Govt must underwrite events

18/02/2021

Last year’s New Zealand Agricultural Show was cancelled months before it was scheduled to happen.

. . . Agricultural Show president Chris Herbert explained the cancellation was necessary as preparing for a major event in November that “may or may not be able to proceed” could result in spending hundreds of thousands of dollars that may not be recouped. . .

It was one of many events that were cancelled last year owing to Covid-19 induced uncertainty.

This week’s lockdown has prompted more including Napier’s annual Art Deco festival.

Until there is a lot more certainty that cancellations are unlikely, event organisers will be very, very wary.

It’s not just the organisations holding events that miss out from events that don’t happen, it’s all the businesses that supply, service and support them and others like those in the hospitality and retail sector that would benefit from more visitors.

But organisers have to be prudent when so much money has to be spent before the events that wouldn’t be recouped if they had to be cancelled.

What’s needed is underwriting to cover the costs of planning and organising events if lockdowns lead to them being cancelled and it should come from the government.

I’m not suggesting public funds are thrown at anyone who wants to organise an event, but long-established ones like festivals and A&P shows should qualify for underwriting.

Without that insurance no-one can blame any organisation that decides that planning an event isn’t worth the risk when there’s so much uncertainty over whether it could go ahead.


Systems failures

16/02/2021

No matter how good systems are, there’s always a risk of problems because of human failure.

When systems aren’t as good as they could and should be the risk of failure is far, far greater.

New Zealand has had 11 outbreaks of Covid-19 in the community in the last few months.

Multiple shortcomings in systems and protocols uncovered by the Simpson Roche report  point to systems failures in most if not all and it looks like this is the case with the latest one, and that isn’t a surprise:

Otago University epidemiologist Professor David Skegg says it’s no surprise Auckland is going back into lockdown.

“I don’t think we should see this as a surprise, I’ve been saying this all along. There will be more lockdowns in 2021 I’m afraid,” he told Nine to Noon. . . 

Sir David said border workers were doing a good job and they shouldn’t be criticised if there was fault or gaps, but rather the system.

“Recently, I have a sense that the Australians, we’re lagging behind them in some of the precautions. For example, in NSW now, there’s mandatory daily saliva testing of everyone who works at the border or hotels which are MIQ facilities.

“But we’re still doing weekly tests, or in the case of this woman who wasn’t herself been exposed to travellers, but she was working with people who were – she was having fortnightly testing and because she happened to be away the day they came around, it went [on for] four weeks.”

He said slowly piloting voluntary saliva testing once a week was not good enough.

“We need to stop dragging our feet and get on to that quickly.” . . 

The private sector is already going where the government is lagging:

Corporates are signing up for a privately-provided high-frequency saliva test for Covid-19, with government testing services unable to meet the capacity demands of more frequent testing.

On January 22, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced voluntary daily saliva tests for workers at quarantine facilities – first Auckland’s Jet Park, and then dual-use Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities in Wellington and Christchurch.

But just as they got off the ground at Jet Park, they were stopped so the Ministry of Health could focus resources on an outbreak centred at the Pullman Hotel facility in Auckland. Stopping the saliva testing was “due to the need to concentrate efforts on testing at the Pullman managed isolation facility”, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said this morning.

The delayed testing finally got properly underway last week, the Ministry said – more than a fortnight late. As the Ministry testing programme has struggled to cope with higher demand, three organisations have already pushed ahead with privately-provided saliva tests, including Auckland Airport. . . 

If as the government tells us, keeping Covid-19 out of the community is a priority, the Ministry must have the resources to react to outbreaks without sacrificing routine testing.

In November last year, the Simpson-Roche report into New Zealand’s Covid response said the Government had taken too long. “Many other jurisdictions internationally are relying on saliva tests for the bulk of their surveillance,” the report found.

“While work is underway in New Zealand on verifying such testing, on current plans widespread introduction is still more than two months off, even though in other jurisdictions saliva testing, involving large numbers of test per day, has been well established for several months.

“The New Zealand time frame appears to be driven by a presumption that saliva test would replace the PCR test. This need not be so, as it could well be complementary.

“All efforts should be made to introduce saliva testing as soon as possible as part of the range of testing methods being conducted. If necessary outside assistance should be sought to accelerate development. While sensitivity of saliva testing may be slightly less than the current method, the ability to test more frequently and with greater acceptance, may far outweigh that.”

Two months later, Hipkins announced the deployment of saliva tests in the quarantine facilities, saying they would operate as an additional screening tool alongside nasal swabs, for the country’s highest risk border workers. . . 

But that hasn’t happened and meanwhile, Rako Science has quietly deployed its testing in three Auckland organisations. In an announcement scheduled before the latest south Auckland outbreak. the company tells Newsroom it already has capacity to run 10,000 tests a day. Rako has offered its services to the Ministry of Health, but officials chose to rely on the over-stretched ESR labs instead. . .

It’s hard to think of a good reason for turning down this offer from the private sector when public labs are overstretched.

Grice was coy about the pricing in New Zealand, saying it was about $40 to $50 but could be cheaper for bigger companies, because of economies of scale. He said it worked out about 80 percent cheaper than nasal swabs.

Whatever the cost, it would be a lot less than the multi millions of dollars locking the country down costs and it would be another much-needed systems improvement.


Rural round-up

14/02/2021

Stoush brews between Environment Minister and farmers over freshwater rules – Rachael Kelly:

A stoush is brewing between Southland farmers and Environment Minister David Parker over the Government’s new freshwater rules.

About 94 per cent of farmers that registered to attend a meeting hosted by farming advocate group Groundswell to discuss the freshwater regulations indicated they would not pay their Environment Southland rates in protest against the new freshwater rules introduced by the Government last year.

The group also polled farmers on holding more tractor protests and not applying for resource consents, and which has prompted Parker to again remind Southland farmers that ‘’no one is above the law’’. . . 

Almost half vehicle related deaths on farms could be avoided if seatbelts were used :

WorkSafe is advising farmers to buckle up after an analysis of vehicle-related fatalities found that nearly half those that occur on farm could have been avoided if a seatbelt was being used.

The data analysis, completed by WorkSafe New Zealand, revealed that not wearing seatbelts while on the job was the largest single factor contributing to fatal work-related accidents.

The data analysis coincides with the launch of a new side-by-side vehicle simulator which will spend the next six months travelling New Zealand’s agricultural Fieldays and featuring in the FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition. . . 

Rural contractors say red tape obstructing access to overseas workers – Sally Round and Riley Kennedy:

The rural contracting industry says red tape means they can’t make the most of some overseas workers who’ve been allowed into the country.

Last year, with borders restricted due to Covid-19, the government granted more than 200 critical worker visas to machinery operators to help with the summer harvest.

Rural Contractors New Zealand chief executive Roger Parton said just under 200 came in and the season had progressed reasonably well.

However he said there had been some bureaucratic issues which meant some workers had not been allowed to move to another employer. . .

New Zealand Merino Company launches apparel industry’s first 100% regenerative wool platform:

The New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) and global Merino wool apparel and footwear brands Allbirds®, icebreaker®, and Smartwool® announced they are working collectively with 167 sheep growers to create the world’s first regenerative wool platform that represents 2.4 million acres (more than one million hectares) in New Zealand. They are doing their part to tackle the impact of the global fashion industry, which is responsible for 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

“We are on a journey of continuous improvement that recognises and celebrates progress over perfection. Through our industry-leading carbon footprint work with our leading brand partners, and with support from the Ministry for Primary Industries, we know on-farm emissions represent approximately 60% of the emissions associated with woollen products and are our biggest opportunity to lower our impacts,” says John Brakenridge, NZM CEO. “ZQRX is an important and necessary evolution of our ethical wool program, ZQ. Through the adoption of regenerative practices that both store more carbon and emit less, we could reduce our on-farm emissions down to zero.” . . 

Small steps boost biodiversity vision:

Farmers discovered that there are many ways to protect and enhance mahinga kai and biodiversity values while visiting Waimak Farm in Eyreton last week.

The 612-hectare farm includes the largest remaining kanuka stand in North Canterbury and due to its important biodiversity values this area is being protected by farm managers Richard and Susan Pearse.

Richard says the kanuka stand provides an important seed source and seedlings have been taken from the area to try and recreate a similar ecosystem in other dryland areas. He is aiming to plant approximately 1000 native trees per year throughout the entire farm. . . 

Farm environment plans optimised on digital platform:

The government’s fresh-water regulations are close to being fully in place, and most in the primary sector acknowledge regardless of which government is in power, the rules will by and large remain in play. Included within them is the need for all farms to complete a farm environment plan (FEP), identifying the farm business’s land management units and how environmental risk within them will be managed and mitigated.

Ideally, farmers want to take ownership of their FEP. They know their farm best, they know its limitations and challenges, and how to work sustainably within them. More often than not, it is simply a case they hold this in their heads, rather than on any formal plan template.

But FEPs have to be more than a compliance driven “box ticking” exercise, and need to deliver real benefits not only to the environment, but to farmers’ profitability, given the time and commitment required to complete them. . . 

 


Rural round-up

09/02/2021

Environmental reforms putting more pressure on struggling farmers – Nadine Porter:

More mental health resources and shorter waiting times to access help will be needed to support dairy farmers trying to follow proposed new environmental rules, industry advocates say.

Rural Support Trust Mid-Canterbury wellbeing co-ordinator Frances Beeston said there had been at least a 30 per cent rise in farmers seeking support since Christmas, and she believed that would increase further as more environmental reforms were introduced.

The Climate Change Commission released a draft plan last week designed to help the Government meet its promise of reaching net zero emissions of long-lived gases by 2050, and reducing biogenic methane emissions by 24 to 47 per cent by 2050.

The plan noted current policies would lead to an 8 to 10 per cent reduction in New Zealand’s livestock numbers, but said a 15 per cent drop would be needed to meet the Government’s targets. . . 

More trees less stock – Peter Burke:

More science and technology, more trees and fewer livestock is the prescription that the Climate Change Commission has offered up in its draft report on how to reduce greenhouse gases in the agriculture sector.

The report covers all aspects of New Zealand society and includes agriculture. In the 200 page chronicle, the Climate Commission sets out a plan for NZ to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2050.

It is a draft report, based on the commission’s own research and submissions from a wide range of organisations and individuals. It is now out for consultation before a final report is prepared by the end of May.

Commission chair Rod Carr says to achieve the Government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050, there needs to be transformational and lasting change across society and the economy. He says the Government must act now and pick up the pace. . .

Will wool go the way of whalers? -Pete Fitz-Herbert:

“Being the best whale hunters in the world didn’t protect the whaling fleets.”

That comment from Climate Commission chair Rod Carr about New Zealand’s low-emission beef and dairy production, has Manawatu farmer Pete Fitz-Herbert thinking about the future of the wool industry:

In the future – will farmers be seen as whalers are now?

How long, before the last whale was harpooned off the coast, was the writing on the wall that it wasn’t the career choice that it once was? . . 

Why you should eat your heart out for ‘Organuary’ – Jacqueline Rowarth:

Encouraging people to eat more animal organs for Organuary may seem like a light-hearted response to the vegan movement, but research shows it could reduce greenhouse gases, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth investigates.

Eating the heart of your enemy might seem a bit extreme these days but in the past it was an acceptable part of a surprising number of cultures – surprising until one considers food scarcity, that is.

Eating whatever was available was a matter of expediency and the lore that arose around what each part of the body signified shows an early awareness of basic function.

Eating the brain and tongue gave knowledge and bravery; the heart gave courage and power. . . 

MBIE funds hemp research :

A Taranaki-based medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp venture is part of a group that will investigate ways to turn hemp seed hulls into products for the global market. Greenfern Industries is part of a partnership that was awarded $145,000 in cash and in-kind funding for research into products created from the by-products of hemp seed oil processing. Greenfern will work alongside industry partners Callaghan Innovation and Hemp Connect as part of the project funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Bioresource Processing Alliance (BPA).

BPA invests in research and development projects with the aim of generating additional export revenue for New Zealand by working with the primary sector to get better value out of biological by-products.

Boarding school parents sick of borders closing ‘at the drop of a hat’ – Jamieson Murphy:

THE parents of interstate boarding school students are constantly worried that when they drop their children off at school, they may not be able to get home, with state borders slamming shut “at the drop of a hat”.

The Isolated Children’s Parents Association has called for a nationally consistent and long-term approach to border restrictions for boarding students.

ICPA president Alana Moller said while urban schools were closed for weeks during COVID outbreaks, many rural students were not able to return to their boarding school for months, even several terms due to border closures.

“Students from western NSW who board in Victoria weren’t able to go, because they weren’t sure if they could come back,” Ms Moller said. . . 

 


Have they learned?

03/02/2021

Southern hospitals have a bad case of bed-block:

Southerners who have already endured more than 21 months’ delay receiving an operation are being placed back on waiting lists due to bed block.

Unless the issue was taken seriously and tackled urgently, the problem would continue unabated, Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming said in a report to be considered by the board tomorrow.

“The impact of these challenges is added burden of stress on our staff, potential harm for patients, and cancellation of planned patients due to lack of resourced beds.

“This must change, and we need to have a very clear focus on this with urgency.” . . 

The problem isn’t new, nor is it confined to the south.

For several months the SDHB has being try to manage high hospital occupancy, a phenomenon also noted by many other hospitals around the country.

DHBs are still trying to find the cause of the problem, but suspect it may be because patients who would normally have been treated during Covid-19 lockdown were now being admitted to hospital more seriously ill than they were beforehand, and needing longer treatment time for more complex conditions.

The patients who were now missing out on operations were among those who had waited the longest for surgery, Mr Fleming said. . . 

We know how many people contracted Covid-19 and how many died. We will probably never know how many people had deteriorating health and quality of life, had to wait longer for treatment and how many died sooner than they would have had they been treated earlier.

It didn’t need to be this bad.

When the country first locked down, closing all hospitals for all but the most urgent cases was prudent.

Nobody knew what would happen and experience overseas showed how quickly hospitals could be overwhelmed by patients with Covid-19.

But once it was obvious that the disease had peaked and numbers contracting it were declining, why couldn’t some hospitals have been left to deal with Covid patients while the rest got on with treating other patients?

That this didn’t happen during the first lockdown might was bad enough, that it didn’t happen when Auckland was locked down a second time showed the government hadn’t learned from earlier mistakes.

The shortcomings that led to the most recent community case and ineptitude in handling it shows failure to learn isn’t confined to hospital policy and that is eroding trust.

. . . Any new outbreak will have major health, economic and social costs. But there will also be another significant casualty.

Until now, politicians and public health officials have been able to draw on their social capital, the trust they have earned. But that trust is conditional.

If leaders are seen as failing to act and letting foreseeable failures happen, that has the potential to seriously weaken the collective support and compliance that is absolutely pivotal for current public health measures.The Conversation

The changing narrative from front of the queue for vaccines to prevaricating over when they’ll get there is doing nothing to bolster confidence in government, and ministry, capability that has been eroded by evidence that neither have learned from mistakes.

That is very concerning because without trust and confidence, maintaining compliance will be much harder if, or as is likely, when there’s a need for another lockdown.

 


Rural round-up

29/01/2021

Covid minces meat prices – Sudesh Kissun:

Farmgate red meat prices are taking a hit as Covid continues to disrupt dining out businesses around the world.

Beef prices are down 16% on a year ago, lamb prices down around 18% in New Zealand dollar terms.

ASB economist Nat Keall says it’s a more muted start to the year for beef and lamb prices when compared to dairy.

Keall notes that lamb prices in particular aren’t too far above the lows seen in the immediate post-pandemic churn.

Dog detective sniffs out pest plants in Wairarapa – Marcus Anselm:

New Zealand’s leading dog detective was unleashed in Wairarapa’s wetlands on Tuesday as part of the fight against invasive toxic weeds.

Bailey is part of the Department of Conservation’s [DOC] Conservation Dogs Programme.

The seven-year-old boxer-short haired pincer cross, and her pal Wink, are trained by Graeme Miller, a 38-year DOC veteran and canine specialist based in Invercargill.

The age-old partnership of man and dog is augmented by high-speed technology. . . 

 

High dairy prices push up Synlait payout forecast by 13% :

Speciality dairy company Synlait Milk is lifting its milk payout forecast by nearly 13 percent following strong world prices.

The company has increased its base milk price by 30 cents to $7.20 a kilo of milk solids from $6.40/kg.

Synlait national milk supply manager David Williams said dairy prices had risen strongly in recent months and were expected to stay around current levels for the rest of the season. . . 

New Years honours recognise QEII covantors:

A new year brings with it the New Year’s Honours list, where New Zealanders who have made significant contributions to their communities are recognised and thanked for their workWe are incredibly honoured to have several QEII covenantors on the New Year’s honours list this year and are proud to celebrate their achievements along with the rest of the amazing individuals on the honours list.  

Gillian Adshead and Kevin Adshead 
Gillian and Kevin Adshead were both awarded The Queen’s Service Medal for their services to conservation.  
 
The Adsheads are conservation champions in their community, connecting with other landowners and farmers to support and encourage conservation practises. They are both QEII covenantors and started the Mataia Restoration Project in 2005, which focuses on pest control on their 1,300-hectare family farm.  
 
Their efforts allowed for kiwi to return to Mataia in 2013 and following this, the pair foundethe Forest Bridge Trust.  . . 

Pernod Ricard winemakers selects Trellis to dynamically predict yield, quality and timing of grape harvest:

 Pernod Ricard Winemakers, the premium wine division of Pernod Ricard, today announced that food system intelligence innovator Trellis will support its business and supply chain operations by providing accurate grape yield, quality, harvest timing and procurement cost prediction across Australia and New Zealand.

“As we continue to lead the wine industry into the digital era, we are committed to working with artificial intelligence (AI) innovators that are reimagining global supply chains. We were impressed by Trellis’s expertise in the industry and proven ability to scale across complex business units and multiple geographies,” noted Alex Kahl, who is leading the project and the optimization of technology across operations for Pernod Ricard Winemakers. “We are excited to give our teams the ability to more accurately predict risks and uncover new opportunities for efficiency.”

A leading advocate for advanced supply and demand prediction, Pernod Ricard Winemakers expanded the deployment of Trellis across its grape supply network throughout New Zealand and Australia.  . . 

View From the Paddock: Ag – lead the exodus we need – Bess O’Connor :

I can hardly bring myself to talk about 2020 or the stupidity that continues to go on with borders.

They somewhat resemble the dozen, hair-trigger mouse traps around my house, snapping closed in the dead of night for absolutely no reason, as a hollow and unproductive threat to the mice going about their business around them.

Last year demonstrated clearly how overlooked and disregarded our ‘small community’ of 2 million rural Australians is.

Yet, in the rubble of a country that no longer knows who it is, where it’s going, or how the hell to get there; we might be the only unified, borderless team left. . . 


Before the luck runs out

29/01/2021

Each time there’s news about shortcomings with our Covid-19 response it looks more and more as if the success is due more to good luck than good management.

The latest shemozzle adds to that suspicion and the need for improvements which several health professionals have suggested.

Writing kast year after the release of the Simpson-Roche report which showed just how bad management had been, Eric Crampton wrote that we had to block the border holes :

The University of Otago’s epidemiologists listed a series of measures that would obviously help to reduce the risk of future outbreaks. Many are simple; some would take more work. But when outbreaks cost billions of dollars, in addition to obvious health costs and distress, even a percentage point reduction in the risk of an outbreak can be worth millions.

The epidemiologists’ suggested measures work to reduce the risk of transmission, to reduce the risk of missed cases, and to reduce the costs of any missed case that does make it through.

They suggest adjusting the intensity of border control measures to the risk involved in travel from different places. It makes little sense, for example, that travellers from places where Covid is widespread and transmission is uncontrolled are treated the same way as travellers from places without Covid, like the Covid-free islands, Taiwan, and parts of Australia.

A traffic-light system, designating more stringent controls for travellers from risky places, could help.

On the simple and obvious range of the spectrum, the epidemiologists recommend reviewing testing regimes for incoming travellers.

Currently, travellers are subject to two PCR tests while in MIQ. The tests are costly and invasive, and accurate. Rapid antigen-based saliva tests have been available for months but are not as accurate as PCR tests. Good testing protocols can consider trade-offs between frequent tests that are cheaper and less accurate, and less frequent tests that are more accurate.

But, since August, accurate PCR saliva-based testing following the University of Illinois’ SHIELD system protocols have been possible. The tests provide faster results, are accurate, provide less risk of transmission during testing, and are much less expensive to process. Where a regular nasal swab test can induce sneezing, the Illinois test only requires saliva collection.

Shifting from one test per week to near-daily testing would have obvious advantages.

Faster identification of positive cases would mean that those who were infected would be more quickly shuttled to dedicated facilities where they would be less likely to pass the virus to others.

And extending near-daily testing to border staff would make it far more likely any infections would be caught more quickly, reducing transmission risk.

Border staff are now offered daily tests but they aren’t required to have them.

Other obvious and relatively inexpensive measures recommended by the Otago epidemiologists included enhanced monitoring of close contacts of border workers, wastewater testing at border facilities and in areas near border facilities, and pre-departure testing for travellers coming from risky places.

In the heat of an election campaign, National’s proposals for mandatory testing before travelling were portrayed as impracticable, ineffective, or both. But saliva-based antigen tests, like the Abbott BinaxNOW test which recently received FDA Emergency Use Authorisation, could be used right at the airport departure gate. Testing at the gate would reduce the risk that infectious people board the plane and infect their fellow passengers. It certainly would not substitute for a stay in MIQ, but it would reduce the number of arriving cases.

A negative result form a test within 72 hours of departure is now required but a test at the airport immediately before departure would be even better.

Reducing the number of arriving Covid cases, or at least preventing that number from increasing, matters. New Zealand’s health system can only handle so many positive cases, and that constraint seems to guide much of how MIQ operates.

There are many opportunities for the MIQ system to expand to handle more arrivals, safely. People arriving from low-risk places could stay in facilities that had been ruled out because they were too far from hospitals, for example, leaving more room in other facilities for travellers from riskier places.

The MIQ system has been exceptionally reluctant to consider those kinds of options. It makes little sense, unless measures that would allow more people into MIQ from risky places would mean more positive cases than officials believe the health system can safely handle.

Preventing those who are infected from boarding the plane reduces the number of positive cases arriving here, which means that more travellers overall could be accommodated. More Kiwis could safely return home, and more people could safely join us, if those with Covid were less likely to board flights here in the first place.

And that brings us to the Otago epidemiologists’ more difficult option – but one that is well worth considering. They suggest running MIQ facilities in high-risk jurisdictions; they had made similar suggestion in October. The government could set a pilot programme providing MIQ facilities in a country that is the source of many positive cases found in our MIQ system. Travellers could isolate before travel to New Zealand, reducing the risk of transmission.

MIQ in New Zealand would still be required if there were risk that passengers could contract the virus at the airport. But it would reduce the number of positive cases arriving here, enabling more Kiwis to come home safely. And an MIQ facility in the UK would also reduce the risk presented by the more contagious form of Covid now prevalent there.

It would be impossible to bolt every possible door against future outbreaks. But Otago’s epidemiologists point out several opportunities for making our borders safer. Far better to bolt those particular doors now, rather than read about them again in a future Simpson-Roche report.

Mike Hosking has a few more suggestions:

A few ideas on how MIQ should be working. Currently, not only is it run badly, it’s not run to its full potential.

It’s run with fear as a driving force and fear limits your ability to think, excel and expand.

Firstly, the experts the Bakers and the Gormans are right. The fact they are virtually all in major centres is insanity, especially with the new strains.

More of New Zealand needs to be used. More military facilities need to be used

Flights from certain countries for now need to be stopped. Tests on day 0, 3 and 12 work well, but isolation post-MIQ is now necessary.

Everyone is in the room and stays in the room for 14 days, full stop – Australia has it right.

I would carve out sections for business. I would allow a small number or perhaps a group of businesses to provide private facilities overseen by the government. This would allow workers and students to re-enter the country into isolation without the numbers jam we currently have

I would allow an exemption system for private isolation. It would cost and the fines would be gargantuan, Australia has it and it works. It allows people with job opportunities and money to come and go.

Yes, there is an egalitarian backlash, but this is about moving forward, not being bogged down with whinging.

At the best of times life isn’t fair. If allowing some who can afford it to pay more for private isolation, with very strict guidelines and very, very expensive consequences for not adhering to them, allows more people to come in safely, let the whingers whinge while the rest of us get on with our lives.

The bubble with Australia would be up and running and running. The key here is MIQ: if MIQ worked and was run properly, we wouldn’t have the leaks.

If we didn’t have the leaks we wouldn’t be constantly chasing our tail running nine hour queues for testing and generally having fear run rampant in various communities.

And when MIQ works, you can travel with confidence. You’ve been able to travel with confidence to Australia for months now, it’s just our fear that’s held us back.

And in traveling freely to Australia, you’ve just freed up a significant portion of MIQ spaces, thus allowing yet more New Zealanders to return home.

None of this is rocket science. None of its new, it’s all been suggested, a lot of its been done elsewhere. . . 

We can be grateful that we can enjoy the freedom to move and congregate around New Zealand that people in very few other countries have. But if, as it increasingly appears, it’s due more to good luck than good management the management must improve and improve quickly before the luck runs out.

And not only must the systems and processes for existing MIQ improve, they need to do so in a way that enables more people to come in safely for the sake of people needing to return and for the boost it could provide to the businesses which are short of workers.


Who else is assiduous?

25/01/2021

As news of more virulent cases of Covid-19 overseas and in managed isolation facilities here increased, the chances of someone in the community testing positive grew, and now it’s happened:

The person, a 56-year-old woman who has recently returned from Europe, tested negative twice during her 14 days in managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. However, after leaving managed isolation, the woman became symptomatic in Northland and sought a test, which came back positive. . .

The woman lives with just one person, her husband, who is not symptomatic but has been tested. Four other close contacts from the couple’s travels around southern Northland have been identified, contacted and tested and their contacts are also being traced. Testing centres would be set up around Mangawhai. The woman had been travelling around southern Northland together because she had been overseas. “They were not meeting friends, just spending that time together,” said Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

The woman was “extremely assiduous” in using the NZ COVID Tracer app to scan QR codes, Bloomfield said. He said she also had the Bluetooth tracing function enabled and the Ministry of Health would notify others who had Bluetooth enabled and may have been in proximity for long enough to be a close contact. . . 

That she has taken great care to use the tracing app makes it easy to know where she’s been and the Bluetooth tracing will alert others using it.

But what about people who don’t either don’t have Bluetooth function or aren’t assiduous about using the app?

I didn’t download the app until Auckland was locked down for the second time when I realised how hard it would be to remember where I’d been in the last fortnight.

Since downloading it I have been assiduous about using it even though some businesses don’t make it easy to see and then scan the QR code before or as soon as you enter.

But from what I’ve observed I’m in a pretty small minority and my observation is backed up by official figures:

In November, there were an average of 866,000 scans per day.

That dropped to 516,000 in December and has slipped to 465,000 per day in January so far – almost half of November levels.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said people needed to stay on high alert as the virus spread quickly, and cases continued to increase globally.

He asked people to take the time to scan in with the app, or record their own diary so contact tracing could take place quickly if there was another outbreak. . .

 Given the need to do contact tracing quickly, why weren’t the places the woman who’s tested positive had visited made public immediately?

The Government’s delay on revealing the locations the Northland woman who has tested positive for Covid 19 has travelled is reckless and risks making a dangerous situation much worse,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“How can people self-isolate and get tested in a timely manner if the Government won’t tell them they’ve been somewhere they may have contracted the virus?

“People want to take personal responsibility at times like this but the Government needs to be transparent and treat them like adults.

“Hopefully the Northland woman’s assiduous use of QR scanning and having Bluetooth turned on by will give tracers a big helping hand, but the potential for the virus to have spread over the days since she tested positive is of huge concern.

“She deserves real kudos, but appallingly low use of the app by most others means tracing is going to be extremely difficult. . . 

The official line is that businesses visited were being notified before they were identified.

Why?

If the woman was infectious when she visited these places other visitors and staff are at risk. Their health and that of everyone else they’ve been in contact with should come first. If they haven’t been diligent about using the app, publicising places of potential risk is the only way to alert them and that should be done without delay.

Public awareness and safety ought to take precedence over privacy concerns for the businesses.

Besides, given the time it’s taking to alert the businesses, it’s likely they would find out sooner with a public announcement than a personal call.

The sooner they find out, the safer it would be for their staff and customers, many of whom won’t have been assiduous in their use of the app.


Rural round-up

23/01/2021

Stronger business investment by farmers too – is essential for New Zealand’s post-Covid recovery too – Point of Order:

In  its Thursday editorial  the NZ  Herald  speaks an important truth:  “Investment important to  stay  on  track”.  This  won’t  have  startled  its  more literate  readers but  in  its text  it notes  the  strong result  in the latest  Global Dairy Trade auction, which  prompted Westpac  to raise  its  forecast  for  dairy giant Fonterra’s payout  to its farmers to $7.50kg/MS  this season.

“If  this turns  out to be correct,  it will represent the highest  payout in  seven years for  a  sector of  the economy that is arguably still  NZ’s  most  important, even before international  tourism was effectively suspended by Covid-19”.

The  Herald editorial  goes on to make the case that despite the buoyant mood,  the  only  realistic  way for  NZ to remain   in such  solid shape in the  post-Covid era  is  through stronger  business  investment.

This  is  the theme  which  Point  of  Order  set  out  earlier  this  week when it  contended  Fonterra  should go hard  with this  seasons’s payout  to  encourage  investment  by its farmer-shareholders  in expanding  production. . . 

Drought conditions and fire: which regions have reason for concern? – Katie Doyle:

It was a hard summer for many last year, with widespread drought crippling some regions.

Fire bans and water restrictions were in place throughout the country, and with February coming up, there are worries that could happen again.

Northland principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor is already on high alert amid a region-wide fire ban.

“At the moment things are still quite dry, not as bad as they were last year,” Taylor said. . .

A different way of life – Tony Benny:

A North Canterbury family has embraced permaculture to feed themselves and teach others how to do the same. Angela Clifford and Nick Gill talked to Tony Benny.

New Zealander Angela Clifford and her Aussie partner Nick Gill were highfliers in the Australian wine industry when, 17 years ago, Nick was offered a job in New Zealand. They left corporate life behind in favour of getting their hands dirty and creating a different way of life.

“I thought the customs guy at the airport was going to give me a hug and high five. He literally said to Angela, ‘You’ve brought one back’,” laughs Nick, remembering the day they arrived in NZ. . . 

Growing demand for wool fibre – Annette Scott:

A big year is planned for the Campaign for Wool New Zealand Trust as it shifts its focus to drive the demand for wool fibre.

New chair Tom O’Sullivan says while the mandate of the trust is to promote the education and awareness of wool, the focus must go further to support the strong wool industry.

“I feel it goes further than education and awareness, we must be focused on supporting commercial entities to create and sell wool products to drive the demand for wool fibre in general,” O’Sullivan said. . .

Expat workers ready for New Zealand :

Dairy industry recruitment company Rural People Limited is seeing a huge increase in overseas interest to fill New Zealand farming roles.

Rural People director Paula Hems says these overseas workers will be key to keeping the economy in a healthy position. While there has been an increase in Kiwis applying for farming roles since Covid-19, Hems says they often do not have the experience or the right attitude to fill the many roles available. This has seen a need to expand and consider overseas workers.

Rural People hires, on average, 100 Kiwi and overseas workers annually to work on dairy farms throughout New Zealand, as more farmers face urgent labour needs. . . 

Les Everett’s epic quest to uncover Australia’s ‘lost’ cricket pitches – Toby Hussey:

West Australian amateur historian Les Everett is on a mission to document the relics of Australia’s cricketing past, no matter how many kilometres he has to cover.

So far, he has travelled thousands of kilometres and spent hundreds of hours poring over maps and newspaper archives to locate WA’s “lost” cricket pitches.

Mr Everett, 65, says each one has a unique story to tell.

Many of those he’s found are now overgrown or surrounded by fields of crops that have sprouted in the decades since they last heard the echo of willow striking leather. . .

 


Front to back

20/01/2021

Last year Chris Hipkins said New Zealand would be at the front of the queue for vaccinations:

. . . Hipkins told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning New Zealand was “very well placed” to get its hands on successful vaccines for the virus, which has so far killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide.

“Without going into detail I think we’re in a very good place to ensure that as vaccines start to come to market New Zealand will be at the front of the queue to be getting vaccines,” he said. . . 

If that’s the case, why is the government scrambling to get vaccines for border staff?

It’s disappointing the Government is only now trying to get a batch of vaccines for our frontline workers when this should have been a priority in the first place, National’s COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“Three months ago COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand was at the front of the queue for a vaccine. Now we are begging providers to give us a small batch to vaccinate frontline staff.

“This is a Government failure, pure and simple.

“Why has it taken pressure from National to kick the Government into action and source vaccines for our border workers?

“If the contracts the Government originally signed with vaccine manufacturers included a contingency for vaccinating frontline workers, we wouldn’t be in this position. The fact that we are is due to negligence from the Government.

“If Singapore and other countries, many without COVID-19, are able to vaccinate their border workers immediately, why can’t we?

“So much for going hard and going early.”

While we have no community transmission there is validity in the argument that other countries have priority for mass vaccinations.

But that doesn’t weaken the case for offering vaccines to workers at the border and in Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities.

Their health is at risk all the time they are near incoming travellers and if they contract the disease there is a very real risk that we will have community transmission.

Once again the mantra hard and early is contradicted by actions that are lax and late.


Neither hard nor early

18/01/2021

Customs have warned a traveller over not providing a negative Covid-19 test before arriving in New Zealand.

All arrivals from the United States and United Kingdom are now required to provide a negative result 72 hours before departure.

A Customs spokesperson told RNZ that the person was leaving the UK under an “emergency situation” and received the warning.

The spokesperson said Customs is currently taking an “educational approach” to people arriving without evidence of a pre-departure tests. . . 

The nature of the emergency situation isn’t explained.

But this begs several questions:

  • what makes an emergency situation sufficiently serious to side step the requirement to have a negative test before boarding a plane bound for New Zealand?
  • if pre-boarding negative tests are required to keep Covid-19 out of the country, how big is the risk of allowing exceptions for emergencies?
  • who made the decision to allow the passenger to bypass the test before s/he boarded?
  • what use is an educational approach to someone who is already here?

This feels awfully like late February to mid-March last year when health experts and people who had been in other parts of the world where the virus was rampant were warning the government that it should be doing a lot more to keep it out.

In spite of the oft repeated line, the response was neither hard nor early then and it’s beginning to look more than a little late and lax now.


If one’s wrong why not the other?

14/01/2021

Initial reports of Covid-19 called it the Wuhan or Chinese virus.

The someones who worry about such things decided this was racist and the name changed.

For weeks we’ve being hearing about the UK strain but the someones who worry don’t appear to be worrying about afixing that strain to that place.

If it’s offensive to name a virus after one location isn’t it offensive to name it after another?

And if it’s not isn’t it condescending, patronising and indeed racist to deem some places in need of linguistic protection that is not needed for others?

 


Are we ready?

13/01/2021

How serious is the infection rate for Covid-19 in the UK?

This serious:

That tweet is from a doctor in the USA.

In New Zealand we are in the very fortunate situation of having no community transmission of the disease – at least none we’re aware of.

Is enough being done to ensure that continues and is enough being done to keep border workers safe?

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to deepen overseas, the National Party warns we’re exposing people to a “totally unacceptable” level of risk at the border. 

Four new cases were announced in managed isolation on Monday, and with the threat of two new strains of the virus looming, Judith Collins is telling the Government to start vaccinating now or consider closing the borders.

She’s accusing the Government of playing fast and loose with the new, more infectious strains of COVID-19, and agrees with epidemiologist Michael Baker, who told Newshub on Sunday it’s time to consider closing the borders to some countries.

“I think we are being a bit slow in response to these new, more infectious variants. I think now we have to be very proactive again and take decisive action,” he said.

“At one extreme, unfortunately, I think we may need to look at suspending travel from countries where this new variant is circulating very vigorously.” . . 

The government has already announced stricter conditions for returnees:

On Tuesday, the Government announced it will give the Director-General of Health the power to require a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test from all New Zealanders returning to the country – and he will soon do so.

Arrivals from Australia, Antarctica and some Pacific Island nations will be exempt.

Currently, just those returning to New Zealand from the UK or the US have to test negative prior to departure. . . 

Now all returnees will have to remain in their hotel rooms until they can be tested on their first day back in New Zealand. . . 

These measures will increase the likelihood of catching anyone who is infected and quarantining them sooner, but is it enough?

Citizens always have the right to come home.

Does that mean the government doesn’t have the right to require anyone coming from countries where the disease is rampant to be disease-free before they board a plane to return?

Even if they can, it would take time to to set up and in the meantime highly infectious people are coming home.

Is our border secure enough and are we ready if it’s not?


Keep Covid-19 behind other borders

12/01/2021

I thought the government was being unnecessarily cautious when it wouldn’t open the border with Australia when there was no community transmission there.

Subsequent outbreaks show the caution was justified and now there is even more reason to be far more cautious.

The government has been too slow to require testing before people boarded flights to New Zealand, as National suggested in August.

Those tests are now mandatory but National’s Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop says the government isn’t going far enough:

. . .“Now that pre-departure testing is recognised as adding to our border protection it needs to be extended to all returnees not just those from the UK and the US. The Government needs to explain why this protection will not be compulsory for all returnees.

“The confirmation that returnees from the UK and the US will be required to have their first test on day 0 in New Zealand makes a mockery of the Government’s arguments as far back as August that day 3 testing didn’t need to be compulsory because day 12 testing was.

“National has been calling for day 3 testing, as the first test in New Zealand, to be compulsory, but the Government refused. Now, suddenly, a day 0 test is required.

“The reasoning for day 0 testing today is the exact same as for compulsory day 3 testing months ago. That is, as soon as possible compulsory testing should be undertaken when people enter New Zealand.

“We support compulsory day 0 testing and call on the Government to make all border testing compulsory. Ensuring day 3 testing is compulsory is important as this is when most people test positive.

“This announcement however runs the risk of creating substantial confusion around who needs pre-departure testing and which testing is compulsory.

“An easy way to simplify this is to pick up National’s Border policy which requires all returnees to be tested prior to departure, and that all border tests in New Zealand should be compulsory.”

How hard would it be to go further still and require managed isolation for 14 days before people board planes?

The only way Covid-19 can spread in any country without community transmission of the disease is through holes in the border.

If everyone flying was required to stay in managed isolation for two weeks and have a negative test before boarding a plane it would keep the disease behind other borders.

It’s not just the destination countries that would benefit from this policy, it would protect everyone whose job potentially puts them at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Allowing people who could be carrying the disease to board endangers airport staff,  airline crew, all passengers, everyone who works on border control; the people who drive passengers to MIQ hotels; and all staff at the hotels.

It wouldn’t be an inexpensive exercise, but it would be a lot less costly in human and financial terms than an outbreak which necessitated any further lockdowns.

Drastic action is even more important now that more virulent strains of the disease are being  spread and questions are being raised about staffing at MIQ hotels:

Nurses working at managed isolation facilities across the country have raised concerns about staff shortages and instability.

These problems were formally recognised in an audit by the Ministry of Health in October.

The ministry said the matters have been addressed – but many health care professionals working at border facilities disagree.

The Infection Prevention and Control Audit of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facilities was released publicly last month. In it, the ministry revealed more facilities have been facing staffing shortages and roster problems.

In a statement to RNZ, the ministry confirmed all matters identified in the audit had been followed up and addressed.

But that is rejected by two of the country’s largest nursing unions, which have hundreds of members working in MIQ facilities. . . 

Who do we believe – the Ministry, or the people working in MIQ?

This is awfully like a repeat of complaints of insufficient supplies of flu vaccines and PPE from people on the ground that were met with repeated assurances from the ministry, and politicians, to the contrary.

The people who had no vaccines to give and those working with inadequate PPE were later proved to be right.

That experience makes it more likely the nurses’ concerns are valid and makes it even more important to ensure the virus is stopped before it gets to our borders.

The only way to do that is for everyone wanting to come here to isolate for 14 days before they board a plane.


Lax and late

04/01/2021

Newshub’s Covid 19 timeline gives the lie to the government’s claim of going hard and early:

. . . January 6: Newshub first reports on the “mystery virus”, when there had been just 59 cases reported. . .

A long list of warning signs and straight warnings from medical experts follows until:

March 26: New Zealand goes into a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, closing most businesses, schools and workplaces. Seventy-eight new cases are confirmed. Lots of people arriving in the country have no plans to isolate.  . .  

The timeline shows that rather than hard and early, the government was lax and late.

Does that matter when Covid-19 has, largely, been stopped at the border and life is as near to normal as it could be with the borders still closed?

If it was only a political slogan it wouldn’t matter.

But if the government believes its own rhetoric and doesn’t accept that it was lax and late and then harsh it does matter.

That would mean it hasn’t learned from its mistakes and the report on our Covid-19 response by Heather Simpson and Brian Roche that was released after parliament rose for the year, showed plenty of mistakes and lessons which need to be learned.

One mistake the report didn’t address was that the lockdown was more than hard, it was harsh. Using the arbitrary essential to determine which businesses could operate rather than allowing those that could operate safely to do so.

That distinction did a lot more damage to too many businesses at a high human and financial cost.

Another problem with harsh rather than hard was delays to diagnosis and treatment of other health problems.

Closing all hospitals to all but those in dire need could have been excused at first. There was no rule book and overseas experience showed the very real risk of hospitals becoming overrun.

However, once it was obvious that case numbers had peaked and were declining with no untoward pressure on the health system, why couldn’t some hospitals have been directed to deal with Covid-19 cases and the others left to treat other patients?

I know of two people whose diagnosis of cancer wasn’t made because their symptoms weren’t considered urgent enough for appointments during the lockdown and who later died. It is possible that might have been the outcome even had they been diagnosed earlier, but whether or not that was the case for them, delayed diagnosis for a variety of ailments will have led to worse outcomes in terms of both quality and length of lives.

One of those was a friend who broke her wrist just before lockdown. It was set in plaster but the cast was too loose. She wasn’t able to get a replacement during lockdown, endured months of pain and incapacity and finally had surgery in December when the wrist had to be rebroken. She is now now just halfway through 10 weeks in plaster.

Has the government learned from its mistakes?

The continuation of the arbitrary essential  rather than safe for which businesses could operate and determination that hospitals were closed for all but absolute emergencies when Auckland went back into lockdown shows they hadn’t learned by then.

They say they’ve addressed, or are addressing, the issues raised in the Simpson Roche report that was completed after that. But have they?

We can be grateful that the lockdowns worked, that there is no community transmission of Covid-19 and we are able to live as normal lives as possible with the borders closed.

But that gratitude shouldn’t blind us to the fact that our freedom owes a lot to luck rather than good management.

With the new more virulent strain of the disease in MIQ at the border, it is even more important that the government  ensures everything possible that can be done is being done to make sure it stays there.


Rural round-up

01/01/2021

Roll on 2021  – Rural News editorial:

There is no doubt that 2020 has been a challenging year for New Zealand and the world.

However, despite this, our country’s farmers have soldiered on doing what they do best – farming!

The country’s farmers stepped up during the lockdown, as an important part of New Zealand’s essential services, adapted quickly and kept on farming despite the constraints.

If there is one good thing to come out of Covid-19, it has further emphasised the vitally important role that the agriculture sector plays in NZ. At a time when other major sectors have been adversely affected, farming is playing – and continues to play – an increasingly vital role as a source of income and employment for the country. . .

2020: a most unusual year – Colin Miller:

2020: It definitely has been a most unusual year!

“Who would have thought / I never would have thought…” really sums up our year rather accurately, don’t you think?

Quarantines, social distancing, bubbles and masks were certainly not words on people’s lips, or in the media, when 2020 broke in on us January 1. For the sports fans; who would have thought the Warriors would need to be based in Aussie or drop right out of the comp?

Who would have thought that Super Rugby would be shut down this year, and then the All Blacks would also need to be based across the creek? And, whoever would have thought games would get played with no spectators – before empty grandstands! . . 

Long service to cattle industry :

ONZM

DENIS AITKEN

Dunedin

For services to the dairy industry and the community

Denis Aitken has always believed in paying it forward.

The Dunedin man appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit said he was “gobsmacked” to hear the news.

“I’m pretty humbled … I do enjoy helping the community. . . 

Wanaka woman forestry scholar – Yvonne O’Hara:

Maude Rogers decided earlier this year that she wanted a career in forestry science.

The Wanaka teenager could see it taking her all over the world or working as a sector researcher for the Ministry for Primary Industries.

She was delighted when she was named as one of eight recipients to be awarded a 2021 Nga Karahipi Uru Rakau forestry scholarship .

The scholarship provided $8000 a year for four years, and was designed to encourage more women and Maori to enter New Zealand’s forestry and wood processing sectors. . .

Scholarship allows dream career in beekeeping to take flight :

A Bay of Plenty teen has been given a boost into his dream career in beekeeping after receiving the 2020 Apiculture New Zealand Ron Mossup Youth Scholarship.

Ohope-based Angus Brenton-Rule says he was thrilled to receive the scholarship which provides $2000 to support training and set up costs for new beekeepers, a one-year membership to Apiculture NZ (ApiNZ) and attendance at ApiNZ’s national industry conference.

“I was really, really happy to get it. I didn’t expect it, but I thought I might have had a small chance since I’ve been studying apiculture and fascinated by bees most of my life,” he said.

Brenton-Rule’s childhood interest in bees began with watching YouTube videos of hives in action, and then he got a taste of the real thing when some family friends started beekeeping.

Woola raises €450k to replace bubble wrap with sheep wool:

We’re excited to announce we’ve just closed an investment round of 450 000 euros led by Ragnar Sass, the co-founder of Pipedrive and Lift99. He was joined by Pipedrive co-founder Martin Tajur, Bolt co-founder Martin Villig, Klaus co-founder Kair Käsper, business angel fund Lemonade Stand, Karina Univer through the Atomico Angel Programme, ex JPMorgan Alejandro Jimenez, and a few other angel investors.

Woola takes the waste of one industry – leftover wool – and uses it to solve the waste problem of another – online shopping. Most online stores use plastic bubble wrap to ship fragile items, adding to the global plastic pollution problem.

  • More than 100 billion parcels are shipped every year globally, commonly packed in bubble wrap. Bubble wrap degrades in 500-1000 years and is a large polluter of ocean life. . .


Rural round-up

23/12/2020

Resilient Kiwi spirit kept agriculture strong through pandemic :

Kiwi ingenuity and a drive to “make it work” have been pivotal in New Zealand’s agriculture sector getting through the COVID-19 pandemic with relatively little impact, according to a new study by AgResearch and its partners.

Farmers and others working in the agriculture and food systems in New Zealand and Australia were surveyed or interviewed about the impacts of COVID-19 in the period through to June 2020, which included national lockdowns. While acknowledging overall negative effects, additional stress and pressures from the pandemic and response, only 47 per cent of New Zealand survey respondents viewed the effect on their farms or businesses as negative over that period. A further 37 per cent said the effect was neutral. . . 

Nuffield Scholars’ tour taking in NZ– Yvonne O’Hara:

Southland dairy farmer Lynsey Stratford is looking forward to her “world tour of New Zealand” as part of the 2021 Nuffield New Zealand farming scholarship programme.

She was one of five people to be awarded scholarships. In addition to extensive study and travel, each scholar completes a project, which looks at improving an aspect of primary sector production.

Mrs Stratford would focus on farm health and safety; how to make farms safer for people working on them and what could be learned from other industries.

She had also been looking forward to the four months of overseas travel, which was part of the scholarship. However, as Covid-19 border restrictions meant that could not go ahead, organisers were putting together an alternative travel itinerary. . . 

Lambs sell to Southland buyers – Suz Bremner:

Lambs that were sold at on-farm sales in South Otago and Southland had a much shorter journey than others offered in the past few weeks, as Southland buyers secured the majority.

The first on-farm sale for the week was Dunmore Farm Ltd at Clinton, and Rural Livestock agent Mark Sheppard says the vendor was pleased with the results. 

“The sale was held in a howling nor’wester, but by the end of the day the vendor and purchasers were happy,” Sheppard said. 

“Buyers were from South Otago and Southland, and lambs were sold undrafted for this second annual sale.”  . . 

Lamb the top choice on Christmas Day – the great 2020 Kiwi Christmas survey :

The results of the most important vote of the year are in; lamb will be the most popular protein on Kiwis’ plates on Christmas Day. 

The result comes as part of the Classic Kiwi Christmas Survey – the third edition of the poll run by Retail Meat New Zealand.

The poll of over 1,800 Kiwis covering a range of Christmas traditions, saw lamb rise to the top as the go-to meat of choice with 37% of respondents saying they’ll be serving it for Christmas. Ham was a very close second with 32% and beef came third with 13%.

With lockdowns and a lack of travel impacting everyone in 2020, it’s unsurprising that 93% of respondents stated that spending time at Christmas with family was the most important part of Christmas – a three percent increase on 2019. . . 

Bostock Brothers wins sustainability award

Hawke’s Bay organic chicken business Bostock Brothers has won an award for its circular system methods such as recycling its home compostable packaging to use on its maize paddocks.

The business took out the Good Food Award at the 2020 Sustainable Business Awards. This award is presented to an organisation which is “transforming the food system to create a positive impact on people and/or the environment”.

The company was the first meat producer in New Zealand to use home compostable packaging and now also allows customers to return the packaging if they do not have a home compost, which creates a circular system.

The returned packaging is put into a large compostable site where it breaks down quickly and easily with the right amount of soil, heat oxygen and water. . . 

Nine-year growth trial in NT finds interesting comparisons – Bob Freebairn:

Cattle grazing in the long term grazing management trial at Douglas Daly Research Farm, 220 km south of Darwin. The nine-year study found better cattle performance on set stocked areas than intensively rotationally grazed ones.

THE published paper, “Effect of high-intensity rotational grazing on the growth of cattle grazing buffel pasture in the Northern Territory and on soil carbon sequestration”, while in a climate quite different to NSW is interesting.

The detailed research over nine-years, mid-2009 to mid-2018, was conducted at Douglas Daly Research Farm, 220km south of Darwin where average annual rainfall is 1209 millimetres usually falling between October and April. Growth of cattle was greater both per head and per hectare under continuous grazing (CG) compared to intensive rotational grazing (IRG). . .

 


Is it fit for purpose now?

22/12/2020

Heather Simpson and Sir Brian Roche delivered their report on New Zealand’s Covid-19 response in September. It was finally released last week, after parliament had risen.

Given it’s content, it’s not surprising the government didn’t want parliament’s scrutiny and did want public attention elsewhere.

Thomas Coughlan says the report is damning – and particularly damning of the Ministry of Health, the heroes of the Covid-19 response.:

Of the 28 recommendations made across two reports, 25 were for the Ministry – the criticism is wide-ranging and accusations of what amounts to a power grab by the Ministry of Health, which didn’t properly share information with other ministries or even ministers and failed to cooperate properly with the rest of Government.

The report found that the there was “inappropriate accountability” for different parts of the strategy and that “numerous written reports” from the Ministry on progress it was making at the border “did not always reflect concrete action on the ground”.

The report said the Ministry’s approach to the implementation of policy “was often seen as being at odds with the overall collective interest”.

Testing rates – something we know is crucial to the keeping Covid out – were kept low because the Ministry was lax in actually paying the people doing the testing.

Unsurprisingly this led to “increased dissatisfaction with the system and at times made for reluctance to increase testing rates, consequently reducing access”.

This gives credence to the view that keeping the disease out has owed a lot to luck.

It’s little wonder that the official answer for not releasing the report earlier was to give the Ministry time to respond to allegations of serious failings on their part.

Other parts of the Government “without exception… expressed concern at their ability to be ‘heard’ by the Ministry of Health.

Other agencies and the private sector said the Health Ministry acted without full regard for the impact of its decisions, even as they “consistently sought more input into operationalising implementation plans”.

This can’t have been helped by the fact that the big cross-government group (All of Government group or AoG) set up to manage the pandemic didn’t actually include the Ministry of Health. The Ministry decided on its own not to participate.

Did the Ministers know that?

Once the country went back into level 1, that problem deepened. The AoG “effectively became a ‘Rest of Government Unit’ being everything other than Health”.

This was a problem because at the time, difficulties n communication in the Health Ministry meant future planning had to be put on hiatus.

Throughout the pandemic, public servants and ministers have struggled to strike the balance between public heath and other concerns. This report suggests that the Ministry of Health didn’t even try to strike that balance, sending off policy advice to ministers before consulting other parts of Government.

“The Ministry of Health is the principal advisor to the Government as it is essential that decisions taken as part of the response are firmly grounded in the best public health science,”

“At times, however, this seems to have been interpreted as meaning that advice should not be influenced by information or legitimate concerns expressed by other sectors.

“That should clearly not be the case,” the report said.

Is anyone being held accountable for that?

“Too often decision-making papers have gone to Cabinet with little or no real analysis of options and little evidence of input from outside health or even from different parts of the health Ministry or sector,” the report said.

The reviewers acknowledge that such chaos would be forgivable in the first weeks of the pandemic, but “it should not be continuing eight months into an issue as we are currently facing”. . . 

The MoH is a policy organisation not designed for implementing strategy, but if it was sending papers to Cabinet with insufficient analysis it wasn’t even doing policy well.

Michael Morrah lists the key themes in the report:

  • consistency and quality of communication, and consultation with relevant stakeholders was suboptimal
  • inappropriate accountability for various aspects of the strategies and their implementation
  • border control directives have been difficult to understand and implement
  • lack of clarity in the testing framework
  • lack of good forward planning from the perspective of an end-to-end system
  • underutilisation of health expertise outside the Ministry of Health leading to suboptimal analysis and planning documents
  • lack of confidence in data being reported to key decision makers.
  • The report says “exhausted” officials weren’t ready for the August outbreak, which sent Auckland back to alert level 3 after 102 days of no community transmission.

“The immediate goal had been achieved and much focus rightly turned to supporting economic recovery. In hindsight, however, better use could have been made in the 102 days to prepare for the inevitable outbreak. 

“This is important, not as a criticism of the actions in the past, but because it is essential, we learn that lesson now.” 

Have the lessons been learned and the necessary changes been made?

The patchwork of agencies and ministries involved in the response had done well, the report said, but the arrangement wasn’t sustainable in the long-term fight against COVID-19.

“We don’t have a status quo model which is well understood and could serve effectively for the next 24 to 36 months,” Sir Brian and Simpson said. “While the model is improving it is not yet fit for purpose.” 

It wasn’t fit for purpose when the report was written, is it now?

New South Wales has had another outbreak of Covid-19 and the UK has a new and more virulent strain of the disease which will almost certainly come here:

New Zealand will see the new variant of Covid-19 from the UK here within the next few weeks, a top epidemiologist warns.

But, the new Covid-19 variant found in the UK is potentially only a problem for New Zealand if the virus is imported and it starts an outbreak here, Professor Michael Baker said. . . 

“Basically every time we get an infected person going into a MIQ facility in New Zealand, it increases the risk of outbreaks because mistakes happen and it’s a tough virus to control.”

He said a simple measure is to add an extra step, an additional period of MIQ stay in the UK and having a negative test result before travelling.

“We will be bringing this virus into New Zealand now, or in the next few weeks because it’s becoming the dominant virus there.”

National Party election policy was to require MIQ and a negative test before people boarded planes to come to New Zealand. That wouldn’t stop everyone with the disease but it would catch some of them.

The logistics wouldn’t be easy and it wouldn’t be cheap but if it kept at least some infectious people out of the country it would be worth it, especially if our model isn’t yet fit for purpose.

The Simpson Roche report is here.


Rural round-up

16/12/2020

Agriculture minister warned of impact of Covid-19 on industry’s future – Eric Frykberg:

Minister of agriculture Damien O’Connor has been has warned that the primary sector faces strong headwinds as the impact of Covid-19 lingers on into coming years.

In its traditional briefing to the incoming minister, the Ministry for Primary Industries said the global economy was forecast to decline by 4.4 percent this year.

Although agriculture withstood the impact of Covid-19 better than most sectors and enjoyed growth of 4.6 percent annually between 2010 and 2020, it would be exposed to weak demand from a nervous world economy, and some sectors were likely to struggle financially.

This problem would be especially severe as governments around the world eased back on fiscal and monetary stimulation, thereby reducing the buffer between ordinary businesses and general economic conditions. . . 

Government warned about potential spread of wilding pines – Eric Frykberg:

The government has been warned that without controls, wilding pines could cover one fifth of all New Zealand’s land area by 2035.

The warning came in a briefing to the incoming minister of biosecurity, Damien O’Connor.

These briefings come after every election and alert an incoming minister to the main problems that must be dealt with.

The briefing from Biosecurity New Zealand, which is part of MPI, said some progress had been made in dealing with wilding pines. . . 

1980s downturn recorded in book – Linda Clarke:

Mid Canterbury farmers today are among the most productive on the planet, but 35 years ago they were angry and bitter about government policies that were driving some from their land.

The rural downturn of the 1980s had a big impact on the district’s farmers and their families. The businesses of Ashburton suffered, too.

Emotional and hard decisions made then continue to have ramifications for some families today, says first-time author Alison Argyle, who has published a book about the downturn and its resulting grief, stress and challenges.

She spent nearly three years interviewing 40 farmers, workers, farm consultants, bankers, social workers and others and has woven their stories into a 130-page book called The Half Banana Years. . .

Strawberry prices squished as exports drop :

Strawberry prices fell 43 percent in November 2020 as COVID-19 border restrictions reduced exports, Stats NZ said today.

Soaring air freight costs since COVID-19 border closures has made exporting products much more expensive, and a shortage of international workers in the fruit picking industry has meant that growers can’t pick their fields fast enough, meaning that many berries are too ripe for exporting.

“With less exports there is more supply available for domestic consumption, causing lower prices,” consumer prices manager Katrina Dewbery said.

Strawberry prices were an average price of $3.45 per 250g punnet in November, down from $6.04 in October. . . 

Lamb numbers up, despite a challenging year for farmers – Bonnie Flaws:

Despite tough droughts and meat processing restrictions as a result of Covid-19, farmers have achieved a near record number of lambs this season.

For every 100 ewes, an average of 130 lambs were born compared with an average of 124 over the prior 10 years, Beef and Lamb New Zealand says.

Its Lamb Crop Outlook report for 2020, which forecasts the next year’s exports, showed the total number of lambs born this year was only slightly less than in spring 2019 when 131 lambs were born for every 100 ewes. . .

What does resilience really mean? – Lorraine Gordon:

Story brought to you by THE REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE ALLIANCE and FARMING TOGETHER PROGRAM.

In November 2019, off the back of the toughest drought in Australian history, my family farm at Ebor was ‘smashed’ by the Ebor fire at one end of the property and the East Cattai fire at the other end.

This took out approximately 20kms of boundary fence and $700,000 in infrastructure. These catastrophic fires completely devastated our landscape in a few hours.

Come March, we had just re-opened our farm tourism and function centre, when COVID-19 hit. This shut down our tourism business for much of the remaining year.

This is a familiar 2020 story for many Australians. It initiated a deep dive on my behalf into what makes people and landscapes truly resilient. . . 


Bubble babble

14/12/2020

When a joint media release from two Prime Ministers is headlined next steps towards quarantine-free travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand you’d expect it to be about progress. Instead we get this:

. . . Both Prime Ministers and their Cabinets have instructed officials to continue working together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine-free travel in the first quarter of 2021. . . 

This bubble babble is sadly typical of the PM and her government who so often mistake media releases for action.

It means no more than a continuation of what’s been happening and progress towards opening the borders is far too slow:

The Cook Islands bubble is taking far too long to set up, there is no reason why it shouldn’t already be in place, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“Today’s announcement of ‘next steps’ in travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand is an utterly meaningless statement that does no more than repeat that officials are still working on the issue.

“The Prime Minister must explain the delay when a month ago she said there was ‘progress’ and that it would only take ‘a couple of weeks’ before a bubble would be up and running once both sides were happy. . .

“New Zealand officials have been and returned from the Cook Islands, although even that trip was delayed and far later than it should have been.

“The Cooks are heavily dependent on tourism, from New Zealand in particular. Pre-Covid, tourism made up 85 per cent of GDP. Getting the bubble up and running should be a high priority as it will help save jobs and livelihoods in our Pacific neighbour.

“New Zealanders and the Cook Islands need answers from the Government as to why it’s taking so long. A tepid statement that officials are working towards quarter one next year is meaningless given statements in the past.

“‘Quarter one’ could easily mean late March, which even assuming nothing goes wrong, is months away. In the meantime we’re going to see businesses fall under and both Kiwis and Cook Islanders lose their jobs. The Government needs to get on with the job immediately.

“The Government should release a copy of the ‘arrangement to facilitate quarantine-free between the Cook Islands and New Zealand’ so that all parties know what the requirements are.”

The Cooks are Covid-free and there is no community transmission in New Zealand. Why the glacial pace for opening the borders?

The bubble babble about opening the border to travellers from Australia is even worse. Steven Joyce dissects them:

. . . The Prime Minister’s reasons for further delay, as reported in the Herald yesterday, are ridiculously weak. There were basically three of them. Let’s take them in turn.

The PM is reportedly concerned that Australia could have a looser definition of a Covid flare-up than New Zealand. It seems like there is an easy solution to this. New Zealand retains sovereign control over its borders and the Government could reinstate a quarantine requirement at any time. Having a bubble doesn’t mean always agreeing with Australia’s definition of risk.

The second problem is apparently that having fewer Australians in quarantine facilities would allow more people from other countries at greater risk to come into our quarantine facilities. This would increase the numbers of people in quarantine that could have Covid.

Let’s think about that for a second. Are we really keeping people arriving from Australia in isolation, even though it’s not necessary, in order to reduce the number of people from other countries in quarantine who could have Covid? Seriously?

A lot of those people are New Zealanders who are being forced to queue for MIQ places in order to get back to family, friends and/or work.

An alternative view is that freeing up nearly half of the quarantine facilities currently taken up by travellers from Australia would allow faster processing of critical workers and Kiwis from elsewhere who are currently queuing on the other side of the border. Which would surely be a good thing.

Our biggest risk is people coming in from countries other than Australia who are in MIQ. Putting people from Australia, many of whom would be Kiwis, in MIQ increases the risk they will contract the disease from people in the same hotel.

The third problem identified is what happens to Kiwis already in Australia if we have to close the bubble again. Well, I’m thinking they would then have to use quarantine to come back. Which seems a no-brainer. And if this is an argument for not opening a bubble we will never open one.

That’s pretty much it. The Prime Minister is suggesting that we need to postpone our end of a transtasman bubble till at least February to deal with these supposedly intractable issues, which a competent set of people could solve in roughly five minutes. . . 

Requiring MIQ for Trans-Tasman travellers is splitting families and friends, keeping people from visiting the dying and attending funerals, adding costs and imposing restrictions on businesses. It’s also withholding a lifeline from the beleaguered tourism industry.

Restricting freedom of movement is one of the most serious restraints a government can impose on its people.

Australia has opened its border to travellers from here. The reasons the PM has given for not reciprocating are spurious and the government should address any real issues and open the border from Australia before it goes on holiday.

 


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