Tuesday, 24 August 2021

This time last year ...


This time last year, I posted this: a series of quotes briefly critiquing the way we'd been locked up last year. I thought it might be useful to review them to see if we've learned anything a year on.  

ONE YEAR AGO, we were being given the argument that we were being locked up to mitigate the threat to an already overloaded health system, that we were 'flattening the curve' to buy time to build up supplies and expertise:

"This is not to say that there are not good reasons to use mitigations as a delay tactic... But mitigations themselves are not saving lives in these scenarios; instead, it is what we do with the time that gives us an opportunity to improve the outcome of the epidemic."
~ Maria Chikina and Wesley Pegden on 'A call to honesty in pandemic modelling'
VERDICT NOW: So what did the Government do with the time available? Andrea Vance provided the briefest summary on Sunday: " 
"While New Zealand was free of community transmission, the Government took a leisurely approach...
"It was slow to order the vaccine....
"[E]mergency departments were at capacity, even before the outbreak...
"[T]esting centres [a]re struggling to cope with demand, swabs running low and PPE supplies again in question.
"Self-collecting saliva testing is still not available to the public, despite being widely used overseas and much more convenient. It was only introduced as an option for border workers last month.
"These are failings that were foreseeable and are unforgivable.
We're no longer hearing about "flatten the curve" to give us time, because the time has been ill-used. The mantra now is no longer "mitigation," but "elimination" -- under a regime that insists that possibly-infected nurses still show up for work, and puts a quarantine exercise area in the same air-space as a public walkway and a vaccination centre.

ONE YEAR AGO, it looks like this complacency that caused the failings was already extant this time last year too:
"The Government wasted the 100 days New Zealand was free of community transmission... officials sat back and basked in New Zealand's relative success during past pandemics, which meant systems and plans were not reviewed to an adequate standard."
~ Nick Wilson and Michael Baker from 'Political Botch-Ups: How serious are the Govt's border botch-ups?'
VERDICT NOW: The foreseeable and unforgivable failures are a legacy of that basking. They wasted those 100 days, and it seems now that they also wasted the next 365. 

Our relative success last year was more about luck than good management. And as the many reported MIQ failures seem to reveal, that still seems like that's all we're relying on.

ONE YEAR AGO, we were still getting to grips with the authority that governments have to impose quarantine, the rationale behind the methods, and how much force might be appropriate ...
"Public health policy should not be exempt from the 'non-aggression principle.' Force must be prohibited from interpersonal relationships, except when used in self-defence or retaliation.
    "In the case of a highly contagious lethal disease, I believe that screening potential carriers, and containing them via quarantine, represents an act of self-defence.
    "One of the few legitimate functions of the government is to protect people from physical assault. The transmission of a disease with significant lethal potential fits that description.
    "Therefore, it is appropriate to screen people reasonably considered potential carriers. It is completely proper to confine people found to be a threat to the lives of others until that threat no longer exists.
    "That's the easy part. The hard part is the science. Who poses a threat and who does not? How long should the quarantine last?
    "Here, panic and emotion must not cloud rational evaluation of scientific data. It would be a tragedy to curtail liberty through quarantine without a sound, evidence-based rationale. But it is also important to remember that all knowledge is contextual. We know what we know based upon the available evidence. We must be willing to revise our conclusions as more is learned. We must rapidly adjust the criteria for quarantine as new knowledge dictates."

        ~ Jeffrey A. Singer on Pandemics & Personal Liberty (2014).
VERDICT NOW: More has been learned. More is known. But it's not clear that the criteria for quarantine have changed in any real way at all. We're not even learning from porn.

ONE YEAR AGO, we were talking about how people can do business safely in a pandemic, and asking about why butchers and greengrocers and the like can't stay open safely:
"That's where reasoned opposition should be focussed. Understand that this is an emergency; that government does have a legitimate role; that if handled properly it will be temporary; and focus instead on having proper due process and getting things right: Talk about how people can do business safely in this pandemic. (Talk about the need for objective rules [rather than goverments deciding who's 'essential'] and for due process in introducing regulations and police powers)."
        ~ NOT PC on 'Yes folks, it's real...'
VERDICT NOW: Nothing at all, not a thing, has changed. Instead of a set of objective criteria by which any business could measure its ability to open up, the government still relies on enforcing a list of services that bureaucrats have decided are essential. And greengrocers remain closed -- and, while supermarkets are rationing meat supplies, butchers are throwing the stuff out.

ONE YEAR AGO, several of us were calling for this very thing:
"A safety standard, rather than essential-business standards, couldn't be set overnight. But it could have been developed over the past months."
        ~ Eric Crampton on The Nation
VERDICT NOW: Nothing's changed. Nothing's been developed. Instead of objective criteria by which businesses can show themselves to open safely, we remain instead at the mercy of the planners deciding for us.

Will we have learned anything more a year from now?


  1. The concept of "objective rules" is unknown to the Ardern Government, which decides everything according to its perception of political advantage and who has sufficient pull.


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