With no new cases for two weeks, New Zealand lifts COVID-19 restrictions

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/13/with-no-new-cases-for-two-week.html

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Americans trying to get to New Zealand:

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It’s amazing how different things are when you have functional adults running things…

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Ah, the sane countries…

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This is over one month old, but someone tweeted it as breaking news yesterday.

Original BBC report from 8th June (not July):

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New Zealander here.

I think that one key factor that doesn’t get mentioned as much is the NZ is run with a lot less layers of government. We even got rid of our Upper House of the central government decades ago (the could make a movie about the Suicide Squad but I think that DC Comics might not like the movie name).

Yes there is of course local government (city councils), but the central government’s Covid-19 restrictions/laws/etc would apply everywhere i.e. there would be no local government that could not follow the lockdown and other restrictions. No state governors or mayors that could anything contrary to the government.

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Although in the case of the US, a stronger central government would have just made everything even worse than it’s been, as the federal government has fucked up more than anyone, simply refusing to take basic actions because of the moral/emotional/intellectual vacuum that is the Trump administration. The fact that some states had a half-decent response (hamstrung in part by the inability to do things that could only be implemented on the federal level) has been the only thing preventing the situation from being a complete and total disaster. In the UK, with the response being running nationally, the utter incompetence/malevolence of the Johnson administration has been the direct cause of their disastrous response (with Scotland managing to mount a better defense thanks to devolution of power).

The fact is, the US and UK right now are not being run by competent adults, and this crisis is where it really shows.

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New Zealand really has the perfect situation for dealing with covid. A competent government is a necessary condition, of course, but they also have

1 - being an island
2 - being an island that people generally get to from visiting another, bigger island

In their case, any restrictions on incoming travel Australia added automatically benefitted New Zealand, and now people had to jump thru 2 hoops to get there.

So it’s no surprise they dealt with Covid well. Another nearly as good case, Iceland, shares some of these traits and likewise has a small population to track, as well as the competent government.

I guess I should add another necessary condition: having an intelligent populace not worried about breathing CO2 in masks as God never intended.

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You may have misunderstood how people get to New Zealand.
It is not through Australia. People fly here directly from Europe, Asia and even the Americas.
One of the major reasons for us dealing with Covid well is that we trust our government. Our Prime Minister asked us to be nice to each other, and we listened (apart from the odd jerk).
Oneof my kids works in a supermarket, so was an essential worker during lockdown, and according to him there were very few instances of “Karen” type behaviour which is nice.
I might go to the rugby on Sunday. Which is also nice.

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I’ve been weathering the pandemic in Cambodia, and it seems both predictable and depressing that the attention paid to what’s happened here has been nil.

Cambodia is a country of 16 million, and it’s directly connected by land borders that are not terribly well controlled to 3 other countries: Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. It’s a very poor country – the GDP per capita is $1500, but that ignores the extremely highly unequal income distribution. Many farmers are living on much less. It struggles with providing health care to its people, and it has significant challenges related to malaria, HIV, typhoid, cholera, dengue, polio, and other infectious diseases.

And yet, Cambodia, despite being hit early (in late January, via a visitor from Wuhan), never got above 90 active case, is currently sitting around 10, all of which are arrivals or returnees from outside since it got to zero cases, about 2 weeks before New Zealand did. And nobody has died.

You can argue that New Zealand’s achievement is more impressive, but only based on having a third of the population, but getting about ten times the total number of infected cases. But that in itself cuts both ways: sure, it’s a dramatic drop; but it’s also an infection rate thirty times of a poor, struggling country.

I’ve actually had numerous conversations with the country’s Head of Epidemiology at its primary infectious diseases institution, as well as their head of Immunology, over the past 2 months. It’s not out of the question that there may be inherent immunity patterns within the population, possibly the result of the existence of not exactly wet markets, but certainly markets that most Khmers use, that have high potential for infectivity centres, based on Wuhan. That is something that focused serological investigation would turn up, perhaps.

It’s also possible that the huge focus on infectious diseases here has translated to very effective contact tracing, which clearly has worked extremely well. Cambodia didn’t fuck around with apps, they hired 1600 contact tracers at the very outset, and let them do their work.

There’s a theory, validated in part my an FDA sponsored study, that some vaccines, and in particular the polio vaccine, has strengthened the general resistance to the virus. This was being looked into by the FDA in connection with cancer care and suppressed immunity for leukemia patients 3 years ago, according to Christine Amanpour report a few months ago. Cambodia has 100% polio vaccination rates, which most industrialized countries do not. And they have effective delivery systems.

Spreading via aerosol droplets seems to be under serious consideration: it is certainly the case that in Cambodia, loud talk, yelling, too much boisterousness is culturally not well accepted, as much as they see it on YouTube. And Cambodians, like a lot of people in Asia didn’t have to adapt to wearing masks: it’s been a normal thing here forever.

Isolation doesn’t play a role, as backwards as Cambodia may seem to some people. The temples at Angkor Wat get about 3m visitors each year, and with 2.5m tourist arrivals annually, essentially every one of them visits Siem Reap, the nearest city and fly-in point. But Siem Reap didn’t get any higher infection rate than elsewhere. The country may be a backwater, but Siem Reap is as geared to tourism as most middle-range European cities are.

Given how major deaths among old people has been, Cambodia’s very young (median 21) age points in a direction. So does the fact that only 2% of the population is over 65. And that, in turn, is the result of having 25% of the population slaughtered in the 1970’s under Pol Pot, leading to a lack of old folks homes here.

And on it goes. At the minimum, the country is an anomaly that has outcomes that other countries would give a lot to have. Surely that should make the place worthy of attention, if only for the entirely selfish reasons that people here have come to expect. But Cambodia is unmentioned, despite its remarkable ability to stay in a safe condition through almost all of the pandemic, and without ever resorting to a lockdown. Schools closed (now reopened) and large public gatherings and places that catered to them were restricted. But it’s back now, and Cambodia is doing great.

I write at this length, because the lack of attention to detail seems to be what sends people into all kinds of ridiculous conclusions, including the idea that New Zealand is the paragon. New Zealand is a wonderful country, and to be admired for many things. But looking at its governance as an answer is entirely contradicted by Cambodia, whose achievements are far more substantial, with fewer advantages. Hun Sen, the prime minister, runs a government that basically does not face opposition, and has not for 30 years. Testing may be ahead in NZ, but it barely exists here.

My personal feeling is that social factors and population size, and communication play a role. In an epidemic situation, there are always a small number that will ignore good advice and the science. If that’s 0.1%, in the US that group will be 350,000. In Cambodia, it’ll be 16,000. In the US, it’ll be incredibly easy for them to organize, set up media events, and disrupt the public. Here, almost impossible. In NZ, 0.1% would be 6,000 people. They could communicate and organize, but the clear reality is that it’s a fringe group. When your pool is 350,000, putting together multiple events that assemble in groups greater than 2-300 is trivial, and people start to misjudge the actual size and importance – and both sides of the press are always happy to play that up.

I don’t think that Cambodia’s social factors, any more than China’s are what we want to rely on. Vietnam has a similar outcome to Cambodia, with a much larger population, and they shore a border with China. In these places, repression, inability to organize and assemble may play a role, but that can’t be how we approach the crisis, and if what we know about the abiiity of authoritarians to deal with famines, earthquakes, tsunamis and other major scale disasters is still true in a pandemic, it probably means they overcame despite those tendencies, not because of them.

So the epidemiological factors do need to be understood. We need to understand the epidemiology better by looking at the places where we can actually learn applicable lessons, and combine them with the strengths of democratic societies to find a solution.

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Old news. We came out of lockdown a month ago!

Someone who ought to know better (namely a journalist) tweeted it as hot news two days ago.

In NZ - Latest update:

“number of active cases was still 22”

All cases from returning citizens/residents & found during mandatory quarantine

Unfortunately we have assholes also, 4 have broken out of quarantine for various reasons & 2 of those currently in court for sentencing!

Will admit that we seem to be more trusting of our government than other states/countries but at least they seem to be reasonably transparent regarding why & what medical advice is, so people have taken steps.

Not to say that we haven’t had panic buying of bum rolls or even that we’d have been out with pitchforks & torches had they banned alcohol sales as South Africa did!

Overall lockdown was Sweet As Bro! I miss the long lazy days working from home!

Big kudos for Cambodia who seem to have done better!:+1::+1::+1:

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NZ isn’t 1 Island, it’s a group - it consists of North & South Islands plus (at a minimum) 4 others - Stewart Island, the Chathams, Great Barrier & Waiheke - all inhabited by permanent residents

We also maintain a penal colony on West Island - known by some as Australia but unfortunately they’ve now decided to to send their worst cases back to NZ!

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Ok, island nation, like Japan which has umpteen billion islands. Also Australia is not an island either rather a continent. But it sure looks like one.

I swear i heard you have to catch a ferry from Sydney

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