The day New Zealand lost the plot

History may well record that today, 19 March, is the day that New Zealand lost the plot in stamping down on COVID-19.

Not only have confirmed cases risen again, this time from 20 to 28, up from six less than a week ago. More importantly, in the 24 hours from midday today there are 22 wide-body jets arriving into New Zealand from Asia and the Americas, and 47 Airbus 320 and similar flights coming in from Australia. I know this from checking the airport arrivals boards.

A rough total of today’s arrivals, based on a load factor of 75 percent, is 12,000 people. Even at 50 percent load factor, that would be 8000 people. Although these people go into self-isolation, the households they belong to do not have to do so.

So far this week there have probably been well over 30,000 people coming into New Zealand. Almost certainly, there will be multiple cases of COVID brewing in some of their households. Every day, the new arrivals pose greater risk than the previous day’s arrivals. Yet all other members of those households can continue going about their daily lives. This is crazy.

If we had put household restrictions on all of the people in these households, then in a few days we would be telling a different story than what is going to unfold. I say again, this is crazy.

Our Prime Minister has referred to Taiwan as the exemplar. On Sunday 15 March she said on TV1 that “We’re going to follow, pretty closely, the Taiwanese model. They worked up a framework for mass gatherings that’s been quite successful,”

At that time there were 53 cases of COVID-19 in Taiwan. Now, four days later there are 100, with 23 new cases there today.

I have previously pointed out how some things in Taiwan society are very different to New Zealand. They have multiple measures in place that we do not have, yet still their COVID-19 numbers are now growing fast.

When I listen to the Prime Minister’s words about Taiwan as an exemplar, I ask myself who is feeding her this information? It has to be her advisers.

There is only one country in the world that has brought COVID-19 under control and that is China. We need to look again at how they did it.

This morning I received an email from my friend Lew Dagger in China. Lew has been living in China for close on 20 years as an agricultural project manager. I have visited Lew in China on multiple occasions.

Lew lives in the province of Yunnan, and currently manages a big project in the south of the province, close to the border with Myanmar. It is a great area for tropical horticulture.

What follows are Lew’s words. They were written as a personal email to me, but given their importance, I am reprinting them here with Lew’s permission.


I thought I would give you a little update on what is happening here in Yunnan and some of the effects that we are seeing due to the international situation.

 There is no question that day-to-day down here in Jinghong things are normalizing. The cars are back, the off-key singing is happening in the KTV (Karaoke) and outside bars, and the restaurants are open. On Saturday night I had my first sit-down meal at a restaurant for two months.

Schools are still not back and there are still quite a few hotels closed due to tourists not back yet. Government is now pushing people to get out and dine and support local businesses.

The national new infection levels across all China are somewhere between 20 and 30 people each day and the death rates are in the low teens, but there is a real fear of the virus coming in from the international sources, so that whole area has tightened up.

Two cases were reported in Kunming this week, with one from Spain and one from France (local Chinese returning). The one from Spain resulted in 550 people being put in Government quarantine. Yesterday the new rule from Yunnan authorities is if you come from overseas, then immediate strict quarantine is required for 14 days and that is quite different to New Zealand-style self-quarantine. 

As a foreigner, I am finding that I am treated more suspiciously, as no one knows where you come from, how you got here and how long you have been here. A couple of my colleagues found this earlier in the week when they were on local flights. Security targeted them and then a long process to prove they are OK. 

However, given the economic and social cost to the Chinese people to date, you have to support the tough line.

For me, it’s almost like the whole virus thing has come back due to what is happening in NZ. Clearly with family and friends there it is a worry, so it is like entering the second cycle.

Given the actions that I see the NZ Government taking, I think NZ is at about the same stage as China was on the 26th January, so the bad news Keith, is you still have a way to go!


Lew’s words are entirely consistent with what I am hearing from elsewhere in my Kiwi-China network. China has acted very firmly and now life is coming back to normality. The Kiwis over there now feel increasingly sorry for us back in New Zealand, and they worry for their New Zealand kin.

As I have said previously, every day here in New Zealand that we delay, pussy-footing around, simply means more pain as a society that we are going to have to bear.

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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8 Responses to The day New Zealand lost the plot

  1. sallyco says:

    Have a look at this video
    Wolfgang Wodarg says:
    The corona hype is not based on any extraordinary public health danger. However, it causes considerable damage to our freedom and personal rights through frivolous and unjustified quarantine measures and restrictions. The images in the media are frightening and the traffic in China’s cities seems to be regulated by the clinical thermometer.
    Evidence-based epidemiological assessment is drowning in the mainstream of fear mongers in labs, media, and ministries.

  2. Keith Woodford says:

    I have just viewed that youtube video and I can assure you it is the type of video that we do not need. It is conspiracy-type thinkng, plausible on the surface and very cleverly done, but it is like claiming that the Americans faked their moon journeys. I can assure you that this disease is real and the deaths are also real. The closest analogy that I can find is the Spanish flu of 1918, but it is possible that this one is worse. The evidence is clear that death rates soar in the absence of mechanical breathing equipment and oxygen.

    • sallyco says:

      Keith my apologies for posting the link, I am more than happy for you to remove it.

      I Have looked a bit further at the German Wolfgang Wodarg on wikipeadia and see that he is a lecturer at the University of Flensburg. In his position in Flensburg he was the supervisor of the nationally known impostor and author Gert Postel. (Postel is a german imposter applying as a medical doctor several times without ever having received medical education-)

      Wodarg in 2009 voted against an Act that was aiming to restrict access to internet pornagraphy. He has been a MP and belongs to the Social Democtratic Party.

      • Keith Woodford says:

        Hi Sallyco
        I will remove it if you wish. But it does actually provide a good example of how a nutty crank can put across a false story and do so with apparent rationality. When I looked, over 66,000 people had viewed that video. I think all of us have at some stage been taken in by such people. And it is a real challenge to society as to how to manage these situations. The problem is that as soon as we try and stop these cranks then we also risk stopping those people who have important things to say, but which lie outside the mainstream of current thinking.

      • sallyco says:

        From what I am reading Wolfgang maybe right.

  3. Nick says:

    Awesome article I give100% support. Thank you.

  4. Howard de Klerk says:

    Crazy is the word. No quarentine – rather family spreading on self isolated persons behalf.

  5. David says:

    A copy of the following message to a cousin came to me today:
    ““Hi All! We have arrived safely in Auckland and are now in a hotel waiting out our isolation period. I wanted to make everyone aware of what we experienced at the airport this morning. There was no mention on the plane or information handed out explaining self isolation enforcement and what was involved. No information was handed out at the airport arrivals. We were given a card where we had to give a contact address (not an isolation address) – no one asked us where we were staying or if we understood our obligations when isolating. No temperature checks. A handful of staff wearing masks. Lots of people in the arrival area land side waiting to greet and pick up people from category 1 countries – are they now going to isolate too? A man in front of me in the queue was from the UK, I heard him tell immigration that he was here for 2 weeks. He then grabs a NZ tourism brochure on his way pass – something tells me he doesn’t plan to isolate! The whole process is a joke! We are an island we can easily stop this virus by shutting our borders down and geo targeting everyone who has to isolate and enforcing a fine if they go out of their isolation area. I’m disappointed and I’m concerned. Any ideas on how we can feed this through to the government better procedures and enforcements need to be in place.”

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