Rural round-up

14/05/2021

Global food demand on fraught path – Anna Campbell:

My eldest son is flatting and when he comes to visit, one of the first things he does is open our fridge and moan about the price of cheese. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I remember doing the same to my parents.

What we eat and the quality of what we eat, is correlated with what we earn and this is a global phenomenon. All over the world, as wealth increases, so too does consumption of proteins, particularly meat and milk (and fancy cheeses).

We have seen this in China, as the country’s wealth has increased, so too has their consumption of dairy and meat products.

This has been hugely important for New Zealand’s economy and ongoing standard of living. This year, close to 50% of our meat production has been exported to China — no wonder our exporters shake in their boots when politicians start laying down principles. But that is another matter. . . 

Vet shortage nationa-wide pushing them to breaking point – Hugo Cameron:

Vets say a nationwide shortage of staff, drought and uncertainty due to Covid-19 is pushing them to a breaking point.

Veterinary Association (NZVA) chief officer Helen Beattie said the country is between 50 and 100 vets short, which is affecting the well-being of both people and animals.

“We know there’s a bunch of vets out there that are going well above and beyond and, as we know, that’s for a limited time only for all of us.”

Beattie said NZVA had talked to vets who had stood down temporarily due to work-life imbalance affecting the well-being of them and their families. . .

From MP to farmer politician – Sally Rae:

Mark Patterson has gone from farming to politics to farmer politics.

Mr Patterson, who served one term as a New Zealand First list MP, has been elected president of Federated Farmers Otago, taking over from Simon Davies who stepped down at the recent annual meeting in Tapanui.

With his previous experience in Parliament — which ended after last year’s general election when New Zealand First failed to make the 5% threshold — the Lawrence farmer said he felt an obligation to “give something back”. While not necessarily looking to take over as president, he was asked and agreed to take it on.

Asked what the transition had been like from Parliament to back on the farm, Mr Patterson said it did not take too long “to get back into the rhythm”, given he had been farming for 30 years before becoming an MP. . . 

Farms underway for NEew Zealand’s first solar farms – Business Desk:

A new company says it intends to build New Zealand’s first major industrial-scale solar farms at a cost of $300 million.

The five solar farms across the upper North Island would generate approximately 400 Gigawatt hours (GWh), with more than 500,000 solar panels over 500ha of land.

Lodestone Energy managing director Gary Holden says the development is the most ambitious solar venture in NZ to date, and will provide solar energy to Dargaville, Kaitaia, Whakatāne, Edgecumbe and Whitianga.

The first site planned for development is a 62 GWh solar plant in Kaitaia, it will have up to 80,000 panels and will supply electricity directly to a Top Energy substation. . . 

Demand up for New Zealand wool grease – Sally Murphy:

Global demand for wool grease is seeing big returns for a New Zealand exporter.

The grease which is a by-product of wool scouring is used in cosmetics, skincare and medicines.

New Zealand wool is high in cholesterol which can then be turned into vitamin D. The vitamin is in Covid-19 vaccines which is increasing demand for wool grease.

WoolWorks New Zealand is the only company in the country that produces and exports wool grease. . .

Victorian Rabbit Action Network says community action is key – Rebecca Nadge:

The Victorian Rabbit Action Network says ongoing community led action against rabbit numbers is having an impact, but managing the pest is a shared responsibility.

VRAN mentor Neil Devanny delivers training courses on rabbit control to communities around the state.

He said areas with the most success were communities that had a coordinated approach to control work.

A range of methods were required to tackle populations, he said, which included being aware of how many rabbits there were and ensuring all control work was carried out at the optimum time. . .


From success to shags

14/05/2021

For a while there we were first, or nearly first in the world for our response to Covid-19.

That relatively relatively few people contracted the disease, relatively few died from it is cause for congratulations.

We were also going to be first in the queue for vaccines but the slow roll-out is putting us well down the success-list and there is a human and economic cost to that.

Dr Gorman said without widespread vaccination we remain “isolated”. 

“Yes there is an argument that vaccination has most application in countries with rampant disease, but there’s an equally strong argument we’re like a shag on a rock, and we’ll be a shag on a rock until we’re vaccinated, and our economy suffers. The next GFC, the next earthquake in Christchurch, we can’t buffer it.”

From success to shags because once more the government has shown it’s much better at announcing than delivering.


Only front of signing queue

12/05/2021

Remember being told we’d be at the front of the vaccine queue? Now we’re told that’s not what the government meant:

The Prime Minister’s comments today in Question Time that Chris Hipkins’ promise that New Zealand would be at the “front of the queue” for Covid-19 vaccines actually meant that we would be at the front of the queue in terms of signing contracts are baffling, says National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“Her assertion that ‘distribution is secondary’ demonstrates how woeful the Government’s vaccination programme is. Signing a contract does not protect Kiwis from Covid-19.”

Distribution is secondary?

Tell that to the people who can’t reunite with their families. Tell that to people whose businesses are compromised because they can’t travel or who live in fear of another lockdown. Tell that to people who fear for their health or that of their family and friends.

“When Chris Hipkins told New Zealanders that we were ‘at the front of the queue’ for Covid-19 vaccines, we rightly thought that meant New Zealand would quickly roll-out the Covid-19 vaccines.

Yet again the Prime Minister is moving the goalposts. Faced with a very slow roll-out where New Zealand is the 120th slowest in the world and the second slowest in the OECD, the Prime Minister’s new line is that ‘front of the queue’ just means speed of signing contracts.

Front of the queue for signing contracts? Why would that be cause for celebration? Does she really expect us to believe that?

“Why would the Government celebrate being first in line to sign a contract to ensure slow delivery, and consequential slow roll-out of vaccines? It beggars belief.

“The vaccine roll-out is a mess.”

We’ve received pamphlets in the mail, we’ve seen advertisements in the paper and we keep hearing them on the radio reassuring that the vaccine is safe and that we’ll get it.

What we’re not getting is when we’ll get it nor are we getting confidence in the roll-out. Playing word games trying to get us to believe that front of the queue doesn’t mean now what it meant a few months ago isn’t helping.

Mike Hosking asks, when will we start demanding better from the response?

. . . Vaccinated travellers all over the world are now starting to get on planes and fly and we as of now are missing out. . .

Our issue, according to our esteemed leader who told us a few weeks ago when we asked when the borders would be opening to vaccinated travellers, said that was an open question, which is code for she hasn’t thought about it. . . 

Any mountaineer knows getting to the top of the mountain is only half way.

Other countries who were well behind us in stopping the spread of the disease are already well down the mountain while we still don’t know the plan for the descent.

At some point a level of normality will have returned and places like Britain and the states are seeing their vaccination programmes as being comprehensive enough to be able to do that

Is it really possible the fear instilled in us by a government bereft of a plan beyond a closed border is really going to let the world get back to life and keep us locked up? . . 

As each day passes it becomes clearer where this story is heading. Vaccines work, the quicker you complete your programme, the more normal you can become, the world is clearly more than happy to drop restrictions lower borders and get life on a new track.

We sit here unvaccinated, borders closed, and no decision around what is next how and when.

It seems odd and increasingly criminal we can be recognised for a solid Covid response but because of our own fear and lack of planning cut ourselves out of the joining the rest of the world.

When do we start demanding better?

There’s no doubt the government was good at stopping Covid-19 causing the devastation it did in many other countries.

But repeated mistakes and repeated breaches at the border show that at least some of the success was due more to luck than management.

It will take a lot more good management than luck to make a success of the roll-out and trusting us with the truth, rather than trying to make us believe what was meant wasn’t what was said would be a good start.


Something missing

28/04/2021

A full page advertisement in yesterday’s Otago Daily Times told me how important the Covid-19 vaccine is.

I already knew that.

What I didn’t know was when any of us will be getting the vaccine and I still don’t. The advertisement was silent on that.

It also didn’t mention that rather than being at the front of the queue as was promised last year, New Zealand is well down the rankings of doses administered.

1
United States
215 950 000 11
Italy
16 270 000 21
Bangladesh
7 420 000
2
China
204 190 000 12
Mexico
15 000 000 22
Argentina
6 550 000
3
India
129 650 000 13
Chile
13.54 million 23
Hungary
4 870 000
4
United Kingdom
43 920 000 14
Spain
13 500 000 24
Netherlands
4 580 000
5
Brazil
34 060 000 15
Canada
10 800 000 25
Romania
4 490 000
6
Germany
23 660 000 16
Israel
10 370 000 26
Colombia
3 980 000
7
Turkey
20 480 000 17
United Arab Emirates
9 900 000 27
Belgium
3 200 000
8
France
17 870 000 18
Poland
9 500 000 28
Serbia
3 140 000
9
Indonesia
17 640 000 19
Morocco
8 900 000 29
Portugal
2 780 000
10
Russia
16 820 000 20
Saudi Arabia
7 610 000 30
Greece
2 650 000

 

Rank Country Doses * Rank Country Doses * Rank Country Doses *
31
Czechia
2 650 000 41
Nepal
1 700 000 51
Peru
1 310 000
32
Sweden
2 640 000 42
Denmark
1 660 000 52
Ireland
1 240 000
33
Austria
2 620 000 43
Philippines
1 610 000 53
Malaysia
1 210 000
34
Japan
2 350 000 44
Finland
1 570 000 54
Hong Kong
1 170 000
35
Wales
2 330 000 45
Dominican Republic
1 510 000 55
Bahrain
1 140 000
36
Singapore
2 210 000 46
Uruguay
1 480 000 56
Nigeria
1 130 000
37
Switzerland
2 090 000 47
Norway
1 390 000 57
Myanmar
1.040000
38
South Korea
1 960 000 48
Slovakia
1 370 000 58
Sri Lanka
925 242
39
Cambodia
1 780 000 49
Azerbaijan
1 370 000 59
Kazakhstan
893 164
40
Australia
1 720 000 50
Qatar
1 320 000 60
Ghana
842 521

 

Rank Country Doses * Rank Country Doses * Rank Country Doses *
61
Lithuania
822 085 71
Kuwait
604 861 81
Albania
372 075
62
Pakistan
800 000 72
Ecuador
601 229 82
Lebanon
365 83
63
Croatia
726 315 73
Bolivia
577 211 83
Rwanda
349 702
64
Costa Rica
698 327 74
Panama
574 212 84
Maldives
342 379
65
Bulgaria
676 501 75
Slovenia
543 708 85
Uzbekistan
335 610
66
Thailand
666 21 76
Ukraine
491 88 86
Zimbabwe
332 996
67
Jordan
665 226 77
Bhutan
479 333 87
Tunisia
300 369
68
Kenya
651 65 78
Ethiopia
430 000 88
South Africa
292 623
69
Mongolia
637 415 79
Senegal
380 665 89
Malta
288 797
70
Iran
621 822 80
Estonia
376 276 90
Malawi
263 931

 

Rank Country Doses * Rank Country Doses * Rank Country Doses *
91 Venezuela 250 000 101
Luxembourg
166 724 111
Vietnam
108 897
92 Uganda 245 939 102
Egypt
164 534 112
Northern Cyprus
107 365
93 Angola 245 442 103
Guatemala
160 37 113
Iceland
100 168
94 Latvia 230 848 104
Togo
160 000 114
Sudan
100 01
95 Cyprus 219 654 105
Laos
137 026 115
Moldova
99 639
96 Oman 217 582 106
Jamaica
135 473 116
Cote d’Ivoire
94 818
97 El Salvador 200 000 107
Afghanistan
120 000 117
Paraguay
93 111
98 Iraq 197 914 108
Mauritius
117 323 118
Macao
86 653
99 Palestine 192 315 109
Seychelles
116 957 119
Algeria
75 000
100
New Zealand
183 351 110
Guinea
116 113 120
Guyana
73 600

 

Being down at 100 might not matter so much if we could have confidence that the vaccination roll-out was going as planned, but how can we when we don’t know what the plan is?

We know that border staff and essential workers come first, people aged 65 and older will come next and then the rest of us. Vaccination of the first group is under way but there hasn’t been a word about when those in the next two groups can expect to be immunised.

Does it matter?

Yes, because as the advertisement said:

Our immunity against Covid-10 is incredibly important. Because it brings more possibilities for us all.

Possibilities like keeping our way of life intact; our kids being able to learn without worrying about interruptions; or being able to plan gatherings with whanau, or team trips away, without fear of them being cancelled.

Immunity can bring us all this, as well as more certainty is our jobs, and more confidence in our businesses. With the strength of an immune system made up of all of us, together we can, and will, create more freedom, more options, and more possibilities for everyone. . . 

I have no argument about any of that. But something very important is missing from the advertisement.

Why, if the government is making such an effort to convince us of the importance and benefits of being vaccinated, won’t they tell us when we will be?


From the Covid-19 coalface

26/04/2021

The  New Zealand government was late and lax in its response to Covid-19, shortcomings in MIQ facilities has let the disease through the border too many times and there are still too many unanswered questions about when and how most of us will be vaccinated.

That said, the number of people who contracted the disease and number of deaths was relatively low and, closed border aside, life is back to as close to normal as it could be for most of us with a freedom to move and congregate that few other countries can enjoy.

This has led some people to question how serious Covid-19 is.

The BBC’s stories from doctors and nurses at St George’s Hospital tell just how bad it can be.

From nurses talking about crying when they get home to doctors asking people to stop “bending” the rules because it’s leading to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s dying, these are the staff of St George’s Hospital.

The interviews in the video from the Covid-19 healthcare coalface give first-hand answers to the question of how bad the spread could be.

Anyone who still thinks the disease isn’t serious need only look at the rapid spread and high number of deaths in India,  Brazil, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea which are now on the list of very high risk countries from which travellers can no longer enter New Zealand.

Some have called this racist.

It’s not. The decision had nothing at all to do with race, it is simply and clearly based on the spread of Covid-19 in those countries and the risk travellers from those countries would pose if they came here.


Rural round-up

09/04/2021

Federated Farmers sees MIQ opportunity for agriculture:

Federated Farmers hopes that the Government will take the opportunity of newly available space in MIQ quarantine to bring much-needed workers for the primary industries into New Zealand.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins estimates that the Australian quarantine-free travel bubble will free up 1000 to 1300 beds in MIQ a fortnight.

“MIQ spacing has been continually quoted as a barrier for getting the workers we need. With more beds becoming available it should now allow those with agricultural skills to enter the country,” Federated Farmers Immigration Spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

“With continued low unemployment and the majority of available workers remaining in the urban centres, all of the primary industries are crying out for labour.” . . 

Farmers take up resilience planning for future droughts – Hugh Cameron:

While the country may be heading into winter, the impact of another dry summer is fresh on the minds of some farmers. Some hit by drought say there are steps that can be taken to ease the pressure and planning should start now.

Parts of the Far North were once again hit by meteorological drought this summer. While it wasn’t as severe as the previous summer’s big dry that hit much of the country, it was a set-back for farmers, who were hoping to rebuild feed reserves and make a full recovery.

Chairperson of the Northland Rural Support Trust, Chris Neill, believed drought planning would become even more critical in the future. He encouraged farmers to make a risk management plan that gave them options when tough conditions hit again.

“I think there were some lessons learned last year, in fact there were a lot of lessons learned last year, about being prepared for these dry conditions given the predictions around changes in climate,” Neill said. . . 

A wave of cash is about to transform the agri market – Andrew Lamming:

We are in very interesting times right now.

There are some big forces about to play out in the main trading banks operating in New Zealand. We believe this will culminate into a wave of capital that the Agri sector hasn’t seen for the past 5-7 years.

That wave of capital coming to the Agri sector is going to have some interesting effects on asset values, funding costs and decision making. . .

New Zealand Shears – the show finally on the road:

Organisers of the New Zealand Shears are breathing a sigh of relief as they bounce-back from the cancellation of last year’s event to stage the 2021 championships starting in Te Kuiti tomorrow(Thursday).

More than 200 shearers and woolhandlers will compete in the three-day championships, which 12 months ago became one of the early casualties of the 2021 Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown – called-off for the first time since the New Zealand championships were resurrected initially as the new King Country Shears in 1985.

While a Level 2 alert which cancelled this year’s Golden Shears in Masterton at just four days’ notice a month ago sent shivers up the spines of every event organiser in New Zealand, New Zealand Shears president Claire Grainger said her committee was determined to go ahead, including discussing how it could if the alert had remained in place. . . 

Aussie shearers called to help out in UK but pandemic rules still a worry – Chris McLennan:

Australian and New Zealand shearers have now been given a special exemption to travel to the United Kingdom to help solve their shearer crisis.

Shearers are in demand across the world from pandemic bans on international travel.

Australia has a crisis of its own with the ban on New Zealand shearers traveling across the ditch during the pandemic.

Now international sheep shearing contractors have been given a special concession to travel into the UK. . . 

Freehold high country a rare find:

Extensive freehold station properties are a rare find in New Zealand today, and one’s offering multiple income opportunities even rarer.

Glazebrook Station, located 46km up the Waihopai River valley in Marlborough has a hard-won reputation as a superb hunting property offering international standard game hunting opportunities located approximately one hour from Blenheim airport.

Positioned in the river valley with sweeping high country that runs to 1,600m above sea level, the station’s landscape typifies the iconic vistas that are central to the southern psyche.

Bayleys Canterbury salesperson Garry Ottmann says purchase of the 8,877ha freehold property would mark a rare claim in today’s property market. . . 


Does this give you confidence?

08/04/2021

The ODT reports that setting up the southern Covid-19 vaccination system has taken staff away from other immunisation programmes and is using people who might otherwise be contact-tracing.

Covid-19 vaccination centres in Dunedin’s Meridian Mall and in Invercargill began injecting frontline health workers last week, and have also been delivering second doses of the vaccine to port workers.

Public Health nursing and immunisation vaccinators and administration staff were doing much of the work at present, southern vaccine rollout incident controller Hamish Brown said.

This was affecting the Southern District Health Board’s MMR vaccination catch-up campaign, B4 schools check, HPV vaccinations and other school-based programmes.

“This is also using staff who would also support contact-tracing work for Covid-19 cases.” . . 

Does this give you confidence that any of these programmes are being, or will be, done well?

“There have been a few teething problems, as you can imagine with an operation of this scale, but our teams have been able to resolve issues as they have cropped up, and on the whole the clinics have run very smoothly,” Mr Brown said.

However, in a report to be considered by the Southern District Health Board on Thursday, Mr Brown said a national Covid-19 vaccination booking system was at least a month away and southern health officials were relying on electronic diary Outlook calendar in the interim.

“There is currently no robust booking system in place, and the existing hospital booking system does not meet the requirements for the programme.

“An interim booking system…has been put in place to manage the immediate need to book in household contacts for the next few weeks.”

Southern and other DHBs had worked together to find a suitable booking system and discussions were ongoing with a possible provider, Mr Brown said. . . 

We were told months ago that we’d be at the front of the queue for Covid-19 vaccinations. We aren’t, and that has given more time to get the logistics sorted so that the programme runs smoothly.

If there are all these problems this early, when a relatively small number of people are being vaccinated, how confident can we be that they will be solved when mass vaccination is under way, and that other programmes, including annual ‘flu vaccinations, won’t be compromised?

Chris McDowall’s report on the Ministry of Health’s opaque and messy handling of public health data on Covid-19 vaccination progress.

. . .  Without published statistics, media briefings are our only source of truth about how the rollout is progressing.

Slip-ups and an absence of detail detract from public confidence, potentially creating space for anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theories.

We will continue to request data about the vaccine rollout from the Government and follow up outstanding questions. We hope the Government will start making this data freely available.

And then there’s this:

Not only is New Zealand second bottom in the OECD for the number of Covid-19 vaccinations but in information leaked to National we are nowhere near where the Government planned for us to be back in January, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“Leaked data shows that at this point in the vaccine roll out, a cumulative total of 390,413 vaccine should have been administered, but only 90,286 have been so far, a pathetic 23 per cent.

“After promising New Zealanders we were at the front of the queue for Covid-19 vaccines, nearly every other country in the OECD is now ahead of us, with just Japan behind New Zealand.

“We aren’t at the front of the queue – we are at the back.”

As of yesterday, New Zealand has administered just 1.9 doses per 100 people in our population.

The countries ahead of us include Australia (3.31 per 100 people), Singapore (25.95), the United Kingdom (54.52) and the United States (50).

“Australia has recently been criticised for the slow pace of its vaccine roll out, but New Zealand is even worse and there’s no sign we’re picking up the pace,” Mr Bishop says.

“National is deeply concerned about the vaccine roll out.

“Three of the four necessary IT systems for our roll out aren’t ready, DHBs are contracting their own booking system solutions with disastrous results, the Government refuses to set a target for the percentage of the population to be vaccinated, and we’re still unclear who will be vaccinated when.

“The Government hasn’t even begun a proper communications campaign to educate New Zealanders about the vaccine. New Zealand’s economic and social future is relying on a successful vaccine roll.

“The public should have daily access to how we are progressing in our Covid vaccine roll out, they shouldn’t have to rely on leaked information to Opposition parties.

“As more countries vaccinate their populations New Zealand risks being left behind. They will start opening up trade and travel to each other while we, a country where our prosperity depends on international connections, will lag behind.

“The elimination of Covid-19 in New Zealand should have been an opportunity for us to recover more quickly than the rest of the world. We are at risk of wasting this through a slow and ineffective roll out.”

The government, ministry and DHBs need to urgently improve the logistics of the vaccine roll out, and data releases, to ensure we can all have confidence in what’s being done, that it will be done well, and to provide no space for anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.


Why were we waiting?

07/04/2021

At last we will be able to cross back and forwards across the Tasman without the need to quarantine from April 19th.

Why has it taken so long?

. . . On Tuesday Jacinda Ardern announced the Director-General of Health, Doctor Ashley Bloomfield, deemed the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is “low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence’’.

But on further inquiry from Newsroom, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed he’d been in regular discussions with Bloomfield for six months and the health boss’ “assessment that Australia’s a low-risk country has been consistent for some time’’.

The hold-up was Bloomfield’s advice that “the systems have not been in place to allow for safe green zone travel both ways between both countries’’.

The systems officials have been working on have been focused on airports and how travellers make the trip from one end to the other safely, keeping bubble travellers separate from other incoming flights that may have Covid-positive passengers, and the contact tracing and processes for opening, pausing and in some cases closing the bubble if there were an outbreak in either country.

Talk to airports and they’ll tell you they’ve had their systems ready to go since August last year when health officials gave the all-clear to Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.

The only advice the Ministry of Health has come back to airports with since then is extra cleaning when the bubble opens up, and other routine measures.

In the case of Wellington Airport, no managed isolation and quarantine flights land directly in the capital from overseas countries, so mitigating risks around mixing up trans-Tasman passengers with those potentially exposed overseas is and always has been non-existent.

And despite the political pressure ramping up from both National and ACT, the Government has been happy to continue with the go-slow citing a “cautious’’ approach in the name of public health and safety.

The reality is other than tourism operators and those whose businesses are directly impacted by tourist arrivals, most other New Zealanders accept it’s worth taking the time to get it right. . . 

In other words the government didn’t want to risk any political capital, preferring to pander to the fearful rather than promoting the low risk of opening a Trans-Tasman bubble.

It put polls before people – the ones separated from family and friends, the ones who couldn’t get to visit ill relatives before they died, the ones who couldn’t go to funerals, the ones who missed celebrations.

And it played on the pandemic paranoia for political gain with no heed for the financial and emotional stress tourism businesses, their owners and staff are under nor for the economic cost to the country of the needless delay.


Is the ‘flu vaccine late?

31/03/2021

Last week I went searching for news on the ‘flu vaccine programme and came across a page with the Ministry of Health policy:

From 2019 the Annual Influenza Immunisation Programme (the Programme) will start from 1 April each year.

This start date differs from previous years when the Programme started as soon as the influenza vaccine became available, generally by early March. The Ministry has considered a range of factors in making this decision including: emerging evidence on the effectiveness of influenza vaccines, influenza surveillance data, the impact of the start date on service delivery and feedback from the sector.

The start date from 1 April will be subject to the vaccine being available for distribution across New Zealand by then. Changes to vaccine strains can result in longer manufacturing lead time and the arrival of vaccines in late rather than early March.

Duration of influenza vaccine protection

New evidence shows that vaccine effectiveness begins to decline after influenza vaccination. Maximum protection from influenza is observed around two weeks after vaccination and starts to decline by about 7 percent every month. . . .

Influenza activity may occur throughout the year with the peak incidence during the winter months. New Zealand’s surveillance data shows that the peak has moved to August in recent years. Influenza surveillance data and the shift in peak influenza activity, in conjunction with declining vaccine effectiveness supports a change in the start date. The programme start date from 1 April ensures better protection against influenza during the peak incidence particularly for our most vulnerable populations.  . .

That all seems reasonable but yesterday I checked the MOH website and found this:

The 2021 Influenza Immunisation Programme will commence on 14 April 2021, with a two-week priority period for people eligible for a free influenza vaccination. These dates are dependent on approval by the regulator. 

We ask vaccinators to focus on immunising those who are eligible for a funded vaccination for the first two weeks of the programme to protect as many of those who are at greatest risk first, well ahead of the influenza season.

The first week of the prioritisation period is only for adults aged 65 and over and there is an additional vaccine this year that is specifically intended for this population.

The second week of the prioritisation period, from 21 April, extends to all those eligible for a funded vaccination.

Vaccination can then be extended to include the general population from 28 April 2021. . . 

April 14 is two weeks later and April 21 three weeks later, than the policy to start the programme on April 1.

That probably won’t matter for the people on the priority list.

But if the general population doesn’t start to get their vaccinations until 28th of April and the vaccine doesn’t reach maximum effectiveness for two weeks, are most people going to be at risk of contracting the disease before they’re protected?

Perhaps I’m being paranoid when there are so few people coming into the country, the risk of ‘flu might be much less than it would have been pre-Covid.

But this is the Ministry that bungled the measles vaccination. It’s also the Ministry that swore black and blue that there was plenty of stock for last year’s ‘flu vaccination rollout while those on the ground who were supposed to be administering them were saying there wasn’t, and they were eventually proved right.

It’s also the Ministry that’s in charge of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, for which we haven’t been told a plan, and for which there is no target:

National is calling on the Government to make a statement of intent about protecting New Zealanders from Covid-19 by setting a target of having at least 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“New Zealand is one of only a few countries in the OECD that doesn’t have a target for how many adults should be vaccinated. The others are Colombia and Mexico.

“Almost all countries are setting a vaccination target – usually 70 per cent of the adult population – and a date for achieving that target. New Zealand isn’t doing this either.

“The best the Government can say is that it wants all New Zealanders to be offered a vaccine by the end of the year. This isn’t good enough.

“We should be setting an ambitious target and going for it. A target will make sure the health system is focused, and means vaccination progress can be meaningfully tracked.

“Targets exist for the measles and flu vaccines. Not having one for Covid-19 suggests the Government doesn’t want to be held to account on this.

“If KiwiBuild taught us anything, it’s that the Labour Government isn’t great at hitting targets. But that shouldn’t matter. Our Covid-19 vaccine rollout is too important not to have one.

Mr Bishop also criticised the slow pace of the Government’s vaccine rollout to date, and the lack of transparency about how many vaccines are being administered in New Zealand.

“Most countries are doing daily, or near-daily, updates on how many people are being vaccinated. New Zealand has to settle for sporadic updates, randomly announced by Chris Hipkins or Ashley Bloomfield.

“New Zealanders should be getting near-daily announcements, published by the Ministry of Health, so everyone can see how our vaccine rollout is going. This isn’t rocket science – it already happens with testing and tracing.

“New Zealand started slow on vaccinations and we’re falling further behind the rest of the world. The latest available public information shows we have administered just 0.56 vaccines per 100 people, while Australia has administered 1.21 vaccines per 100 people.

“We weren’t at the front of the queue for receiving vaccines, like the Government said we were, and our vaccine rollout started slow because of this. It needs to gather pace.”

Call me cynical if you like, but the government is always keen to tell us the good news.

That it has made no mention of this year’s ‘flu vaccination programme, is being quiet about how many people have received the Covid-19 vaccine, has given only vague details about its roll-out to the general population, and appears to have no plan to set targets feeds the suspicion that it doesn’t have any good news about any of this.

 


Rural round-up

24/03/2021

Govt ‘naivety’ cause of crisis – Peter Burke:

Johnny Appleseed is one of the largest apple growers in New Zealand; director Paul Paynter says the current worker shortage crisis in the sector can be sheeted home to Government naivety.

He says when Covid-19 first hit the country – with many people losing their jobs and overseas workers stopped from coming to NZ – the Government was quick to claim it would provide an opportunity for Kiwis to take up jobs in the ag and hort sectors. However, he says while there has been some uptake, the reality has fallen well short of the enthusiastic expectations.

“It was just naïve optimism on the part of Government,” Paynter told Rural News.

He says people are not coming to the Hawkes Bay to pick apples for a number of reasons, the major one being the lack of accommodation. Paynter says there is a housing crisis in the region.

Drinking (milk) to economic recovery – The Detail:

When the price of milk surged 15 percent on the global dairy market earlier this month, even the boss of Fonterra was shocked.

“It was extraordinary,” says Jarden’s head of dairy derivatives, Mike McIntyre. “I’ve been following these auctions now for the better part of 10 years and I’ve seen it previously, but only in the past where we’ve been constrained.”

That was 2013 when the whole country was in drought and very little milk was being produced.

This time, says McIntyre, it is being driven by China’s thirst for milk.

“Last year, the Chinese government came out and essentially issued a directive to the public to say, to ward off the ill effects of Covid they should be consuming more than a glass of milk a day.” . . 

Covid-19 vaccine: Concerns over future uptake in rural areas – Riley Kennedy;

The government is being encouraged to think outside the box when rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine into rural communities.

Earlier this month, the government announced its plan to deliver the vaccine to the wider public.

From May, priority populations will be able to get the vaccine and from July, the remainder of the population will be able to get it.

There have been concerns from some health professionals that the uptake among people living in rural New Zealand could be slow – given some have to travel a long way to see their GP and therefore don’t always bother. . . 

Investing in consumers’ trust – Neal Wallace:

Meat companies are using the Taste Pure Nature brand alongside their own brands as they target environmentally-conscious foodie consumers.

Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) market development manager Nick Beeby told the organisation’s annual meeting that this demographic cares where their food comes from and are heavily influenced by digital channels such as food websites and bloggers who focus on natural foods.

They are considered a significant opportunity for NZ red meat sales, and Beeby says during the covid-19 pandemic consumers were increasingly discerning with their purchases, which was underpinned by the message associated with the B+LNZ developed taste pure nature brand.

“Consumers chose meat products that are better tasting, nutritious and satisfy environmental concerns,” Beeby said. . . 

A platform for red meat’s story – Neal Wallace:

A new website selling the virtues of red meat and dispelling some of its myths is being launched.

An initiative of Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) and the Meat Industry Association (MIA), the Making Meat Better website will tell the sector’s story, and provide information and data, while reinforcing the merits of red meat.

The 150 people who attended the B+LNZ annual meeting in Invercargill this week were told the site will provide data and statistics about the red meat sector, sell the virtues of being grass-raised, its nutritional attributes, while also extolling the environmental stewardship of farmers.

Data on the site will provide a balance to some of the criticism about red meat and farming by providing information on farming’s carbon footprint, action being taken on climate change and provide infographic resources that can be used.  . . 

 

Showgirls, rural achievers shine the way for ag :

The bush has a wealth of young talent who are turning their fantastic ideas and aspirations into reality.

You only have to look at the pages in last week’s Land to find young people who are ready to act or are acting on their projects.

And they are motivated – either by issues that some members of older generations might not want to confront such as climate change – or value adding to the great contributions of previous generations.

They are doing this despite the enforced isolation of the last year from the pandemic. . . 


Announcing an announcement again

23/03/2021

This isn’t a parody account.

This is a mainstream news outlet announcing the date of a forthcoming announcement.

Meanwhile families and friends are separated, marriages postponed, and people aren’t able to visit the dying and attend funerals.

Add to the personal cost, the dire state of many tourism businesses which need a firm date so they can work out whether or not they can hold on to staff, or even survive.

We don’t need an announcement of an announcement, we need to know when we can travel across the Tasman without having to endure MIQ on the return trip.

Few question the goal of keeping Covid-19 out of the country, but most Australian states have had no community transmission for longer than New Zealand.

That all the government can give us is an announcement of an announcement of a possible opening of the border and that it is taking so long to allow a travel bubble with Australia is control freakery, incompetence, or both.


Rural round-up

22/03/2021

Major strawberry grower Perrys Berrys calls it quits amid labour shortage – Kate MacNamara:

Francie Perry, a stalwart of New Zealand horticulture and an outspoken critic of the Government’s inflexible Covid-19 border policy for foreign workers, is throwing in the towel after 40 years of strawberry growing.

Perrys Berrys is among the largest berry growers in the country and appears to be the first major operator to fall victim to a harvest season hampered by a shortage of thousands of workers.

Contacted by The Herald, Perry, aged 71, declined to comment. In recent months she has told both customers and suppliers that Perrys Berrys, the strawberry growing company she founded and owns jointly with daughter Katie Perich, will not plant another crop. . .

National answers horticulture sector’s call for help:

Allowing seasonal workers from COVID-free countries to enter New Zealand without quarantine needs to happen fast to plug the yawning gap in our horticulture sector’s workforce, National’s Horticulture spokesperson David Bennett says.

National Leader Judith Collins today called for the Government to expand its safe zone travel arrangements to include quarantine-free travel into New Zealand for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Doing so would allow for greater numbers to enter via the Recognised Seasonal Workers (RSE) scheme, which would help address the horticulture sector’s labour-force shortfall, which the Agriculture Minister says is up to 13,500 workers, Mr Bennett says.

“New Zealand’s $6 billion horticulture sector is crying out for staff and our Pacific neighbours want the opportunity to come here. . . 

Farmers and government working together — March 2021 – Elbow Deep:

I had a sheep farming friend in Otauau, Southland, who once took me on a tour of his property. It was immaculate, a mixture of flats and gently rolling hills with the steeper areas planted in native bush. As we drove around the farm John outlined his plans for converting the flats to dairy, the value of his land had been swept along with the tide of conversions around him and the banks were very keen to lend him as much as he needed.

John knew exactly where the shed would go, how the paddocks would be subdivided and which areas would remain in sheep to keep his son interested in the farm. When the tour was finished and we were relaxing with a cold beverage, I asked when the conversion was going ahead so I could schedule my move to manage the conversion.

“You know Craig”, he said, “the plan makes perfect financial sense but I’m never going to do it, I just hate mud too much.” . .

Hemp harvest: Waimarama whānau turning over a new leaf – Louise Gould:

Waimarama could become a new hub for hemp after the first successful harvest in the area on Friday.

Innika Broadman from the Waimarama Māori Hemp Collective said the initiative has been set up to get whānau back on their land, sewing their seeds and reaping the benefits.

The collective is working in partnership with Otane-based Kanapu Hempery with the plan to produce hemp seed hearts, hemp oil and eventually hemp milk. . .

 

Rural market consolidates:

Data released today by the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) shows there were 129 more farm sales (+39.2%) for the three months ended February 2021 than for the three months ended February 2020. Overall, there were 458 farm sales in the three months ended February 2021, compared to 517 farm sales for the three months ended January 2021 (-11.4%), and 329 farm sales for the three months ended February 2020.

1,542 farms were sold in the year to February 2021, 23.1% more than were sold in the year to February 2020, with 51.3% more Dairy farms, 3.1% more Grazing farms, 42.9% more Finishing farms and 30.1% less Arable farms sold over the same period.

The median price per hectare for all farms sold in the three months to February 2021 was $25,665 compared to $20,569 recorded for three months ended February 2020 (+24.8%). The median price per hectare decreased 0.8% compared to January 2021. . . .

Ability not gender is everything when it comes to farming – Will Evans:

A few days after our fourth daughter was born, and still with that uniquely joyous spring in my step that comes from having a new baby in a family, I walked into a treatment room to have some work done on my bad back.

“Has it arrived yet?”, the physio asked expectantly. “Yes”, I replied with a beaming smile. “I always said I wanted beautiful girls in my life, and now I have five of them – Branwen was born on Thursday, happy and healthy”.

I don’t know what reply I was expecting, but it wasn’t a look of devout sympathy and “Oh, what a shame for you and your farm”.

I was taken aback at the time, and didn’t know how to respond. But in the five years since then, both my wife and I have received numerous similar comments, usually something along the lines of “You’ll keep going for a boy for the farm, will you?”. It’s something that I encountered again recently. . .

 


AG Minister foot in mouth

20/03/2021

What’s happened to kindness?

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says Covid-19 has taught the tourism industry “not to be so cocky” after a slump in international tourism saw it lose its spot as the top export earner to the dairy industry.

“We have just gone through an amazing 12-month period in our country where we have learnt a lot about ourselves, as people, as a community and as sectors and industries,” O’Connor told an audience of agricultural leaders and politicians at Central Districts Field Days in Feilding on Friday.

“The tourism industry learnt not to be so cocky, that’s not to go around saying how great they are and how big they are, cause it can change,” said O’Connor, who has previously held the role of tourism minister. . . 

Was the industry ever cocky?

And the industry isn’t a single entity, it’s a collection of businesses big and small, many out of the main centers where the jobs it sustained also sustained the communities.

The workers were also volunteers in fire brigades and ambulance services, they bought fuel at the local petrol station and supplies at local shops, their children went to schools which employed teachers.

There were legitimate questions about whether there was too much of a good thing, especially its impact on sensitive natural areas.

But we all got to enjoy the benefits of the export income it earned and the jobs it created.

Many of those tourism businesses, other businesses and services that supplied and supported them and their staff, and whole communities are now under threat because the government shut our borders.

Doing that prevented the widespread devastation that Covid-19 has brought, and is still having, in many other countries.

But the government’s reluctance to safely open borders to countries like Australia is costing jobs and businesses.

The only cockiness is from the government that is basking in international adulation and a minister suffering from a very bad case of foot in mouth disease.


No food no people

11/03/2021

Food security is being highlighted at the launch of the Year of Fruit and Vegetables at parliament last night.

The importance of food security and people having access to fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables is being highlighted at the launch of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables at Parliament tonight (10 March).

“Access to fresh fruit and vegetable growers is essential for healthy people.  What often gets forgotten is the vital role that the people who grow fruit and vegetables play in ensuring fresh fruit and vegetables are on the table,” says Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ) Chief Executive, Mike Chapman.

“Covid has shown us that we cannot rely on imports and has highlighted how lucky we are in New Zealand that we can grow most of our own food.  We need to make sure that we protect this ability. 

“But at the same time, fruit and vegetable growers are being asked to meet increasingly strict objectives for climate change and compliance in general, without the important role of feeding people being factored in.

“If New Zealand is to meet its climate change and economic goals, growers and farmers need to be empowered to adapt and reduce emissions.

“The Paris Accord clearly states that producing food while adapting to climate change is vital.  No food, no people.  As a country, we need to grow fruit and vegetables to feed ourselves and to export, to earn essential overseas revenue. 

“Give our growers the tools, incentives and time, and we could lead the world in climate change adaption and global food production.  This will require significant research and development to find the tools and techniques needed to make a difference.”

Those of the darkest green persuasion may well rejoice in a world without people.

The more sensible among us understand the importance of food security and be worried about the risks – both natural and political – that food producers face.


If don’t look can’t learn

08/03/2021

National is calling for an investigation into the Valentine’s Day Covid-19 cluster:

The National Party is calling for an inquiry into the Valentine’s Day cluster to see where our response went wrong, and what lessons we can learn.

The scope of the inquiry would include:

  • The performance of contract tracing
  • Communication of public health messaging
  • Whether the testing regime met expectations
  • If saliva or antigen testing should be used more fully
  • The legality of orders issued around testing and self-isolation

The contact tracing was well short of the 80% benchmark recommended by then medical researcher, now MP Dr Ayesha Verrall last year.

Communication was confused.

A lot of tests were done but we don’t know if the regime met expectations.

Other countries and private businesses here are using saliva tests. We need to know if more could and should be used here.

That Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield issued a section 70 health order on isolation and testing for contacts and casual contacts of the February cluster on Friday raises questions about the legality of requirements before that.

“National thought the call to go out of Level 3 in February was bold and ambitious. At the time we didn’t know the source of the original case, there were two new community cases that day and not all of the high school students had been tested,” Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says.

“It has since resulted in a week long lockdown for Auckland. These lockdowns are costing the economy half a billion dollars each week. It’s the reason this yo-yoing in and out of lockdown must be avoided.

“This week we’ve found out that our contact tracing isn’t the ‘gold standard’ the Government would have us think. We haven’t met critical measures in the latest two outbreaks, and all locations of interest haven’t been disclosed to the public.”

Ms Collins says it is clear public health messaging needs to be improved.

“This week a young woman was vilified by the Prime Minister and her Government for following the advice she received. This has highlighted the lack of urgency shown by the Ministry of Health to follow up on unanswered texts or calls.

There are reports that the young man who went to the gym had been told he didn’t have to self-isolate after his test too.

“How the domestic border is managed needs improvement too. There were long queues of people trying to get back to Auckland last weekend, and late on Friday afternoon students trying to head home from boarding school were blocked from being reunited with their families at the border with no reasonable explanation.

“We should always be aiming to improve our response, so we should have an inquiry into why Auckland had to back into Level 3 less than two weeks after coming out of a lockdown.

“Going into lockdown should be our last resort and that means making sure our response to any community outbreak is comprehensive.

“If anything, this week has shown New Zealand there is a lot we can work on in our response when community cases arise. We should always be aiming to improve, so an inquiry into the Valentine’s Day cluster is appropriate.

Among the improvements needed is a more nuanced response to lockdowns. If Sydney can contain community outbreaks by locking down suburbs but leaving the rest of the city, and the state, free, why can’t a similar approach be taken here? Does the whole of Auckland have to go to Level 3 and the rest of the country  to Level 2 every time there’s community transmission somewhere in the city?

If the government doesn’t take a very serious look at what happened – what went well and what didn’t – it won’t learn and if it doesn’t learn any mistakes made this time could well be made again at huge cost to individuals, families, businesses, events and the country.


Rural round-up

07/03/2021

We need to remember the ‘silent majority’ who don’t want faux food – Andy Walker:

Being a Kiwi, I don’t want to argue with any Aussies reading this, but pavlova is, in fact, a Kiwi invention.

However, if it’s made from grass, like this one, you can have it. Will this trend towards plant-based food alternatives end? Probably not.

In the EU 3.2 per cent of people are vegans, and 30.9 per cent are either vegetarians, pescatarians and flexitarians.

In New Zealand, the number of people eating “meat-free” has doubled from 7 per cent tp 15 per cent in four years. Australia, which ranks in the top five meat eating nations, now ranks second in the world for vegans. . .

Vaccine timeline for truck drivers necessary – Road Transport Forum :

To ensure continuity in the supply chain, the road freight industry needs to know when truck drivers will receive the Covid-19 vaccine, says Road Transport Forum (RTF) chief executive Nick Leggett.

Leggett says he wrote to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins in January to enquire about vaccine prioritisation used by the Government to determine workers in essential industries.

“The trucking industry is keen to understand when its frontline workers, mainly drivers, might be in line for a vaccination and whether they will be given priority over the general population, given their importance in keeping the supply chain running,” says Leggett.

He says there is increasing urgency in getting truck drivers vaccinated because of the current Auckland lockdown. . . 

Grape harvest gets under way – Jared Morgan:

Central Otago’s wine harvest is under way as sparkling varieties are being picked and pressed.

Winemaker Rudi Bauer, of Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate, said lessons learned from last year’s harvest, conducted during lockdown, had proved useful as the harvest began.

At the 30ha vineyard in Bendigo, pinot noir grapes were being harvested yesterday, with chardonnay soon to follow.

The challenges of getting this year’s crop off the vines were still there in terms of labour, but Central Otago had learned a lot from 2020’s lockdown harvest, Mr Bauer said. . . 

Projects closer to home ‘excite’ – David Hill:

Cam Henderson is excited about some new projects “closer to home”.

The Oxford farmer has already announced his intention to step down as Federated Farmers North Canterbury president at May’s annual meeting and has already filled the void.

Mr Henderson was recently appointed as one of two new associate directors on DairyNZ’s board of directors and has recently been made a trustee of the newly renamed Waimak Landcare Group.

He also planned to step down from his role as Waimakariri Zone Committee deputy chairman, Mr Henderson said. . . 

Largest ever kiwifruit harvest begins:

  • First of 2021’s kiwifruit crop picked in Gisborne
  • 2021 expected to overtake last year’s record of 157 million trays
  • Kiwis encouraged to get involved in kiwifruit harvest

New Zealand’s 2021 kiwifruit harvest has kicked off with the first commercial crop being picked this morning in Gisborne and more kiwifruit to be picked across New Zealand over the coming days.

The 2021 season is forecast to be another record-breaking year with more kiwifruit produced than ever before, overtaking last year’s record of 157 million trays of export Green and Gold. On average, each tray has around 30 pieces of kiwifruit.

The Gold variety is usually picked first, followed by Green kiwifruit in late March. Harvest peaks in mid-April and runs through until June. . . 

Aussies expected to dominate world sheepmeat export supply – Kristen Frost:

The gap between Australia and New Zealand’s export sheepmeat industry has narrowed, with industry experts anticipating Australia will continue to dominate world sheepmeat export supply for the remainder of the decade.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisations (FAO), in 2019 Australia and New Zealand sheep meat exports was 71 per cent of the total sheep meat export volumes.

And recently Australia has eclipsed NZ to become the worlds largest exporter of sheep meat product with 36pc of global trade in 2020, compared to 30pc for NZ. . . 


Who’s responsible?

05/03/2021

Another day and yet more evidence of confusion over Covid-19 information:

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) says posts on a Government website saying a KFC worker did nothing wrong were made in “on the understanding it was accurate” as the information came from the Health Ministry. 

If it wasn’t accurate, what was it doing on the website?

Multiple posts were made on the Unite Against COVID-19 website, which is run by the DPMC, on February 26. The posts were responding to questions from the public and stated that the KFC worker, known as Case L, didn’t need to isolate and her and her family “complied with advice they were given at the time”. 

The Prime Minister said on the same day she was “frustrated” with Case L for not isolating and being at work. . . 

COVID-response Minister Chris Hipkins said today the information was “out of context.” 

But National’s COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said the situation showed even Government departments are confused. 

“This is just baffling and bewildering. The Unite Against COVID-19 Facebook page is posting the Ministry’s own advice while Ministers dissemble and play the blame game. It is deeply unedifying.”

A spokesperson for the DPMC said the posts were “made in good faith” on the understanding that the information was correct, but “recognises the use of the word complied in the reply made it more definitive than it should have been.” . . .

On the understanding that the information was correct? More definitive that it should have been? Surely all communication on an official website should be correct and definitive.

It should also be clear, easily understood and not open to varying interpretations.

Who’s responsible for ensuring that it is? It’s not the members of the public that the politicians are criticising.

It’s the same people who are responsible for all the other mistakes and shortcomings in the Covid-19 response – the government and the Ministry of Health.

It is less than edifying to have different government agencies bickering publicly about who was right. It wouldn’t be happening if there was a single Covid recovery agency responsible for all policy and communication.


Questions Royal Commission can answer

04/03/2021

Richard Prebble has many questions only a Royal Commission can answer:

. . .The Herald set out issues for a Royal Commission. The country’s pandemic plan was so “fatally flawed” it had to be abandoned. “In late March, stockpiles of tests were down to only six days’ supply. Our contract-tracing capacity was limited and able to manage only 10 cases simultaneously”. “New Zealand was ill-prepared. It was only by good fortune…- that we avoided the fates of Milan, New York or London.”

We can now add more issues. The critical shortage of PPE equipment. New Zealand was the 63rd country to close its borders.

The forecast of 3.32 million Covid-19 cases by July last year was wildly inaccurate.

Opposition MPs in an election year were placed under what was effectively house arrest.

The High Court has ruled the first lockdown was illegal. What was Crown Law’s advice?

Why was technology not used like in the UK to keep Parliament open? The Opposition was co-operating. If Parliament had been open legislation could have authorised the lockdown.

Why were butcher’s shops and greengrocers closed but supermarkets remained open?

Why did the Cabinet override officials and close down low-risk occupations like construction?

Are researchers correct in claiming because of hospitals closing down and deferring appointments and operations the lockdowns over time will kill more people than they have saved?

How is it that Taiwan with a population of 23 million has had fewer Covid cases and not one lockdown or school closure? Why can Taiwan track community transmissions in a few hours?

Why does the Government still not know the origin of the present outbreak?

The Prime Minister is placing the blame for the present lockdown on a 21-year-old. He got tested at his initiative. Would an inquiry find that as a known contact of a positive case contact-tracing should have ensured he was tested 10 days ago? Is the Government also to blame for the lockdown?

Then we have the quarantine. Is it sensible to lock up travellers for 14 days from countries that have no Covid?

The most serious long-term issue is the admission by the Prime Minister that the Government adopted eradication because our hospitals are so poorly equipped the health system would be overwhelmed. . . .

Other questions a Royal Commission could answer:

  • Why did the PM and DG of Health keep saying there were no problems with PPE and flu vaccines when those on the ground kept saying there were and were proved to be right?
  • Why were there so many mixed messages over who should be self-isolating after last month’s community transmission?
  • Why didn’t contacts who didn’t respond to phone calls and emails get a visit?
  • Why did it take so long to regularly test border staff?
  • If we were at the front of the queue for vaccines, why have so many other countries been able to vaccinate so many more people so much sooner?
  • Why don’t the Ministry and Ministers learn from mistakes?

And another very important question: why won’t the government initiate a Royal Commission?

Prebble has the answer:

The Government has concluded the political cost of refusing to hold an enquiry is less than the cost to its reputation of having one.

It was re-elected with an outright majority because of its response to Covid.

It, and the PM, have garnered international praise for that response.

But day by day it becomes apparent just how much of the success was due to luck and the latest debacle shows the luck is running out.

If the government is not prepared to undergo the scrutiny of a Royal Commission it won’t understand what went wrong and why, and worse it won’t be able to learn from its mistakes and ensure they don’t happen again.


Too much politics not enough science

03/03/2021

Auckland Professor of Medicine Des Gorman is less than impressed with the ‘deja vu’ lockdown:

The situation the country has found itself in was “déjà vu” after the second lockdown in less than a month, one medical professor says. 

The latest cases of Covid-19 have plunged Auckland back into Level 3 lockdown, with the rest of the country at Level 2 – coming barely two weeks after the last three day lockdown. 

Auckland University professor of medicine Des Gorman told Mike Hosking it seemed plans were being made up on the spot. 

He said it showed our “inconsistent risk-management approach”, and the Government needs to improve 

“If we needed to be in level three two weeks ago, then coming down to level two in one was clearly precipitous and early.” 

Why is it like this?

Gorman said the Government’s Covid-19 response was too much politics and not enough science. . .

The way Prime Minister Jacinda Arden chose to put herself front and centre of the daily sermons from the podium of truth made the response overtly political.

There might have been grounds for her presence and delivery at first in reassuring the country as we faced the first lockdown and growing numbers of Covid-19 cases.

But she chose to stay in the limelight long after one of her ministers and more appropriately Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield should have been the ones delivering updates.

That paid off with the election result giving Labour an outright majority but it came with risks that MIchael Bassett points out are now becoming apparent.

Watching TV last night, I couldn’t help thinking that the Prime Minister’s extraordinary luck is starting to run out. Every aspect of her lockdowns was questioned. Endless bungling over the South Auckland community outbreaks of Covid 19 were revealed, and she didn’t seem very happy about any of it. She has only herself to blame. After twelve months of wrestling day in, day out with the virus it was inevitable that eventually she would lose control of issues, given that so many other things have to be dealt with by any Prime Minister.

This is why successful leaders of governments have learned over the years to delegate. Jacinda Ardern has a bloated ministry of 26 members with two under-secretaries as well, but she insists on doing too much herself. She’s been told by her advisers that she is the surest pair of hands in the Ministry and that her popularity is vital to Labour’s standing with the public. For three years now that has been true, and even although she has sometimes seemed to be engaged in a running totter around the lip of chaos, she has remained upright. The overwhelming impression I gained from last night’s news was that if she insists on handling every detail and fronting every day on Covid 19 she will fall in. After twelve months of testing, getting the results takes far too long, contributing to the recent South Auckland problems; contact tracing has been haphazard of late; assurances the Prime Minister kept giving about lockdown rules and their enforcement proved to be wrong; her line on whether to pursue people who break the rules has been wobbly to say the least; and the silly decision to stop short of vaccinating front-line GPs in South Auckland, which wasn’t her call, reflected back on Ardern because her control of everything Covid is so omnipresent. . . .

That worked for her when she had our trust but that is being eroded by repeated lockdowns and the apparent failure to accept mistakes are being made and to learn from them.

Perhaps the international praise has gone to her head.

There is no doubt New Zealand looks good when compared with many other countries, but as Heather du Plessis-Allan points out, we don’t compare well with others:

We will always tell ourselves another lockdown is fine if we keep comparing ourselves to the worst Covid-hit countries, especially the UK and the US. Because seven days looks paltry compared to the months and months they’re pulling in the UK.

But what about all the places fighting Covid without yo-yoing in and out of lockdowns What about all the places that haven’t even had a single lockdown?

We’ve talked about Taiwan ad nauseum. Not a single lockdown there, and only nine deaths. By comparison we’ve had 26 deaths and several lockdowns.

What about New South Wales, which is increasingly looking like an example of how to combat Covid. They haven’t had a single state-wide or Sydney-wide lockdown this entire pandemic. Meanwhile, Auckland has had four lockdowns, which will be a total of 11 weeks – or nearly three months – at the end of this week.

NSW’s biggest city, Sydney, hasn’t had a single week with the whole place in lockdown. NSW has had 54 deaths, which isn’t bad for a population of about 8 million.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s response is nuanced. They lock down suburbs and hotspot areas, so if there’s a flare-up in the Northern Beaches, the restrictions are limited to the area, not the entire state, or even the entire city. Compare that to NZ, where Invercargill is in level 2 right now.

NSW is actively trying to avoid lockdowns. They have an excellent contact tracing system so they can put sick people into isolation, rather than all people into lockdown.
And last I checked they just went 40 days or so without a community case.

You are welcome to keep comparing us with northern hemisphere countries who are in the depths of winter to see how well we’re doing, because we’re always going to be better than the absolute worst in the world.

Or you can compare us to NSW, just across the ditch, to see how much better we could be doing.

Lack of compliance with isolation requirements is the immediate cause of the latest lockdown but as the ODT editorialises, we can point our fingers at the government too:

The Government, and especially the Ministry of Health, does not escape blame. Despite many hard-won improvements over the past 12 months, parts of the ministry’s operations are still lethargic when these crises hit.

New Zealand’s lucky streak, supposedly, ended because of the community case from one of the few Papatoetoe High School families not contacted for about a week after contract tracers went to work. Apparently, various phone numbers were often tried.

The failure to door-knock within days, however, was not misfortune but lack of urgent drive. Any decent media reporter, when phone calls failed, would have been visiting the family home long before the first family positive test.

Similarly, the wait by patients for many hours for advice from Healthline is poor.

How many people, who should have been tested, simply gave up? An underlying message is that the Government, despite all the strong words, might not really care that much. Only now, late as usual, do we learn of further scaling of surge capacity on Healthline.

There remain major questions, too, about the lack of use of saliva testing. . . 

There are also questions about the MInistry’s and government’s competence when contact tracing is failing us:

After more than a year of dealing with Covid-19 the Government is still failing its own contact tracing performance measures and is failing to be open and transparent about locations of interest, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

Information supplied to National from the Health Minister show that in both the recent Northland case and the Papatoetoe outbreak, the Ministry of Health failed against two measures of contact tracing that were considered ‘critical’ by the Government.

The Government sets a target of having 80 per cent of contacts of an index case located and isolated within four days. But in some cases related to these two incidents, only 52 per cent of contacts were isolated within four days.

“Alongside reports from the current Papatoetoe outbreak that contacts were called but not visited, this shows the Government needs to do better with contact tracing,” Dr Reti says.

“Dr Ayesha Verrall’s audit into the Government’s contact tracing regime last year made it clear that our system was lacklustre, and the Government promised to turn this around.”

The Government needs to say whether its contact tracing indicators have ever been completely met in any of the many community outbreaks since the Americold community cases sent Auckland into lockdown last year, Dr Reti says.

“There is no excuse for not implementing Dr Ayesha Verrall’s recommendations in full given she’s sitting right there at the Cabinet table.”

Meanwhile, recently released documents show six locations of interest were undisclosed in the recent Northland outbreak – nearly 20 per cent of all the locations in that case.

“The Director General of Health has said non-disclosure is a rare event but nearly 20 per cent of all locations can’t possibly be considered rare,” Dr Reti says.

“It’s important that the public knows these locations because it impacts not only the people inside but potentially those outside, like kerbside rubbish collectors.

“Properly identifying locations of interest would likely lead to more people coming forward, rather than less.

Claiming that medical centres don’t need to be disclosed because they have an appointment book that shows who was there doesn’t really work as an excuse, Dr Reti says.

“As someone who has owned and managed many medical centres, I know it’s not possible to tell who is in the waiting room at any one time, who are accompanying patients, or who has entered just to use the bathroom or pass a message on.

“We need to understand the rules for non-disclosure and they need to be consistently applied and with an assurance that the risk of transmission is exceptionally low.

They might have got away with mistakes in the early days when, as they pointed out there was no rule book.

But it’s now a year since the first case of Covid-19 was diagnosed in New Zealand and that excuse has long past its use-by date.

Most of us have done as requested but patience wears thinner with each lockdown and the government’s failure to be open about its plans over where-to-from-here raises questions over whether or not it has one.

Businesses are justified in asking for the plan to be made public.

Some of the country’s most powerful business leaders are demanding the government lay out its Covid-19 plan, including how it is measuring its current strategy and its plans to get the border open. . . 

The group is calling for clarity and openness, saying the details need to be made available beyond government circles.

Mercury chair Prue Flacks said major New Zealand businesses would welcome the opportunity to assist the government in its longer-term planning.

“We’ve seen the open and transparent approach taken by Australia on its vaccine roll-out plan, the launch last week by the United Kingdom government of a clear plan to manage a path out of its current lockdown and the ongoing success in Taiwan of avoiding lockdowns through using technology to manage home isolation.

“It will be beneficial for all New Zealand if the Ministry of Health and other agencies take an open and transparent approach to the development of a path towards sustainable virus management.” . . .

We are all justified in not just asking for the plan, but asking that it be less about politics and more about science.


There is a better way

01/03/2021

You’ve got to feel sorry for Aucklanders.

Level 2 is bad enough for the rest of us with the impact on businesses and the uncertainty about public events and private functions.

How much worse if must be for Aucklanders at Level 3 – again.

It’s easy to say with hindsight, shifting the city out of Level 3 after only three days was a mistake.

There’s no point looking back to cast blame but we must learn from what’s gone wrong and look forward to how to do much better.

And National has a plan for that:

National is urging the Government to get on top of the latest Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland by adopting a five-point plan for managing community cases, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop and Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti say.

National’s five-point plan for managing community outbreaks:

  1. Introduce rapid antigen testing – nasal swab tests that return results in 15 minutes.
  2. Roll out high intensity, well-staffed testing stations across Papatoetoe and at every single location of interest
  3. Conduct higher intensity wastewater testing at suburb and sub-suburb levels in Papatoetoe
  4. Set aside enough vaccines for all border and port workers, then priority vaccinate South Auckland
  5. Increase monitoring of people who are required to self-isolate, including spot checks

Mr Bishop says New Zealand should follow the example of Taiwan where managed isolation at home comes with strict protocols, such as random phone calls and requests to confirm their location through a video call or supplying an image.

“The high trust approach we take to self-isolation in this country comes with risks, as we’ve seen over the past few days.

“New Zealanders have largely done a great job of following self-isolation advice but it’s unlikely we’ll ever have 100 per cent compliance, and it’s extremely frustrating when a small number of people don’t follow the rules.

“Monitoring of self-isolators should be ramped up to guarantee compliance. This means regular spot checks, and if no contact is made within 24 hours then police are involved.”

The Government also needs to roll out more staff across more testing sites to cut down waiting times and make it easier for people to visit a testing station, Mr Bishop says.

“Long queues and wait times will discourage people from getting tested. We need to fix this.”

Dr Reti says the Government should also introduce rapid antigen testing in New Zealand. These nasal swab tests provide results in 15 minutes and are common overseas.

“Rapid antigen testing would allow us to test large numbers of New Zealanders, quickly. Those who test positive would then have their results confirmed by a standard PCR test.

“These tests are common in other countries like the United States where there are FDA-approved home test kits for less than $15.

“They are especially good for giving quick answers and peace of mind to people who are showing symptoms of illness and want to know if they have Covid-19.”

Rapid antigen tests would be an added layer of testing alongside the standard nasal PCR tests already being done here. Our Government already considers them reliable enough to accept them as a pre-departure test for arrival into New Zealand.

Dr Reti says there should be daily wastewater inspection at ports, and at a more granular level in Papatoetoe than just the main interceptors.

The Government should also set aside enough vaccines for all border and port workers, then priority vaccinate South Auckland, starting with Papatoetoe High school followed by wider Papatoetoe in parallel with border and health workers.

“South Auckland presents an increased risk of transmission due to the density of its population and the number of border workers who reside there,” Dr Reti says.

We understand the need to prioritise other vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, for vaccination but stopping outbreaks at the source is also a form of protection of these groups.”

That we’ve been able to enjoy a summer as near to normal as it could be with the border closed looks more and more as if it was due to good luck than good management.

We can’t keep relying on luck.

None of the suggested improvements National is suggesting look difficult and whatever the cost it would be less expensive than shutting down Auckland and restricting what the rest of us can do, again.

 


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