NZ really ‘envy of the world’?

NZ Climate Science Coalition Chairman Barry Brill produces a shocking indictment of Jacinda Ardern’s disastrous COVID-19 leadership. Academic research strongly disagrees that her lockdown saved lives. The alarming unvalidated model forecasts she heeded have been thoroughly discredited by peer reviews and actual events.

Originally published by NZCPR on 5 July 2020.
Republished with permission.

On 3 June, Prime Minister Ardern told the House: “I have proudly made Captain’s Calls all the way through and it is one of the reasons, alongside our Team of Five Million, we are the envy of the world.”

Is New Zealand’s Covid-19 track record really the envy of the world? And did Ms Ardern’s Captain’s Calls improve or worsen the outcome?

With Parliament suspended during the crisis, the Prime Minister adroitly leveraged her celebrity status and thespian talent. Reality TV memes became unquestioned facts in the minds of both the captive populace and the star-struck media. We believed. And we stayed home for 49 days.

Weeks later, the media seems little interested in the alternative narrative that is only now taking shape. We are beginning to learn that –

  • the key Captain’s Call was disastrous,
  • the health outcomes were barely average,
  • the economic impacts are amongst the worst in the world.

Lockdown vs Border Control

The Ministry of Health describes border controls as the “key tool” for its Elimination Strategy, and this tool accounts for almost all of the case elimination in New Zealand since quarantine was belatedly introduced on 10 April. The “keep it out, stamp it out” policy of Alert Level 1 has 11 components, all of which are proportionate, effective, and relatively benign in economic terms.

Alert Level 2 also made sense during March, when the Ministry could not rule out the possibility of ‘community transmission’ (i.e., numerous untraced infections). Accordingly, a 30-day pause at Level 2 was the data-based recommendation by the Ministry of Health on 20 March – advice that was fully consistent with the Ministry’s widely-published pandemic plan.

The Prime Minister impulsively chose to disregard this official advice and instead leaped to the world’s most masochistic restrictions (the Lockdown) with the resounding battle-cry of “go hard, go early”, and hang the expense! Political instincts and theatre easily trumped all the evidence-based science.

There was no cost-benefit analysis of any kind. The PM’s historic Captain’s Call was apparently influenced by alarming forecasts from three academic computer models – one from the Imperial College of London, one from Otago University, and one from Auckland University. In announcing her extreme Lockdown decision, Ms Ardern signalled that “the worst case scenario is simply intolerable”.

All three unvalidated models have since been thoroughly discredited by both peer reviews and real-world events. Neil Ferguson’s patchy record includes a long history of being wrong.

I have previously argued that the 49-day Lockdown (Levels 3 & 4) was the worst policy decision ever and almost surely resulted in a net loss of New Zealand lives. In retrospect, there is no evidence that our extreme Lockdown saved the life of a single New Zealander.

Economics Professor at Waikato University John Gibson has long taken an interest in this country’s policy response to the pandemic. In his recent research paper, “Government Mandated Lockdowns Do Not Reduce Covid-19 Deaths”, he finds that New Zealand suffered large economic costs for little benefit in terms of lives saved. Comparing hard data from comparable counties in the US, Gibson found strong statistical evidence that areas with lockdowns do not experience fewer deaths.

A comparative study of US states produces a similar result. A comparison of European results by Oxford University has similarly found that there’s very little correlation between the severity of a nation’s restrictions and the curbing of excess1 fatalities2.

A handy chronology of events is set out in Muriel Newman’s excellent article “The New Normal”. Dr Newman parses Professor Gibson’s research and asks why the PM needed to out-do Australia and the rest of the world.

The Otago modellers who helped to precipitate the Captain’s Call are now calling for a public enquiry, saying they have no idea which bans worked and which did not. While a Royal Commission is essential, it is already painfully clear that the bans that caused the most damage made the least contribution to the elimination strategy. Based on current evidence, my prediction is that the enquiry will find:

Calculation of the economic damage shares is straightforward. The Treasury’s scenarios were based on the assumption that Alert Level 4 lowered New Zealand’s economic activity (GDP) by 40%, Level 3 by 25%, Level 2 by 10-15% and Level 1 by 5-10%.

NZ Health Outcome

Countries in most parts of the world have no reason to “envy” New Zealand’s Covid-19 results during Lockdown.

The Global Health Security Index which considers pandemic threats has just been published. Unfortunately NZ scores approximately half marks (54/100), coming in 35th in the world rankings – far behind Australia.

This poor result reflects badly on the actual delivery of measures like contact tracing, testing, border control and the Lockdown within New Zealand. Unlike Ms Ardern’s endless self-congratulatory comments, this objective assessment is both transparent and data-based.

The table below shows that New Zealand’s performance has been well below average in the Asia-Pacific Region that we inhabit (along with about one-third of the world’s population). We experienced 4 deaths per million of population, which is higher than the median figure for the Region. Our 301 cases per million was the highest of all the reported 20 countries in the Region, with the sole exception of Singapore.

By any relevant criterion, our public health delivery and results have been sub-standard.

Economic Impacts

As a direct result of the Captain’s Call for the world’s most stringent Lockdown, we have “inherited the wind” (Proverbs 11:29). Authoritative commentators predict that most countries’ economic damage and job losses will be largely proportional to the stringency of their respective pandemic responses.

In the second week of our Lockdown the International Monetary Fund forecast that the New Zealand economy would shrink by no less that 7.2% this fiscal year. Its Global Economic Report suggested that New Zealand will see the world’s biggest economic contraction outside Europe, except for Venezuela.

More recently, the OECD says the New Zealand lockdown had brought a number of sectors to a sudden stop in the three months to the end of June and it projected the country’s GDP would shrink by nearly 9%. It expects Australia’s economy to contract by only 5%. It is more pessimistic about New Zealand’s economic prospects than many other countries, because our Covid-19 responses were so much more extreme.

So, this calamitous Captain’s Call delivered rather ordinary public health results and a truly terrible economy. Can any thinking voter possibly believe that we are now “the envy of the world”?

  1. A measure of the overall number of deaths compared with normal trends.

7 Thoughts on “NZ really ‘envy of the world’?

  1. Cambridgedon on July 11, 2020 at 4:39 pm said:

    Prof Neil Ferguson is one of the best epidemiologists and his team at ICL is world class.

    Want the Trump solution, do you? Watch Australia struggle too.

    International travel, especially long haul, is kaput. Nothing to do with Jacinda Ardern.

    • Rick on July 12, 2020 at 1:56 am said:

      So “Prof Neil Ferguson is one of the best epidemiologists”, is he, Cambridgedon? If that is true, I dread to think what even the more mediocre ones must be like, let alone the worst.

      The man is a disgrace to his profession. His junk-science coronavirus model could not be relied upon to give the same answer to the same question twice! The reason being, as top-class computer code-analysts discovered when they scrutinised and tested the model, that it had been programmed to give random answers in the first place! The governments who relied upon it to guide their coronavirus policies intelligently could have done no worse if they had consulted the first gibbering idiot that they could find and followed his guidance instead.

  2. Kleinefeldmaus on July 11, 2020 at 7:05 pm said:

    I was impressed by Barry Brill’s analysis of ‘Comrade’ Ardern’s Clarion Call to disaster and did this animation – which I hope you will forgive my blatant theft and take it in the spirit intended. In truth though, I do fear for the economic fallout from all this.

    https://youtu.be/r4rQY1diOi4

  3. Brett Keane on July 12, 2020 at 1:45 pm said:

    Being trained in Pathology, I had figured out the best known pathways for healing or preventing the Covid 19. By mid-April. They are totally-different for early or late-stage diagnoses, with only a few days between both.

    Ferguson, being a mere modeller like all Warmista gurus, was tragically wrong all the way…..
    USA and Oz are Federal Republic-type Nations and the failing States tend to be led by Greenie types who are destroying their Thermal Power Stations too.
    Trump himself is leading by example and using the “early preventative” part of the proven successful course. HCO, C, D, Zn at or within 6 days of onset. No protection is perfect of course, and this human-altered virus has many hooks, not all of which may be known yet. Brett Keane

  4. Cambridgedon on July 12, 2020 at 4:17 pm said:

    @Rick. You are more than a little gullible.

    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01685-y

    Critiqued coronavirus simulation gets thumbs up from code-checking efforts
    Influential model judged reproducible — although software engineers called its code ‘horrible’ and ‘a buggy mess’.

    The new test is “the best possible verification of Ferguson’s simulations given the state of the art in computational science,” says Konrad Hinsen, a computational biophysicist at the French national research agency CNRS in Paris, who was not involved in the work. In May, he wrote in a blogpost that the Imperial study’s code looked “horrible”, but that such shortcomings are to be expected in code written by scientists who usually aren’t specialists in software development.

    • Rick on July 13, 2020 at 4:37 am said:

      “@Rick. You are more than a little gullible.”

      Perhaps I am, Cambridgedon. However, I’m not so gullible as to be taken in by that disingenuous eyewash from Nature which you’ve just pushed at me.

      The crucial point which you are ignoring is that Prof. Ferguson’s model was not fit for purpose when it was proffered (indirectly, via the UK government’s SAGE committee) as a realistic basis for government decision-making over the coronavirus pandemic and is still not fit for purpose now, regardless of how well the code may have been cleaned up and who now might know how to produce consistent results from it. It is not – and never has been – fit for purpose because it has never been proven empirically against real world observations of the actual course of the virus pandemic.

      Prof. Ferguson has presented himself to the world as an honest scientist. Therefore, he should have known that his model was not fit for purpose and should not have proffered it for government use. The fact that he did so anyway indicates that he is not an honest scientist but is instead a pretentious phony. Is that not disgraceful?

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