW COVID-19 restrictions are returning for the holidays, just days after being scrapped, as new cases today surged above 5000.

NSW reported a record-breaking 5715 new cases on Thursday, prompting Premier Dominic Perrottet to impose tighter restrictions.

While Mr Perrottet said the “key indicators” of success for the state were not based on pure case numbers, his biggest concern was the impact the rapid spread of infections was having on health workers, with thousands forced to isolate recent weeks.

“While we are seeing low numbers in [intensive care], very manageable numbers in ICU, it is more in relation to making sure that our health system can be well-manned during the summer period,” Mr Perrottet said.

Maybe the ‘let it rip’ people think hospital staff should just not get tested or self-isolate. If hospitalisation is lower with omicron, then won’t natural immunity just sort of sort everything out eventually? She’ll be right once everyone has had the virus. I’m sure hospital staff would love to be at the forefront of that that particular experiment. There are all sorts of risks associated with this apporach, including staff burnout and the impacts of long covid that only become apparent in 6 months time.

Meanwhile, we should remember that hospitals become dysfunctional if they can’t be cleaned and serviced, let alone medically staffed. And because this won’t be obvious to many, this flows on to other health care services. Think elderly care homes not being able to get staff as they’re shifting to hospital work. Read the SMH piece for details.

The rapid rise in cases comes as the state’s paramedics report record numbers of triple zero calls, with wait times of up to an hour for the highest level life-threatening emergencies.

Screenshots of NSW Ambulance’s control centre status board, seen by the Herald, show that on Wednesday the average response time for P1, or potentially life-threatening cases, was 58 minutes across the Sydney metropolitan area.

P1 category cases include unconscious patients, people having an acute heart attack or choking.

My emphasis again.

I feel like I’ve just named a few of the issues here. The bigger picture is complex. It’s a novel virus that recreates itself and we are still trying to figure how to adapt.

So, just in case it doesn’t end soon. What if we are in a long emergency? Should we be thinking about medium and long term adaptation rather than holding out for a reprieve that might be just around the corner or might never come? How does this relate to the other long emergencies rolling in, the climate and ecological crises? How resilient are we in the face of a global financial crisis or a big earthquake in New Zealand? How do we think about and prepare for compounding crises?

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people don’t have good capacity for thinking about such things because the pandemic stress is already more than enough. But climate and ecology tell me that covid is resiliency training. Personal and community. This is something we can try and hide from, or it’s something we can front up to and engage with that helps us cope now and prepare for the future. If that sounds too grim, to my mind it’s not. I’ve spent most of my life around people who build systems that are both life affirming and resilient and future proofing. In those circles it’s normal to take both into account.

This is similar to what I write about the Powerdown (and not coincidentally, there is much in the powerdown knowledge base that can help us with covid adaptation). We can set up new systems with the tools we currently have that provide both a response to the situation we are in now, as well as basing how society organises around the age of uncertainty rather than some unreal neoliberal idea of perpetual BAU safety.

To give a really simple example of how to use crisis as opportunity, and to solve multiple problems in ways that enhance rather than simply mitigate. The point was raised yesterday that people rely on public libraries and making them inaccessible (through lockdowns or mandates) can have big impacts on those that need those spaces. The solution here isn’t to not have a pandemic response that includes restrictions, but to look at how to make the lives of people better who are unduly affected by the response.

Do they need access to books? New Zealand libraries already have book buses and homebound services that can be adapted. Do they need internet access? The government, or even local government should be looking at making sure everyone in New Zealand has affordable internet access in whatever way that works for them. Do they need a place to socialise? Create more outside urban spaces suited to the local climate.

Whole systems design also means that multiple functions and needs meet. Outside spaces with good airflow limit covid spread, create micro-climate cooling for overheated days, help people feel better (forest bathing), give kids more access to nature, and help biodiversity and carbon sinks.

How we respond to the pandemic is on all of us.

Front page image from the BBC video How trees secretly talk to each other

Shout out to the Standaristas who’ve been putting up such good covid explaining links and synopses.

12 comments on “The pandemic is resiliency training ”

  1. Ad 1

    Once I got hopeful again I was going to write something similar.

    But not yet.

    The 17-minute interview below with Yale Sociology Professor Nicholas Christakis going through many of the permutations that previous plagues have placed upon us and societal reactions to them.

    There are a lot of similarities to this current state, which he sets out in Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Effect of Covid on The Way We Live

    Yale Sociologist: COVID-19 Will Reshape Humanity | Video | Amanpour & Company | PBS

    We are not at the beginning of the end, but we are at the end of the beginning.

    We are still in the beginning. We have years to go.

    But rather than teaching us all international cooperation, it has instead made each border of each nation-state ever-more defensive.

    Those rich countries that have been able to, have simply redistributed wealth not through tax cuts but through asset inflation: to housing and the stock exchanges.

    This is the largest K-shaped recovery we've had in New Zealand.

    Little of that which has inflated the assets of the rich will go towards resilience in any form.

    We're certainly tougher here with all of the crises since the 2009 GFC and then the Christchurch Earthquakes and each successive crisis that followed

    I fear rather that the state has made our skin tougher and more brittle, but otherwise our actual selves this Christmas and into 2022 are mostly poorer and weaker.

    • weka 1.1

      Once I got hopeful again I was going to write something similar.

      I'm probably more hopeful because I'm immersed in sub cultures that have long been developing responses based in resiliency, and they tend towards a proactive, this is the way out, we can make this ok kind of approach. There's a lot of really cool stuff going on and generally people are on board with the idea of collapse or constraint

      Whereas you are at the hard end of business and industry, and while I think there are cool things happening there too, it's a different mindset and is caught between the rock and hard place of BAU and the incoming crises.The wealth and power issues are huge.

      Would love to see a post from your perspective and experience when the time is right.

      Disability has also made me much more comfortable with restriction than most people, and by necessity survival involved building resiliency skills.

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    Here's a corporate view of the global resilience scene:

    omicron is fast becoming dominant in the U.S. and Europe, out-competing delta with unprecedented speed. That’s seen the 53 economies scored in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking become generally stricter with restrictions in the last month of the year, reducing people’s movements as cases spiked from London to Sydney.

    Most major economies, nevertheless, are refraining from returning to the economically crippling measures used to contain the virus in 2020, relying instead on accelerated booster drives to fight the new variant.

    In December, places in South America and the Asia Pacific gained ground, helped by warmer weather and a slower onset of omicron.

    Chile dethrones the United Arab Emirates to take the No. 1 spot. It’s summer now in Santiago, tourism has restarted and Chileans are the second-most vaccinated population in the world among countries bigger than 1 million people, reflecting a turnaround seen across a region that was devastated by the original virus but largely left unscathed by delta.

    Just a coincidence that Chile just produced a leftist political victory? Perhaps not. The left does well when it demonstrates competent governance. But how credible is this ranking system??

    The Covid Resilience Ranking is a monthly snapshot of where the virus is being handled the most effectively with the least social and economic upheaval. Compiled using 12 data indicators that span virus containment, quality of healthcare, vaccination coverage, overall mortality and progress toward restarting travel, it captures how the world’s biggest 53 economies are responding to the same once-in-a-generation threat.

    Not very helpful. Explanation more evident in the lack thereof! Especially since Aotearoa is half-way down the pack, coming in @ #25. Here's where we get a hint of corporate bias:

    Big shifts upward in December:

    • Singapore jumps 19 spots after a sharp drop in cases over the past month, along with a significant easing in hospital loads
    • Austria vaults 17 positions as it lifted a national lockdown and resumed tourism after infections halved from their peak
    • Australia climbs 16 places after areas including its biggest state of New South Wales removed almost all restrictions
    • New Zealand advances 11 rungs as its largest city of Auckland came out of lockdown and the country shifted to a new alert system which allows businesses to operate for vaccinated people

    So their resilience framing is based on proximity to BAU. They don't get it yet…


  3. Dennis Frank 3

    Ellen H. O’Donnell, Ph.D., is a pediatric psychologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. A year ago she made these points about pandemic resilience:

    Unfortunately, people tend toward homeostasis. We want to go back to normal, not to a “new normal.” Ask the average person what it means to be “resilient” and they’ll say some version of “bouncing back” from adversity. We want our economy to bounce back and we want to get back to our jobs, schools and routines. Except that’s not actually resilience.

    Resilience is not a state of being but a set of skills honed through adversity. To be resilient isn’t to go back to being the way one was before. It’s to allow oneself to be changed, to see the cracks in the self or the system, let the light shine through and to become (in the words of Hemingway and a million memes) stronger at the broken places.

    Resilience doesn’t mean bouncing back to normal. It means being transformed toward a new normal. https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2020/09/14/resilience-pandemic-covid-19-summer-ellen-odonnell

  4. Dennis Frank 4

    Gardeners will achieve resilience if they adapt to climate change.

    Climate change has already changed what foods can grow in New Zealand, as shown by a trial of peanuts grown in Northland for Nelson company Pic’s Peanut Butter, said Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research senior scientist Dr Nicholas Cradock-Henry​. “Pic's is growing peanuts in Northland – that in itself would've been probably regarded 10 years ago as either highly unlikely or totally unfeasible.”

    Niwa climate scientist Gregor Macara agreed climate change will result in higher temperatures, which will both increase the growing season and enable faster crop development. While New Zealand’s weather will always remain variable, climate change will shift the average weather conditions expected for a given time of year, he explained.

    But climate change is not all good for the garden, as it also increases the number and severity of both floods and drought, Macara said. While there is not a lot gardeners can do about floods, other than installing raised garden beds, in times of drought or prolonged dry periods, watering and irrigation is critical, he said.

    Climate change means droughts will become more of a problem, especially in east coast areas such as Northland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Canterbury, Cradock-Henry said. In a recent study, Growing Kai Under Increasing Dry, he found droughts cost New Zealanders about $720 million between 2007 and 2017 – six times the figure for flood damage.


  5. adam 5

    I think the first step should be to stop empowering the largest corporations with our tax money.

    The second should be to cut off the same corporations from owning the media, either directly or indirectly.

    It's not the only solution. But the corporations have a vested interest to keep making ridiculous amounts of money off Sars-covid2.

    I wonder if that why their vaunted vaccine is so bloody useless? Six months cover, inbuilt obsolescence so you can beg the corporations for your shot. Anyone would think we were slaves.

  6. Dennis Frank 6

    I was sceptical of the neopagan thing back in the '90s despite having been on the same track most of my life. Fashion trends are usually created by folk obsessed with trivia.

    This young woman gets the authenticity angle:

    I focused on spending time outside, soaking up the pale fractions of vitamin D that the sun would allow, and sitting under the trees to feel their deep-seated power thrumming directly below me in the ground. I gave myself time to just be in nature and connect with its sounds and feelings, allowing it to trigger the healing processes in my brain.

    I breathed deeply; I smiled when I saw a flash of a plump, pink bullfinch in the hedgerow. Witchcraft is so intensely wrapped up in nature that the link to mental health is clear. The benefits of spending time outdoors are well-documented, with one study reporting that spending at least two hours outside every week could boost physical and mental wellbeing significantly… Slowing down and appreciating the magic of the cycles of life again opened up my sense of wonder for the natural world that had been lacking for so many years.

    The pandemic gave some of us a few moments to sit back and reflect on our priorities. Research showed that 46% of people were looking to quit their job this year and do something different


    Of course magic is therapeutic and a pathway to resilience when it is anchored in nature, whereas magic as a cultural taboo in western civilisation promotes illusion to distract folks from what is really going on.

    Astrologers use a traditional metaphysical framework to get an angle on this. Too bad the tradition contains so much crap! So one must try to validate the scheme somehow. A scientific education helps with that task – provided the user is capable of transcending its inherent limitations. Naturally most astrologers don't have what it takes to regenerate the antique belief system. Equally, few scientists have proven themselves able to transcend their belief system.

    One who did was co-creator of quantum mechanics Wolfgang Pauli, who collaborated with Carl Jung on his investigation into synchronicity (a consequence of holism in nature). They eventually co-authored a book: The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (1955).

    Einstein declared Pauli his "spiritual heir". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Pauli

    If her citation of 46% is indicative, half of western civilisation is unsatisfied with neoliberal normality. Reconnecting to nature is the best way forward for that half. The more of them that go deeper into it, the better…

    • RedLogix 6.1

      half of western civilisation is unsatisfied with neoliberal normality

      Might I suggest to change the loaded and narrow word 'neo-liberal' for the broader term 'materialist'? And then I'd wager that at some level it would be way more than half would agree with you.devil

      • Dennis Frank 6.1.1

        I have no conceptual problem with your favoured reframe. However it would only seem catchy to older folk I suspect – whereas neoliberalism retains cultural currency due to being the prevailing economic & political ideology.

        Marx was big on promoting communism as materialistic, eh? Yet in the mid-19th century when he launched that intellectual enterprise, romanticism had embedded as the prevalent cultural trend in the west. The word scientist had only recently been invented then and the hegemony of science was unanticipated.

        It's like a cyclic tidal pull, the back-to-nature thing. Constable's landscapes & Wordsworth's poetry were just the obvious signals at that time.

        But yes, materialism rendered nature as resource to be plundered, rather than ecosystem to be stewarded & Jesus as shepherd didn't tend the flock & rescue the lamb who got lost as an agent of the company operating the freezing works.

        Focus on the pandemic alerts us to our microbiome as internal ecosystem. Not us vs the germs; that was the medical paradigm of the 1950s my generation got brainwashed with as children. Life now hinges on our interaction with our smaller components. Holism, applied, can keep us alive. Reductionism, sustained as ideology, will kill us. It’s even worse than materialism.

    • weka 6.2

      Cool. I'm slow writing a post about how we could adapt positively to the pandemic. Will have a read of the article.

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