COVID-19 continues to outrun NZ authorities

Tougher regulations in New Zealand for the COVID-19 coronavirus are urgent. We are now on the brink

A day is a long time in the COVID-19 coronavirus saga. It is now even more clear than when I wrote on Tuesday that COVID-19 is winning the war here in New Zealand.

In the last five days, confirmed cases have jumped from 6 to 20. This is despite minimal testing occurring as to the presence of community transmission.

We are on the brink. It is either immediate imposition of tougher regulations or we face a European-type breakout.

Every hour that the Government delays with tougher regulations, then the disease runs away from us, and the consequent control measures will have to be even tougher. The stakes are huge.

As background, over the last three years I have been closely involved with the Mycoplasma bovis saga here in New Zealand. I have written some 25 articles about Mycoplasma bovis as events unfolded. With extreme frustration, I watched that relatively benign disease, indeed extremely benign disease compared to COVID-19, as it spread through New Zealand’s cattle herds.

For two years, that cattle disease continued to run faster than the Government control measures, despite the Government requiring the slaughter of over 200 herds and allocating $800 million for the task. I watched as officials moved far too slowly, denying the tracing delays that were occurring, and apparently believing their own propaganda.

It took a major shake-up last year within the Ministry of Primary Industries, led by a new Director General, after two years of denial and make-believe within the Ministry, to start making progress. That war is still far from won.

With the much more dangerous COVID-19, the first step that needs to be done today is make it mandatory that self-isolation has to apply to everyone in a house. The notion that some people in a house can be self-isolating while others in that home are living their normal lives is not working. It is proving a disastrous flaw.

The Prime Minister has today (Wednesday 18 March) given ‘advice’ to travellers who arrived before the regulations were put in place at 1am Monday morning that they should now also self-isolate. However, that is no more than advice. It is essential that it too becomes mandatory, and the Government puts in place under urgency any regulatory authorisation that is needed for this to occur.

The third mandatory requirement has to be the immediate closing-down across New Zealand of all group activities of more than say eight people.  All pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas, high schools and universities would therefore need to be closed. The only possible exception could be for primary and day-care centres.

Keeping primary schools and day-are centres open also poses a big risk, but the social consequences of any prolonged closure are such that there is perhaps room for debate on this matter. Perhaps that decision could be left until the weekend, as each day tells a new story as to where we are on the battlefield. However, everything else on the list needs to happen right now.

If we get this right then we still have a chance of stamping out the disease. But every day it gets tougher.

Let there be no doubt, we are now in a war. And the way we are currently going, we are in big danger of losing that war. Every day and every hour count.

About Keith Woodford

Keith Woodford is an independent consultant, based in New Zealand, who works internationally on agri-food systems and rural development projects. He holds honorary positions as Professor of Agri-Food Systems at Lincoln University, New Zealand, and as Senior Research Fellow at the Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University, Wellington.
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3 Responses to COVID-19 continues to outrun NZ authorities

  1. Ev says:

    WHO says : test, test, test. Min of Finance tells Min of Health you have all the resources (incl money) you need. But this morning thursday, DG of health says don’t want to waste tests, or put strain on labs, so got to show symptoms before a test is allowed. Yet authorities acknowledge some are asymptomatic. So which is it??? Is this another case of : Oh dear, we didn’t foresee this….but we have learnt a lot and have taken steps to see it doesn’t happen again.

  2. Pingback: The day New Zealand lost the plot | Posts from Keith Woodford

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