The Pausing of the Travel Bubble

Written By: - Date published: 9:11 am, June 28th, 2021 - 81 comments
Categories: australian politics, covid-19, Economy, health, International, jacinda ardern, tourism - Tags:

So far Aotearoa New Zealand has dodged a bullet.  The Australian visitor who visited busy parts of Wellington but then developed Covid appears so far not to have affected local person even though he was infected with the delta variant, the variant behind recent surges in the United Kingdom and India.  Ewen Callaway at the Nature website has this rather chilling description:

The Delta variant has been linked to a resurgence of COVID-19 in Nepal, southeast Asia and elsewhere, but its UK spread has given scientists a clear picture of the threat it poses. Delta seems to be around 60% more transmissible than the already highly infectious Alpha variant (also called B.1.1.7) identified in the United Kingdom in late 2020.

Delta is moderately resistant to vaccines, particularly in people who have received just a single dose. A Public Health England study published on 22 May found that a single dose of either AstraZeneca’s or Pfizer’s vaccine reduced a person’s risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms caused by the Delta variant by 33%, compared to 50% for the Alpha variant. A second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine boosted protection against Delta to 60% (compared to 66% against Alpha), while two doses of Pfizer’s jab were 88% effective (compared to 93% against Alpha).

Preliminary evidence from England and Scotland suggests that people infected with Delta are about twice as likely to end up in hospital, compared with those infected with Alpha.

“The data coming out of the UK is so good, that we have a really good idea about how the Delta variant is behaving,” says Mads Albertsen, a bioinformatician at Aalborg University in Denmark. “That’s been an eye-opener.”

Over the ditch you get the feeling that Australia is struggling to keep the virus under control.  From Radio New Zealand:

Australia is grappling with multiple rapidly growing outbreaks, reaching parts of the country the virus never has before.

One of the threats: A mine worker who tested positive in central Australia. He had 900 colleagues leave the mine and travel elsewhere before his positive result was returned.

One of these contacts flew north to Darwin, spent time in the greater area, and then tested positive. Due to the possibility of the man being contagious while in the community, the Darwin region is now under harsh movement restrictions closing almost everything but essential services, initially for 48 hours.

“The Northern Territory is now facing its biggest threat since the Covid crisis began,” Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.

“I cannot rule out the lockdown being longer. I cannot rule out expanding the boundaries of the lockdown. If it needs to be longer, if it needs to be wider, it will be.”

Gunner said there are another 14 people who worked at the mine and have travelled to Darwin that they have yet to track down, which is of concern to them.

New South Wales recorded 30 new cases and there have been reports of cases appearing in other parts of the country.  Given what is happening the Government’s early response appears to be very appropriate.

Fiji is also struggling.  From Lice Movono at RNZ:

Fiji’s Covid-19 positivity rate continues to increase as health authorities report another 262 cases from 8am Saturday to 8am Sunday.

While there have been 13 deaths reported in this outbreak alone, Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong said two Covid-positive deaths are being investigated to determine if they were caused by the virus.

Five of the new cases are from the Nawakalevu Containment Zone in Nadi, three are linked to the cluster at Korovou Town in Tailevu, 118.9 kilometres north of the capital Suva.

The rest of the 254 cases are from the Lami-Suva-Nausori Containment Zone.

Fiji’s positivity rate continues to climb further up from 5 percent, which according to the World Health Organisation’s criteria published in May 2020, means the epidemic is not under control.

According to Our World in Data (OWID), a scientific online publication produced by a research team at the University of Oxford in England, a rising positive rate “can suggest the virus is actually spreading faster than the growth seen in confirmed cases”.

Despite this the authorities have still not locked the country down.  The reason offered is the economy.  This Herald article contains this quote from Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Health, Dr James Fong:

The tragic reality is that Fijians living in communities most vulnerable to the virus – including those in informal settlements – are also those most vulnerable to the socioeconomic catastrophe that a 24-hour lockdown for 28 days would bring about …

So to say that many other countries have done a strict lockdown is not correct. Few, if any countries, have locked down in the same manner that Fiji has locked down.”

The delta variant also appears to be a major contributor to Taiwan’s spike in cases.  Taiwan’s example shows that you cannot take anything for granted.

The Government’s urgent action in suspending the travel bubble in Australia has caused some pubic disquiet, from Kiwis in Australia now facing delays and/or quarantine to get home and some tourism business owners.  I suspect most of the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief.

And we are not out of the woods yet.  The Australian visitor had received one shot of vaccine and did not appear to be a shredder of the virus although his partner recently tested positive for the virus.  His partner has not contracted it so far, maybe we were very lucky but time will tell.

Meanwhile the vaccine roll out is gathering pace.  There are still the usual attacks because we are behind other countries.  For pretty well every other country this is a race against time where every successful vaccination reduces the prospects of the disease spreading.  For Aotearoa New Zealand the relevant date is the end date.  Until then there is clearly the intent that we maintain free of the community spread of the virus.

The problem with the prevalence of the virus is that mutations are almost inevitable.  For those thinking that after enough of us were vaccinated things would return to normal I am afraid this may not be the case.

81 comments on “The Pausing of the Travel Bubble ”

  1. Sabine 1

    And lets keep the country closed until the People that want to be vaccinated are vaccinated.

    And then we can worry about non vaxxers not wanting to be vaccinated and infected people from overseas that come for a weekend of leisure.

    • alwyn 1.1

      Absolutely correct. If it means that polies, and other self important people, can't just come and go on their overseas jaunts that's just too bad.

  2. Ad 2

    Someone must be up for doing a post on "this is the new normal".

    Along the lines of the Singapore 'managed endemic' state.

    • SPC 2.1

      The new normal won't apply for us until we vaccinate all those who want to be vaccinated and allow borders to be open only to non residents who are vaccinated. We can watch and learn from the Singapore trial (as they will complete vaccination first) and others, such as the UK, of that approach.

      The impact on the UK NHS and US public of those who refuse vaccination and get infected with the more dangerous Delta variant might/should reduce the numbers refusing vaccination here. The last thing our health system needs is its limited capacity stressed by coronavirus community spread among the unvaccinated.

      • weka 2.1.1

        Can you please explain how you see this working?

        eg 80% of NZers are fully vaccinated. We open borders to people also fully vaccinated. Will that be any vaccine or only the ones with high effect against transmission?

        Someone travels on a plane to NZ with a new variant that our vaccine is only 60% effective at preventing transmission. We have community outbreaks in Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown. We lock down but struggle in the way Australia are now.

        how does this play out?

        • SPC

          Questions that will be answered in part by those doing the trial for us – UK, Singapore etc and the rate at which booster doses of vaccines are adjusted for variants (as with the flu).

          • satty

            I saw this Guardian article yesterday:

            It could sound worrying that the majority of people dying in England with the now-dominant Delta (B.1.617.2) variant have been vaccinated. Does this mean the vaccines are ineffective? Far from it, it’s what we would expect from an effective but imperfect vaccine, a risk profile that varies hugely by age and the way the vaccines have been rolled out.

            Consider the hypothetical world where absolutely everyone had received a less than perfect vaccine. Although the death rate would be low, everyone who died would have been fully vaccinated.

            Looks like there's a good bit of the "trial" you mentioned done. We should expect COVID-related deaths after we open the borders (unless there's a 100% effective vaccine and everybody in NZ and traveling into NZ is vaccinated).

            As this is an unlikely scenario, how many COVID-related deaths do we consider acceptable? For example, the majority of NZers accept hundreds of deaths related to road accidents alone (otherwise there would be more drastic measures to reduce the number).

            How can we ensure that we can limit COVID-related deaths to a, yet undefined, acceptable death count?

            • SPC

              With the UK one should note they chose a one dose for the many before getting around to a second dose – so most of the vaccinated have had only one dose so far. We’d be making any determination based on the “trial” stage at two doses – and maybe boosters for the new variants (for now it does not look as if the Pfizer one needs it for the latest one – Delta) becoming available.

              • satty

                Over 60% of the UK population had there 2nd shot already: Vaccinations in UK

                And from the Guardian article I linked earlier:

                “Study shows 29% of the 42 people who have died after catching the new strain had BOTH vaccinations.”

                So the "trial" shows, a significant proportion of the population is dying even with both vaccination shots received.

                There's a high likelihood of further new COVID strains, which current vaccines and future booster shots might not cover effectively.

                Therefore, at some point we, as a nation, have to think how we want to deal with this pandemic going forward. Maybe we want to isolate ourselves "forever" or we have to consider other options. I don't know the answer, but those questions have to be raised, as it looks unlikely COVID is going to disappear soon.

                • SPC

                  Now its 60%, not the case earlier when this evidence was being gathered.

                  As for risk from the Delta variant for those with two doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine – this demonstrates the wisdom of our government in going for the Pfizer RNA vaccine roll out for all – and the two dose approach (border workers and health staff first). Two doses of that vaccine is effective against the Delta variant.

                  Boosters to the RNA vaccine would be ones where possibly/probably/presumably have adjustment to cover new variants (something apparently easier to do with those vaccines …).

                  But whatever we decide we have the advantage of real world evidence to guide us – as it did when going all in on the more effective vaccine.

                • McFlock

                  So the "trial" shows, a significant proportion of the population is dying even with both vaccination shots received.

                  No, a significant proportion of the dead have received covid shots.

                  The number of UK dead each day has gone from a thousand six months ago to a dozen.

                  Even with delta and various data shenanigans, vaccines are doing the job.

          • weka

            True, but I'd still like to see NZers talking through potential scenarios given our relatively unique situation with no community transmission.

        • AB

          There are annual Covid shots – pharma companies scramble every year to put out vaccines effective against the latest strains, but this is not foolproof. Only vaccinated non-citizens/non-residents are allowed into the country. We become habituated to greater mask-wearing. We get outbreaks, but Level 2 (or something like it) becomes the most aggressive tool in the box and is used sparingly. We lose people to the disease every year, maybe more than we do to flu. It might have a significant permanent effect on economic and social life – pushing them in localist, anti-globalist directions. Our elimination strategy has been brilliant – but was always a holding operation to prevent unnecessary deaths until we know what a socially and morally tolerable long-term status quo (not a 'solution') looks like.

          • weka

            thanks for having a crack!

            Annual Covid shots makes sense although not if it's like influenza ie a certain amount of transmission in the community as normal.

            I'd be way happier if the outcome was localist.

          • Enough is Enough

            Thats how I see it playing out from about 2023 onwards.

            We will learn to live with the disease and that means accepting that probably 100s will die each year – as we do with the flu.

            Annual vaccines will be the tool to fight it once the borders open.

            • georgecom

              what we are unsure of yet is how long vaccines provide an acceptable level of immunity. is it a year, or 2 years, or 5 or 10. We may or may not need annual booster shots, we might need a 12 month and then a 10 year booster. time will tell.

              once we have reached hard immunity/immunityish I can see a scenarion where we might have some covid floating around the community and we live with it within certain tolerances. We do that with seasonal influenza each year. And covid19 is pretty much like a flu. maybe somewhat deadlier or more contagious, but within the realm. It is not in the realm of Ebola or AIDS which have a high kill rate.

              Once we have established a level of population protection I can foresee a future of such influenzas circulating which will kill some, and which most people will recover from. Protection for the weak and vulnerable doesn't lie with a 'stamp it out' approach but with a 'vaccinate it out' (more of less) approach. That to me would be the new normal.

              • weka

                It's not just death, it's the disability with long covid issue as well.

                • georgecom

                  it seems with the delta strain of covid we might need a 90% vaccination rates to achieve herd immunity. I doubt we will get that high. Anything above 80% I would class as a success. I cannot see any future at 80% other than opening the country back up and learning to live with the virus much as we do with the seasonal flu. Aussie is certainly talking about that approach. Vaccines will mean that the symptoms of the virus for most will be quite mild.

  3. SPC 3

    We appear lucky – if none of the 4 locals who travelled with the Oz tourist over the weekend get it, then it's likely he only infected his partner – which is what one would expect if the viral load was limited because of a prior vaccination dose.

    The 900 miners going off in all directions around Oz, and some would be Kiwis is why the border bubble is suspended – WA, SA and Queensland will be waiting for bad news.

    The government might want to look at some sort of Oz based quarantine for our Kiwis wanting to return (and or getting vaccination doses to them once they arrive).

  4. Sacha 4

    The Australian visitor had received one shot of vaccine and did not appear to be a shredder of the virus although his partner recently tested positive for the virus. His partner has not contracted it so far

    Are you trying to say the partner is non-symptomatic? – because they most certainly have contracted Covid, hence the positive day-5 test result.

  5. RedLogix 5

    Your last para arrives at the door of the question I was asking almost a year ago – what happens if these new mRNA vaccines don't work as hoped?

    Vaccinating billions of people with a vaccine that is both relatively narrow in its target, and does not eliminate the virus from the body, sets up the perfect evolutionary pressure to virtually ensure it mutates to evade the vaccine.

    A year ago we believed that COVID was a relatively stable virus, and thus a narrow spectrum vaccine would work well enough. Now we know that it actually mutates like crazy, and increasingly toward both more infectious and more dangerous. You're totally correct in pointing out what a bastard the Delta variant is.

    The other piece of new information is that while vaccinated people are much less likely to get ill, they're still very much catching and spreading the virus.

    Put these two points together and we have to start contemplating what happens if we've missed the chance to defeat COVID at all. This has to be a serious non-zero possibility now.

    • SPC 5.1

      There is not much evidence of catching and spreading among those with two Pfizer – the RNA one – doses.

      The Oz tourist had only one dose (not sure which one) but had such a low viral load that only his intimate contact has been infected so far (not sure if they had been vaccinated).

      With variants that get around the existing RNA vaccine – "annual" boosters as per flu and or the option of returning to the bubble in any interim periods. The focus will move to improving treatment (a specifically designed anti-viral and maybe something inhaled to protect lung cells) and better public health (checks for sufficient Vitamin D level for support basic immunity health and zinc for cell health and better drugs for those with diabetes).

      • Gabby 5.1.2

        How do we know who infected whom?

      • McFlock 5.1.3

        I'm gobsmacked we haven't had any positive cases come from the tourist yet. I wasn't expecting the zombie apocalypse, but figured a couple of cases within a few days of exposure and a wellington lockdown.

      • RedLogix 5.1.4

        There is not much evidence of catching and spreading among those with two Pfizer – the RNA one – doses.

        This is true for the individual, but not on a population basis. It's impossible to have the entire global population vaccinated all at the same time, and even then the necessary period between the first and second dose ensures there is going to be a large window of opportunity for the virus to evolve within millions of partially vaccinated people.

        As for the idea of annual booster shots, given that we've seen at least six significant variants within just the last six months, it's not clear even this will work. Or that enough people will sign up for this long term.

        In October last year I was optimistic that we could defeat COVID. There were few known variants, and we had enough knowledge and tools to drive it to extinction given a massive co-ordinated global effort – at least in principle. In reality I concede we were never going to be good enough to do that. Instead every hope has been pinned on the vaccines. Turns out they may not be the sure fire bet a lot of people wanted them to be.

        • Drowsy M. Kram

          Instead every hope has been pinned on the vaccines.

          It's unsurpringing that many experts are convinced, and many non-experts remain hopeful, that vaccination programmes will result in fewer hospitalisations and/or deaths due to symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Indeed, there’s already evidence that this is actually happening – hooray!

          Covid UK: coronavirus cases, deaths and vaccinations today
          How are case rates changing?
          Lockdown had brought down case rates for everyone. But different age groups have been affected differently. Throughout the pandemic working-age people aged between 20 and 60 have had the highest levels of infection.

          This has become more stark since the vaccine rollout has protected many of the more vulnerable elderly people in society, with case rates rising among the younger groups at the same time as case rates stay relatively low among older people.

          COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update Edition 45, published 22 June 2021 [PDF]
          The studies also provide further evidence of the importance of two doses of both Pfizer BioNTech-Comirnaty and AstraZeneca-Vaxzevria in preventing hospitalization, symptomatic disease and infection due to both Delta and Alpha variants.

          However, if "every hope has been pinned on the vaccines", them someone better tell these guys to stop what they're doing.

          Covid: Ivermectin to be studied as possible treatment in UK

          Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV)

          I for one hope they keep going, because while effective vaccines will do the heavy preventative lifting, there's still going to be a need to treat symptomatic patients.

          Fwiw, I don't understand why anyone would consider it helpful to promote the erroneous idea that "every hope has been pinned on the vaccines" – it's unreal.

          • RedLogix

            I don't understand why anyone would consider it helpful to promote the erroneous idea that "every hope has been pinned on the vaccines" – it's unreal.

            A quick scan of many comments here read very much as if this were the case. And the constant smear of 'anti-vaxxer' that gets thrown around – when in many cases like me I'm vaxxed up the wazoo with conventional shots – indicates a degree of arrogance that's very unattractive.

            The sorry fact is that this entire episode has been tainted by idiot politicisation, incompetence, gross conflicts of interests, cover-ups, smears and tribalisation from the outset. Only in hindsight will we ever properly understand what has happened this past 18 months.

            • Drowsy M. Kram

              And the constant smear of 'anti-vaxxer' that gets thrown around – when in many cases like me I'm vaxxed up the wazoo with conventional shots – indicates a degree of arrogance that's very unattractive.

              Someone smeared you with the label "anti-vaxxer"! Apalling – who was it?

              Instead every [much?] hope has been pinned on the vaccines.

              Wondering if the reason we’re at loggerheads on most (not all) topics is that we attach different meanings to words, e.g.every‘ = ‘all’ (DMK), versus ‘every‘ = ‘much’ (RL). But I had forgotten your penchant for hyperbolae, which possibly led you to replace 'much' with 'every', and so withdraw and apologise.

              Only in hindsight will we ever properly understand what has happened this past 18 months.

              Hasn't stopped either of us opining on "this entire episode" – intriguing eh?

              • RedLogix

                Well then you get reports like this:

                Two COVID-19 outbreaks at a Calgary hospital linked to the more-contagious Delta variant of the virus have grown to 22 people, including 10 who were fully vaccinated.

                What are we seeing here? Are we already seeing COVID variants doing exactly what evolutionary biology predicts it will – and respond to the very active selection pressure we're putting it under by becoming more lethal, more transmissible, with younger cohorts become more vulnerable and start to evade vaccines?

                Because right now the Delta variant is starting to tick all of these boxes. And it certainly won't be the last.

                • Drowsy M. Kram

                  Maybe your speculation is on the money, but as a wise person once wrote:

                  Only in hindsight will we ever properly understand what has happened this past 18 months.

                  C’mon, who smeared you with that dreadful “anti-vaxxer” label? Apalling!

                  • McFlock

                    Frankly, before getting worried I'd be asking whether people who contracted a disease in a hospital were patients there for some reason that also made them more vulnerable to serious effects from covid, and whether the group had a higher proportion of vaccination than the general population, and if so whether that was because they, as a group, were already more vulnerable to diseases like covid.

                    Or, you know, it could also be mutant super were-covid 10S. either/or 🙄

                    • RedLogix

                      Sighs … you're missing the point. If these vaccines were close to 100% effective at eradicating the virus from the body (ie a sterilisation effect as it were) then we'd have nothing to worry about.

                      But instead what we have is people who're either partially or even fully vaccinated still catching it and still capable of spreading it – as this Canadian report looks to be an example of. It really doesn't take a lot of thought to understand what is likely to happen as a result.

                      As it happens the Delta variant probably arose in India before a mass vaccination rollout so it may well not have arisen directly as a result of vaccination selection pressure. But that's really no comfort here is it?

                    • McFlock

                      No, you're missing the point.

                      Population-wide vaccination is about building up overall immunity in a population. Clusters can still happen even including vaccinated individuals, especially in already vulnerable or immun-compromised groups.

                      Who the hell says any vaccine needs to be "close to 100% effective at eradicating the virus from the body"? Delta has an apparent R0 of 5. Oooo, end of days without a "close to 100% effective" vaccine? Nah.

                      Measles has an R0 in double figures, and the vaccines are still well short of 100%. Think about how many thousands of kids have been jabbed to no avail. Sure, we get the occasional cluster where lots of kids have been unvaccinated or in other existing vulnerable populations. That's what happens. Maybe (just maybe) rather than extrapolating from isolated events brought to you by google, you could actually wait for the population-level data to come in before calling doom on a population-level health intervention.

                      Jesus christ, people spend so much time shitting themselves about what-ifs that they suck resources and focus away from actually dealing with the shit sitting in front of us.

                    • RedLogix

                      Population-wide vaccination is about building up overall immunity in a population.

                      Immunity to what? Yes the original variant will vanish, but to use your measles example – most people who get a measles shot (or any conventional vaccine for that matter) are incredibly unlikely to be exposed a wild measles case during the period when they're still building immunity.

                      But this isn't what we're doing now. In most countries in the world where these mRNA COVID vaccines are being rolled out, the virus is still very much present and will almost certainly encounter many people with sub-optimal vaccine immunity. This hugely amplifies the risk that vaccine resistant variants will arise and as a result the whole idea of 'population level overall immunity' flies out the window.

                      Worse still the new variants that evolve to overcome this selection pressure are very likely to be even more transmissible, more lethal and as a result have a bigger impact on younger cohorts. Delta is already showing these exact characteristics – and you might want to keep in mind that the original SARS back in the day had an IFR of about 13% if I recall correctly.

                      I could suggest that what we're doing right now is a massive global scale 'gain of function' experiment. A context that SARS-COVID-2 almost certainly originated in and likely very well adapted to thrive in. On this you really have to hope that my 'speculation' is completely wrong, because that really would turn out shit.

                    • McFlock

                      Immunity to what? Yes the original variant will vanish, but to use your measles example – most people who get a measles shot (or any conventional vaccine for that matter) are incredibly unlikely to be exposed a wild measles case during the period when they're still building immunity.

                      How do you think the average exposure to measles decreased so much when it's several times more contagious than delta? How do you think things like polio and smallpox went from globally endemic to eradicated or almost eradicated? Lots of exposure when their vax programmes started, too.

                      This is how vaccines work. People who are vaccinated are many times less likely to get infected or transmit infection. As long as the vaccine efficacy and prevelance gets the R0 to less than 1, any outbreak will burn itself out. That's not an R0 of zero. Just <1. There will be clusters. Maybe a variant will appear that is demonstrably too different to the current strain for the vaccines to be effective enough to get to that <1 level. Maybe delta is that strain.

                      In that case, two points:

                      • we create a variant vaccine every year like with flu
                      • an outbreak amongst vulnerable patients in a canadian hospital is meaningless as an assessment of vaccine efficacy against delta. Go riffle through chicken entrails, it's be just as reliable as an assessment of vaccine efficacy.

                      Goddamn, I knew this argument felt familiar. We had it over ebola, too. Chin up, one day you'll get the apocalypse you keep predicting. But it ain't gonna be from delta.

                    • RedLogix

                      This is how vaccines work. People who are vaccinated are many times less likely to get infected or transmit infection. As long as the vaccine efficacy and prevelance gets the R0 to less than 1, any outbreak will burn itself out. That's not an R0 of zero. Just <1.

                      Indeed – but that doesn't seem to be entirely the case for mRNA vaccines, which use a somewhat different mechanism. The only way to know for certain it the above conditions were true would be to continue to test healthy vacinees after their two shots. But govts everywhere aren't doing this, so there's a big gap in the data here.

                      As for Ebola (and SARS, MERS and Asian Bird Flu) – yes we managed through remarkable responses to contain them. Ebola turned out was only transmissible under some very specific circumstances – but with a lethality well over 50% we sure got lucky with that one. COVID however got away on us (and it's worth pondering the reasons why that happened).

                      But the nightmare scenario always had to be an airborn virus that infected before you became sick, and was capable of rapid mutation in the face of selection pressure. And SARS-COVIS-2 ticks all those boxes.

                    • Incognito []

                      Indeed – but that doesn’t seem to be entirely the case for mRNA vaccines, which use a somewhat different mechanism.

                      Can you please explain/elaborate on this statement?

                    • McFlock

                      The only way to know for certain it the above conditions were true would be to continue to test healthy vacinees after their two shots. But govts everywhere aren't doing this, so there's a big gap in the data here.

                      Which governments aren't testing close contacts if they've been vaccinated? Even if they turn up to hospital with a respiratory condition, no test, just an assumption that it can't be a covid variant?

                    • RedLogix

                      Testing close contacts is one thing, but monitoring what is actually happening in the millions of healthy people who have been vaccinated seems to be a big gap at present.

                      And just assuming that these mRNA vaccines are going to behave exactly like their conventional whole virus predecessors in terms of R0 – when their method of action is distinctly different – could well backfire badly. Or to put it more plainly, yes they're reducing illness and morbidity against the strains they were developed to counter, but that isn't the same as reducing infections.

                      And no I’m not suggesting Delta is necessarily the variant that will escape the vaccines, but it demonstrates the capacity of the virus to evolve in exactly that direction.

                    • McFlock

                      Testing close contacts is one thing, but monitoring what is actually happening in the millions of healthy people who have been vaccinated seems to be a big gap at present.

                      Ever hear of wastewater testing?

                      Besides, if people are circulating a harmless variant that doesn't make anyone sick (which would result in the testing of all the sick person's close contacts), that's fine for us and the ideal evolutionary outcome for the virus.

                    • RedLogix

                      if people are circulating a harmless variant that doesn't make anyone sick

                      But that's not what we're seeing so far. New variants are arising at quite a rapid rate (maybe one a month) that have a higher morbidity and R0. Delta for instance is around 100% more transmissible than the original strains already. Keep that up and exactly how long before we see variants in even vaccinated people that have an R0 >1?

                      What we really need is a more conventional whole virus vaccine that effectively eradicates the virus entirely from the body, greatly reducing the chance of mutations to escape the evolutionary pressure of the vaccine. What we're doing now is rather akin to people not taking a whole course of antibiotics, creating an opportunity for the few survivors to develop resistance.

                    • Incognito []

                      Few conventional vaccines achieve sterilising immunity. You appear to be suggesting that mRNA vaccines have an inherent flaw in that they are not (likely?) to induce sterilising immunity. If so, do you have any info to support this? I’m not aware of this and it was certainly not foreshadowed AFAIK. In fact, it was the Holy Grail that everyone was hoping (!) for but it needed time to find out. I think and hope that second generation vaccines will elicit even better immune responses that also last long, but whether they be mRNA- or protein-based vaccines with suitable and appropriate adjuvants is a question that cannot be answered at present. Suffice to say that there is a huge amount of research happening as we speak.

                    • McFlock

                      Yeah, one day your if these trends continue mantra will come true. Probably when we've been dead for centuries (AGW permitting).

                      "What we need" is time to continue gathering and analysing the epidemiological data to provide accurate and useful information to decisionmakers.

                      Grasping at small-scale studies of miracle drugs concealed by big pharma, or at small clusters on the other side of the planet as signs of our doooooom, nobody needs any of that shit.

                      I'm off to bed. Don't jump at too many shadows when you do the same.

                      [RL: I’ve engaged you on this reasonably and with argument not insult. In response to this comment I seriously considered sending you not to bed but off this site altogether. You fuck up all too many conversations with this sort of dickhead behaviour – even if any one instance of it falls beneath the usual moderation threshold. In the bad old days of more capricious moderation I would likely have acted, but these days I just don’t care enough.

                      However I’m going to require you to not respond to any of my comments here ever again. I will delete any and all.]

                    • RedLogix

                      See moderation note above.

                • Incognito

                  Where do you get this from that evolutionary biology predicts that selection pressure will make it more lethal, more transmissible? I think it is incorrect and nature tends to select against viruses that kill their host, especially when it is so fast that it minimises transmission to sufficient new hosts, and it will ‘burn itself out’, so to speak. In other words, new variants tend to be more transmissible rather than more virulent and rarely both because a single mutation is highly unlikely to affect both processes, simply because they involve different key proteins/enzymes.

                  • RedLogix

                    In the normal course of events I think you're correct, virus's do tend to become less lethal with time. But SARS-COVID-2 may not follow this rule for a least two reasons I can think of.

                    The first relates to it's remarkably ability to be highly infective well before it makes someone sick. This means that the normal selection pressure against virus's that kill their host really doesn't apply for this particular one. Related to this we also now know that as the virus becomes more transmissible, the threshold of innoculum (the amount of virus you're exposed to) in order to establish an infection will decrease.

                    The second reason is a broader concern that's connected to the probably 'unique origin' of this virus – in that the epidemiology we expect from prior events might simply not apply in this case.

                    • Incognito

                      So, the selection pressure favours transmission, not virulence per se. The problem arises when a more transmissible variant also turns out to be more virulent, which might be the case with the delta variant, which has accumulated quite a high number of mutations – not all at once! If we want to stop the spread, we need to focus on the hot spots, not on a relatively cold spot such as NZ. As long as we can keep it out and away from the community and a Taiwan-like outbreak. Prevention is still the best cure, always has been, and always will be. This also applies to vaccinated people because variants might be selected that can bypass the induced immunity. However, such variants might not be more transmissible per se, e.g., in an unvaccinated population. They may also not be more virulent.

                    • RedLogix

                      That's a reasonable scenario. I don't think anyone can make absolute statements about the future trajectory of these mutations – whether it tends toward becoming very common but mostly harmless like the common cold, or something akin to SARS/MERS which had terrifyingly high morbidities isn't something we can know yet.

                      But I'm pretty certain the probability either way isn't zero.

                    • Rosemary McDonald

                      'unique origin' of this virus

                      History, I suspect, will condemn us for failing to pursue the Lab Leak Hypothesis. There was already enough clues in March 2020 to give us more than a hint that there was close working relationship between US virus researchers and the Wuhan Lab. And this facilitator…

                      And, oh boy oh boy….I bet in retrospect he wishes he had been less voluble. Patient waiting and listening and hear him celebrating the fact they were able to avoid much of the bureaucracy. And later, towards the end, extolling the many virtues of the highly workable coronaviruses.

                      I hear old Pete has quit as head of the Ecohealth Alliance.


                      and from the Origin Investigative team…


                      That letter…published in the Lancet last year…gave the whole sorry shit pile such a weight of false authority.

                    • Incognito []

                      Don’t worry, now the impressive and formidable US Intelligence apparatus has counted all 143 UFOs it can devote its unbridled attention to the enemy finding the origin of the pandemic. Who knows, they might even find some WMDs hidden in a bat cave 😉

                      I will have the fullest confidence in their findings and reports, as always, as much as I trust China and anything they tell us.

                    • RedLogix


                      Yes I think everyone knows what happened with the origin of the virus, but until very recently the risk of being ridiculed or worse was just too high for most. And keep in mind that Fauci who is deeply implicated for circumventing the Obama administration ban on GoF research – also controls the purse strings for almost everyone who could have spoken out with authority.

                      But beyond the finger pointing, the real reason for understanding the origin of SARS-COVID-2 is to properly understand the environment which it evolved in – which tells us a lot about what it's optimised to do, and how we might best counter it. So far that discussion hasn’t been held in the public domain at all.

                      And yes it looks like Daszak's credibility is shot. Which might give pause to re-evaluate pretty much everything him and all those around him have been saying this past year. At the same time that doesn't give open license to indulge every extreme idea out there – the only path through this mess is going to be careful, open and honest science.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Yes I think everyone knows what happened with the origin of the virus…

                      And yet, as a very wise person once wrote:

                      Only in hindsight will we ever properly understand what has happened this past 18 months.

                      Must get some sleep; 1st COVID vaccine jab at 11 am.
                      Eating out tonight; hope the mRNA doesn't put me off my food laugh


    • tc 5.2

      +1. The olympics could be that event COVID's been waiting for with all that opportunity from around the globe.

      • McFlock 5.2.1

        The Olympics are a bloody stupid idea. total cash-before-lives job.

        Vax numbers are still way too low.

        • Pete

          What is it about the Olympics that makes them riskier than many other places and activities in the world?

          Is a group of vaccinated people taking part in a sports event in a protected environment in itself too risky?

          The President of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee Seiko Hashimoto announced on Monday that up to 10,000 local fans would be allowed into venues — with numbers not to exceed 50% of venue capacity regardless of indoor or outdoor events.

          • McFlock

            100k people from around the globe going in, circulating, and going out again over 2 weeks?

            Vaccination is recommended but not required:

            The IOC is recommending the vaccination of athletes if they are available, but vaccines will not be required, and the IOC is recommending against athletes "jumping the queue" in order to obtain priority over essential populations

            But even if that's been changed, the penalty for failure is global.

          • mpledger

            (Although I maybe out of date now…) Elite athletes at peak tend to have lowered immunity across the board. They are all young so they'll have a better immune response then a random person from the general pop (IIRC). So I guess that means their chances of both catching it and surviving it are relatively higher.

            They need to be flying in as late as possible and leaving as soon as possible. They should be allowed to pull-out with out stigma.

            At the least I think they should cancel all teams sports that have contact e.g. 7's, basketball, hockey, water polo.

      • Jimmy 5.2.2

        How many condoms do they normally issue at Olympics? I cant see social distancing being observed.

  6. Leighton 6

    If this latest scare (assuming we do get away with it) doesn't convince the majority what an arrogant, fate-tempting idea it was to roll out the travel bubble at such an early stage of the vaccine rollout, then the country will collectively deserve whatever eventually befalls it.

    Once the vaccine rollout is as complete as it is ever going to be – different story of course. Data out of the US supports the effectiveness of the vaccine at preventing adverse outcomes –

    It seems likely that annual boosters for new variants of COVID-19 will become normal, like influenza. Eventually we will need to let those "principled" anti-vaxxers lie in the bed they are making for themselves and their loved ones. Sadly there will be some innocent loss of life with community spread, as vaccination is clearly not completely effective. But it will get to a point where the risk to those who take reasonable steps to prptect themselves is low enough that most of us will be willing to let it happen (like flu).

  7. Treetop 7

    I am sick of business owners and travellers blaming the government for keeping the country safe. Covid is the reason for lockdowns or bubble pauses.

    Covid is an inconvenience, a killer and terrible for the economy. Blame the government for being wise if that will make the moaners feel happy.

  8. Ad 8

    The way Australia is taking fast lockdown action across over ten million people, and with faster vaccinations than us, then letting a very few get by into New Zealand, it's like watching the New Zealand defence strategy in action:

    do as little as possible, complain about it, and just let Australia do all the work.

    • RedLogix 8.1


    • Sabine 8.2

      Yeah, right. Sidney locked down super fast….yeah, right Tui.

      • RedLogix 8.2.1

        It varied from state to state; here in WA we literally went to 'Level 2 'by lunchtime yesterday from the first case. It was NSW that dropped the ball by waiting a week.

        • Sabine

          yep, yesterday. 🙂

          not a day earlier.

          You can split hairs with your three governments and the likes all you want, i personally don't care to see any Ozzies here in NZ without a mandatory two weeks quarantine.

          The customers that i had in the last week were from Sidney and the Northern Territories. To me that means they are from Australia, and they atm they carry cooties. So stay the heck over there.

    • weka 8.3

      I'd prefer NZ gave our non-essential vaccine stocks to Pacific nations and took more time.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 8.4

      "Share of people fully vaccinated" – NZ 7.9%; Aussie 4.7%.
      They're catching up! But we’re both behind ‘The World’ on 11%.

      • Koff 8.4.1

        It's hard to compare as NZ has chosen Pfizer with only 3 weeks between the 2 jabs, while until quite recently Australia had chosen AstraZeneca for most people with a 13 week delay between the 2 jabs, hence the discrepancy betwen the 'fully vaccinated' figures. Both countries delayed the start of vaccination long after other badly infected countries. Australia has on balance had a much bumpier ride,due to widespread publicity of the small percentage of serious ide effects from AZ which has put a lot of people off having a vaccination (until the latest outbreaks when surprise, surprise there has been a huge rush to get vaccinated!). In hindsight vaccination should have started earlier; think NZ has managed the rollout more smoothly. The federal government in Oz has come in for a lot of well deserved slagging off for its poor handling of the rollout.

    • Patricia Bremner 8.5

      Faster vaccinations? That I believe is actually incorrect, even with Aus PM's "Everyone can have the jab". Their % is half ours from memory. See Drowsy MKram. above.

  9. barry 9

    Until we have sufficient numbers vaccinated, we can expect a resumption of the bubble to bring the virus here. Vsitors from Australia can go to any event, however large or covid risky while they are here (even the day they arrive).

    We have largely contained our MIQ system with good practices and vaccinated workers regularly tested. It is not perfect, but pretty good, but adding the Australian system to ours makes it much riskier.

    So, if we restart the Australian bubble then we should move to level 2 throughout the country. By not having the superspreader events an imported infection can be managed with testing and tracing. If we get a superspreader event while still at level 1 then it takes severe lockdowns to control it.

    It is a choice between bubble and level 1.

    • Sabine 9.1

      Close the bubble. No risk to anyone.

      Maybe that will add some urgency to vaccinate those that want to be vaccinated asap.

      • Leighton 9.1.1

        Agreed. I am yet to see compelling evidence that the bubble is producing a net gain for the NZ economy. Particular sectors – definitely. Overall – who knows? I know we get Australian tourists here but we also have residents putting money into a holiday in Australia who may have otherwise spent it here.

        • Treetop

          I would like to know what the cost is to stop flights, rebook, contact trace, do extra testing and go to level 2.

          Then compare this to what the gain is from the Australian travellers coming into NZ. A lot would be staying with family or friends in NZ.

          • Sabine

            It must be cheaper then bailing out some tourists spots, like the Ski fields and Queenstown.

            The Ozzies that i had in the shop all were in town to visit Mum n Dad. And they were from Sidney and the Northern Territories. Lol.

  10. Graeme 10

    Aussie school kids, and their mums, will be gutted by this outbreak. Right at the start of school holidays. No ski trip to Queenstown, or up to Cairns these holidays. Two weeks at home with Mum. Bugger. Aussie wine industry might do ok keeping Mum kind of sane.

    At least New Zealand mums and kids have a couple of weeks to change the Gold Coast or Cairns holiday for something else at home and we're not in lockdown, yet.

  11. Sanctuary 11

    Someone should tell Jim Boult that mayor Larry Vaughn was not meant to be a model for local government.

    • Graeme 11.1

      Jim's chairman of Wayfare (used to be Fiordland Travel / Real Journeys), and has other tourism interests. This week could be the tipping point where we see how good their trousers are.

  12. coreyjhumm 12

    End the travel bubble permanently. Kiwis won't be so compliant with another nationwide lockdown and We will not be able to eliminate the delta varient even if we do lockdown so it will create endless lockdowns and level jumping up and down. Only 10% of our population are vaxxed and the new varient is vax resistant.

    If we have a situation where the poorest in this country, and the lower middle and working class who just survived economic ruin last year or just got new jobs have to go on lockdown again , potential indefinitely all because the upper middle classes who think it's their god given right to go to melbourne and Queensland twice a year had to get their way , the people who lose their jobs are going to go ape shit.

    The people who suffer the most from lockdowns aren't the ones traveling.

    Honestly, if we get community outbreak of delta then the one thing the public thinks this government did well, the covid response will be out the window and so will this govt in 2023, every failure to deliver on policy housing , mental health, every woke virtue signaling policy and all the wasted money with no benefits like the 1.9 in mental health that are all being cushioned due to the governments response to covid last year will be magnified and constantly enrage the public, everytime they wait in traffic during road works for a cycle lane or drive passed the harbour, everytime they see house prices, homeless people on the street they will say "f*** labour"

    It is in this governments best interests to stop the trans Tasman bubble permanently, bugger the middle classes who want to swan off overseas

    • Leighton 12.1

      Agree. I laughed incredulously at the plan to reopen the bubble to Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and Victoria next week. Victoria is a Covid basket case constantly one sneeze away from the next lockdown. If they don't have a confirmed Delta case by the weekend I'll be flabbergasted. As for the other three last states standing, you can't seriously tell me that the economic benefit (if any) to NZ of having a bubble with them outweighs the substantial risk of something going wrong at this stage of the game. Absolute madness in the name of satiating the lesiure entitlement of the chattering classes.

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