New Zealand government ignores calls by scientists to increase COVID-19 restrictions


New Zealand’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread rapidly, following decisions by the Labor Party-led government to ease lockdown restrictions in Auckland and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement on the October 4 that the previous elimination policy will be abandoned. Cases have been found in the Waikato and Northland areas, which have spent several days in lockdown.

There are 633 active cases linked to the Delta outbreak, which has more than doubled in size since the strict ‘level 4’ lockdown in Auckland was relaxed to ‘level 3’ on September 22, allowing hundreds thousands of people to return to work. Further restrictions were lifted on October 6, allowing more children to return to daycare, people from different households to meet outside and to resume recreational activities.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern answers a question during a press conference in Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. (Robert Kitchin / Pool Photo via AP)

Last week, there was an average of 51.5 new cases per day. In the seven days before the drop to “level 3”, the daily average was only 16.8 cases.

The government gives priority to the demands of large companies over public health. As in all countries, New Zealand’s ruling elite have determined that they can no longer tolerate the disruption caused by the blockages to their extraction from the profits of the working class. Hence the insistence of the mainstream media for the population to “learn to live” with the deadly virus which is spreading in the community, that is to say that it accepts a growing number of hospitalizations, long term and death.

The New Zealand Herald reported on Friday that Ardern said the outbreak had grown “at a faster rate than we expected.” Today, however, Cabinet has rejected calls from a growing number of scientists for a return to a “level 4” lockdown in Auckland.

COVID-19 modeling professor Shaun Hendy, one of the government advisers, told the Herald that a tighter lockdown was needed to stop the spread and allow time for more people to get vaccinated. At present, despite a rush to increase vaccination rates, only 54 percent of the population has received both doses of Pfizer vaccine (65 percent of the eligible population over the age of 12).

Another modeler, Professor Michael Plank, said without a Level 4 lockdown, the number of cases could reach 150 per day in early November, which would mean around 100 weekly hospitalizations, threatening to overwhelm the system.

Speaking to TVNZ this morning, Dr Rawiri Jansen and epidemiologist Rod Jackson both called for a stricter lockdown in Auckland to prevent cases from spiraling out of control. Jackson noted that Ireland, with a population similar to New Zealand, has experienced 5,306 coronavirus deaths, and New Zealand could see a similar increase if restrictions are relaxed, especially given the low vaccination rate. The now abandoned elimination strategy has limited deaths to 28, so far.

In comments to the Science Media Center on October 12, epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig underscored the undemocratic nature of the government’s lowering of restrictions. She said: “Before we decide on behalf of the Aucklanders that they’re too tired of the blockages, let’s hear from Aucklanders. Let’s also listen to the Maori, Pasifika [Pacific Islanders], people with underlying conditions, marginalized people and children and their advocates.

Maori and Pacific Islanders account for 414 of the active COVID-19 cases, or about two-thirds of the total. They are more likely not to be vaccinated and to suffer from poverty-related health problems, which makes them more vulnerable to the virus.

The government expects a significant increase in cases. The Department of Health has said that in a “worst-case scenario” there could be 5,300 cases of COVID-19 per week in Auckland and the northern region of the country alone. This modeling assumes that 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated, which has not been achieved.

Professor epidemiologist John Potter told Radio NZ on Saturday that New Zealand could face “between 500 and 2,500 cases per day and 5 to 10 deaths per day” if COVID-19 is allowed to spread at the same rate than in Germany and the UK, with a similar vaccination rate (over 80 percent).

Due to the capacity crisis in New Zealand hospitals, the situation could actually be much worse. Of around 7,600 hospital beds in the country, around 83% are currently full and hospitals often exceed capacity. According to the Australian and New Zealand Society for Intensive Care (ANZICS), there are 186 fully staffed intensive care units (ICUs) in the country. About two-thirds of them are employed. The government claims it can expand intensive care capacity to 550 in times of crisis, but that would mean pushing healthcare staff and resources away from other patients.

Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland is preparing for an increase in the number of cases by setting up a tent to sort new patients. Public health expert Dr Collin Tukuitonga said Thing that the hospital was “already overloaded [its] full capacity, even without Covid ”, and was“ undernourished to serve the size of the population ”in the region.

Corporate media, however, continue to campaign for the removal of more restrictions. Thing Political editor Luke Malpass wrote on Saturday that it would be “utter folly” for the government to listen to “the epidemiological echo chamber” calling for a Level 4 lockdown. He suggested there should be “liberalization. considerable ”restrictions for people entering the country.

Likewise, right-wing Newstalk ZB radio host Mike Hosking attacked “the so-called experts” calling at Level 4 last Friday, claiming they had “lost their minds”. He said “the elimination is well and truly over” and New Zealand had to make “the big change [that] the rest of the world apparently did quite well, [to] living with the Covid.

Local media rarely report on the dire situation in countries where governments have made this “shift” and allowed the virus to infect hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. The pandemic remains out of control in most parts of the world. In the past seven days in the United States, 8,887 people have died from COVID-19; in the UK, 830 people; and in Australia, 95.

The Ardern government’s backlash from elimination towards a policy of tolerance to the spread of COVID-19, with full union support, demonstrates the need for workers to take matters into their own hands: independent safety committees at the scene work and neighborhood oppose the reopening of schools and businesses while the virus spreads in the community.

The Socialist Equality Group is holding an online public meeting on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. New Zealand time to discuss the dangerous situation in New Zealand and the socialist and scientific strategy needed to fight for the elimination of COVID-19 in the national scale and its eradication. a global scale.

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