Thursday, November 11, 2021

My trend-based predictions

When I made my predictions about New Zealand’s Alert Levels announcement this past Monday, it was based on that week’s situation, but there have always been certain obvious trends developing that were at the base of those predictions. In this post I’ll talk about those trends, and what I think that’s leading to.

First, some basic facts, starting with the biggest: Covid isn’t going anywhere. That’s now obvious because nowhere in the world has successfully banished the Delta Variant, and New Zealand won’t, either. That’s why the government is moving from a strategy of elimination to one of containment—the very thing the new “traffic light” system is supposed to enable without resorting to the blunt weapon of lockdowns that have become less and less effective over time (in part because Delta is so easily transmissible).

What this means in practice is that we all need to get used to large numbers of daily cases: There were 185 new cases today, which is a lot for a country that never had triple-digit new case numbers until last month. This is an entirely psychological problem, though, and we’ll need a little time to adjust to the new reality. I think that part of the slowness in making any changes to the Alert Level System is because of this need to adjust.

The other fact is that Covid will no longer be seen as a possible death sentence. Getting Covid will, over time, become far less scary because it’ll be less virulent among the fully vaccinated who mostly won’t get very sick (or at all) when they’re exposed to the virus, as most of us will be in the future. Those who do get sick will become less sick, and fewer will die. Again, NZ’s high vaccination rates (see below and graphic up top) is part of the reason for that, but also because we’ll have more tools to fight it. Last month, NZ’s drug-buying agency, Pharmac, signed a deal to purchase 60,000 doses of molnupiravir, a drug used to treat mild to medium cases of Covid. A short while later, the agency announced approval of Ronapreve, a monoclonal antibody drug for people with more severe cases of Covid (it was used to treat Trump). Both drugs are awaiting approval from Medsafe, New Zealand’s medicine regulator.

What all of this means is that even though Covid won’t go away, the odds of getting sick will decline, and those who do get sick will have treatment options. As if all that wasn’t reason enough reason for optimism, the vast majority of people who get Covid don’t get seriously ill even right now, and among those who do, most don’t need hospitalisation, let along treatment in an ICU/HDU, and few people die. No one yet knows what the long-term consequences (including “Long Covid”) of getting sick with Covid are, but it seems at least possible that being able to treat more cases early on is likely to help moderate any bad things for at least some of the people who’d otherwise have a bad outcome.

All of that is the background, one way or another to my biggest prediction of all: All of New Zealand will switch to the new “traffic light” system in early December.

Today, New Zealand hit an important milestone in vaccinations: 90% of eligible New Zealanders have had at least one jab, and 80% have had both (graphic above). This matters because many other countries, including Australia, are using the 80% mark to begin opening up their countries, and that’s a level New Zealand has achieved—nationally. While it’s true that many DHBs won’t achieve 90% fully-vaccinated until mid-January (based on current projections), many of them have fairly small populations. Most of the DHBs with large populations will achieve or get very near to that 90% mark by early December. That means that the government will decide it’s time to open the country again, and mainly because of one word: Christmas.

The government has already pledged to allow Aucklanders out of the city for Christmas, but it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to do that unless the Covid Vaccination Certificates are ready and can be used at businesses and venues nationwide. Moreover, it makes no sense for Aucklanders—who will be under the traffic light system in the city by then—to go back to the current Alert Level system used throughout the rest of the country, because that would offer far less protection from, and far great risk of, transmission. Logically, then, the entire country will have to be on the new system before Aucklanders are allowed out of Auckland, and early December will be enough time to get the new system bedded-in around the country beforehand.

Specifically, there may not be any changes to the current Alert Levels for either Auckland or the Waikato this coming Monday (November 15), however, both will move to Alert Level 3, Step 3 no later than the following Monday (November 22). There are two reasons I say that. First, the Prime Minister already said that the government wants to ease restrictions for Aucklanders ahead of the decision on them switching to the new “traffic light” system, something she also strongly hinted was inevitable sooner rather than later. The government will make the decision on Auckland’s move to the new system by Monday, November 29—but never said it won’t be earlier. Because of that, and that our vaccination rates continue to climb, the government could move Auckland to Level 3, Step 3 on Monday, or later that week, but I think the announcement on the 22nd is more likely to be that Auckland is moving to the “traffic light” system. Then, on the 29th, they can announce the rest of the country is moving to it, too, and still allow a week for the rest of New Zealand to adjust before releasing Aucklanders from their home-bound jail.

There could still be something to mess up this scenario, like a sudden major outbreak somewhere, but that seems unlikely. If one did happen, it’s more likely the government would surround that new outbreak with full lockdown while leaving the rest of us alone so the transitions to the new realities can continue in preparation for our nationwide move in December.

In sum, then, given the new reality of endemic Covid, along with far better health outcomes overall, and because New Zealand will be at least close to 90% fully vaccinated nationwide in early December, I predict the new “traffic light” system will be in place nationwide next month—possibly in the first week. And that means we’ll have a nearly “normal” Christmas and summer.

These are my opinions, of course, and as such can be wrong, or even dismissed without further thought. I’m making them at all because I think I’m correct, and I need to be on record so I can prove it if it turns out I am. Next time, I’ll talk about what happened.

Update: So, were any of my predictions correct? I've now published the update.


Roger Owen Green said...

you're doing better than the good ol' USA, even though you started later. damn Americans...

Arthur Schenck said...

The difference, I think, is that the vast majority of New Zealanders accept science and there's a high trust in government. New Zealand also has extremely low levels of both aggressive fundamentalist religionists and rightwing followers of conspiracy theorists. HOwever, the latter two are growing in noise, if not numbers.