Who gives a tweet about MIQ misery

The government’s choice of a randomised electronic queue for the distribution of 3,000 MIQ rooms yesterday had one surprising benefit.  It showed just how many New Zealanders were desperate enough to stand in e-line – more than 26,000 according to Stuff.

It also reminds us that while ministers and their officials can sometimes do one thing well – occasionally even two or three – the system is not designed to meet your personal needs. The fatal conceit, as Friedrich Hayek pointed out, is that the bureaucracy thinks it knows what they are.

Continue reading “Who gives a tweet about MIQ misery”

Health researchers measure the benefits of taking precautions – but they stumble when they bring the Treaty into considerations

The headline on a recent press statement from Massey University showed what great things emerge from state-funded research, although it seemed to state the obvious:  New research highlights the benefit of injury prevention measures in Māori households.

Was research really required to find it’s a good thing to take steps to prevent injuries in Maori households – or any household, come to think of it?

Introducing a few common-sense safeguards – you might think – would be good for the wellbeing of householders, regardless of race, in much the same way as we all would benefit from putting on warm clothing when the temperature drops or from looking for oncoming traffic before crossing the road.

Ah – but the research gives us a number:  relatively low-cost modifications in homes can prevent 31 per cent of fall injuries in Maori households.

The cost of the study (if our researchers have tracked down the relevant information) was $786,851.52, a sum which was provided by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), the government’s principal funder of health research. Continue reading “Health researchers measure the benefits of taking precautions – but they stumble when they bring the Treaty into considerations”

Learning the rules of Covid-speak: no mu is good news, our R number is comforting and NZ has moved up the OECD ladder

PM  Jacinda   Ardern   and  her  government   have  developed   a  Covid-speak   which  holds  its  own  fascination and,  according  to  some, needs  its  own  interpreters.

In much the same way (according to Forbes)  the World Health Organisation is monitoring a new coronavirus variant known as “Mu”, amid concerns that it has mutations which suggest it is more resistant to vaccines.

In a weekly pandemic bulletin, the UN agency said Mu – known scientifically as B.1.621 – has been designated as a “variant of interest”, a classification used to target research and highlight potentially worrying new strains.

“The Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape,” the WHO report said.

The  outbreak  of Covid-speak,  along  with Mu,  shows  NZ  is  far  from  being done  with Covid. Continue reading “Learning the rules of Covid-speak: no mu is good news, our R number is comforting and NZ has moved up the OECD ladder”

The role of nudges, carrots and sticks in reaching target rates for Covid vaccinations

After everyone who wants to be vaccinated against Covid-19 has had their shots, what percentage of the population is likely to remain unvaccinated – and what should governments do about it?

Two articles bring carrots, sticks, behavioral economics and nudge theory into policy-shaping considerations.

Mind you, in this country it could be a while before the government has to think about persuading reluctant or complacent citizens to take their Covid shots.

Judith Sloan, an economist and company director, in an article for The Australian references Richard Thaler, who was awarded the Nobel memorial prize in economic sciences in 2017.

Thaler, who made his name by combining the disciplines of economics and psychology, is famous for nudge theory, which he discussed in an interview published in The New York Times this month:

 “Nudges gently guide people without requirements or economic incentives. Informing people about the benefits of vaccinations and making it as easy as possible to get a shot are in this category.” Continue reading “The role of nudges, carrots and sticks in reaching target rates for Covid vaccinations”

The perils of COVID-zero — how our policy-makers should manage endemic COVID-19

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New Zealand and Australian elimination strategies in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic were defendable – but as we learn more about the virus, it has become increasingly hard to justify the continued policy of COVID-zero.  That’s the contention of Nicholas Kerr, a New Zealander (son of the late Business Roundtable executive director, Roger Kerr) who now is a marketing consultant in Dallas, Texas.  

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As the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved and we’ve learned more about the virus, the way we manage it should have evolved as well.

From a policymaking perspective, step one is acknowledging that it’s one of many risks we face in life – we need to weigh up all of life’s risks as we decide how to tackle this problem.

Second, it’s important to note that, as we learned early on, COVID’s risks differ dramatically across age deciles and health conditions. At the onset of the pandemic, when we knew little about the coronavirus, it seemed reasonable to adopt a stricter set of blanket policies until we could properly assess risk.

But because risks differ dramatically for those two metrics (age and underlying health conditions), we should design policy approaches that are weighed against the risks faced by each subset of our population.

Third, COVID-19 and its variants are going to be with us forever  In other words, we’ve moved from a pandemic to a virus that is endemic.  It’s not something we’ll ever be able to eliminate like smallpox, because while smallpox was something isolated to humans, the coronavirus is also found in animals. This means it’s futile to approach this problem with an elimination or “COVID-zero” policy.

Where states or countries fell short initially was protecting the elderly population and the sick. New York state and Sweden both failed on this count. Because these population groups face the highest risks, the policy settings for them need to involve isolating them from transmission until they can be vaccinated and continuing to adopt strategies to minimise the risks of transmission now that we are seeing even the vaccinated get infected.

For other age groups, unless they have underlying health conditions, their risk of a serious problem from COVID is low. The policy for them should involve arming people with information about how to minimise their chances of getting it (social distancing, not touching your face or eyes, consider getting a vaccine if you’re eligible), and then letting families assess their risks and develop their own strategies.

Only in extreme circumstances (such as hospitals working at capacity) does it seem reasonable to implement mandates like lockdowns, and then for only very limited periods (weeks, not months).

New Zealand’s and Australia’s elimination strategies in the early months of the pandemic were defendable, especially as they were in a relatively unique position of being able to easily close their borders. But as more has been learned about the virus, it is become increasingly hard to justify the continued policy of COVID-zero.

Once the virus’s risks were properly known, the strategy should have pivoted, but it has continued as if COVID is the only risk in life.

This has come at an enormous cost to many people who can minimise their risk of infection – and who would most likely be asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms and recover rapidly if they contracted it .

Take, for example, the four people in Sydney who recently died after contracting COVID-19 as the country’s most populous city and business capital enters it third month of strict lockdown, which many anticipate will continue through November or beyond. All four of them were at high risk from COVID-19:

The deaths include a woman in her 40s in palliative care who was unvaccinated, a man in his 70s who had pre-existing conditions and was vaccinated, a man in his 80s who was not vaccinated, and a woman in her 70s whose vaccination status has not yet been confirmed.

In addition to the enormous number of deaths of elderly and infirm, another major tragedy from COVID-19 has been the astronomical learning loss among children as a result of schools closing. In Texas alone (where most schools were open last year, but offered a virtual option), 800,000 more students fell below grade level in math than we’d usually see in a non-COVID year.

In other words, across all states, we’re probably talking tens of millions of American children with a huge learning loss, which in many cases will never be made up.

For large numbers of these children, this will translate into lower life expectancy, lower lifetime earnings, mental and physical health issues, and more. Of course, these are also the people who were least likely to get COVID, least likely to transmit it if they did, and least likely to suffer any consequences from the virus.

They’re paying a terrible price, which was entirely avoidable.

Fortunately, in the United States, the school year has begun as normal and here in Texas at least, most schools are not offering a virtual learning option. Sadly, in New Zealand and major states in Australia, schools are closed again.

We should also spare a thought for all of the businesses, especially small family ones, that have permanently closed or are barely hanging on. For example, the New Zealand Herald reports that 70% of travel agents in the country have left the industry as tourism and travel have dried up.

In 2020, the country’s economy shrank a record 2.9%.

Again, the harm to children and young families—those least likely to be impacted by COVID-19—will be profound. This loss of income and employment will translate to poorer nutrition, mental health issues, broken families and more.

Unfortunately for New Zealand, there is no end in sight to these snap lockdowns. It just entered another, which – if the country is lucky – will ease to level 3 by October and all will be well by November. However, the country is far from being able to open its borders again.

The country’s vaccination rollout is the slowest in the developed world. It was paused as the country entered lockdown again.

Even more problematic is that the country’s universal healthcare system is simply unable to deal with the inevitable cases that arise when the borders do reopen some time in 2022.

As Matthew Hooton noted last week, the country ranks 21 out of 22 OECD nations in terms of ICU capability, with less than a third of ICU beds per capita than the OECD average. This was known when the country adopted its elimination strategy in March 2020, but the government has failed to address it a year and a half later. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she’s not giving up on this elimination strategy, which means more harsh lockdowns are inevitable.

As is the case with so much in life, the wealthy in New Zealand and Australia have the resources to ensure their families come out of the current lockdown (and future lockdowns) relatively unscathed.

The countries’ least privileged citizens aren’t so fortunate. They’re the ones that suffer the most from this strategy and the costs they’re being asked to bear will be with many of them for life. These lands down under are failing their most vulnerable with a policy of COVID-zero.

NZ and the zero risk “fetish” – a policy that allows Ardern to lock us down and keep us under state protection

While the PM was announcing an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown and urging us to be kind, Point of Order staff were reading an article in The Telegraph which was not so kindly towards her and her government.

It was headed Poor Jacinda Ardern, trapped in her arrogant Zero Covid policy

The article was written by a Matthew  Lesh who kicked off:

Poetic justice is beautiful. Last week, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, announced that the antipodean nation would indefinitely pursue a zero Covid strategy. This week, it entered a stringent nationwide lockdown after the emergence of a single Covid-19 case. The pandemic giveth, the pandemic taketh away.

Since the lockdown announcement, Lesh wrote, a further 20 cases had emerged.

And even more have emerged since then.

Lesh goes on: Continue reading “NZ and the zero risk “fetish” – a policy that allows Ardern to lock us down and keep us under state protection”

NZ does better than Australia at Covid messaging but signals a different approach

Jacinda Ardern’s government got better press than Scott Morrison’s when it announced details of its ‘reopening’ strategy earlier this week.

This may seem a surprise given that both governments have no immediate plans to actually reopen – rather the contrary in fact.

Continue reading “NZ does better than Australia at Covid messaging but signals a different approach”

The problem with Australia’s opening plan is that it closes things

Australian PM Scott Morrison is under pressure from a Delta Covid outbreak that just won’t go away and a vaccination programme which – what shall we say – lacks urgency.  

So it’s the right time to bring out a bold long-term plan for re-integrating Australia into the modern world.

Continue reading “The problem with Australia’s opening plan is that it closes things”

Has ‘Johnsonism’ arrived?

Britain’s new health minister, Sajid Javid, says he will keep wearing a mask after formal restrictions are removed in the next fortnight.  It’s a more political than public health gesture.  Unless perhaps he’s meeting unvaccinated ministerial visitors from Australia or New Zealand.

Britain’s Covid debate is morphing faster than the virus.  Thanks to the fast spreading Delta variant and a super-charged vaccination programme it’s plausible that pretty much everyone bar Scottish lighthouse keepers will have had Covid antibodies delivered to them by the end of the year via neighbours or needle. 

Continue reading “Has ‘Johnsonism’ arrived?”

Covid casts a long shadow but Singapore’s ministers see light beyond

Believers of logic in policymaking must get frustrated by governments’ wildly diverse, frequently changing and often conflicting Covid responses and ask themselves how long these differences will persist.  Unfortunately the discovery process does require you to make it up as you go along.

This means that the high-vaccinating UK is moving full steam towards unlocking on 19 July, with PM Boris Johnson saying “pretty much life before Covid” is very likely.  A shrewd guess is that this means some manageable adaptations (e.g., vaccine passports) with contingency plans for local restrictions in case of flare-ups.

Continue reading “Covid casts a long shadow but Singapore’s ministers see light beyond”