Monday, 21 September 2020

New Zealand's Long Term COVID19 Strategy

People in traditional and social media regularly describe New Zealand's "elimination" strategy as "unrealistic" or "unsustainable", for example Greg Foran today. It's usually not clear what they mean or what specifically they think the New Zealand government should do differently, so it's hard to support their views, but I do think Jacinda Ardern (or Judith Collins if she leads the government after election) needs to articulate one or two of the most likely paths she expects New Zealand to take through 2021. Understandably they don't want to promise something they might not be able to deliver, but I would like to see them fill the vacuum of uncertainty with at least a tentative proposal.

Skimming media and various expert opinions, it seems very probable that at least one safe and reasonably effective vaccine will be available to us some time in 2021 — probable enough that we should bet on it. It seems reasonable to expect to vaccinate everyone in New Zealand who's willing — not an especially onerous step up from our annual flu vaccination campaign — by late 2021. After that we could return to pre-COVID border controls — even if we still expected COVID19 to arrive, some people to catch it, and some to die, the cost of reopening the border then would be much lower then than it is today. If we make that our tentative plan, I think there's a pretty strong argument for keeping NZ COVID19-eliminated as much of the time as possible until then.

On the other hand if that plan is unreasonable or unrealistic, I would like to hear expert views on what a better plan looks like! I mean an actual actionable plan, not something hopelessly vague like "we need to learn to live with the virus".


  1. I don't see super compelling non-elimination plans from the other countries that I follow. Canada is trying to suppress, but that means universities are operating remotely for the foreseeable future. I think many offices as well, although I don't really know that. Canadian schools are open for now, but we'll see how long that lasts, especially in BC, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, where the trajectory of the case numbers is not promising, and North American winter is coming.

  2. Heh. Among many in the US, NZ's COVID19 strategy looks supremely sane in comparison.

    You can either choose to screw over your economy (and in the process, kill and destroy the livelihood of some smaller number of people) or kill off a chunk of your population (and in the process, distort and mangle your economy in lesser ways). Or you can follow the lead of the United States of America, the greatest country in the world™, and maximally screw over both.

  3. It seems you are accepting that your government is doing the "right thing". You don't think they are overreaching? Here in Melbourne, Victoria, all retail has been reduced to delivery or pickup, if that's possible. Schools have been closed. Masks are mandatory in public. And there is a curfew, currently in operation between 9pm & 5am. And you can't be found more than 5km from home.

    I don't accept that the disease warrants this reaction. I don't know anyone who has had it. Deaths have largely been among the elderly, and predominantly from aged care facilities. That seemed to me like low hanging fruit. We have all known for a long time that the elderly were more vulnerable, but our government (State Gov. of Vic) failed to protect them. To compound matters, most of our cases can be traced back to hotel quarantine failures. The feds offered ADF support with hotel quarantine, which the state ultimately refused.

    So the elderly are at most risk. That is clear. But the healthy, of all ages, are locked down hard. The premier says it's the only way, the only play he has. I don't buy it.

    1. >To compound matters, most of our cases can be traced back to hotel quarantine failures. The feds offered ADF support with hotel quarantine, which the state ultimately refused.

      I think this point in particular is the one that doesn't get stated enough, and this is the point that I think most people from all sides can agree on. China admitted Beijing was having issues (dubbed "the second wave"), but chose to keep the airports open while otherwise locking down the city. And Beijing told us they were doing this, but no one decided to start rejecting/quarantining the planes. For some reason, this appears to have been an issue that we're supposed to care more about than the people we entrusted to take care of it (the governments and "experts" of the world).

      Don't get me wrong: I wear a mask. I've worn masks for over 8 hours, properly, at a job where I was on the move all day, in incredible heat (nursing facility in Pennsylvania, USA). Yes it gets hot, yes it stinks, but I think the complaints are a little overblown because people can't handle a minor discomfort.

      I've warned people during the "ebola scare" that if it actually got out of control, the US would be experiencing real issues, because we refuse to change our habits even during flu season (and the shots have rarely been effective, but simple things like masking and washing your hands would greatly improve things, thus the flu shot seems to have become an excuse for bad behavior).

      I think the conspiracy theorists do have a point worth considering: Everything that would actually have been effective was not done, but these ineffective practices have become the norm for your average person instead of effective ones. How could we, that is anyone in the world (from China's covering up of the outbreak, to WHO's denial of human-to-human transmission, etc to these practices), have possibly screwed this up any more than we already have?