Yesterday’s Herald included the above polling figures, pertaining to what proportion of Kiwis want to do what about the virus from here on out. Forty six percent in favour of ongoing Elimination, 39% in favour of Elimination, until such time as we hit a seventy percent of the population vaccination rate, and thirteen percent wanting to ‘learn to live’ with Covid-19. Presumably not personally.
Now, this is interesting, because it suggests that the “learn to live with it” vote is a lot smaller than you’d be forgiven for thinking. But also that a huge quotient of effort which had formerly been going into trying to push that benighted position, will now go into attempting to sway as many people as possible from Elimination through to Elimination Til 70%.
Except here’s the thing. 70% is a completely arbitrary number. The only relevancy it has to New Zealand is that it’s come off Scott Morrison’s teleprompter … and from there somehow downloaded itself into certain right-wing brains as a talking point. I don’t even think it’s really supported by Australia’s modelling – much less our own domestically generated modelling for where Herd Immunity thresholds (or nearabouts, in a Delta environment especially) actually lie (a figure in the high 90% range).
The Australian model being embraced at the Federal level is also often misunderstood. It’s not built on ‘live with the virus’ in a lasseiz-faire sense once the population is 70% or even 80% vaccinated – instead, it’s built on using contact tracing and ring-fencing of outbreaks so they can’t grow to overwhelming size and break-through infect significant numbers of vaccinated people.
Therefore, as I understand it, the Doherty Institute’s model is effectively built around having virus presence in the community already at a functionally near-eliminated level to begin with – so that contact tracing and containment can actually be done within the ‘breathing space’ thusly provided.
The trouble with this is obvious, and doesn’t even require looking at NSW to see. We had one case of Delta … which then became very swiftly, half way to a thousand cases of Delta. Including via ‘breakthrough infections’. All within a matter of days.
It’s just simply not viable to contact-trace that scale of spread even with most of the population vaccinated; so effectively you’re left hoping that any and all outbreaks become very small ones by the time they’re detected and can be fully ringfenced .. without “elimination”.
So what are we seeing here instead?
Simple. The beginning maneuvers of an effort to affix an end to Elimination to a pretty swiftly attained goal – 70% vaccination; no doubt to be followed-up with a repeated bombardment of claims that this was ‘always’ what the plan was ‘supposed to be’.
The same interests which were pushing for “learn to live with the virus” and “COME ON, OPEN UP THE TRAVEL BUBBLE! YESTERDAY!” are very concerned about how popular Elimination has proven, and shall continue to prove on into the future.
So they are going to do exactly what they did with both of those (especially the Travel Bubble incessant whining demands) – try and manufacture an entirely artificial groundswell of support for changing course from something which actually works and has a broad consensus of Kiwis behind it … to something that’ll prove a near stick of ACME Dynamite held fizzing in all of our collective hand.
A hand which, of course, shall be found to be the Government of the day’s, rather than the greasy palm of whichever shrill voices attempted to cajole them into it. Because that’s how these sorts of things work, apparently.
Now, as it happens, we’ve been both down this road and around this block, before.
To utilize a case-study in miniature, the Herald about a year ago this week ran a piece declaring that Auckland was “divided” over our then (second) Lockdown to deal with the August cluster.
It was a curious choice of phrasing and of framing. Why?
Well, here’s what I wrote at the time –
“So here’s something strange.
The Herald reports that Auckland is seriously “divided” over the extension of Level 3 lockdown last week. You might be forgiven for thinking that this meant somewhere around a fifty fifty split of opinion on the matter.
Here’s the actual split:
75% of Aucklanders thought that the extension of lockdown was “appropriate”. This was made up of 56% who were simply fine with the extension – and a further 19% who wanted the lockdown to go longer.
Meanwhile, that 25% of opponents was made up of 14% for a shorter lockdown, and 9% for the lockdown shouldn’t have been initiated at all.
That’s three-to-one support for the lockdown. And yet somehow this is a serious degree of “division”.
Meanwhile, New Zealanders overall supported the most recent Lockdown by a ratio of more than four to one – 62% in favour of the lockdown we had, 19% in favour of an even further extended lockdown, 10% for a shorter lockdown, and only 6% for no lockdown at all.
Technically a 3-1 majority for Lockdown means “divided” , sure – as does a 4-1 majority.
But it sure does sound rather different when you phrase it like that, frame it like that, rather than OVERWHELMING MAJORITY SUPPORTS THE GOVERNMENT’S COVID-19 MANAGEMENT”
I’m frankly almost surprised, in this light, that they didn’t try and present yesterday’s polling as showing New Zealand was “divided” over whether to persist with the Elimination strategy. They probably – prudently – sensed that they’d be playing to the 13% with that one if they had.
However, I suspect that with time – there’ll be a steady shifting of emphases. Things shall go from talking about x percentage of New Zealanders supporting Elimination until y percentage of vaccination (or other arbitrary measure – including a date, perhaps), through to simply speaking of x percentage of New Zealanders wanting to ‘open up’ and abandon Elimination once y percentage of vaccinations is hit. And never mind whether it’s an epidemiologically sound number or other such considerations.
A shrill, staccato drum-beat shall crescendo out across the airwaves, the newspaper column-inches, etc. etc. demanding not a debate, but a defeat – and an entirely unnecessary one – for our successful (thus far, and subject to current exigencies) Elimination Strategy.
No doubt considerably emboldened by Victoria seemingly joining New South Wales in edging toward throwing up hands in semi-surrender on that front (and never mind those other Australian states that have declared their resolute intent to do the opposite, having successfully eliminated Delta themselves already – to the point the Australian Federal Government is now threatening to withhold funding from them if they don’t get with Morrison’s programme of enforced reopening).
We are going to be escalatingly bombarded with mask-wearing hot-air from self-appointed experts expressing their boredness at having to stay at home vacuuming their Ferrari when they could be sunning it up in the tropics somewhere.
Will it make any difference? Maybe. After all, ‘manufactured consent’ is something our media has become quite adroit at over the years – albeit often through simply applying direct pressure on the Government rather than, as has more traditionally been the case, influencing the people at large out there in the polis to do so.
But I think that it may play out more like the situation perhaps around a year and a half ago – wherein the voices that were so eager to sneer at taking something allegedly no more serious than the flu, quietly shut up as time passed on and more and more reports came in from friends and whanau overseas as to what conditions over there really were like in reality.
If you’ve noticed, we’re also being buttered with a steady diet of material pertaining to “Life Normal Returns” stories from elsewhere in the world – occasionally, to be fair and sure, with small-print rejoinders about how yes, there is a rather notable death-rate ‘tax’ attached to this eminently faux ‘normalcy’.
We are eminently lucky here in New Zealand – and by ‘lucky’, I also mean we chose well (broadly speaking).
Even though we are currently in Lockdown, we have been remarkably successful with our ongoing Covid-19 control measures precisely because we have resolutely committed to Elimination in the past.
This has afforded us something which other countries most dearly lack – i) perspective, and ii) the ability to choose.
We’ve been able to take a more measured approach, seeing what other countries are doing and how things are going for them – the perspective; something which requires time in order to be useful, to see how things properly play out. And then choose what we are going to do, coloured by those experiments undertaken at the cost of other countries and contexts elsewhere on the globe.
Attempting to mad-dash toward the elimination of Elimination simply because Australia’s doing it, or because Boris Johnson’s declared his umpteenth “Freedom Day” amidst “bodies pile[d] high” – that is not taking advantage of our prospective situation. And given that various countries like Israel and Iceland with relatively high vaccination rates have then had to move back toward more intrusive and restrictive measures due to unforeseen developments with the virus … I again state it plainly that there is little to be gained and much to be placed at risk by ‘go hard go early’ as applies rolling back (rather than rolling out) our protections.
Going off the past year and a half’s dominant experience – we can easily afford to take more time, ensure that what we’re doing really is the right course of action … and right for US rather than certain members of the commentariat or overseas climes that long to see us fail precisely because it’ll make them feel more vindicated in never having really tried at all to begin with.
We can’t easily afford to do anything else.
Keep that in mind the next time you see a columnist filling up their inches with shoveyness about how we ought be more like New South Wales or wherever.
You might live longer.