Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Locking down the knowns

The one certain thing about a pandemic is how uncertain everything is. When it begins, we can’t know far it will spread, how badly people will be affected, or what the economic impacts will be. But we learned a lot form the first Covid Pandemic last year, things that have prepared us for the second Covid pandemic we’re experiencing now. New Zealand is taking advantage of everything the world has learned.

The effects/implications of the Delta Variant are so very different from the original variant that in many ways it’s like an entirely new virus. Many of the lessons from last year’s pandemic were useful for this time, when governments decided to heed those lessons, and they prepared such governments to adapt to the much more infectious Delta Variant. As always, some governments chose to ignore the new reality and did little or nothing different. Fortunately, the New Zealand Government rose to the new challenges.

The whole reason that New Zealand went to Alert Level 4 Lockdown, our most restrictive level, after only one case is that we knew it wouldn’t stay at only one case. Sydney’s outbreak started with one unvaccinated limo driver and just kept spreading until they started seeing more than 800 new cases every day, a higher daily total than all of Australia saw in the first Covid Pandemic.

The NZ government also knew how quickly the virus can spread: A person at the hotel serving as a quarantine facility caught the virus when doors across a hallway were opened at the exact same time—for three to five seconds. This knowledge had already convinced the government that a quick move to Level 4 when Delta appeared was the most-likely response.

Since Lockdown, they’ve learned that each person with Delta, on average, may infect six people (that’s an average, however, and not indicative of what happens with every person with the virus). More worryingly, they’ve also learned that a person can become infectious to others in about 24 hours after being infected. Previously, it was believed it took about two days to become infectious, and the original version took about three.

There’s a huge implication in this: Contact tracers need to track down a positive case’s close contacts, and anyone who was at a “location of interest”, as they’re called, in less than 24 hours to have any chance at stopping more infections. That’s extremely difficult to do when so many New Zealanders had become slack about scanning the QR code or signing in to places they visited.

In response to that, a couple days ago the government made it mandatory to scan the QR code or sing-in when entering places where large numbers of people gather, including “cafes, restaurants, bars, casinos and concerts, aged care, healthcare facilities (excluding patients), barbers, exercise facilities, nightclubs, libraries, courts, local and central government agencies, and social services providers with customer service counters,” according to Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 Response Minister. This will now be a requirement at all Alert Levels.

This had been talked about for a long time (and should’ve been mandatory all along, in my opinion), but the government hesitated over questions about who would enforce it. The responsibility will fall to the businesses and venues, however, because it’s now mandatory, it’s at least possible that at some point police could hand out infringements to people failing to comply (as I understand it, this would require a law change, which isn’t currently possible with Parliament suspended due to both Alert Level 4, and because Wellington has active cases of the virus and may have more undetected). [For more information on record keeping, see “Keep track of where you have been” on the official government Covid-19 website].

The same day the new record-keeping mandate was announced, it was also announced that New Zealand officially hit one million people fully vaccinated. This was the result of several record-breaking vaccination days—even with Level 4 restrictions. With more record-making days, approximately 20% of the population is now fully vaccinated, and more than a third of New Zealanders have had one or two jabs. A week from tomorrow, September 1, all New Zealanders are eligible to book a vaccination, and if current trends continue, most will get their jabs well before the original end of year target. [For current vaccination totals, see the Ministry of Health website].

Still, rising vaccinations, mandatory record-keeping, and mandatory mask wearing won’t, by themselves, stop the outbreak. To do that, we need to break the chain of transmission. So, yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Covid Alert Level 4 will remain in place for all of New Zealand until 11:59pm on Friday, August 27, and until 11:59pm on Tuesday, August 31, for Auckland. She also said that the Alert Level for all of New Zealand will be reviewed on Friday, but that Auckland must remain at Level 4 until at least Tuesday in order to have a full 14-day cycle.

From what I’ve seen, it looks like people seem to expect Auckland to be at Level 4 for another week (or two…) beyond Tuesday, however, the Government makes such decisions based on the best available evidence at the time. So, depending on what’s going on with the outbreak at the time, it could mean that the rest of New Zealand could stay at Level 4, or some parts of New Zealand might drop Levels while the rest remains at Level 4. There’s no way to know for sure right now, and speculation about what might happen is exactly that. However, we do know the decision will be evidence-based, and that’s what’s important.

Covid Lockdowns are always a challenge, but New Zealand is taking advantage of everything we and the world have learned about Covid in order to manage this outbreak and to return us to more normal life as quickly as it’s safe to do so. The Delta Variant is so very different from the original variant, and I’m so very glad to be living in a country that learns from experience and heeds those lessons. There’s quite literally no place in the world I’d rather be right now.


Roger Owen Green said...

The nonsense in Australia I saw on the local news in Albany, NY. It is NOT comforting to know that there are idiots elsewhere.
djt says, weakly at an AL rally, peo should get the vaxx, and gets booed. I'm SO filled with mixed emotions!

Arthur Schenck said...

Yeah, I must admit I snickered when he was booed, but it means even his cult thinks he's nuts. I saw that the blowhard who got kicked off of YouTube for his Sandy Hook lies (among other reasons) said, "my God, maybe [he's] not that bright. Maybe [he’s] actually a dumbass.” Now THAT I definitely laughed at!

Australia has more than its fair share of lunatics, and they're partly responsible for the massive spread of the virus in Sydney, though ordinary Aussies who refused to follow the rules and spread the virus are responsible, too. So, too, is the New South Wales Premier who refused to do the right thing immediately for some bizarre reason (probably mainly because she's from the same rightwing political party as the country's idiot Prime Minister, and profits always matter more than people to them). Queensland to the North of NSW and Victoria to the south have both fared much better than NSW, and they both have Premiers from the Australian Labor Party. I don't think that's a coincidence, because I've observed that almost without exception (perhaps there are none), the places that have done the worst job of managing Covid, especially last year, were all run by conservative governments (who, despite failing presume to dictate to countries doing the right thing).

It;s a very crazy planet these days.