When you get to Alert Level 2 you go do things that you couldn’t previously. Who knows how long you will be in Level 2? Therefore we headed to Wanaka on Wednesday to have dinner and go cycling with friends. We were hoping to ski but the weather gods took away the promised snow and sent rain instead.
There was nothing wrong with our Level 2 strategy, but I felt really wild when I read about the government saying that the strategy for opening up New Zealand to the rest of the world needs to be rethought in light of delta. Needs to be rethought? The COVID-19 delta variant has been rampantly and visibly infecting countries since May (although it was first identified in India in October 2020, it was only identified as a variant of concern by WHO on May 11 2021). Our government’s strategy was announced at the start of August. Does this mean that a strategy was devised that ignored the degree of infectiousness of the variant rapidly becoming the most common COVID variant in the world? There was 3 months of time to for scientists and then government to absorb all the available data.
Chris Hipkins has said that the infectiousness of delta means that the government needs to rethink its proposal in the strategy, to treat countries differently, according to the risk of individuals from a country being infected (as in, people from some countries would be able to self-isolate at home, and self-isolate for less than 2 weeks). Presumably what Hipkins means, without actually saying it, is that the government finally realised that anyone with delta is the same as anyone else i.e. very infectious. It doesn’t matter which country they come from, you just need one person in MIQ to infect someone else, or get infected with COVID in MIQ but only become detectable and infectious afterwards.
The government’s strategy revision makes me feel like government is acting in the manner of an individual human being; it is well documented that humans assess risk based on their experience of bad things happening when people take that particular risk. If you know someone who died in a helicopter crash, you are much more likely to be wary of helicopters, rather than regarding them as fun motorbikes in the sky. Our government has shifted to thinking people with delta are scary after we have an outbreak which leads them to really believing in its infectiousness in a way they didn’t previously believe. This shouldn’t be how we work collectively; government should be informed by epidemiologists and modellers who are undertaking statistical risk assessments of the risk of spread and infection (and other factors). Our country’s opening strategy should be based on an intelligent and logical assessment of that information. I am quite sure epidemiologists and modellers are creating the necessary information, but apparently our government wasn’t paying attention to them. This behaviour, together with our stellar failure to establish widespread saliva testing (or any other sort of rapid testing) for COVID, is putting major dents in my faith in government to effectively manage at this point in the pandemic.
Returning to New Zealand’s opening strategy, we now go back into the dark (or at least twilight) in terms of what will happen, when and how. If Israel is anything to go by, our vulnerable population will need booster shots before we can risk opening up. The immunity of these people will be getting low by early next year, 6 months after they were vaccinated with only 3 weeks between vaccine shots. We are expecting to receive booster shots of Novovax ‘in the first quarter’ of next year (yes we should be glad the government has planned and organised this). New Zealand was supposed to start its major vaccination rollout in ‘July’ this year, which turned into the end of July, with associated denial that this was any change of plan. I interpret the same some of communications could mean boosters arrive late March, which puts any reasonable amount of opening out to the latter part of the first half of 2022. I really hope no other variant turns up in the next 9 months that requires yet another vaccine dose.
To end on a positive note, at least the speed of our first cut at vaccination has picked up to the point where we are similar to Australia in vaccination levels. Presumably we won’t be able to use Australia as an opening up model; I will hold out the faint hope that they will have to follow on our coat tails.
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