Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Richard Prebble: Lockdown is New Zealand’s biggest public policy failure

OPINION:

What has one of the world’s longest lockdowns achieved? The question is important, as the traffic light system is another form of lockdown.

The Australian Prime Minister warned it was “absurd” for New Zealand to try to eliminate the Delta variant. Ministers in this country responded that elimination was “the best strategy”.

As cases increased, the Government changed the objective. Lockdown was necessary to reach 90 per cent vaccination, to prevent our hospital system from being overwhelmed and to keep the rest of the country Covid-free.

Three internationally recognised New Zealand economists have slammed the Government’s strategy.

“Lockdowns only slightly postponed deaths in New Zealand,” said professor John Gibson of Waikato University. The Royal Society of New Zealand website states the professor is “ranked in the top 0.4 per cent of economists worldwide”.

“The costs of elimination will exceed the benefits,” said Ian Harrison, former economist at the World Bank, IMF and Reserve Bank.

And the slow vaccine rollout was “the single most costly mistake ever made by a Kiwi government”, says Professor Robert MacCulloch, who holds the Matthew S. Abel Chair of Macroeconomics at Auckland University.

The economists say the Government is ignoring the evidence and relying on often wildly inaccurate modelling.

Gibson has studied the international, peer-reviewed research. “Across European countries, stricter lockdowns did not reduce excess mortality, while across 43 countries and all US states excess mortality rose following the imposition of lockdowns”.

The fall in excess mortality in New Zealand last year was almost matched by a surge in flu deaths four months later.

Gibson suspects the airborne virus’ spread was assisted by shutting people up in crowded, poorly ventilated housing in South Auckland.

He writes that there is a well-established relationship between GDP and life expectancy. “While lockdowns have not worked to reduce deaths in the present, they almost certainly harm future life expectancy”.

“The $14 billion of output not produced in 2020 is not shifted through time, it is a permanent loss. The same will be true for the 2021 lockdown”. In addition, we must service Labour’s massive borrowing.

Gibson calculates our loss of life expectancy due to the lockdowns’ reduction in economic activity is equivalent to 46,000 lives. This is equivalent to a Eden Park test crowd.

All this evidence is known to the Government.

Harrison picks apart the Covid modelling. A slight change in assumptions produces a huge change in forecasts. One assumption used to predict thousands of Covid deaths is that people would not change their behaviour. Even anti-vaxxers have changed their behaviour.

The Government’s favorite modeller, Shaun Hendy, predicted the Auckland outbreak might be “well below 100 cases”. His later, more considered forecast, “we could be looking at around 1000 cases all up”.

Harrison says preventing hospitalisation and deaths is largely achieved when the vulnerable and elderly are fully vaccinated, at around 30 per cent of the population. A level of 80 per cent vaccination, the target in many countries, produces almost the same benefit as 90 per cent.

When one adjusts for age, Pasifika are more vaccinated than Pākehā. The Māori rate is almost totally explained by Māori being a young population.

Claims that the sky is falling when it comes to the Māori vaccination rate are identity politics, not science.

MacCulloch has looked past Government spin to establish when the country could have purchased the Pfizer vaccine. Vaccines could have been ordered earlier last year, so preventing the Auckland lockdown.

Ministers base their Covid decisions not on evidence, but on polling. Lord Ashford’s poll into voters’ attitudes revealed what ministers know from their focus groups.

Among Labour voters, 74 per cent want elimination, as do 68 per cent of Green voters. Many favour stronger lockdowns and a near-total ban on overseas travel. Every shocking MIQ case is greeted with “good job”. As one Jacinda Ardern supporter put it to me, “business must take one for the team”.

Rather than explaining to the nation that lockdowns do not work, Ardern promised the impossible, that her Government would eliminate Delta.

What has changed? The polls. Aucklanders have had enough. So even as cases increase, the lockdown is being replaced by the traffic lights.

The traffic lights will be no more successful.

Quarantining the unvaccinated will not stop Covid. The double-jabbed can spread the virus. I was double-jabbed five months ago. Pfizer wanes so fast I may have no protection. Yet the Government is giving me a Covid pass.

The traffic lights will not reduce the cost of hospitalising the unvaccinated.

The economic and social cost of firing anti-vaxxers is far higher than offering the option of a negative test before contact with the public.

We are all going to get Covid antibodies either by vaccination or infection. The traffic lights just delay, increase social division, economic cost and the total lives lost.

The traffic lights are not based on science but on polling. We have gone from being a team of 5 million to scapegoating an unpopular minority. Not the Kiwi way.

A poll-driven government is mob rule.


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