Fortress New Zealand: What Will Our Post Lockdown World Look Like?

 By Ian Wishart

 

New Zealand looks set to get through Round One of the coronavirus pandemic, but if you are expecting life to return to normal think again: nothing will ever be the same.

 

With just 29 new cases found today out of a 4,000 test sample, it’s the fourth day in a row of declining cases. The government is in a no-win position however. Keeping the death rate below a hundred, perhaps even below 20, will leave many kiwis looking at their tattered finances and destroyed businesses and careers, and those people are going to turn around and say “We sacrificed our futures for a handful of deaths??”


On the other hand, if the virus cuts loose and gets its claws into the community, all eyes are going to turn and focus on the many things this government and the health ministry got wrong early.


The problem for the rest of us is this: Covid19 is like wrestling with a pit-bull – if you take your foot off its throat the virus sinks its teeth in and suddenly you’ve transformed into Spain or France.

 

China and South Korea are discovering this…you relax restrictions because you think the virus is gone, and suddenly it’s back again with a vengeance.


The Prime Minister warned as much at today’s media briefing when she told journalists that New Zealand government modelling had seen NZ on an Italy trajectory before lockdown, and relaxing the rules now could put us back on that trajectory within two weeks.

 

There’s been some hope that countries where the old BCG tuberculosis vaccine was given to children are less at risk. New Zealand was one of those countries between 1948 and the 1960s for South Islanders, and through to 1990 in North Island schools. However, every UK school student received the BCG vaccine up to 2005, and they’re a Covid19 cot case, so maybe BCG doesn’t work after all.

 

All this raises a bigger question – how does this end? Assuming the government does manage to strangle Covid19 in NZ, does life return to normal?


Sadly, no. If you have been paying special attention to the PM’s news briefings you will instinctively know this.


The borders will be locked down even further tonight. All people coming in will go into mandatory quarantine for two weeks. Ardern is doing this because she knows there is no chance of stamping this thing out without quarantine of all travellers.


There will be no overseas travel or inbound tourism for two – possibly three years. And when international travel does resume, it won’t look like it did back in BC times. New Zealand can’t afford to let in travellers carrying this bug, nor will other countries want to. That means anyone coming here will have to pay for two weeks quarantine before starting their holiday or business trip, knowing they will face another two weeks’ quarantine when they return to their own country. Weekend trips to Sydney? Won’t happen. A week in LA? Never again.


New Zealanders are going to have to holiday in their own country, because no other options will exist unless you are super-wealthy and can afford a month in quarantine at $300 a night.


The Prime Minister knows that until there’s either a guaranteed cure for Covid19, or an effective vaccine, that New Zealand will remain closed. We don’t even know if a vaccine is possible. It doesn’t exist for the coronaviruses that cause the common cold, and science has worked on that for decades. Even the flu shot is only partially effective, protecting maybe 60% of recipients, and it only lasts a year.


Countries will not reopen borders for a vaccine that only has coin-toss efficiency and a short window of effectiveness.


As Ardern put it, ‘tight border controls will remain for the foreseeable, we don’t have an end date’.

 

There is no vaccine for HIV nearly four decades after its discovery. Science can’t fix everything. While there is some optimism there also needs to be a reality check. We might never have a vaccine for Covid19.


What about herd immunity? Surely if we allow this coronavirus to sweep through and give the survivors immunity, then the problem is solved? That’s the logic of many keyboard commentators.


If only it were that simple. Again I find myself repeating: there are coronaviruses that cause the common cold. Have you become immune to those yet? We don’t even know if Covid19 survivors have any immunity at all…or whether next season they will find themselves struck down again, fighting for their lives – again. We don’t know if every last one of us is going to have to run that gauntlet every flu season for years to come. We don’t know whether people who received a mild dose were simply lucky because the virus never reached their lungs, and that all bets are off next season – particularly if it hits you while you have an existing chest cold. We don’t know what long term lung and heart damage is being done to young people who get this.


In short, time will tell but we currently don’t know what we don’t know, although now we know how the Neanderthals felt – every time they ventured out of the cave to forage for food they were at risk from bears, wolves and sabre-tooth cats. The Wuhan bat virus may be smaller, but it’s capable of killing more humans than sabre-tooths ever did. That feeling of being hunted and stalked by something as you touch a supermarket trolley is an eerily primal throwback.

 

The reason I am writing this is not to depress you further, but instead to force a paradigm shift in the way we think about this problem. We have effectively been delivered a post-apocalyptic world; not by aliens or nuclear war or “climate change” (oh for the days when a warmer temperature was all we had to worry about), but by a virus.


Realistically, barring a miracle, that virus is never going to be eradicated from the continents. It will lurk in the populations of Europe, America, Asia, Africa and South America the same way that other viruses do. Poorer countries with less resource will be overwhelmed. Only island states that can totally control their borders have a chance of exterminating it.

 

New Zealand, and perhaps Australia, the UK and Japan (all island nations) may be some of the only first world countries on earth that could end up free of the virus in the long term. It is in NZ’s best interests that covid19 is exterminated in Australia, which would at least allow free movement down under.

Of course, if we do eventually get a vaccine, or if people get lasting herd immunity, then a semblance of our old lives may return. But don’t bank on it.

 

The end of the Level 4 lockdown in NZ won’t mean we have beaten covid19. As Ardern warned, this is going to be a marathon. She didn’t say it, but the government is keenly aware that winter is coming. We could be at a level 3 lockdown until well into spring and even then there’s no guarantee that the virus will be controlled.


The sooner we come to the realisation that this bug may be with us forever, that there may not be a vaccine and that we may not get any lasting immunity even if we catch it, then the sooner we can get our heads around a new future for New Zealand.

 

New York governor Andrew Cuomo has warned his citizens likewise:

 

“When will things go back to the way they were?  I don’t think it’s about going back.  I don’t think it’s ever about going back.  The question is about going forward and that what we have to deal with here,” Cuomo said.  “I don’t think we return to yesterday, where we were.  I think if we’re smart we achieve a new normal.”


For all those lamenting the lockdown and demanding a swift reopening, pause for a moment: reopening to what? The world we knew on December 31, 2019, has gone. Perhaps forever. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the tourism sector are gone and many won’t come back. Agriculture on the other hand? There is a unique irony that the Labour/Greens war on farming has been flipped by a virus, and suddenly farming and infrastructure look set to dominate in our new economy.


What all of us should be doing in our Zoom sessions is whiteboarding what life in the Age of the Virus will look like, and where our own businesses can pivot to adapt and improve our lives. What will our country need? What will the world need? How will we live? What will we need to manufacture ourselves moving forward? How do we re-employ half a million kiwis? How do we become self sufficient so we are not forced to rely on foreign supply chains that could be wracked for years by seasonal waves of covid19 (assuming the same immunity/vaccination issues as the common cold)? How do we make our own pharmaceuticals? GlaxoSmithKline was born in New Zealand.


We could still have immigration as an economic driver. People wanting to come and live here will be prepared to quarantine. Likewise the education sector will continue to attract long term foreign students. But with airlines mortally wounded, and jumbo jet pilots now re-employed driving supermarket delivery vans, it won’t be easy to get here. Airlines have relied on huge volumes of passengers to fund their routes. Without that traffic, the golden age of air travel is over. As long as the virus is loose in the wider world and populations remain at risk, prospective migrants and students won’t just be able to hop on the next plane and come here. Mass migration will require charter flights and ships.

 

In the short term however, you won’t see any of that. The demand for housing driven by migrants will dry up.

On the other hand, as one of the first TV and movie industry hubs to emerge from lockdown, New Zealand could capitalise on the lack of fresh content being produced elsewhere in the world.

 

If Jacinda Ardern can eradicate Covid19 on our shores, that’s where the story of a new New Zealand begins. Anyone who thinks the end of lockdown will mark a return to normal is dreaming. A sickly Wuhan bat has changed that for all of us.

 

So collectively as a nation, we now have some brainstorming to do.

POSTSCRIPT: Three days after we published this The Australian newspaper (paywalled) interviewed the scientist helping coordinate the global hunt for a vaccine. She is just as blunt as I am. Read the Daily Mail (non-paywalled) version here

 

9 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article , time to face the future as this article ,honestly appraised , a very likely senario , time to put the big people panties on and thank God we are still getting up each day with a future to face . Due to many other countries misguided leadership , many are not here to do this.

  2. As much as I hate to see what you have written, it is one of the first articles looking honestly at how it is going to be and no matter what we need to be moving now planning on where we are going and what we can do, if we can import/export goods, then what goods, national travel for tourism but this can’t be what tourists have been paying as we just won’t have it to splurge on holidays. Education has to if anything improve, and work towards the jobs we have and can build in the future. This is going to be a scary time and the government will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t because someone always has to be seen to take the blame, more than ever we need a government of the man for the job and if he can’t do it then he needs to be replaced by someone who does and not a dictatorship. Personally I think Jacinda Adern and all of her on hands have been miraculous in what they have done so far and no matter who is at the helm may they follow the same patterns. We haven’t even started yet and have a very long way to go – just which decade are we going back to to start again eve with our knowledge

  3. Why would anyone want to write such a load of BULL does he think this will help people in any way writing such dribble there’s one vaccine that stopped a world killer disease but maybe the writer didn’t know this that’s why he never mentioned it.There has been a number of world killer
    plagues much stronger and deadly than covus19 and
    humans have always
    come out on top so this is just going to be the SAME we humans will find a way of defeating the virus and life will get back to normal again and do not even think of what doomsday writers have to say life will ALWAYS go ON.

  4. Very hypothetical article. Nothing factual. There will be slow down for sure – but 2 to 3 years very unrealistic assumption. 18 months should be a ball park to open up quite a bit of normality.

  5. Points to make here, right off the bat:

    * The common cold is caused, in most cases, by rhinoviruses, not coronaviruses. “Rhino” means nose. They are totally different to coronaviruses.

    * HIV/AIDS is also caused by a totally different type of virus. You cannot get HIV from touching something that someone who has it has touched three days previously (and it has not been cleaned in the interim). You also cannot contract it from getting sneezed on, coughed on, or through the “anal-oral” route by unwashed hands after going to the toilet. With COVID-19, all of these are possible.

    *HIV/AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease. COVID-19 is not- at least not as far as we are currently aware. Both, however, can be passed from mother to foetus in the womb, as we have seen. We have more-or-less wiped out the transmission of HIV through blood donations and organ transplants through good health practices. It only really remains a major killer- around 770,000 estimated deaths worldwide in 2018, according to the WHO- due to unprotected sex. Developing a vaccine has proven problematic over the now 40+ years since it was discovered in humans, but prophylactics and abstinence are the best way to stop it spreading.

    *Smildontini- the phylogenetic tribe within the greater felid/cat group that includes the now-extinct three sabre-tooth cat species- are unlikely to have preyed on either us or other concomitant hominina species. We may have even used them as a food source, scavenging off the carcasses of their kills. [Sorry, the zoologist in me couldn’t let that one go through to the keeper unmentioned!]

    *Allowing the virus to run amok to create “herd immunity” is insanity. Total and utter insanity. The death toll will be horrendous. Our healthcare system (this guy is a New Zealander, but it’s going to be the same for every country) will collapse under the strain unless we tell the sick to go and die at home- which will only make the situation worse! Do we go back to the days of the bubonic plague and put red paint on the doors of the infected? Where are we going to bury all the bodies- or do we mass cremate them as the Nazis did with those in the extermination camps in Germany and Poland? [A bit overdramatic. Sorry about that.]

    *The southern hemisphere is heading into winter and that means “flu season”. In Australia, influenza on average causes 1,500 to 3,000 deaths, about 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 GP consultations each year. For those that contract COVID-19 at this time, this will serve to increase the severity of infection as well as increase the number that gets infected with any level of severity of the virus. The government needs to embark on a mass immunisation program of flu shots for basically the entire country; the most vulnerable in the community being the first in line.

    *COVID-19 has a high likelihood of mutating “down here” over our winter, while the northern hemisphere will probably see a major tapering off of new cases. There are at least eight variants, to my knowledge at this date, of COVID-19. Having it mutate into something quite different from the original viral strain will place greater pressure on the type of vaccine developed to immunise us in future years. And mutated strains of the virus that form here will travel to the northern hemisphere for their winter at the end of the year and early 2021. And this can continue for years, if not a decade, bouncing back and forth over the equator until we gain some measure of control over it with a broad-spectrum vaccine. This pandemic may reduce in intensity to localised epidemics over the next couple of years, but it is far from over.

    *And, as the author of this article notes, there is no guarantee that any of the first vaccines will be any more effective than a current flu vaccine is now n combating that virus; valid for one year until the virus mutates (and probably into several different new strains) up in the northern hemisphere, and not 100% effective for the strains we get here in any given winter for which it has been formulated.

    *I agree with the author on us never totally eradicating this virus from the population. SARS and MERS, the other two major zoonotic betacoronaviruses that have jumped from other animal species to humans, appear to have been controlled. They could still be out there, lying somewhat dormant in the population, or just not getting reported. NO SUCH GUARANTEE can be made, or even inferred, for SARS-CoV-2- the medical name for COVID-19.

    *I also agree that New Zealand, Australia, and Japan- but not the United Kingdom, due to its proximity to Europe and its porous borders- stand the best chance of any countries on the planet to effectively reduce to the barest minimum its infection rate. Smaller island nations, such as Fiji, Samoa, and so on, can also be put in this category.

    *” For all those lamenting the lockdown and demanding a swift reopening, pause for a moment: reopening to what? The world we knew on December 31, 2019, has gone. Perhaps forever. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the tourism sector are gone and many won’t come back. Agriculture on the other hand? There is a unique irony that the Labour/Greens war on farming has been flipped by a virus, and suddenly farming and infrastructure look set to dominate in our new economy.” Spot on. Australia, where I am, needs to fundamentally shift its focus for the coming years, decades, and beyond. We need to focus back on our nation and its people. Grow our own food, not plough crops into the ground because we can source it cheaper from elsewhere. Produce our own stuff, regardless of the cost. We’ll just have to be content with less. And this not for us, but for basically every country for the foreseeable future.

    *Maybe we can learn the lessons of the post-WWII years and not repeat them. Tell the plutocrats, oligarchs, and “big business” to F-OFF. [Rant over there. I’m well out of my depth commenting on it, anyway.]

    *When I was a kid, we spent a couple of years on a military posting in New Zealand. It was an old argument then that our two countries become one- at least economically. I suggested to my mates at school that the Land of the Long White Cloud could become Australia’s seventh, or seventh and eighth, state/s. They said we’d be their West Island! Doesn’t sound that silly now, as an economic block. Possibly with the Pacific island nations in on the deal- apparently nine out of ten Niueans live in Auckland, and there are stacks of Tongans, Samoans, Cook Islanders, and other Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians living in both our countries already.

    *[Another aside] There’s a rumour that ZOOM- the online conferencing platform- routes its data through servers in China. The Alfoil-hat-wearing fraternity is already in a flap about that!

    *House prices will collapse. Overseas investors will leave- especially if we enact legislation to make them compulsorily sell businesses and property back into Australian hands. That’s something I don’t want to contemplate. The 26 million of us, in reality, have nothing to fight 330 million Americans, 1500 million Chinese, 1350 million Indians, and the rest of the world off with.

    *The author states that if the actions of the Ardern government can rid New Zealand of COVID-19, a new New Zealand begins at that point. The same goes for Australia. Hopefully, the last couple of months has taught our politicians a sorely-needed lesson in humility and that it is the people of this proud, ethnically and culturally diverse, and vibrant nation that is to come FIRST in ALL decisions they make.

    *The last sentence in the article is “So collectively as a nation, we now have some brainstorming to do.” This is what we need to address now and enact upon once we have cleared the long, dark tunnel of this blasted virus.

  6. Another radical shift maybe up scaling local manufacturing, it may mean giving up cheap disposible goods, but maybe it will get recycling on track. To reduce our reliance on asain mass production . Again a major shift in prioities and ethos.

  7. I think that an important aspect to consider is immunity and what that might look like. Personally I’ve only had one episode of a cold/flu in the last 19 years and I’m 66 this month. I put that down to my being outdoors 4-7 days a week playing golf in the midday sun with no sunblock. It wasn’t until I was 15 years in that it dawned on me that I’d been cold/flu free over that time and a further couple of years working out it was my vitamin D that was protecting me.

    I’ve also read your excellent book on the subject and have a link to it on my vitamin D page https://dietshack.weebly.com/vitamin-d.html

    In my mind, I think it is fair to guess that those who have been asymptomatic with Covid-19 are likely to be those who have strong immune systems, unhampered by hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, cholesterol lowering drugs, diabetes, obesity, ACE-2 inhibiting hypertension medications and any other of the diseases of civilisation. Such diseases essentially a result of what we eat.

    I think part of the way forward WILL be getting back to the land and producing our food locally without the aid of herbicides like glyphosate. After all, we don’t need herbicides to create pasture if we farm it sustainably and let the ruminants do the fertilizing and weeding for us.

  8. Ian, I think you have missed a very major component of what our post lockdown environment will look like.
    Human innovation.

    There is already an approved testing that gives results in 10-15 minutes.
    Imagine for a moment a mass produced testing environment that gives a result in under 10 minutes.
    Apply that to to tourism.
    Imagine this.
    Pre checkin you go through a screening station(much like your luggage does in some countries). You test negative. You get a stamp/sticker in your passport?
    You proceed to checkin.
    You test positive, you have to go for “”further processing””.
    Welcoma baord.
    On arrival. You get tested again (because we dont trust those other buggars).
    You test negative. Welcome to NZ and here is your 14 day tracker bracelet.
    You test positive. You go to isolation.

    Other innovations will happen to help the world return to normal.(I have no idea what they will be)
    Remember that millions of very smart people across many disciplines are looking for solutions. With the level of communication in the world. These innovations will spread rapidly.

Comments are closed.