The media never tires of telling us what a wonderful success story New Zealand and its zero-Covid strategy is, what a modern saint Jacinda Ardern is. The scientific/academic press is full of praise as well. You’ve seen Jeremy Harris’s more realistic take on matters here recently. But you may still be under the impression that New Zealand currently has no cases of Covid. Certainly the media in the UK and the US is not currently reporting any. But if you look at the recent New Zealand figures, lo and behold, they’re not Covid-free:
Oct 15: 2 cases
Oct 14: 2
Oct 10: 4
Oct 8: 3
Oct 7: 3
Oct 6: 3
Oct 4: 5
Oct 1: 12
That’s 34 cases in October. Not zero, then.
It should be pointed out, though, that all current cases are from people who have come from overseas and are in ‘managed quarantine’ (ie. in the Covid gulag). Inside the ‘community’, ie. inside the larger prison camp called New Zealand, there are no cases. So in a way the country does has zero Covid, but that is only maintained by the enforced quarantine of every single person who comes into the country (whether visitor or returning citizen). Most days there are people arriving at the borders who have the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That makes it clear that the only way to maintain a zero-Covid country at zero levels is to aggressively police the borders. Anyone who comes in has to be forcibly quarantined for a few weeks. Not at home, but in a governmental ‘managed isolation facility’.
This brings into focus one of the most unappealing aspects of the New Zealand strategy: they’ve semi-sealed the country. That’s going to mean very few people are now going to visit New Zealand, because who is prepared to do that? Except for a few people who have a really desperate need to go there, most people will just stay away. Most of their citizens will not be able to leave, unless they’re prepared to spend weeks in a ‘facility’ when they come back. New Zealand will have solved a non-problem by becoming a hermit-state.
This aspect of the strategy is one that New Zealand fans like Devi Sridhar and Richard Burgon very much play down (Burgon doesn’t even mention this at all in his piece). New Zealand will become a gated community forever under this strategy. No, not until there’s a vaccine. Even if a vaccine comes, it’s very unlikely to get rid of Covid completely. Even the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, recently admitted that a vaccine is likely to only have 40-60% efficacy. And such vaccines don’t work well on the people who need it the most, namely elderly people with decrepit immune systems. So it isn’t going to die out in the rest of the world, although it will likely reduce. So there will always be a threat of it being brought to New Zealand by a traveller. So they can never open up again unless they change tack.
If we follow New Zealand fans like Sridhar, then, as well as becoming a digital-medical-surveillance state, we also have to enforce a two-week quarantine on anyone who wants to enter the country. Longer still for anyone who tests positive during that period. This wouldn’t even have the advantage of getting rid of illegal immigrants or reducing legal migration, if that’s something you’d like to see, because migrants will put up with the quarantine. It will just kill the tourist industry, and stop you taking an overseas holiday ever again. It will stop you ever seeing your mother who lives in Australia again. It will badly affect businesses that import and export, and make international sports events very difficult. (It’s funny how so many Remainers, who shrieked about the slightly increased difficulty of European travel under Brexit, and who claimed that Premier League football, etc. would be ruined, are now happy with hard border controls everywhere.)
You may be wondering whether all or most of the New Zealand numbers are false positives. Surely, if false positives are the problem I and many others have previously made out then these have got to be false positives?
In this situation, though, I doubt it. I think New Zealand is being very careful about their testing. From their government Covid website it is clear that they are retesting numerous times, and not just adding every positive test to the numbers. As for PCR cycle numbers, at first I wondered whether they were just running lower numbers of cycles. It turns out they aren’t, but they are taking notice of the cycle numbers. Consider this story where they had a positive, but they said it was a ‘weak positive’ because it required so many cycles, and they eventually concluded (probably correctly), after further testing including serological tests, that it was a historical infection.
Furthermore, NZ is not doing anywhere near the number of tests that the UK is doing, and so their system is unlikely to be overwhelmed and chaotic like the UK’s is. Last week their average tests per day was 4,330, whereas the UK averaged 271,000 in the last week. The UK has thirteen times the population of New Zealand, so if we multiply 4,330 by 13 we get 56,290. So per head of population New Zealand is doing less than fifth of the tests that the UK is doing.
That means they are likely to have better staff doing the tests, more adherence to the proper protocols, less rushing, and so on, and all that means less things going wrong. In particular there is likely to be less contamination of samples, and that means less false positives. Add to that the fact that there is clearly far less SARS2 virus floating around in New Zealand than in other places, and you can see that the chances of contamination happening are very, very low. So false positives (and false negatives) will not be anywhere near as big an issue in New Zealand as elsewhere, and probably most of their positive tests are real (real in the sense that SARS2 is triggering the positive, that is, although none of these people are ill in hospital with Covid.)
There is also support for this conclusion from the fact that they’re currently getting no positive tests in the community, but some, as we have seen, at the border. If false positives were occurring in the New Zealand testing system you’d expect to see some in the community, but that’s not happening.
(In fact, in a way it doesn’t really matter whether the positive tests they’re getting are false positives or not, because New Zealand is going to keep acting upon the basis of these test results and keep the borders semi-closed whether they are real or not.)
We can also note that New Zealand has a vested interest in not letting false positives bump up the numbers, because unlike most other countries whose line is that Covid is increasing and out of control and so we need more lockdowns, the New Zealand government’s line is that we’ve already done it, we’ve beaten, or virtually beaten, the virus, aren’t we wonderful, and we just need to keep things as they are and the virus will stay beaten. If New Zealand had been producing large numbers of ‘cases’ then the government’s boasts about their success would have seemed very hollow, which is definitely not what you want in the run-up to an election. So they had a very strong motivation to make sure the testing was done well.
So taking into account all these things it’s no surprise that New Zealand does not have the SARS2 positive test numbers that Europe has. But don’t believe the hype that they have no Covid (or rather SARS2) at all. It’s low, but not zero: most days they have people with SARS2 arriving in the country, and they will continue to have cases coming into the country from outside for the foreseeable future. Not in any great number, and these numbers will reduce as SARS2 reduces around the world (which partly depends on how much and how fast it mutates), but for as long as New Zealand pursues a literal zero-Covid strategy, it can never open those borders properly again.
The only other thing I wanted to say about New Zealand is how hard they make it to find out their daily positive test numbers on their government website. There’s no list of them anywhere. (Nor is there on Worldometers or Our World in Data.) You can see a graph of them, but it’s purely graphical, that is, it isn’t interactive and doesn’t reveal any numbers when you hover over it. You can see the total number of active cases. There are daily press releases that mention the number of new cases for each day, so you could laboriously go through each one to find out the daily numbers. But there’s no list of daily numbers given. I had to work out the daily numbers myself by hovering over Worldometer’s graph.
So here we have yet another government statistics website, like the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales, and the appallingly bad CDC website in the US, that fails (whether through incompetence or design) to provide the most basic and useful figures and graphs for people and journalists and researchers to use, which means suckers like Christopher Bowyer, Alistair Haimes and me have to waste their days doing their work for them for free.
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