No more Pre-emptive regional Lockdowns, please?

It is time to acknowledge that Covid 19 is different in New Zealand. We don’t have community transmission in the same way that the northern hemisphere does. But, despite there have never been Covid 19 at all in some parts of New Zealand, we are still having partial lockdowns in the biggest city, Auckland. It seems like as soon as there is a case emerging in Auckland our government locks down the whole region, forgetting that this is a draconian measure that should have been a last resort.

In mid February it emerged that one person had contracted Covid 19, and it was presumed that this was because she worked for a company that serviced aircraft linen. She went on to infect her household. So the Ardern Government decided to have a partial lockdown of Auckland, which lasted three days. It then seemed that there had not been a spread of the virus, even though the household had school age children. A whole secondary school had to be closed and all students tested, along with the usual hundreds of people who queued up for tests even when they didn’t have any symptoms. It seemed to be under control, so the lockdown was relaxed, and the rest of the country went back to no restrictions at all.

Then a week later another case emerged in the same suburb of south Auckland. The young man did not have an immediate connection to the first household. He also had continued to visit the gym, an educational institution, and his workplace, even when symptomatic. So the lockdown was reimposed for 7 days. But then the contact tracers worked out that someone connected to the first household had visited the mother of the young man, and there were similar instances of positive cases not isolating when told to by authorities. However, there was no spread of the virus beyond fifteen linked cases.

Prime Minister Ardern yesterday announced that the lockdown would be rescinded, not immediately, but tomorrow morning (ie after 2 days more of it). All of this for a mere 15 cases, none of whom had to visit the hospital. It appears that we got away with it again, but she did not apologise for reimposing the lockdown just for 1 case. This is obviously wrong, and undermines her own policy. When we had a long lockdown in March last year it was because there was some community transmission, the health services were not prepared, and the contact tracing system was not in place. Since then we have got back to zero cases, there is strict border control, and the contact tracing system supposedly works well.

If the Covid 19 virus was ever to get away in New Zealand it would be in south Auckland. This is one of the poorest urban areas in New Zealand, with high ethnic Polynesian population, and overcrowding in public housing. Similar areas in Britain have seen high rates of the virus, so it might have been assumed that it would happen here. But the outbreak never took off, and it is not just down to luck. The authorities here assumed that, because it was the new English strain of the virus it would be more contagious, but it has not proved to be so once again. We have had earlier examples where some people have tested negative in managed isolation facilities, but tested positive when they were released. In one notable case the woman involved had gone to the hairdresser and all sorts of shops after she left the isolation facility in Auckland. Hundreds of people got tested but there was not a single new case of covid.

So now it is time for the so-called experts in New Zealand to look objectively at the empirical evidence here, and not make assumptions based on overseas experience. And the evidence is that community transmission has not happened, even with the new Covid variants arriving at the border and sneaking through the quarantine facilities. Not a day passes when one of the academic experts aren’t insisting on fine-tuning the existing system, or advocating for more measures that impinge on our civil liberties. Maybe the policies have been more successful in New Zealand because there is better compliance, but this does not need to be excessively enforced. There was no need for the pre-emptive lockdown in the first place in Auckland, and the re-imposition of it after a single new case was a mistake. The so-called scientific experts don’t seem to acknowledge the damage done, including all the community events in other parts of the country that have had to be cancelled over the last two weeks. Talk about cancel culture!

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