New Zealand

New Zealand’s Ministry of Education Tells Teachers to Phone the Police if Unvaccinated Staff Show Up to Work

From Monday, all teachers in New Zealand must have received at least the first dose of the Covid vaccine to continue working on school grounds, with unvaccinated staff committing a criminal offence if they try to enter the classroom. In addition, the Ministry of Education has recommended that schools should ring the police if any unvaccinated teacher turns up to work. The Mail Australia has the story.

The advice, published in the Ministry’s gazette on Thursday, tells school leaders that if they, or any education staff, turn up to work on Monday unvaccinated against Covid, they will be committing an offence. 

The advice being given to schools follows the ‘no jab, no job ‘policy that was enacted by the New Zealand Government last month.

“The staff member will be committing an infringement offence if they have not had their first dose of the Covid vaccine and are onsite November 15th. This means they may be liable for a fine”, the advice read.

“If staff do turn up on site after this date, we encourage school leaders to deal with this in the usual manner you would if other inappropriate people were to turn up on site.

“If you feel your safety or the safety of ākonga (pupils or students) or other staff is compromised, you could consider contacting the police”.

The advice also stated that an unvaccinated person could no longer work on-site at a school without a valid medical exemption, or a written letter from a doctor outlining an exemption request has been sought. 

Worth reading in full.

New Zealand Extends Lockdown in Futile Attempt to Eliminate Virus

New Zealand has extended its lockdown, introducing more restrictions as the Delta variant spreads beyond Auckland. MailOnline has more.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced 32 new coronavirus cases on Sunday in Auckland, the country’s largest city, which has been in lockdown since mid-August.

There were also two cases in the Waikato region, some 91 miles south of Auckland, prompting Ardern to bring parts of that region into a five-day lockdown.

She added that the government will decide on Monday whether Auckland’s 1.7 million residents will remain sealed off from the rest of New Zealand.

Ardern enforced what was meant to be a ‘short and sharp’ nationwide lockdown in mid-August in response to the Auckland outbreak, which now stands at 1,328 cases.

But while the rest of the country has largely returned to normal life, the North Island city has remained in lockdown.

“We are doing everything that we can to keep cases confined to Auckland, and managing them there,” Ardern said.

While New Zealand was among just a handful of countries to bring COVID-19 cases down to zero last year and largely stayed virus-free until the latest outbreak in August, difficulties in quashing the Delta variant have put Ardern’s elimination strategy in question.

Worth reading in full.

New Zealand Woman Dies After Receiving Pfizer Covid Vaccine

The whole of New Zealand was plunged into lockdown following the reporting of a single Covid ‘case’ earlier this month. But the main response to today’s reporting of a death in the country linked to the Pfizer vaccine appears to be highlighting just how safe the jab really is. Sky News has the story.

The Covid Independent Safety Monitoring Board (CV-ISMB) did note that there were other medical issues occurring simultaneously, which may have influenced [the woman’s] death following her vaccination.

“This is the first case in New Zealand where a death in the days following vaccination has been linked to the Pfizer Covid vaccine,” the Ministry said in a statement, without giving the woman’s age.

The Ministry added the vaccine monitoring panel attributed the death to myocarditis, a rare but known side effect of the vaccination.

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can limit the organ’s ability to pump blood and can cause changes in heartbeat rhythms.

Last month, New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority (Medsafe) issued a safety alert on myocarditis to raise awareness of the side effect.

All cases of deaths following vaccinations are referred to the CV-ISMB for review.

The board’s Chairman, Dr. John Tait, said: “We want to ensure that the outcomes from this investigation are widely available for others to learn from.

“The Pfizer vaccine is highly effective in protecting against serious illness and death from Covid and we remain confident about using it in New Zealand.”

The Health Ministry has reassured people that the benefits of the jab continue to “greatly outweigh” the risk of Covid and vaccine side effects.

In response, Pfizer said it recognised there could be incidences of myocarditis after vaccinations but such side effects were extremely rare.

Worth reading in full.

Australia is Falling Apart

by Guy de la Bédoyère

Steve Waterson’s latest piece in the Daily Sceptic provoked me to finish an essay I’ve been putting together for a while.

As an historian, what really strikes me now is how brief the Covid crisis has been so far. Yes, I know it seems like 500 years since we were last able to travel freely and not hear about the pandemic on the nightly news. But in historical terms this is nothing. What will define the era is the social, political, and economic fallout and, trust me, that’s barely started. Governments are going to fall, millions of people are going to be ruined while others make fortunes, and some countries are going to disintegrate. But when, where or how is yet to be seen. This will take years – decades – but I think you can see the signs of fragmentation and epic change already – almost all self-inflicted as a result of the hysteria that has consumed us since early 2020.

Let me make it clear from the outset: I love Australia. I’ve been there several times and travelled long distances. My maternal grandfather, whom I never met, died in Sydney. Two of his brothers died out there. I have lots of relatives in Australia and many close friends in places as far apart as Wodonga VIC and Denmark WA. I’ve constantly discussed with them what has been going on, and only escaped myself in late March 2020 on one of the last flights out of Perth.

I was in the process of writing this piece when another article, this time by a pharmaceutical executive, about the terrible predicament Australia and New Zealand have placed themselves in, appeared on the Daily Sceptic. I decided to press on, because I hope this will complement that piece by showing just how dangerous that predicament is.

I have watched with apprehension and astonishment at the direction Australia and New Zealand have travelled in the last 18 months. One thing I know very well is that those in the present never learn from the past. It’s also true that the past does not determine the future. I’m not in the business of predicting what will happen. There’s been too much of that since the Covid crisis broke and much of it has been wrong. But we can see what might happen or what could now happen.

Early in this crisis, I wrote a piece for this site called Britain’s Covid Reich. In it I explained a central tenet of the totalitarian state: intolerance of diversity. This is an environment in which any variance from the state’s ideology is seen as a threat to the state. I had not envisaged when I wrote it that 15 months later I would be looking at a country on the other side of the world heading even further down that road. Not only that, but it looks dangerously like a country that could fall apart.

Both Australia and New Zealand have hitherto bought into the zero-Covid crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, though at least some Australian politicians, and quite a few of their subjects (the best word for them now), have woken up to the realisation that there is no future in that policy. But so far much of what their national and regional governments have done has been justified by claims that zero-Covid will be the outcome.

But the pandemic has created, and been allowed to create, destabilising circumstances that may be epoch-changing. We haven’t even yet reached the point in most countries where it is time for a major election. When the Black Death hit in the middle of the 14th century, the impact in terms of deaths, reaching up to half the population, was obvious. It took generations for the social, political, and economic effects to reveal themselves fully.

We can already see how political opportunism has taken hold, especially in the United Kingdom where the SNP has fallen over itself to exploit Covid for its own advantage, despite the fact that its measures have been even less effective than in England. Now in the second Covid year, far from opening up, more and more countries are seeking opportunities to restrict access. The consequences are likely to be parochialism, ignorance, border tensions, and ever more friction over resources.

My fear though is that Australia, of all the developed modern democratic states, has set out down a path that could in extremis result in the country breaking apart. Let’s not beat about the bush (a more appropriate term for Australia than anywhere else). This is a country that already teeters on the brink of viability. Natural disasters have the potential to destroy large swathes of Australia’s agriculture on a permanent basis. The country has never developed industry to a level that could serve it properly, preferring to rely on selling natural resources to China to make into things that get sent back to Australia. The national infrastructure is ramshackle. It was already the case that the individual states are more interested in their own futures than the country’s. That’s especially evident in WA, marginalised by Australian national politics.

Australia is to some extent only a nation in name. Western Australia, one of the least populous states, is also the largest. Apart from air travel, it is connected to the rest of Australia by a few scrappy roads, easily taken out by a single cyclone, and one railway. For years its colossal mineral resources have bankrolled the country’s wealth. That has caused no end of frustration to Western Australia which benefits less than most states from any federal handouts. Few Australians from the rest of the country ever bother with going to WA. There is little love lost between WA and the eastern states.

There is therefore an incipient sense of nationalism in Western Australia. It’s no more than a conceit at the moment, but Covid is accelerating the sense of frustration. Only now is the federal Government getting it together with the vaccine rollout and desperately trying to roll back the terrible mess it’s made. The chaotic response exhibited until recently has not been Australia’s finest hour. The fiasco has ridden on the back of the zero-Covid fantasy, a Land-That-Might-Have-Been.

I had this from a relative in Queensland, a senior academic in the university there:

The vaccine roll-out has been bungled although it is now getting better organised – this disorganisation is/was caused by our system of state and federal government, where the states actually are responsible for health delivery, vaccinations etc., but the feds for some strange reason decided they would be in charge – but had no mechanism to distribute it – so it was outsourced to a private trucking company and that failed – so there is now an army person in charge – that has improved it.

The NSW Government also approved vaccinations for grade 12 boys from one of the wealthiest private schools while not getting aged care workers or health workers vaccinated. Then they decided that grade 12 students generally should take precedence so they could go back to school, then essential workers should take precedence, then this group, then that group – so eventually every group seems to be the group with precedence. No wonder there is confusion.

So as of yesterday [last week] only 25% of eligible adults were fully vaccinated and 40% with one and its patchy across the country. So there is a lot of anger directed at the federal Government, but they have put an army general in charge of vaccine distribution and that has speeded things up by the looks of it – and he does not get angry or shout at reporters, members of the public, etc., and he does not disappear for days at a time.

In the midst of all this, WA is no hotbed of freedom. The state (which has a huge ex-pat British population) has been as keen on lockdowns as any other (though it has had remarkably few lockdown days – about 12 compared to Victoria’s 160+). But as Delta has taken a foothold in Victoria and New South Wales, WA has battened down its hatches further. WA is essentially closed to the rest of the country, desperate to keep Covid out at any price and terrified of what might happen if it gets in.

The individual states are asserting their autonomy and doing so with ever more strident bio-authoritarian measures, some buying deeper into zero-Covid. The destruction of individual freedoms in Australia and the epic speed with which that has happened has no parallel in the modern world in a modern democratic state. Yes, I know these have been hitherto widely welcomed by Australians, but you’d have to be spectacularly naïve to think that such support will necessarily be sustained. In 1943, Germany was full of people who fanatically supported the Nazis. Two years later the country was full of people shaking their heads and wondering what on Earth they’d been thinking.

The other day James Delingpole and Toby made a podcast in which they discussed Australia. They focused on Dan Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, and wondered how such an ordinary person could have become such a leader passing one arbitrary measure after another and speaking furiously about anyone who dares to challenge him.

The prohibition in Victoria on mask lifting to consume alcohol has plumbed new depths, but it was only to be expected. Resorting to increasingly puerile rules is a characteristic of a beleaguered authoritarian regime and marks the point where punishing the people and hurling abuse at them for their treachery and failings is the last resort. It’s straight out of the totalitarian leader’s textbook and is a sign of desperation.

One gathering Andrews was spitting blood about was an Orthodox Jewish engagement party. Last year I read a piece about some Orthodox Jews in New York whose views were very clearly expressed. If the choice was between following their way of life or being criminalised, they would choose the former even if it meant death.

It takes a certain amount of political acumen, wisdom, knowledge, and experience to understand that. It’s a cultural lesson Dan Andrews has yet to learn. In all seriousness, it is my belief that if Australia and its states continue down this path they are already only a short distance from one or other of the administrations seeking to detain without trial, and even suspend elections ‘until the crisis is over’. This is no indulgent and silly warning produced by my overactive imagination. This is what happens in authoritarian states. Over and over again. 

The police in Victoria are already using protests to legitimate the severity of their own response. I’m not going to justify violence on anyone’s part, but the emergence of violent protests and the violent suppression of protests is an inevitable outcome of protracted limitations on personal freedoms. Even so, they mask what is probably far more widespread subversion. There are three possible outcomes: the crisis abates, the violence subsides and Australia goes back to normal, or the state succeeds in ramping up its controls to far more drastic levels and terrorising the population into acquiescence, or, in response to the suppression, the violence escalates to a far more serious and potentially fatal level in one city or another, attracting wider support and tipping towards the point of popular revolt.

Right now in Australia Covid is starting to drift out of control. The reality that Delta cannot be restrained without turning every house into a prison cell is just starting to sink in. It means the core justification of the measures, the utopia of zero-Covid, cannot be attained. Ever.

In the meantime at the very least WA is on a path that, if the crisis doesn’t fade, could one day lead to a secessionist movement. If that sounds ludicrous, you only need to consider the SNP’s secessionist dream, openly espoused and given huge momentum by capitalising on Covid. As a WA friend has just said to me: “We’ve never mattered over here.” When it comes to national elections all the votes are in Victoria and New South Wales.

Western Australia is now proudly seeing itself as ‘Fortress WA’. Even compassionate reasons to cross the border from the east are disregarded, though needless to say politicians can move around freely. The tension is rising with the other states, but the premier Mark McGowan is sticking to his guns because as far as he is concerned life is normal in his state – if you can call life ‘normal’ in a place you cannot leave. There’s a lurking fear that the clock is ticking with Delta, but right now WA seems content to make hay while the sun shines, locked away in a paradise cut off from the rest of the world (and some of WA is a paradise, believe me). The economy is doing just fine – apparently. And most of the voters are on message. 

“The Covid situation seems to have enhanced that sense of Western Australia doing it itself and going its own way,” says University of Western Australia Social Demographer Amanda Davies.

There’s a subtext though. WA’s hospitals are already in crisis. A Covid outbreak could cripple the system.

WA’s stance and the mess elsewhere in Australia under the oppressive controls on movement and protest are leading to a pivotal moment in the nation’s history and with implications for the rest of the world.

I make no prediction about what will happen. What I do know about authoritarian states is that, unless checked, they eventually become even more ruthlessly authoritarian, aided and abetted by part of their terrorised populations, or they collapse and their leaders end up either vilified, in prison, or at worst executed. Ultimately they always collapse. It’s only a question of time and Australia’s clock is ticking.

Is change afoot? Gideon Rozner, an Australian at the Institute of Public Affairs, insisted in his piece in the Telegraph: “We Australians are sick of the zero-Covid delusion and the country’s ‘epidemiological time warp’.”

The latest news is that Qantas is wheeling its A380s out of storage and cranking them up for a restart in December for flights to the U.S. and the U.K. The Chief Executive Alan Joyce says: “Public sentiment is changing dramatically. People are saying ‘we need to have a path out of Covid, a path back to our pre-Covid lives’.”

Is he right? I certainly hope so, but Alan Joyce is really talking about the eastern states. WA for the moment is reading from another script. The stakes have never been higher, and especially for Australia as a country which it has only been since 1901. Here we see enshrined the potential fallout of Covid and the ruinous attempts to control it, as divergent interests and different priorities take over, whether in Australia or countless other places. It falls to only a few years to be turning points in world history. 2020 is going to be one of them but all bets should be off for now when it comes to the shape of things to come.

New Zealand Covid Response Minister Concedes Zero-Covid Policy No Longer Viable Following Delta Outbreak

Who could’ve predicted this? New Zealand’s “zero-Covid” policy hasn’t succeeded in suppressing the virus, as an outbreak of the Delta variant continues to spread across the country. Even Chris Hipkins, the NZ COVID-19 Response Minister, has said the elimination strategy may need to be rethought. The Journal, an Irish newspaper, has more.

Hipkins reported a further 21 cases in a virus cluster that emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run of no local cases and sparking a national lockdown.

Hipkins said Delta’s highly transmissible nature was making this outbreak more difficult to contain than others, raising “big questions” about the elimination strategy.

“The scale of infectiousness and the speed at which the virus has spread is something that, despite all the best preparations in the world, has put our system under strain,” he told TVNZ.

New Zealand’s widely praised COVID-19 response – which has resulted in just 26 deaths in a population of five million – centres on eliminating the virus from the community.

It has relied on strict border controls backed by hard lockdowns when any cases do slip through, but Hipkins said Delta may force a rethink.

“(Delta’s) like nothing we’ve dealt with before in this pandemic,” he said. “It does change everything, it means that all of our existing preparations begin to look less adequate and raises some pretty big questions about the future of our long-term plans.”

Neighbouring Australia has also pursued a “Covid zero” strategy and been similarly frustrated as its Delta cases continue to spike.

Worth reading in full.

Zero-Covid Disaster Continues as New Zealand Extends its Lockdown and Sydney Places Residents Under House Arrest Until October

Advocates of zero-Covid have a lot to answer for. New Zealand PM Jacinda Arden has just announced that the three-day lockdown imposed earlier this week in response to one coronavirus case – you read that correctly – is being extended for a week, following a rise in positive test results to a whopping 31. Meanwhile, Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier of New South Wales, announced that Sydney would remain in lockdown until the end of September. In certain parts of the city, a 9pm to 5am curfew will be imposed and outside exercise restricted to one hour a day. New Zealand has seen only 26 Covid deaths in a population of five million, while Australia has chalked up 974 in a population of over 25 million – yet the insane zero-Covid policy means just one positive case can prompt a lockdown, as we saw in New Zealand earlier this week. MailOnline has more.

Ardern, who is trying to sustain a zero-Covid strategy through strict border controls and lockdowns, initially announced the national shutdown would last three days but on Friday had to succumb to the inevitable and extend it to at least a week.

Vast swathes of Australia are also under zero-Covid lockdowns and residents of Sydney were told they will have to stay home until at least October under strict lockdown rules that will not be lifted until at least 70% of the population are fully vaccinated.

When it hits that vaccination target, the restrictions will be lifted under a “freedom roadmap” similar to the one implemented in the U.K. months ago.

New Zealand initially brought in its lockdown over one case but Ardern said that officials were still trying to assess the scale of the outbreak, which emerged in Auckland this week and has now spread to Wellington.

“We just don’t quite know the full scale of this Delta outbreak. All in all, this tells us we need to continue to be cautious,” she said.

Worth reading in full.

Daily Sceptic contributor Ramesh Thakur, Emeritus Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, has an excellent piece about Australia’s descent into an authoritarian dystopia in the Japan Times. Here’s an extract:

Australia has morphed from being the envy of the world last year for its incredible pandemic management to international incredulity at the brutality of its authoritarian measures to “crush and kill the virus”.

In America, popular conservative TV host Tucker Carlson calls Australia a “COVID dictatorship”. With unconscious irony, the video clip was removed from YouTube. His colleague Laura Ingraham was incredulous at learning that soldiers and police helicopters were patrolling Sydney’s streets and skies to enforce the lockdown.

The premier of Australia’s largest state said on Aug. 14th, at a time when the Taliban were making lightning advances across Afghanistan, that this current pandemic is “literally a war”. The U.K. Telegraph said in an editorial, “How has it come to the point that Australia needs to call up the military to eradicate a virus that is now endemic in the world?”

Beijing is enjoying a moment of schadenfreude. In an article in Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, Lu Xue recalled comments from Foreign Minister Marise Payne that were critical of China’s aggressive pandemic management. “Some countries,” she said in June 2020, “are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy to promote their own more authoritarian models.” Lu added, “Now, quite ironically, it turns out that Canberra plans to send its military personnel to help enforce social lockdown.”

The authoritarian streak has seen various instances of what some people would call inhumane treatment. At a time of zero active cases in Canberra, a woman was denied permission to fly to Queensland to see her dying father. A mother from across the border in New South Wales lost her baby last year after being unable to get timely treatment in Brisbane because of the time it would have taken to fill out the paperwork to cross the state line and enter the hospital to receive emergency care.

A fully vaccinated Sydney grandmother was also recently denied a permit to go to Melbourne to help care for her grandchildren while her daughter battles advanced breast cancer. And in a country town in February, a pregnant woman posting on Facebook to support a peaceful protest against Victoria’s lockdown was handcuffed and arrested in her house in the early morning hours, still in her pajamas.

Worth reading in full.

Australia and New Zealand’s Zero-Covid Dilemma

We’re publishing an original piece today by a senior executive at a pharmaceutical company setting out the choices facing Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to their misguided pursuit of zero-Covid, there are no good options. Here is the opening section:

There is a moment in one of the Mad Max films where Max and his band of tagalongs have successfully escaped from their pursuers and are striking out through the post-apocalyptic Outback in search of The Safe Place, a haven of security where they hope to live out their lives in peace. After much struggle, they crest the top of an enormous dune only to see an endless desert stretching out beyond the horizon. It is as this point that the true nature of their predicament becomes clear; do they continue on alone into the unending sea of sand in what may be the forlorn hope of reaching The Safe Place, or do they stay where they are until their pursuers inevitably catch up with them, or do they turn around and head back into danger but to somewhere where they know there is water and shelter?

In many ways, this is an apt metaphor for the situation Australia and New Zealand now find themselves in with respect to Covid. Having apparently successfully escaped from the pandemic, what should they do now? Do they plough on in the hope of reaching some kind of Safe Place, which may or may not exist, or do they instead attempt to re-join the rest of the world?

Worth reading in full.

Walkabout

by George Santayana

*Spoiler alert*: There is a moment in one of the Mad Max films where Max and his band of tagalongs have successfully escaped from their pursuers and are striking out through the post-apocalyptic Outback in search of The Safe Place, a haven of security where they hope to live out their lives in peace. After much struggle, they crest the top of an enormous dune only to see an endless desert stretching out beyond the horizon. It is as this point that the true nature of their predicament becomes clear; do they continue on alone into the unending sea of sand in what may be the forlorn hope of reaching The Safe Place, or do they stay where they are until their pursuers inevitably catch up with them, or do they turn around and head back into danger but to somewhere where they know there is water and shelter?

In many ways, this is an apt metaphor for the situation Australia and New Zealand now find themselves in with respect to Covid. Having apparently successfully escaped from the pandemic, what should they do now? Do they plough on in the hope of reaching some kind of Safe Place, which may or may not exist, or do they instead attempt to re-join the rest of the world?

A year ago, Australia and New Zealand were seen as lucky success stories; far enough from the epicentres of coronavirus infection and with limited points of global contact meaning that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) including border closures and harsh lockdowns prevented Covid from gaining a significant foothold in the countries. So, while Covid has raged around the world, within the walls of these antipodean fortresses people have remained largely untouched by SARS-CoV-2 and Covid.

What next?

Rationally, one would think that the endgame is clear, now vaccines are available: immunise the population and open the borders – many lives saved and a vindication of the isolationist strategy and the huge sacrifices this has required. The trouble is that the medical reality doesn’t square the political circle.

The first issue is that the very success in keeping Covid out of the country creates a vaccination problem because the prevalence of the disease is low. This means that there is no immediate incentive for people to get vaccinated against Covid because they are extremely unlikely to encounter an infected person and, as the current vaccinations against SARS-CoV-2 carry with them the low risk of severe adverse events, the balance of benefit/risk of these vaccinations for an individual Australian or New Zealander is, as of today, unfavourable. Simply put, with no virus in the country why should someone take the risk of an adverse event to be vaccinated against something that they will almost certainly not encounter and so cannot catch? This may partially explain why vaccine take-up has been so sluggish.

Of course, the vaccination aim is not to deal with the here-and-now, but to enable a future in which borders are opened. This leads to the second problem, which is that the vaccines themselves are not effective enough to meet the political promises, which rely on them producing effective herd immunity.

Vaccination creates immune memory, it does not produce some kind of ‘immune deflector shield’ that envelopes a person’s body and repels viral particles. So, vaccination does not stop infection from occurring, it just means the immune system of the individual getting infected responds more rapidly and effectively. For some vaccinations, the immune memory created, and its response to infection, can lead to a vaccinated, infected individual not becoming infectious, which in turn limits the spread of the disease. Vaccinate enough people with such a vaccine and you can effectively stop the spread of infection due to herd immunity.

But a vaccination does not need to be this effective to be useful. If the vaccination reduces the likelihood of someone developing significant disease, then preventing onward transmission of viral infection is desirable but not essential. The individual still benefits, but the broader ‘herd’ effects are greatly diminished. This situation is much closer to the truth with current vaccinations against SARS-CoV-2, which may not have much impact on viral transmission but do appear to reduce the incidence of serious disease. The trouble is that the operational verb here is “reduce”, meaning that even if the entire populations of Australia and New Zealand were vaccinated with these vaccines, once the borders opened, SARS-CoV-2 would enter and spread within their populations, and with it Covid.

So, what would a realistic scenario look like for the use of current vaccines in the re-opening of the borders in Australia and New Zealand? First, there would need to be a successful vaccination campaign prior to opening the borders that will inevitably throw up instances of individuals suffering from major side effects, including death. Perhaps people would be willing to accept this if they saw the long-term gains being worth it. But, given the lethargic vaccine uptake, perhaps exacerbated by the ‘no immediate benefit’ problem, it is much more likely that governments would have to introduce a range of incentives to ‘encourage’ vaccination. Vaccine passports, for example, would inevitably be on the agenda and how popular these would be is unclear, especially as they would need to coincide with the ongoing severe restrictions needed to keep the countries virus-free while vaccination takes place. Then there is the conundrum of when to decide that vaccination is good enough to allow the borders to be opened. Throw in variants and the question as to how long immunity lasts and it could be that there is never a point that vaccinations are good enough and Australians and New Zealanders will find themselves in an endless cycle of vaccinations and lockdowns. However, assuming we do reach a point of ‘good enough’, then once the borders start to open there will be a surge of Covid cases running through the population (probably being tracked and exaggerated by a mass screening campaign) together with an inevitable number of Covid-related deaths.

If the aim of the isolation/vaccination strategy was the reduction in serious disease/Covid-related mortality then the outcome of such a scenario is fine, although the methods of getting there are likely ethically bankrupt as they would almost certainly require coercion and compulsion. But given the current destruction of civil liberties, these may just be details. People will still get ill, and some will unfortunately die or suffer significant disease or have serious vaccine-related side effects, but these numbers will probably still be lower than would have died or been seriously ill with Covid if SARS-CoV-2 had got into the unvaccinated population. Of course, how many lives would have actually been saved by this approach would be a point of much debate and we’d have to rely on our old friend computer modelling to ‘prove’ that the pain was worth the gain. However, the real problem is that this strategy is political cyanide because the stated aim of the isolationist strategy is not to reduce the number of Covid related deaths per se but to have zero-Covid.

Achieving the zero-Covid nirvana relies on solutions that are either likely the stuff of medical fantasy or a very long way off. The first route to zero-Covid is the development of a perfect vaccine that is not only essentially 100% safe but also 100% effective against all SARS-CoV-2 variants, both now and in the future. This would enable robust herd immunity to be established in Australia’s and New Zealand’s populations with minimal risk to the population from the vaccination itself. God may well have arrived before this is ever developed. The second option is the ‘smallpox option’ which relies on the rest of the world somehow eliminating SARS-CoV-2 and Covid, thus removing the need for isolation. This is even less likely than the development of the perfect vaccine, because not only does it depend on developing something like the perfect vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, but also for this vaccine to be successfully deployed globally to eliminate the disease… an extremely unlikely possibility and even if were possible, it would take decades. Alternatively, we could hope that the disease naturally dies out on its own, which also seems vanishingly unlikely given that SARS-CoV-2 is now an endemic human pathogen in many regions. The only realistic scenario is not disease elimination but one in which the virus mutates into an ‘acceptably deadly’ form which could take decades or centuries – if not longer – if ever.

So, there you have it, just like Mad Max, none of the choices faced by Australia and New Zealand are palatable or risk-free. Do they plough on alone with the hope of reaching The Safe Place where vaccines have achieved perfection, or wait until the rest of the world has eliminated Covid or the disease has evolved into an acceptable risk? All the while accepting that they will need to continue to remain completely isolated while deploying draconian measures to try and maintain their virus-free status – with all the societal and economic damage this will cause. Alternatively, they can turn around and accept that they will likely never reach The Safe Place, accept the limitations and risks of current treatments, and use them as best as possible to re-join the rest of the world. A choice that means abandoning zero-Covid and swallowing a lot of political pride in bringing their populations with them on the return journey. The final possibility is, of course, the one in which the thing they are running from finally catches up and SARS-CoV-2 gets enough of a foothold in the country to render lockdowns and other NPIs ineffective at preventing its spread through the population. As it may be impossible to marry the political narrative with the scientific reality, this last scenario may become the inevitable end of the story.

George Santayana is the pseudonym of a senior executive at a British pharmaceutical company.

New Zealand Entering Lockdown Following Just One Positive Covid Test

When a single positive Covid test result was reported in Canberra, Australia, earlier this month, the city locked down for a week. New Zealand has gone one step further, with the reporting of one positive test resulting in the whole country being plunged into lockdown. BBC News has the story.

The case was detected in Auckland, which will be in lockdown for a week, while the rest of the country will be in lockdown for three days.

Authorities say they are working on the assumption that the new case was the Delta variant.

Just around 20% of its population has been fully vaccinated.

Coromandel, a coastal town where the infected person had visited, will be in lockdown for seven days too.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the toughest “Level Four” rules were required – closing schools, offices and all businesses with only essential services remaining operational.

“I want to assure New Zealand that we have planned for this eventuality. Going hard and early has worked for us before,” she said.

The patient is a 58 year-old man, who is believed to have been infectious since last Thursday. 

There are at least 23 potential sites of transmission. 

There was reportedly a rush at supermarkets in Auckland, as locals anticipated a snap lockdown.

Officials said there was a need for strong response because of the fear of the Delta variant, and because there was no clear link between the new case and the border or quarantine facilities.

Worth reading in full.

Zero-Covid ‘Hermit’ Economies Heading For Economic Slump

Countries that have permanently shut their borders in a misguided effort to reduce Covid infections to zero are heading for economic catastrophe, according to Matthew Lynn in the Telegraph.

Controlling Covid through lockdowns and closed borders was a triumph to start with. As the pandemic has dragged on, and borders remain sealed for years without end, it is going to take a huge economic toll. Australia is heading back into recession even as the rest of the world recovers. New Zealand is seeing investment flee.

In truth, in an increasingly globalised and networked world, countries cannot exist in semi-lockdown forever and borders cannot remain permanently closed without doing huge economic damage. They can turn themselves into hermits if they want to – but the price will be a very high one. …

After a record 30-year run without a single recession, the [Australian] economy shrank last year, and it is now expected to contract again over the next couple of quarters.

Huge swathes of the population are back in lockdown as Covid infections rise, and output is inevitably starting to fall. As the rest of the world recovers, and growth accelerates in the United States, Britain, and, even if slightly more sluggishly, across most of mainland Europe, both countries are illustrating the cost of ‘zero-Covid’ strategies.

Worth reading in full.