GUEST BLOG: Ian Powell – Where Britain goes Aotearoa should not go

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At the outbreak of World War 2 the country’s first Labour Party Prime Minister Michael Savage declared that wherever Britain goes, New Zealand goes. At time it was a powerful rallying call and it happened. But 2021 is not 1939.

I’m very critical of the performance and value of external business consultants in our health system. This is born out of over 30 years of observation and experience. They have rarely justified their pay cheque and often left a destructive legacy.

But occasionally I can be pleasantly surprised by their work. A case in point is empirical information published on LinkedIn by Nick Davis, Director at MartinJenkins.

The most recent example is what has happened in Britain since the Boris Johnson government irresponsibly and callously abrogated its responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic response by shifting it on to the population itself.

In July it opened up the country with minimal restrictions in while the Delta variant of Covid-19 was still rampant despite rising vaccination rates. One could describe this as an application of accountability-reduction theory.

UK, Boris and pandemic response

Davis has provided a succinct data based assessment of the outcome to date:

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6855204889908277248/.

He draws upon the ONS Infection Survey. ONS is the Office for National Statistics which is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics. Its infection studies are jointly led with the Department for Health and Social Care working with the Oxford University and Lighthouse laboratory to collect and test samples.

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The UK has experienced three very long national pandemic waves due to prevarications of its government, initially beginning with ill-fated ‘herd immunity’ but then shifting to mitigation including suppression. In contrast with New Zealand, lockdowns were not fast and hard with the outcome being that they were much longer and debilitating. This led to the per capita equivalent of over 10,000 more deaths in New Zealand.

The ONS study reveals that prevalence of Covid-19 in England (comprising around 84% of the UK population) has now exceeded the previous Wave 3 peak in July, with 1.6% of the population actively infected. The last time Covid-19 prevalence was this high in England was at the peak of Wave 2 in January 2021.

Fortunately, due to good vaccination rates amongst 18+ year olds, the number of hospitalisations and deaths is well short of the January peaks. But these peaks were massive, among the very highest in the world. UK hospitals and intensive care units are still in for a “torrid winter” with many already operating at or near full capacity, and demand also high for non-Covid reasons.

Covid hospital admissions in the UK are presently running at around 5,500 per week and deaths at 820 per week and rising. With a UK population of over 67 million, for New Zealand this would translate to around 410 hospitalisations and 61 deaths per week. For us this would be disastrous.

Children

Davis correctly concludes that much of this was avoidable if the UK government had put more mitigations in place for schools and children prior to the return from summer holidays, including offering vaccinations to children to limit transmission.

Covid case rates in school-age children have exploded in recent weeks, with new cases for 10-14 year olds exceeding more than 1.5% per day.

This equates to a tenth of the school roll contracting the virus every week. In some districts, the infection rate exceeded 4%. The number of cases in under-14 year olds in England now exceeds one million since the beginning of the pandemic.

Beyond children

Infection rates are also rising again in older age-groups, initially in the 40-44 age group, and now in the 65 to 69 age group as transmission often flows from school children to parents and family members.

This avoidable impact was contrary to claims used to justify the removal of restrictions in schools that schools would not play a role in community transmission. These claims could not have been more wrong.

Instead the removal of school restrictions allowed children to become infected without the option of protection by vaccination. Only over 16 year olds could be vaccinated in England, and this group was offered the vaccine too late to protect them in the current school term (recently lowered to 12 years).

This removal also contributed to high case rates generally, which is a likely factor behind the current spike in Covid prevalence and putting other people at risk.

Could Aotearoa follow Britain

Until recently what has characterised New Zealand’s pandemic response has been the preparedness of government to follow the advice of experts, including but not confined to epidemiologists and modellers. In contrast, what has characterised the UK government’s response has been the preparedness not to follow this advice.

This changed with the New Zealand government’s sudden recent abandonment of the elimination strategy (zero tolerance of community transmission) at least in Auckland to date. This was contrary to the advice of the experts who had served Aotearoa so well and without prior engagement with them.

This backdown is terrible. But, to date, the Jacinda Ardern government is not being cavalier over responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of the public in the same way as the Johnson government has been. However, as our government becomes more insular in what advice it accepts and more influenced by short-term business interests, the risk of becoming cavalier increases.

This is more so because, while improving, New Zealand’s vaccination rates are behind the UK’s reflecting the latter’s significant advantage for earlier supply as a much larger economy and closer proximity to vaccine producers.

Should Aotearoa go where Britain goes today compared with back in 1939? Absolutely not but we should be worried about the potential increased risk given the marginalising of publicly trusted expert advice.

Ian Powell was Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, the professional union representing senior doctors and dentists in New Zealand, for over 30 years, until December 2019. He is now a health systems, labour market, and political commentator living in the small river estuary community of Otaihanga (the place by the tide). First published at Otaihanga Second Opinion

23 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunatly this opinion piece crossed publications with an other opinion published by Luke Malpass on Stuff.
    Perhaps Malpass has it about right

    “Policy should be informed by rigorous advice. But the Government has to carefully consider matters which the virus experts need not: actual, on the ground compliance, the economic costs of continued lockdowns and, more broadly, managing a population which is by and large getting sick of restrictions.”

    From a pure medical point of view in containing the virus, Powell may well be right but like Johnston in the UK, Ardern has to read the mood of the people and the political implications there off.

    More reality

    “There have really been two New Zealands created by the restrictions: those who can comfortably work from home, in a home which they often own, and those who are renting, whose employment is more fragile and reliant on dried-up overtime. For the work-from-home middle classes in secure employment lockdowns are annoying, but economically fine. For those whose livelihoods are severely disrupted – and are unsure if they will be paid week to week or pay their workers – they have been incredibly stressful”.

    Worth a read Mr Powell.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/126709975/covid-19-the-government-and-the-epidemiologists-start-to-part-ways

    • Gerrit, those not blinded by profits take on board the reality of facts and figures showing that in the UK where the market was allowed to open up without controlling Delta, the cost to both human lives and the health of the economy compared to NZ which scores at the top for fewest per capita deaths, and best GDP rebound.

      The difference is that in NZ, the Labour Govt, looking after the interest of capitalists in general (including keeping the workforce paid) has not, until recently, been distracted by the petty complaints of SME owners, while in the UK the Tories, representing a reactionary backward faction of the capitalist class, is prepared to sacrifice both business in general to depression and the mass of the population to a massive herd cull.

      • In your Marxist utopia yes, you dont have to consider the well being of the people. Lock them down!! The gulag awaits the capitalist pigs (or a one ounce injection of lead between the eye balls). Workers will own nothing and be happy!!

        GDP rebound, when looking at the figures, is totally due to the growth in value of the capital assett the state owns. GDTO (gross domestic turnover – where the state gardners its taxes from ) is way way down.

        Naturally in a Marxist utopia the growth in asset value would be zero, No?

        Business (including your much maligned SME’s) are more interested in top line income (gross profit) versus the OPEX (operating expenditure). The top line income is down but the OPEX is increased.

        Not good for business or their employees.

        Still let them all go under those capitalist leaches, for the workers will take over the assets. Whn in turn they will be faced with lower gross profits and higher operating expenditure. Hoe the workers have large overdraft facilites available from the state to continue to run the unprofitable businesses.

        I notice you dont answer many question on your guest contributions. Easy to spout “evil capitalist pig”, much harder to start a workers party (that you so desperate cleave) and gather some “workers” votes.

        Strill dreams are free.

        Meanwhile this SME is getting ready for the 5th round of covid support payment.

        Workers would be better starting thie own business (even if it is labour hire only) in this the 21st century. Marxism is so 20th century and no longer a viable societal contruct.

        • Not Utopia, just capitalist barbarism.
          The market has failed. It has given us the pandemic and it cannot solve it.
          Capitalism caused it because it puts its profits before the lives of many more millions of people.
          Workers will not pay that price for a return to business as usual.
          They know that in the past they have forced big changes for the better.
          The historical advances in public health resulted from pressure of the working masses.
          It is the market that constrains technical applications that are not profitable.
          Socialism will resolve this problem.
          Quarantines will be run by the workers for the workers on a living wage.
          Workers’ control of science and technology (bye bye big tech and big pharma) will determine its applications to health.
          It will become clear to all but the beneficiaries of capitalism that the anarchy of the market must be be replaced by socialist planning.
          Overproduction, overconsumption, overpopulation, and the widening gap between rich elites and poor masses will be overcome by planning for need not greed.
          Capitalist destruction of the environment, waste and global warming will be resolved restoring harmony with nature.
          None of this is utopia. No blueprint worked out in advance. A necessary response to capitalist barbarism.
          Workers thinking for themselves, with a media publicly owned, and rejecting life under a defunct, dying social system.
          It will be the democratically planned development of a post-capitalist society by the working people themselves to end capitalist destruction.

          • That is a wholesome collection of cliches. When will this”socialism” come about?

            Have you asked the “workers” if they want a bar of this? If they do you will have no problem starting the ASWP.

            If the don’t you are tilting at windmills (cliche). What makes you think the “workers” want socialism?

            There are no masses of “workers” just waiting for you to form the ASWP (Aotearoa Socialist Workers Party) and them to join the band wagon to your marxist utopia.

            Mind you Ardern once gave a nice “comrade” speech once that made the capitalist shake in their boots just by the shear number of “comrades” she invoked.

            However, having reached the pinnacle of power and in a position to make change, she, like all socialist, just cannot carry the “workers” with her. Might be a message in there for you. ‘Workers” are not into socialism and marxism as much as you think they are.

            Hopefully you, and the ASWP can do better. Your challenge?

            Or are you all mouth and no trousers?

          • So will this “utopia” be brought about by ballot or bullet? Is there a political party with this as their manifesto? How do they poll?

            The workers will do nothing to bring about your “utopia”, as they are too heavily chained to the treadmill of debt slavery. Also New Zealand has too many who live off the meagre largesse of the state & charities, they will never rise & bite the hand that feeds them. If they had that strength, they’d raise themselves up out of poverty & build better lives for themselves & their families.

            Have you ever met real people? How many of them are revolutionaries? Would they die for their cause? Or more importantly & more dangerously, would they kill for their cause & be persecuted as terrorists? Or do they just whine & beg for the scraps that might fall from their masters tables & hope for a better future to appear by magic?

          • Dave, your comment reads like long forgotten communist propaganda. Socialism has not resolved any problem but has created many. The idea by workers for workers and workers controling everything is only idea. Just tell us how? Who is going to decide, to plan, to execute? A political party, and that political party will control everything including mass media, it is a road to poverty and dictatorship where the top members of the party are millionairs and workers and all working people live in lower than average conditions, where there is always a shortage of basic goods with long queues everywhere, thriving black market and all kinds of fraud and thefts. All people wearing the same clothes, eating the same meals, watching the same propaganda programmes, learning the same propaganda at schools, singing the same songs (the Internationale et al) lot of bureaucracy that eats lots of money and incite corruption etc., etc. I lived in one and wish you that you may never experience life like that.
            Alexandra
            Alexandra.

            • Alexandra you are correct.
              I too have experienced Socialist run countries and it’s not something I would wish on anyone.It’s cruel it’s heartless.

          • Dave, I took the bait:

            Overproduction, overconsumption, overpopulation, and the widening gap between rich elites and poor masses will be overcome by planning for need not greed.

            Overpopulation – Chinese one-child policy to be enacted in NZ?

            • NO, Under capitalism as living standards rise family size falls. Its called the demographic transition.
              You will be familiar with the racist ‘white replacement’ ideology. Failure to meet the needs of the third world sees waves of migrants populating white nations whose population is falling.
              Under socialism we solve both problems.
              Global equality based on planned production leads to reduction in family size.
              Workers’ Democracy leads to the end of racist supremacy.

              • But you never explain how your miracle Socialist utopia comes to pass, would you care to enlighten us?

                Do your oligarch masters simply say “we’ve had enough of ruling you all, so now gallant workers it’s your turn to take the reins and create a Socialist utopia, here take our money & power and go to it”?

                Is it ballot or bloodshed? Let’s have an answer.

  2. “Infection rates are also rising again in older age-groups, initially in the 40-44 age group, and now in the 65 to 69 age group as transmission often flows from school children to parents and family members.”
    I am wondering if this is because the efficacy of the vaccine has worn off for the oldies who were first up for vaccinations.
    With the effective time being said to be six months we in NZ should be getting our heads around lining up some booster shots for early-uptake vaccinees. Especially as that includes our front line health staff. Nothing is being said but time may be running out.

  3. Some in the medical profession seem intent on reenacting the work of King Canute as regards this virus.

    1. The end point of this pandemic, regardless of the actions taken by government and the medical profession will be a widely infected but ultimately immune population. In this sense ‘cases’ are good news because it means we’re making progress. Britain has wisely moved on and now has large numbers of cases without an associated wave of deaths. It’s called ‘herd immunity’. Maybe the good doctor missed that module at uni?

    2. The narrow focus of the medical profession at this point is part of the problem. For them it seems it’s all about minimizing cases from this virus while ignoring the wider impact on society. The narrowing of the focus has been exacerbated by the virus modelers; who ignore the potentially fatal consequences of delayed prostate tests, cervical smears, breast scans, colonoscopies and the like. Add to that the depression and suicide caused by business failures and jobs lost and it’s not hard to envisage a hidden pandemic occurring in the next few years.

    3. The pearl clutching by Hipkins, Blomfield and this guy over the “vulnerability of children” is either a gross error or a deliberate lie. Based on a mass of overseas data we now know with certainly that children and teens are almost entirely unaffected by this virus. Sure they pass it on, but the majority are asymptomatic and the rest have conditions similar to a common cold. There is simply no need to vaccinate them.

    • Couldn’t have said it better, Andrew.

      I’m reminded on your point 3 of the Simpsons with Marge Flanders hysterical “won’t SOMEBODY think of the children!!”. I’d like to know of a time we’ve mass vaccinated children for an illness that is extremely low risk to them. Instead, we’re doing it to protect adults from their asymptomatic spreading (despite despite vaccine having limited effect on transmission).

      Is that where we are now – laying children down with unnecessary medication to protect adults? That’s not how I was taught we protect children.

      We’ve heard non-stop narrow, myopic obsession from the likes of this author and others. We’re moving on, when are they going to?

  4. When all said and done, what has Britain done to earn our trust, and respect in the last two centuries? Easy answer…. Nothing other than exploit our resources for their own advantage, crap all over us when it suited them, and then demanded we sacrifice the flower of our young manhood on the alter of their “empire”… Fuck them, and the horse they rode in on…. The piles of horse dung left all over our roads are the closest thing to an historical accuracy we will ever get out of them, or their apologists in the tory news media… Fuck ’em with brass knobs on…

  5. “Covid hospital admissions in the UK are presently running at around 5,500 per week and deaths at 820 per week and rising.”
    The deaths is equivalent to 4 Jumbo jets a week crashing and there being no survivors – the public would be up in arms if that was happening. We need to accept though that some who are dying are dying with Covid, not necessarily from Covid, so it would be interesting to hear some statistics that identified such factors. But, even given this consideration the figures are alarming and would proportionally soon overwhelm our health services. Those who argue for removal of restrictions are in denial as to the consequences and totally ignore that there is no return to the old normal; when we think the Covid crisis is over we still have the climate crisis to contend with.
    That we are still having elective surgery being done in our hospitals is testament to what has been achieved. Our Government should being applauded for how it has balanced all the advice – sure there has needed to be fine tuning here and there, but anyone who claims they could have done better are lost in their own self-centered egotistical world.

  6. Kia ora Ian
    Aotearoa should not follow Britain, but sadly New Zealand will. The reasons why are multitudinous: a governing Labour Party which was a spin off from the British Labour Party, its first three Prime Ministers being willing to follow Britain into the depths of hell if Britain deemed that to be necessary; the current Prime Minister who has close personal links to the Blairite wing of the British Labour Party and who is a blind follower of British governments in every field of policy; a parliament united in solemn allegiance to the British monarch; security forces whose loyalty to Britain is beyond question and concern for the interests of our own people non-existent.
    What it all comes down to is colonialism. Colonialism drove Jacinda to the insane idea of opening up a “trans-Tasman bubble”, colonialism wants the “hermit kingdom” to “open up to the world” and colonialism will be responsible for the afflictions and grief that beset our people over the coming months. We will not have a return to sanity until we have finally brought the colonial system to its long overdue end.

  7. That photo of Adern and Johnson is perfect and sums up where Miss nuclear free moment actually is at.

    What an utter betrayal again of neo liberal LINO ………you are judged by the company you keep !!!!!!!!

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