Zero Covid

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.

Is This a Dystopian Satire? No, it’s Daily Life Down Under

Steve Waterson, the Commercial Editor of the Australian, has kindly given us permission to reprint his latest column. It’s another jeremiad against Australia’s staggeringly incompetent ruling class, as they frantically try and spin their mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis as a mature, statesmanlike response. Meanwhile, the regulations that ordinary Australians have to cope with grow ever more ridiculous. Sit down to drink, but stand up near a park bench; exercise, but don’t rest; go shopping but don’t browse; under no circumstances talk to anyone you know, despite the masks that afford magic protection from nanometre Covid dust… “The list is a never-ending carousel of hilarity,” says Waterson.

Well, that was worth waiting for. Finally a tiny glimpse of the modelling that has underpinned government decision-making on our Covid response, and very convincing it is too. And unbelievably, literally unbelievably, precise.

Let’s not go through the various conditional predictions of the virus’s impact, especially the “worst-case” scenario, which happily generates a number far short of “everybody dies”, which I would regard as the worst case.

Instead here’s what the Doherty Institute says could happen if we suffered a six-month uncontrolled outbreak with only 60% of the population vaccinated: there would be 737,971 infections and 5,294 deaths. Note the super-scientific accuracy: not 737,970 or 737,972 infections; why, that would just be sloppy guesswork.

I’m teasing, of course (it’s one of the few pleasures not yet forbidden in these joyless times), and have no doubt the statisticians are doing their very best with the data; so let’s assume they’re correct that almost three-quarters of a million would be infected, of whom 5,000 would die.

Many of us in the anti-lockdown corner are asked how many lives we would sacrifice to see the country open up again, our accusers triumphantly certain there is no decent answer because, as the NSW Premier told us in May, “no death is acceptable”.

She and her interstate counterparts would rather smash our lives and livelihoods in pursuit of their ridiculous, hubristic ambition.

If a foreign power were causing damage on this scale we would regard it as an act of war, when deaths in defence of the country would become acceptable again.

Perhaps we should bite the bullet and say 5,000 predominantly old people taken prematurely is a sad but tolerable price to pay for the restoration of our freedoms and the repair of our society – as long as it’s not my precious grandparents. Oh wait, mine have already died of old age, like all my ancestors since humans first wandered out of the African Rift Valley. It happens a lot, I understand. And by the way, those 5,000 projected deaths assume we could find no other way of protecting the vulnerable, which is hard to believe.

Australia Uses Helicopters and the Army to Enforce Lockdown Rules

The enforcement of lockdown rules in Australia has jumped to another level, with the army knocking on doors to check that people who have tested positive are self-isolating and helicopters blaring the message: “This is public health order – do not break rules – you will be found and fines issued.”

Police are also checking IDs to ensure that citizens are not outside their ‘exercise radius‘, and those not wearing face masks are being hit with $500 fines. MailOnline has more.

[On Sautrday], up to 1,300 police officers swarmed Sydney and set up a network of roadblocks in a massive show of force to avoid a repeat of last week’s violent anti-lockdown protest.

Some 250 fines, each worth $500, were issued across the city today, with one man arrested after travelling on trains outside his local Government area without a reasonable excuse.

It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison had launched a four-stage plan back to freedom but said 80% of adults would have to be vaccinated before the border can begin to open.

Sydney’s five million people are under a strict stay-at-home order because of a worrying surge of nearly 3,000 infections since the middle of June.

Authorities have this week outlined even tighter restrictions for some worst-affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors. 

From Monday, some 300 army personnel will help police go door to door to ensure people who have tested positive are isolating. 

New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told a news conference: “The sheer volume of increase over the last week, the level of compliance has gone from hundreds into thousands.”

The military personnel will not be armed and will be under police command, he said. …

[Australia] is faced with the spread of the much more infectious Indian variant that is proving able to overcome lockdown measures. Many highly vaccinated countries are now re-opening, but Australia is sticking to its ‘Zero Covid’ strategy while its vaccine drive lags behind the rest of the world.   

Sydney’s latest surge of cases has been traced back to an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver who got infected last month. Since then, Australia’s biggest city has reported 13 deaths.

Worth reading in full.

Neither Zero Covid nor Vaccinations will Allow us to Return to Normality: We Must Learn To Live With Covid

We’re publishing on original essay today by Dr. Lee Jones, a reader in International Politics at Queen Mary. He argues that trying to suppress a virus that has an infection fatality rate of 0.05% for the under-70s is pointless and the sooner we learn to live with it, the better. Here is an extract.

Lockdowns and other societal restrictions were never recommended in pre-Covid pandemic planning by the World Health Organisation or national governments, because they were of unproven and dubious efficacy and came at tremendous cost. That most countries collapsed into some form of lockdown, throwing out their existing pandemic planning, thus indicates decisions taken in moments of panic, amid mounting, media-induced fear among the general public.

In most (though not all) countries, governments lacked the necessary authority to resist such pressure and hold to existing plans, which focused on delaying the spread of new diseases and mitigating their impact. Crucially, moreover, in many places, including Britain and Australia, the state was also very poorly prepared to do even this. Successive governments failed to invest in necessary capacities, outsourcing planning and preparedness to local authorities and private companies. Consequently, existing systems soon collapsed, adding to the sense of panic. As the U.K.’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary told the Prime Minister’s chief adviser on March 12th – the day that test-and-tracing was secretly abandoned because the U.K. could only handle five tests per week – “I’ve been told for years there’s a whole plan for this. There is no plan… I think we are absolutely fucked.”

Lockdown was thus the result of panic and state failure. It appealed to politicians because it gave the public what they seemed to be clamouring for, and bought time to organise a better response. The trouble is that justifying and securing compliance with such draconian measures entailed a colossal propaganda effort that has permanently skewed public perceptions of the virus, and inverted the proper relationship between state and citizen. As Laura Dodsworth chronicles in A State of Fear, the U.K. Government deliberately mobilised behavioural psychology to instil fear into the population to increase compliance with lockdown measures. The media has followed suit for its own purposes.

A conformist culture ensued in which dissenting voices – even among world-leading scientists – have been silenced, censored, or subjected to abuse. Sceptics are derided as “Covidiots”, “selfish morons” and people who want to “kill granny”. The proper relationship between citizen and state in a democracy has been turned on its head, with the Government telling the public what to do, rather than vice-versa, and demanding that people stay home to “protect the NHS”, when the NHS’s job is actually to protect us.

Worth reading in full.

Australia’s Loony Zero Covid Policy Gradually Drives Entire Country Mad

In Australia, the state of Victoria, with more than six million people, has been put into lockdown because of 18 cases. Yes, you read that correctly. There are now 12 million Australians confined to their homes due to fewer infections than you’d find in the average British pub.

We’re publishing a guest post today by Steve Waterson, the Commercial Editor of the Australian. This piece originally appeared in the Weekend Australian, but Steve has given us permission to republish it.

So away we go again, hunting to ground the absolute beast, the out-of-control killer virus that runs rampant at light speed, vaulting from customer to customer in a fleeting cafe encounter.

Contact tracers scramble tirelessly to chase down the asymptomatic covidiots, while their masters, responding to the hour-by-hour health advice, are forced against their will to impose a snap lockdown, perhaps a circuit-breaker, to flatten the curve towards zero transmission, but for no longer than necessary.

Regrettably, they may have to slam their state borders shut (only as a last resort) so medical facilities will not be overwhelmed, to save lives and keep people out of harm’s way in this unprecedented, existential war. After all, they’re simply following the science, and they make no apology for that.

Hasn’t it been illuminating, these past 18 months, watching the verbal gymnastics of our politicians and their supporting cast of advisers and enablers, as they contort language and meaning to support their twisted edifice of hysterical illogic? The banal retreat into cliche, exaggeration, oxymoron and jargon, all wind and no substance, largely unchallenged, it’s sad to say, by a media pack trying to outdo each other with doom-laden headlines.

Australia Agrees Plan to Abandon Zero Covid Strategy

As infections surge during winter and with half the country now under restrictions in the ‘Zero Covid’ state, the national Government in Australia has finally accepted that trying to keep Covid out forever is no way to run a country. The cabinet has agreed plans to end restrictions and reopen borders as the country shifts to a vaccine strategy that treats Covid “like the flu”. ABC reports.

National Cabinet has agreed to a four-stage plan that would see Australia transform into a vaccinated nation that manages COVID-19 with few restrictions.

The goal, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, is for Australia to begin treating COVID-19 “like the flu”.

It would mean governments shift from focusing on case numbers to focusing on rates of hospitalisation and death as Australians learn to live with low rates of mild illness in the community.

To get to a point beyond lockdowns and border closures, Australians will need to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, but leaders are yet to agree how many jabs it will take to open up.

However, as the Swiss Doctor notes, the country’s vaccine programme has not exactly got off to a good start.

Australia still has a very low, single-digit vaccination rate; moreover, the country currently relies on AstraZeneca, which achieves only a 60% protection rate against symptomatic infection with the ‘Indian variant’, and which will be phased out due to several fatal and severe reactions in young adults. Thus, Australia is likely to face a fierce uphill battle against the coronavirus during the ongoing winter season

The media hysteria is in full swing down under, with the Australian Associated Press telling readers that the Delta variant is “twice as contagious as the original virus and can be spread through fleeting contact that lasts just seconds”. Oh dear, where’s a fact checker when you need one? Glad not to be in Australia right now.

Singaporean Ministers Announce That Country Must Learn to Live With COVID-19

Singapore has recorded fewer deaths from COVID-19 than almost any other country with reliable data: only 36 to date, which equates to a rate of just six per million. (The U.K.’s official COVID-19 death rate is 1,890 per million.)

And according to the World Mortality Dataset, Singapore has had zero excess mortality since the pandemic began. On the other hand, the country did take a sizeable economic hit last year – with GDP falling by 5.4% (compared to only 2.8% in Sweden).

What’s more, Singapore has not recorded more than 100 cases in a day since August of last year. If any advanced country has come close to “Zero Covid”, it’s Singapore.

Despite that record, three Singaporean ministers have announced that “COVID-19 may never go away” and “it is possible to live normally with it in our midst”.

Writing in The Straits Times, Gan Kim Yong, Lawrence Wong and Ong Ye Kung (the ministers for trade, finance and health) say that “COVID-19 will very likely become endemic”. This means that “the virus will continue to mutate, and thereby survive in our community”.

In other words, the Singaporean Government is under no illusion that it will be possible to eliminate COVID-19, contrary to the claims of the “Zero COVID” movement. Indeed, a survey by Nature of 119 experts found that 89% believe it is “likely” or “very likely” that SARS-CoV-2 will become an endemic virus.

“We can’t eradicate it”, the ministers write, “but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza.” How do they propose to deal with the virus going forward?

First, they intend to proceed with their vaccination program, which aims to have two thirds of people vaccinated by August 9th. Second, they intend to continue testing, but “the focus will be different”. For example, the country will cease “monitoring COVID-19 infection numbers every day”. Third, they intend to keep using and developing effective treatments for COVID-19.

As Yong, Wong and Kung conclude, “History has shown that every pandemic will run its course.” Though one might object that even the few remaining measures are no longer necessary, the ministers seem to understand what they’re talking about. Their article is worth reading in full.

The Case Against the UK’s Lockdowns

We’re publishing an essay today by Dr Noah Carl arguing that the UK’s lockdowns were a mistake. Looking at the Western world, he says, lockdowns have not been associated with substantially fewer deaths from COVID-19, except in geographically peripheral countries that imposed strict border controls at the start. In addition, the increases in mortality associated with COVID-19 – even in the worst-hit Western countries – have been quite small, particularly when compared to the range of mortality between different groups in society. If good governance is about reducing overall mortality, why hasn’t the Government addressed these inequalities? Finally, he argues, the societal costs of lockdowns have been substantial, and preliminary analyses suggest they almost certainly outweighed the benefits.

Here is an extract in which he makes the point about the Government’s inconsistent approach to reducing mortality:

As Simon Wood noted in an article last October, “the gap in life expectancy between the richer and poorer segments of British society amounted to some 200 million life years lost for the current UK population, which is somewhere around 70 times what Covid might have caused”. He added: “Even the firmest believer in laissez-faire would have to concede that some percentage of that loss is preventable.” The fact that the Government never locked down society (or imposed costs of equivalent magnitude) to reduce much larger differences in mortality within Britain calls its coronavirus strategy into serious question.

Lockdown proponents might say this logic doesn’t apply to COVID-19, since lockdowns prevent individuals from harming others, whereas pre-existing differences in mortality are not due to such “externalities”. But I don’t find this argument very convincing. First, it’s not clear that lockdowns do have much impact on mortality over and above that of basic restrictions. Second, some of the pre-existing differences in mortality are caused by other people’s behaviour (e.g. air pollution, road accidents, flu deaths). And third, blanket lockdowns impose costs on people regardless of whether they contribute to the “externalities” of viral transmission (e.g. people who live away from major population centres, those who have already been infected).

Noah is a rigorous, fair-minded analyst who sticks closely to the evidence. His piece is worth reading in full.