The Coronavirus Update

Had an email conversation with my GP today. I apologized about getting all the family to see her (serially) and getting scripts. She was doing the same thing. In case.

That case has just happened.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed this afternoon that a suspected case of Covid-19 coronavirus has tested positive.

Ardern said the person was in their 60s, and was a citizen of New Zealand who had recently travelled from Iran via Bali. They had previously tested negative for Covid-19 twice.

The person was in an improving condition in isolation in Auckland hospital after arriving on Wednesday night before going home in a private car.

Minister of Health David Clark said the person “followed all of the steps you would hope would be followed.”

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the person arrived this week from Iran, where the virus had been rapidly spreading.

He said the first two samples which were taken from the throat, or nasopharynx, were negative but the patient’s symptoms were much more suggestive of a lung infection.

Dr Bloomfield said the risk of widespread infection was low at this point.

“Public health officials have begun tracing the patient’s other close contacts to ensure that appropriate measures are in place and this includes a group of people who were on the flight involved, particularly for the final leg which from Bali to New Zealand.

“The people who the public health service will be contacting are the people who were in the same row as this individual or the two rows ahead or behind.”

He said they would be required to self-isolate for 14 days and that self-isolation would be under regular communication with the public health units.

A few points to note here.

  1. NZ is the 48th country to have cases of COVID-19.. That means, technically, this is a pandemic
  2. The gentleman was a NZ citizen, with right to return, but had been visiting relatives overseas. He was in the high risk age group, in a country that is now high risk but wasn’t a couple of weeks ago
  3. He passed through three countries and had two negative screens for the virus before arriving in NZ. The screening will have a false negative rate.
  4. He knew to phone the hotline (we have one) and the hospital could take him. We are not swamped yet: it’s summer
  5. The docs ignored the test and treated the patient — then confirmed the virus.
  6. The government is ignoring lobbying from tourism and universities and has increased travel restrictions. Good on them.

One of the things that happens in a small country is that when something like that happens we don’t play politics. We get on with it. And, yes, we do have plans for what to do in these situations, as to almost all countries.

Now to stuff from yesterday.

From Gab.

This is from JAMA, and reminds us the influenza is not benign.

JAMA has a translation of the Chinese Centre of Disease Control Interim report. The Chinese did do the correct thing from the public health point of view once the disease was in the population. Note well that China does not have community organizers or lawyers getting in the way of the use of quarantine.

The timing of the COVID-19 outbreak, prior to China’s annual Lunar New Year holiday, was an important factor as China considered how to respond to the outbreak. Culturally, this is the largest and most important holiday of the year. It is the expectation that people return to their family homes, which is the cause for the several billion person-trips made by residents and visitors during this time, mostly on crowded planes, trains, and buses. Knowing this meant each infected person could have numerous close contacts over a protracted time and across long distances, the government needed to quickly act. However, it was not only the speed of the government’s response, but also the magnitude of that response that were influenced by the impending holiday travel time. Knowing that specific treatment and prevention options, such as targeted antiviral drugs and vaccines, were not yet available for COVID-19, China focused on traditional public health outbreak response tactics—isolation, quarantine, social distancing, and community containment.

Identified case patients with COVID-19 were immediately isolated in designated wards in existing hospitals, and 2 new hospitals were rapidly built to isolate and care for the increasing numbers of cases in Wuhan and Hubei. People who had been in contact with COVID-19 cases were asked to quarantine themselves at home or were taken to special quarantine facilities, where they could be monitored for onset of symptoms. Enormous numbers of large gatherings were canceled, including all Lunar New Year celebrations, and traffic in Wuhan and in cities across Hubei was restricted and closely monitored. Virtually all transportation was subsequently restricted at a national level. All of these measures were instituted to achieve social distancing. In addition, an estimated 40 million to 60 million residents of Wuhan and 15 other surrounding cities within Hubei Province were subjected to community containment measures. Although these types of traditional outbreak response actions have been successfully used in the past, they have never been executed on such a large scale.

There have been some questions about whether these actions are reasonable and proportional responses to the outbreak. Some have argued that a number of these approaches may infringe on the civil liberties of citizens, and some of these measures have been referred to as “draconian.” However, it is not only individual rights that must be considered. The rights of those who are not infected, but at risk of infection, must be considered as well. Whether these approaches have been effective (eg, in terms of reduced infections and deaths averted), and whether these potential benefits have outweighed the costs (eg, economic losses), will be debated for years

One should always take data from the People’s Republic with a certain cynicism, but this is what they have published. If they are correct, the Chinese outbreak is being contained and will burn out.

In the meantime, the Universities are protesting and the Student’s association have written to the PM, because there are restrictions on arriving from China.

We are calling on you to act urgently to reconsider your decision. This means:

Lift the travel ban, or at a minimum implement a tertiary student exemption

International students from China ready to begin or continue their tertiary studies in Aotearoa in 2020 should be able to do so.

We support a full lift of the travel ban, and at a minimum allow for international students traveling from China, who have existing visas to be exempted from this travel ban. International students arriving from China will need to self-isolate for 14 days, following guidance from the Ministry of Health. They will also be supported by their tertiary provider.


The lack of empathy and heightened racism from New Zealanders has created a hostile environment for students coming into the country. Panic and fear over the coronavirus has resulted in misinformation.

To ensure the safety of international students arriving from China, the government must support tertiary institutions to provide anti-racist communications to combat the rise of racism targeted at domestic and international Chinese students. There is no room for racism and xenophobia on our campuses.

Pastoral care

The New Zealand Code of Practice for International Students outlines that tertiary providers must ensure, so far as is possible, that international students have a positive experience that supports their educational achievement in New Zealand.

Given the government’s response to the coronavirus and the implementation of the travel ban, tertiary providers must be financially supported to provide international students with increased student support services, counselling and medical support.

To ensure the wellbeing of international students arriving from China, the government must support tertiary institutions to provide holistic pastoral care for these students.

E-learning in tertiary campuses and academic support

To ensure that all international students arriving from China are able to remain up to date with their study, the government must support tertiary institutions to:

Make all course materials and course information available electronically;
Provide additional academic support for the affected students (i.e. catch-up classes);
Relax enrolment deadlines, assessment and/or examination deadlines and mandatory classes;
Implement alternative arrangements for the affected students to allow them to remain on top of their studies.

On behalf of,

New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations

The current crop of managers and students have neither read their literature, or history, or considered the tools of public health: quarantine, removal of sources of infection, inoculation, and contact tracing. They are not considering that all their suggestions will make it worse. Chris Trotter says it much better. You should read the whole thing. Emphasis is mine: the job cuts are starting already in the universities, and at the most woke ones in NZ (Massey) first.

Is Ms Lenihan-Ikin simply too young to remember Prime Minister Helen Clark’s 2002 official apology to Chinese New Zealanders for the appalling treatment meted out to them by their European compatriots? Chances are she is.

Which is a pity. Because some appreciation of how very close to the surface New Zealand’s “Yellow Peril” racial prejudices lie would have been of immense help to NZUSA as it formulated its response to COVID-19. It would, for example, have equipped them with the political imagination to foresee how vast numbers of New Zealanders might react to the news that Chinese students, heedless of the possible consequences for the New Zealand population, had prevailed upon the New Zealand government to allow individuals from the territory most seriously affected by the COVID-19 virus to enter the country without being placed under strict quarantine. A modicum of political imagination might also have been helpful in assessing the likelihood of xenophobia and anti-Chinese feeling exploding if one of those students was identified as the person responsible for carrying the COVID-19 virus into New Zealand.

Still, it behoves us all to go a wee bit easy on Ms Lenihan-Ikin. After all, the NZUSA President is merely following the lead of her tertiary education sector bosses. They, too, it would appear, have given little thought to the way the rest of the country might be reacting to their special pleading. So utterly dismayed do they appear at the prospect of losing all those full-fee-paying customers, that the possibility their unfettered entry might end up killing several hundred of the rest of us doesn’t appear to have entered their heads. A great pity, really, since there was a time when our universities were highly valued as repositories of scientific knowledge and cultural wisdom. Turning them into irresponsible corporate money-grubbers may yet prove to have been a very unhealthy idea.

If Ms Lenihan-Ikin is looking for something else to write an open letter to the government about, might I suggest the urgent need to rescue New Zealand’s tertiary education institutions from the twin evils of misdirected political empathy and plain, old-fashioned, greed?

This came out a couple of days ago. It’s now useless. No politician is going to listen to empathy or greed when the public health physicians are showing them what China had to do to stop this. Sensitivities will be ignored.

I expect our leaders will take the proverbial teaspoon of concrete, harden up, and do what is necessary, and leave the woke to bleat that this is draconian. However, when their vectors — the schools, the senior common rooms, and the mass meetings are closed (which is what China did, Japan is doing, and Italy has done) then they will lose their power, and retreat to twitter, where power is a delusion.

In the meantime, there are families in this nation who are afraid for the virus has got their relatives. May Christ comfort them, for there is merely supportive care at this time.