The experiment begins…

Our household is dominated by scientists (sorry, Mum) which means that we oscillate between being interested in the progress of a set of enormous, international COVID-19 management experiments, and being concerned for all the people who are the subjects of these experiments. I might be stretching things here, I am very interested in the experiments and discuss them (ad nauseam?) with Chris, who does his best to be keep his interest levels up.

Why is thinking about our situation as an experiment a good thing? It is because experiments recognise that we are in a learning environment, and we need to be prepared to change, as we discover new knowledge. We are all now engaged in ‘action research’, the sort of research where the experiment involves the participants and learning is applied as we go, rather than being a controlled experiment in a lab where the conditions can be maintained throughout the experiment. This is a normal social science practice, but is relatively new to many physical/biological scientists. While I believe the government is doing its best, with its best advice, that best will need to shift as new evidence comes in from the larger experimental set. The populace will need to be prepared for change, and not criticise the government for shifting on the basis that the government ‘didn’t know what they were doing in the first place’.

New Zealand has chosen the experimental approach of lockdown and bubble-isolation. Norway chose a similar approach, starting just under two weeks ago on 13 March (most other European countries have also chosen a similar degree of restrictions). In contrast, Sweden has chosen to keep primary schools open, not completely close borders, and keep restaurants, bars and public spaces open with a ban on public gatherings of over 500 people. Sweden is operating on the basis that people will practice physical distancing, and self isolate if they have COVID-19 symptoms, without more draconian measures being required.

I am making a huge assumption that Norway and Sweden have many environmental, social and healthcare similarities so make for a good comparison (please let me know if you think this is a mistake). Therefore, here’s the graph of how Norway and Sweden are tracking on their confirmed COVID-19 cases – they are currently looking pretty similar; the experiment is going to need to run for longer as there is general unanimity that two weeks is the starting point for seeing a difference, based on the effects of large scale physical distancing. The only difference of any note is that Sweden’s death rate is starting to outpace Norway’s (62 vs 14 today, up from 11 vs 2 the day before). I should also note that I am in no way here intending to criticise our government’s choice of actions, what I am wanting to do is observe other experiments to see how they go in comparison with each other, and with us, always remembering that each experiment has its own unique conditions.

One thing to note about this our-world-in-data graph is that the data is always a day old, compared to the Johns Hopkins site which has today’s data. However Johns Hopkins doesn’t provide as much data interpretation.

I think that’s enough on the data front, I wonder what everyone else’s first day of lockdown is feeling like. I am sure that essential services workers have had a very different day from those of us who are doing our bit for the nation at home. Our effort includes digging large holes for some golden elm specimen trees we got from the garden centre, while Mum cooks up our harvested onions, leeks and potatoes into soup. If we want trees to survive in the dry Gibbston climate we need to cut off the turf, dig scoops that are 1m x 1m x 40cm deep, dig in two 20l buckets of compost, plant the trees, bang in two stakes and strap the trees against the westerly winds, make a wire cage to stop the rabbits eating the yummy new bark and top off with three wheelbarrows of mulch.

It also seems like quite a bit of my day disappears into communications as I find out what my friends are experiencing – we are all living in our own bubbles which are both similar and different. If any of you want to drop me a line to compare notes it would be great to hear from you – to those of you who are overseas, what is happening on the ground where you are and how does it seem different from what NZ is doing?

Happily, the joke options on the internet are ever-expanding.

Chris, Ann and Jane say, “Cheers to Day 1 of New Zealand’s Level 4 lock down, Cheers to the coming end of the lock down, and Cheers to all of you out there because we all need a bit of cheer right now.”

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

7 thoughts on “The experiment begins…

  1. A science experiment! Love it. The science and data analysis are by far the most interesting part of Covid 19, just a pity more people don’t understand them.

  2. Interesting idea to think about this situation as an experiment, and to look to see how the experiment is panning out in different countries. Hee here love the ‘far cough’ joke …

  3. Jane, This is such a great idea and thank you for sharing it with us. It was a little over a year ago that Tim and I were hanging out at Harakeke – such good memories. Can’t think of a better place to be holed up and locked down. Tim and I just arrived back from Moab. We launched on a canoe river trip for 10 days on March 9th. When we emerged on the 18th, the world had changed and the border was to be closed to non-essential travel. We crossed the Canadian border on Sunday and are now home in Gibsons where we’re in a 14 day quarantine. Canada is doing the best it can to manage this crisis. Personally we would welcome a ‘lock down’ in our community. We look forward to following your grand experiment. Stay well, be kind. Wendy & Tim

    1. I hope you guys are closer to some degree of lock down now, seems like the world is mostly headed that way as few other responses have been modeled. I don’t think the Western world is yet ready for South Korean style surveillance, but it may come!

  4. Great to hear your thoughts, Jane! We are on day 10 of lockdown here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We are lucky enough to have a house with a yard and a few lovely acres of forest not far away. Others are stranded in flats separated by living room walls from aged parents – not easy! We are all hoping that our collective actions can make an impact -so very interested in Canada’s curve on your plot, and on the change of that with time as we work hard to stay isolated.

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