GUEST BLOG: Ian Powell – Trashing New Zealand’s pandemic response

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On 15 January BusinessDesk published my article comparing internationally the effectiveness of New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic since early 2020: Giving the world our best shot

I used two main comparators – mortality rates per million people and full vaccination rates (whole rather than eligible populations).

New Zealand’s mortality rate was possibly the second lowest in the world at 10 per million behind China and much lower than countries closer to us in population size with developed economies such as Ireland, Denmark, Finland and Norway.

Our vaccination rates are impressive, even a little higher than the European Union which negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies as a powerful bloc and included vaccine producing countries in its midst.

Response from a “versatile, accomplished executive leader”

This led to a highly critical response from a David Page on LinkedIn. Levering off his offloading is useful because his approach is typical of many of those strident critics of New Zealand’s pandemic response.

Page is evidently an inspirational person and leader because he says so. He describes himself as “…a versatile, accomplished executive leader with 20+ years of commercial and operational leadership across multiple industry sectors, 15+ years in sales and marketing and business development, and 10+ years of experience in programme and operational management within health.”

Further: “I bring a track record of transformational change and championing business capability enhancement, underpinned by expertise in leading high-performing teams of up to 2300 people across multiple sites in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.”

As this self-description suggests Page is over-endowed with the immodesty gene.

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The Page attack

Page’s attack is more on my comments about what was required to ensure such a low death rate (the elimination of community transmission through zero tolerance strategy) than vaccine implementation. In his own words:

Your pride in NZ’s ‘achievement’ speaks volumes and is typical of a small-mindedness that pervades NZ’s response.

What of the impact on general health from deferred ops? The social effects on children, families and livelihoods from domestic violence to loss of income to mental health? What, indeed, was the economic cost to be borne by generations to come?
You do not refer either to fortress NZ, a state without natural immunity, isolated by propagandised fear, and dependent therefore on a program of booster upon booster, with no end in sight.
Conveniently, you do not refer either to the persecution of 40% of Kiwi, many of whom are health professionals – victimised with livelihoods destroyed by mandates that are an abomination in any democratic, liberty-loving nation claiming to value human rights, kindness and inclusivity of all citizens.
Typically for a health technocrat, you don’t consider the full balance sheet – you present the same old hackneyed upbeat, backslapping ‘achievements’ that puffed up media types project onto a dejected, fed up populace too tired to argue.
One measure of success is the mortality rate, but on every other measure, NZ has failed. A hermit state is a dead one.

This was followed by a brief ‘call to arms’ declaring that “We can’t let this propaganda [my article] go unchallenged.” Four presumably co-thinkers are highlighted in this second post. An embryo of a campaign?

Rodney King and desensitising human deaths

There are two main features of Page’s vociferous response. First he appears to place low value on human life especially given that he does not challenge the veracity or accuracy of the mortality data. New Zealand’s elimination strategy saved thousands of lives depending on who among many developed economies one might select.

But, for Page, mortality rate is merely one indicator and no better than others!

Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King, 1991

This indifference is chilling. It reminds me of the Rodney King case. King was an African-American who was a victim of police brutality after an arrest in Los Angeles in March 1991. His severe beating (struck over 50 times) was filmed from a person’s nearby balcony and the footage sent to local news station. It was quickly covered by news media around the world and caused a public furore.

The four officers were acquitted leading to riots lasting six days with 63 deaths. Subsequently two officers were imprisoned following a guilty verdict in a federal civil rights action while King successfully sued the Los Angeles Police Department with an award of $(US)3.8 million in damages.

What particularly interested me in the King case was the defence legal strategy in the first trial leading to the unexpected acquittal. Surprisingly the defence lawyers played again and again the beating footage to the jury with all its vivid brutality, more than the prosecution. The effect was to desensitise the jury to the brutality leading to the acquittal.

Those like David Page who dismiss the remarkable achievement of a very low mortality rate in New Zealand which saved thousands of lives are clearly de-sensitised to the massive loss of life due to Covid-19 which has been well reported in mainstream and social media. This leads to him and his ilk, hopefully unintentionally, to place a low value human life.

If the Rodney King-type desensitise effect does not apply to these critics of New Zealand’s pandemic response, then the only other plausible explanation is callous indifference to massive loss of life.

Empiricism deficit syndrome

The second main feature of David Page’s critical response to my article is the complete lack of evidence to justify any of his assertions. He suffers from what I would call an empiricism deficit syndrome (to the best of my knowledge this has not made its way into the medical textbooks but give it time).

By way of example:

  • To the extent that there was deferred operations and negative social effects on children, families and livelihoods, this also occurred in the rest of the world, including Europe and North America, But it was proportionately lower New Zealand. In fact, at least until the arrival of the delta variant last August, there was no evidence of worsening mental health or domestic violence.
  • The pandemic has incurred an economic cost to all countries. But what can’t be ignored is that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rated New Zealand’s economic performance under the pandemic the best of its member states.
  • Natural immunity was attempted by Sweden through its unofficial alternative herd immunity strategy. Had New Zealand followed Sweden we would have had around 7,000 Covid deaths. Further, Sweden also embarked on vaccination with a rate a little lower than New Zealand.
  • The figure of 40% of Kiwis being persecuted is devoid of any evidence. In fact, New Zealand was ranked as one of the freest countries in the world under the pandemic.

Expressing it kindly

There are legitimate evidence based criticisms that can be made of New Zealand’s coronavirus response. Epidemiologists are a case in point (I have also been critical).  But these represent failings rather than failure.

The likes of David Page don’t understand this distinction and don’t understand empiricism. I don’t know him from a bar of soap but suspect that the soap has greater cognitive capacity.

I’m expressing this as kindly as I can.

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

33 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunately you are not addressing the main concern raised by Page;

    “Typically for a health technocrat, you don’t consider the full balance sheet – you present the same old hackneyed upbeat, backslapping ‘achievements’ that puffed up media types project onto a dejected, fed up populace too tired to argue.”

    The fact that you totally ignore this most important sentence, the gist of his criticism of you, show your views are as blinkered as the rest of the ruling elite. You are not mature enough (or street smart) to address the issues raised. Ask yourself; does he have a valid point with the key sentence?

    Have raised this point quite a few times with your postings but each time you don’t answer the concerns.

    I can only assume you live in that beach front ivory tower reading only academic literature. Do you ever go out in the real world? Real as in how people in South and West Auckland cope? Poorer regions of Wellington are not that far from your doorstep. Go out and talk to people about the plight and their survival.

    Here is the truth from those mean street you never visit. Very few people are offering to be test for covid and ever fewer people are scanning in. Why? because the punitive lockdown measures if found with covid or having been a close contact, not just for the infected person but the whole family. Contract tracing is finished.

    The authoritarian ruling elite need to spend time at the coal face to see what effects their ivory tower preaching and “we know best” edicts have on the populace.

    Until you have empathy for the effects that ivory tower academic ruling have on the commoner, you are literally a blinkered elite.

    • I quoted Page in full. What you describe as his main concern was more abuse than anything else (presumably a soul mate of yours) and covered by my more general observation about his failure to be empirical in his thought processes.

      • Asking that ALL health conditions and financial considerations for the poor are taken into consideration is now called abuse? Jesus wept.

        Ah well enjoy your resolve. Pity it does not wash with the great unwashed.

        Let me repeat, and perhaps you will answer the concern, without derision and woke hurt pride, that the the full balance sheet is not being addressed.

        “Typically for a health technocrat, you don’t consider the full balance sheet – you present the same old hackneyed upbeat, backslapping ‘achievements’ that puffed up media types project onto a dejected, fed up populace too tired to argue.”

        The lack of deaths are but a single measure, how about the mental health? How about the physical health for those whose medical appointments for life’s general ailments have been delayed for two years now? The list goes on endlessly

        But it is deaths (the lack thereof) that is the measure you calculate success on. The rest of us face living hardships you cannot even begin to fathom, you living in a splendid sanctimonious environment, safely on the beach in your magic ivory tower.

        At least Counties Manukau Health board is recognizsng the problem of poverty and lack of care for the people in their care. At leas they are actively doing something positive.

        https://countiesmanukau.health.nz/assets/Covid-19/CMH-Website-Food-and-Other-Emergency-Supplies.pdf

        Can you say the same?

        • Apart from being a master of abuse, dissemination of questionable information and promulgation of questionable conclusions, what is your area of academic excellence and what are your qualifications?

          • Acadamic excellence? University of life in South Auckland. Qualifications? wide eyes and a brain with information learned from the streets and the people.

            Sad state of affairs when the woke need protecting from the hoi polloy by hiding in ivory towers and the sanctimony of “we are so bright” our “s!!t don’t stink”

            Let me ask you, ever been in South (or West) Auckland. Spoke to the people? Asked them how they are coping?

            If not your questions are abusive to the people you know nothing about.

            But one thing South Aucklander’s are good at. They don’t give a faggot for politicians or academics. None of them ever take the time to ask investigate what are the needs for the people.

            So disseminate away your questionable information. We will be like the truckers in Canada.

            • “If not your questions are abusive to the people you know nothing about.”

              Worked in South Auckland (90s) and Porirua East in the 60s/70s having been brought up in Newtown when it was one of the poorer and most multi-cultural suburbs in NZ. Also lived and worked in other low SES areas. Experience says that people always appreciate access to informed information and value education.
              Please spare us your arrogant self-opinionated and un-researched assumptions.

    • While there are issues getting full support from those in South & West Auckland & other poorer areas I am sure the problem would be far worse if the likes of Page’s was implementing whatever virus control measures his inner self thought would work. Ian has been relatively kind in his description of Page in his final paragraph’s & your moaning can only lead me to assume that you have failed to understand the substantial number of New Zealander’s still alive today thanks to the government’s competent handling of the pandemic.

      • Good to be alive and living in poverty? Moaning about lack of action in regards alleviating poverty for the living is assuming a failed understanding?

        Sorry, I don’t buy your, and the articles author, be “glad to be alive” as the only measure of success.

        But hopefully you and others are alive and in a gilded position to contribute to the care and well being of the “saved” by donating to the aid required in the poverty struck areas of New Zealand. You doing Arderns work for her.

        Looking forward to the food parcel donated by you and others.

        • Well, thanks I am sitting pretty although that is more to do with favorable genetics (inheritance) than what I have contributed from a life’s work. I am just as disappointed by the totally unfair financial payments that many receive under a system that serves the wealthy first but getting the substantial numbers who don’t vote to support a progressive government is the only chance that the system will change.
          My Lord says His kingdom is not of this world & hoping for any politician to bring about any sort of nirvana is pointless which is why I spread the gospel as the only real answer to this world’s problems.

  2. Ha ! Brilliant @ I.P.
    In my opinion:
    The david page is a mechanism designed, then set loose, on our AO/NZ to protect a lie that was touched upon here…
    “The pandemic has incurred an economic cost to all countries. But what can’t be ignored is that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rated New Zealand’s economic performance under the pandemic the best of its member states.”
    Questions could be “Why?” and/or “How” ?
    ANZ jonky would have us believe that the mere presence of Auckland, with its shiny towers of logical fallacy bankster bullshit, gave AO/NZ its enviable edge in terms of prosperity during a terrible time.
    The only thing edible about banks and their criminal hit squad, the insurers, is the managers and staff and let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that.
    The real reason why AO/NZ’s economic performance under the pandemic was the best of its member states.” is because our PRIMARY INDUSTRY farmers simply kept on farming because #A They had to because one can’t simply switch off a farm and # B the big shiny banksters of Auckland insist farmers must continue running for their lives on the terrible debt treadmill of the RBNZ’s design. Again, something foreign owned ANZ jonky would well understand.
    It’s my opinion that the david page is running a game of obfuscation to try to derail any attempt at making sense out of something that makes no sense at all.
    I also believe that, that’s why our borders were thrown open to every diseased fuck greedy and careless enough to come into the country before it was confirmed, beyond the shadow of a doubt they didn’t have covid while holed up in quarantine in Australia to make sure.
    I think our AO/NZ is being deliberately sabotaged by rich and powerful individuals who can’t afford to have the truth of our financial history be revealed. Aye boys?
    Farmers? You’re up.
    Strike. Until there’s a very public royal commission of inquiry set in motion specifically targeting the Reserve Bank of ( AO) NZ and a parallel criminal investigation into past and present relationships between big business and politicians spanning the last one hundred years.
    Then maybe the statement “Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rated New Zealand’s economic performance under the pandemic the best of its member states.” might make more sense.

  3. New Zealand should align with the motherland England whose covid statistics are poorer than ours but who have scrapped all health notices and restrictions and gone back to normal.

    • and that’s working out how…..ethan…now the uk has open borders again (oh the irony) you can go visit the sunny uplands of omnicron britain..not keen? thought not..planes depart every day.

    • Normal in the UK has been worsening for decades, yes they have gone back to normal. We can do betterwith some effort on our part. This may be regarded as an introduction to the combined efforts we will have to make to cope with climate change effects. Effects and effort – those are two words that will be confronting us from now on. Mean-spirited sneering and fault finding from a high prominent position will be of no bloody use whatsoever which will be sad for those paople who write here who specialise in being scornful or louche.

  4. Desensitised by deaths? Tell that to Assange.
    Be less kind, its the built-in eugenics mentality of the entitled Euro rich.
    It’s projected fear and anger that their class, despite raking it, in is facing the demise of rule of Capital as the racist hegemonic overlords of the world.
    For one thing they are having their noses rubbed into the irrational gibberish they have to spout to defend their wealth. Irony kills them.
    They become science deniers and open eugenicists.
    They may have fascist mercenary corporations with the drones to back them up but they are a tiny minority and we are the massive majority.
    They know and fear this.

    • what’s ‘euro rich’ here in lil ‘ol NZ we have our own homegrown corporate hacks…so yeah what happens here is on us.

  5. Support you article 100% Ian. Unfortunately there are a lot of ill informed right wing commentators who dont feel proud that Aotearoa, Labour, Jacinda and especially the scientists and health officials have saved thousands of Kiwi lives. I’d hate to be in the trenches with the right, in fact they wouldnt even be on the battle field but be back home with an exemption from service.
    You have provided the facts that they cant refute. The right hate anyone raising the comparable death rates around the world. All I can say Ian is we should all rejoice and again thank Jacinda, Labour and especially the advice from scientists and experts as one of the only Governments around the world to have protected its citizens.

  6. the reply quoted in the article is just the usual unsubstantiated right wing talking points.

    it’d be understandable though not excusable if it were simple stupidity but it’s willful and that’s unforgivable…but hey what did you expect from a right wing rag…?

  7. Didn’t Ian’s union vote against its’ members wishes in the Cannabis question, and lied stating it asked its’ members about the Cannabis question, and retracted its’ vote?…Yeah, sorry Ian, but you ignored your members…time for to be ignored

    • Not true Nathan. You are confusing the union ASMS with NZMA. They are quite different and separate organisations. Further , I wasn’t working for the union then. Trying incorporating facts into your narrative.

  8. You can help understanding Ian by not talkng in jargon-like acronyms much. Try saying Nurses with acronym in brackets so people get fixed in their minds the right crowd (hopefully). We may be going – backward – but we don’t want back to pictogram style.

  9. Thanks Ian, Page, a typical self entitled Tory educated at Kings, no doubt a lot of networking & self responsibility was instilled in his formative years for when they become (in their minds) masters of the universe.
    Whatever way you slice it, Labour bad….Natz good & the MSM (donors) are in their back pocket all the way promulgating this simplistic rubbish.

  10. Thank you Ian, well argued.
    I have come to believe that most critics of our obvious (provable) success are embarrassed at their obvious (also provable) failure to manage Covid. Coupled by the fact that a young woman has been able to achieve this success (with the help of most of her team of 5 million) this is an embarrassment to the ‘establishment’. Those that claim overseas countries have returned to ‘normal’ are deliberately spreading a grossly false picture of what is actually happening.
    Also, I’m heartened by the news that the Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand has invested in a vaccine manufacturing machine – could it be that the crisis is bringing us benefits beyond just suppression statistics?

  11. Where’s the evidence to your own assertions, Mr Powell, namely this one – “New Zealand’s elimination strategy saved thousands of lives depending on who among many developed economies one might select”. Its a big claim so the evidence will no doubt be overwhelming. Likewise, the lack of evidence will be just as telling. That’s if you’ve even got the backbone to post one of my comments. Heck, I’m not even providing any studies that challenges your own views this time either. As if.

    • Refer to the linked article at the start of the blog. I don’t approve what is posted here. TDB does. TDB republishes my blogs with my permission but comments are it’s decision, not mine.

      • I do not see this claim – “New Zealand’s elimination strategy saved thousands of lives depending on who among many developed economies one might select” in the article linked. You cannot prove this claim, certainly with the information from within that piece. The claim is as hollow as Mr Page’s claim(s). With a lot more study, your claim may hold truth, but for now, it does not hold true.

        I otherwise can agree with your central premise, NZ has done better than most. But saved thousands of lives. I can’t agree with that based upon the information provided. Because after all, I could claim that Sweden has done well depending on whom I compare them to. And speaking of Sweden, they are consistently being made to look bad because of whom they are typically compared to. Point being, this level of information is just not good enough, given the claim that has resulted from it.

        I appreciate your point about posting comments. I did not know that. My apologies.

        • The data used in my ‘BusinessDesk’ is from a reputable international website https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/. Its results are consistent with WHO data with the main exception is that the latter doesn’t include Taiwan.
          It is not difficult to extrapolate from this data. For example, if our per million mortality rate was the same as either the UK or the EU or the US we would have had over 10,000 deaths. In the case of Sweden it would have been over 7,000.

          • I half agree with you that New Zealand doesn’t get enough credit. It’s a small island nation with no major international thoroughfare, isolated at the bottom of the world with a relatively sparse population. I think New Zealand did a lot to reduce the affect of this pandemic on her citizens and she doesn’t get enough credit.

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