By delaying the dissolution of parliament Jacinda Ardern buys time on the election date – but only a little



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Andrew Geddis, University of Otago

The return of COVID-19 community transmission, with Auckland back in a level 3 lockdown and the rest of New Zealand at level 2, raises real questions about New Zealand’s upcoming general election.

Polling day is scheduled for September 19 but the planned election process would actually start far earlier. All candidates were to be nominated by August 21. Overseas voting was to begin on September 2, with advance voting in New Zealand from September 5 (around half of all voters in 2017 cast their ballot before polling day).

While the Electoral Commission has planned for voting to go ahead under level 2 restrictions, the prospect of having our largest city under lockdown at election time goes far beyond that. It would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for something like a quarter of the electorate to vote.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, there are calls for rethinking the September 19 election date.

How do we change the election date?

Up until the issuing of the election “writ”, which is the official instruction to go ahead and hold an election, the prime minister alone gets to decide when the election will be. Although the governor-general formally issues this writ, she does so purely on the prime minister’s advice.

That is why when Jacinda Ardern announced in late January that we would be voting in September, everyone immediately noted the date in their calendar as “election day”.




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However, that writ has not yet been issued and is not planned to be until August 16. As such, there is not yet any legal requirement that September 19 be our polling day.

Should the prime minister conclude the planned election date is no longer tenable, she can simply nominate another Saturday instead. It will have to be a Saturday, because by law New Zealand elections must fall on that day. Otherwise, she is free to pick any date until early December, by which point the law says an election must be held as parliament’s three-year term elapses.

Time is getting tight

However, if parliament is dissolved, some of that flexibility disappears. By law, the governor-general must issue the election writ (including the polling day) within a week of such a dissolution.

That is part of the reason why Ardern postponed today’s planned dissolution of parliament until at least next Monday. Doing so buys a little more time to decide whether a September 19 date is still feasible.




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Not that much time, though. If candidates are going to be nominated, ballot papers readied and distributed, and polling places set up and staffed, then a decision on the election date really has to be made early next week.

Delaying much beyond that point will not leave enough time to put the actual mechanics of the election in place for September 19.

What happens under a tougher lockdown?

What, then, if the prime minister decides the election should go ahead as originally planned, but the COVID-19 situation does not improve (or, heaven forbid, worsens)?

Well, amendments to the Electoral Act that came into force earlier this year address just such a possibility. These provisions permit the chief electoral officer – not the prime minister or any other political figure – to halt voting at polling stations due to “an unforeseen or unavoidable disruption”, which includes the issuing of an epidemic notice.




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Voting can be put on hold for an initial period of three days, with the suspension able to be extended for a week at a time following consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. There’s no limit to how long such a suspension can last; the normal election timetable is suspended while it is in place.

What about electronic voting?

So, if COVID-19 makes it too unsafe to have people going to polling places, the election can be delayed until it is safe. The Electoral Act now also allows the chief electoral officer to implement “alternative voting processes” which would allow for uploading ballot papers electronically, as can be done for overseas voters.

Or, mobile voting booths could be permitted to bring the vote to people who are self-isolating, rather than require them to visit school halls or supermarkets.

Whether or not polling day ought to be changed in the face of COVID-19’s threat ultimately is a question that balances potential health risks, practical considerations and political calculations.

It will likely attract heated discussion in the next few days. But in terms of how it can actually be done, the legal machinery is reasonably clear.The Conversation

Andrew Geddis, Professor of Law, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Zealand is on alert as COVID-19 returns. This is what we need to stamp it out again



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Michael Plank, University of Canterbury; Alex James, University of Canterbury, and Shaun Hendy

Auckland, and possibly other parts of New Zealand, almost certainly have more cases of COVID-19 in the community than the four new cases confirmed yesterday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern activated a resurgence plan late yesterday, placing all of Auckland back under alert level 3 restrictions from today until midnight on Friday to allow time for contacts to be traced and tested.

But until we can identify the chain of transmission, New Zealanders should prepare for restrictions to remain in place for longer.

All four new cases are within one family in South Auckland, with no links yet discovered to quarantine or border facilities. But family members work in different places across different suburbs, which means the restrictions need to apply to the whole city.

When Melbourne found itself in a similar position a month ago, the city’s strategy was to lockdown specific suburbs. Unfortunately this failed to contain the virus.




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Quick return to restrictions

Swift and decisive action is important, and we support the decision to place stricter conditions on Auckland and to return the rest of the country to alert level 2. We should all be very cautious.

Everyone working at the border or in managed isolation will be tested and pop-up stations have opened across Auckland to carry out mass testing. But it is quite possible someone within the wider contact network of the cases has travelled outside Auckland. People who have travelled to Auckland in the last two weeks should act as if they are under level 3 restrictions and stay home from work.

Whether we are in Auckland or not, we should all resume social distancing, working from home if we can, and wearing a mask if possible when we go out. If we do the right things now, there’s a good chance we will be able to contain this community outbreak before it spreads too much further.

We’re going to need to do a lot of testing to work out how far the virus has spread. It’s more effective at this stage to target high-risk groups rather than testing people at random. People with symptoms or people who have been identified as close contacts of known cases should be prioritised for testing.

If you are offered a test or you don’t feel well, you should get tested, but if you feel fine, just stay at home.

Contact tracing

Rapid contact tracing is going to be key to getting the virus under control. Our recent modelling shows that if we can trace and quarantine 80% of contacts within two days on average, it will go a long way to containing the outbreak.




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Contact tracers are also doing backward tracing – finding the source of infection so we know how many other cases are out there – as well as forward tracing, which means quarantining contacts so they don’t pass the virus on.

For Auckland, moving to alert level 3 reduces the number of contacts most of us have. This will make the job easier for contact tracers over the coming days as they may only have to trace one or two contacts per person rather than ten or more.

Everyone should now draw up a list of where they’ve been and who they’ve seen for the last two weeks. This is also a wake-up call to redouble our efforts to keep diaries of activities and to use the NZ COVID Tracer app to keep a record.

The Tracer app has the added advantage that the Ministry of Health can automatically notify anybody who has visited the same location as a confirmed or potential case. We encourage Aucklanders in particular to check their apps, diaries and bank accounts to compile as much detail as possible of places they have visited or people they have met over the last 14 days.

What happens next

What happens next really depends on the results of the contact tracing investigations already underway. There is a lot of luck involved in the early stages of an outbreak like this one. If we are lucky, many of those infected may not have yet have passed the virus on.

But it’s also possible there may have been a superspreading event, for example at a workplace or social gathering. In that case, there could be a large number of cases already out there. Although the alert level is currently in place until Friday, we should be prepared for this to be extended, depending on how many cases we find in the next three days.

Back in February, when we had our first cases of COVID-19, the situation was very different. We had an open border and most cases were international travellers or their close contacts.

We were also getting around 80 new cases a day by the time we went into lockdown in March. This time we have locked down with a smaller number of cases and we still have strict border restrictions in place.

This should give us confidence that if we all do the right things, we will be able to get the outbreak under control much faster than last time.The Conversation

Michael Plank, Professor in Mathematics, University of Canterbury; Alex James, Associate professor, University of Canterbury, and Shaun Hendy, Professor of Physics

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coalition maintains Newspoll lead federally and in Queensland; Biden’s lead over Trump narrows



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Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s federal Newspoll, conducted August 5-8 from a sample of 1,509, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 4% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

68% (steady) were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 29% (up two) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +39, just off Morrison’s record +41 in the last two Newspolls.

Anthony Albanese’s net approval improved two points to +3. Despite these slight movements against Morrison and favouring Albanese, Morrison’s better PM lead widened to 60-25 from 59-26 three weeks ago.

So far the Victorian Labor government is taking the blame for the coronavirus crisis. Three weeks ago, Newspoll polled the ratings of NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews. 57% were satisfied with Andrews and 37% were dissatisfied for a net approval of +20, down 20 points since late June. Berejiklian’s net approval also slid eight points to +34, with 64% satisfied and 30% dissatisfied.

As long as the Victorian government is blamed for the new coronavirus surge, while the federal government escapes blame, it is likely the federal Coalition will maintain its poll lead.

Rex Patrick’s resignation from Centre Alliance makes Senate easier for Coalition

On Sunday, SA Senator Rex Patrick announced he was leaving Centre Alliance and would continue in the Senate as an independent.

After the 2019 election, the Coalition held 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two and Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie one each. In January, Bernardi resigned from the Senate, and his seat reverted to the Liberals.

Before Patrick left Centre Alliance, the Coalition’s easiest path to the 39 votes required to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens was to win support from One Nation and one of Centre Alliance or Lambie.

Now the Coalition has an extra option if they win One Nation’s support, needing just one out of Lambie, Patrick or Centre Alliance.

Queensland Newspoll: 51-49 to LNP

The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted July 23-29 from a sample of 1,000, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead. Primary votes were 38% LNP, 34% Labor, 12% Greens and 11% One Nation.

This poll was branded as Newspoll, but Newspoll is conducted by YouGov. A YouGov poll in early June gave the LNP a 52-48 lead from primary votes of 38% LNP, 32% Labor, 12% Greens and 12% One Nation.

Despite the LNP lead on voting intentions, Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings improved from the late June premiers’ Newspoll. 64% (up five) were satisfied with her performance, and 29% (down six) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +35. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington was at 34% satisfied, 42% dissatisfied. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 57-26.

Both Palaszczuk and Morrison had great results on handling coronavirus, with Palaszczuk at 81% well, 14% badly and Morrison at 80% well, 17% badly.

Biden’s lead over Trump narrows

This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Friday.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.0% approve, 54.4% disapprove (net -12.4%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.

Less than three months before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate has Joe Biden’s lead narrowing to a 49.9% to 42.1% margin over Trump, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago.

In the key states, Biden leads by 7.8% in Michigan, 7.3% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.2% in Florida and 3.6% in Arizona.

On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is currently 1.8% more pro-Trump than the national average.

Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.

I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement.

Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Analyst Nate Silver says real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 46 races, Democrats lead in 45 and there are nine toss-ups. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.

Danger for Democrats in mail voting

Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.

As Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. This means there could be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.

If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races.

If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.

Another good US jobs report

After the terrible US April jobs report, the last three have indicated a clear recovery trend from coronavirus. In July, 1.8 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 0.9% to 10.2%. The unemployment rate is still high by historical standards, but much better than the 14.7% in April.

Job gains in July slowed from 4.8 million in June and 2.7 million in May. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans employed – increased 0.5% in July to 55.1%, but is still over 3% below the 58.2% low reached in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

NZ Labour has huge poll lead ahead of September 19 election

On July 28, I wrote for The Poll Bludger that a New Zealand Reid Research poll gave Labour a thumping 61% to 25% lead over the opposition National. A Colmar Brunton poll, released after the Poll Bludger article was published, gave Labour a 53% to 32% lead.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

100 days without COVID-19: how New Zealand got rid of a virus that keeps spreading across the world


Michael Baker, University of Otago; Amanda Kvalsvig, University of Otago, and Nick Wilson, University of Otago

On Sunday, New Zealand will mark 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.

From the first known case imported into New Zealand on February 26 to the last case of community transmission detected on May 1, elimination took 65 days.

New Zealand relied on three types of measures to get rid of the virus:

  1. ongoing border controls to stop COVID-19 from entering the country

  2. a lockdown and physical distancing to stop community transmission

  3. case-based controls using testing, contact tracing and quarantine.

Collectively, these measures have achieved low case numbers and deaths compared with high-income countries in Europe and North America that pursued a suppression strategy.

New Zealand is one of a small number of jurisdictions – including mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Australia and Fiji – pursuing COVID-19 containment or elimination. Most have had new outbreaks. The exceptions are Taiwan, Mongolia, Fiji and New Zealand.

Australia adopted very similar responses to the pandemic and it is important to note that most states and territories are in the same position as New Zealand. But Victoria and, to a lesser extent, New South Wales are seeing a significant resurgence.




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The key difference is that New Zealand committed relatively early to a clearly articulated elimination strategy and pursued it aggressively. An intense lockdown proved highly effective at rapidly extinguishing the virus.

This difference can be seen graphically in this stringency index published by Oxford University’s Our World in Data.


CC BY-SA

There are key lessons from New Zealand’s COVID-19 experience.

A vigorous, decisive response to the pandemic was highly effective at minimising cases and deaths. New Zealand has the lowest COVID-19 death rate in the OECD.

Total all-cause deaths also dropped during the lockdown. This observation suggests it did not have severe negative effects on health, although it will almost certainly have some negative long-term effects.

Elimination of the virus appears to have allowed New Zealand to return to near-normal operation fairly rapidly, minimised economic damage compared with Australia. But the economic impact is likely to keep playing out over the coming months.

Getting through the pandemic

We have gained a much better understanding of COVID-19 over the past eight months. Without effective control measures, it is likely to continue to spread globally for many months to years, ultimately infecting billions and killing millions. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be slightly below 1%.

This infection also causes serious long-term consequences for some survivors. The largest uncertainties involve immunity to this virus, whether it can develop from exposure to infection or vaccines, and if it is long-lasting. The potential for treatment with antivirals and other therapeutics is also still uncertain.

This knowledge reinforces the huge benefits of sustaining elimination. We know that if New Zealand were to experience widespread COVID-19 transmission, the impact on Māori and Pasifika populations could be catastrophic.

We have previously described critical measures to get us through this period, including the use of fabric face masks, improving contact tracing with suitable digital tools, applying a science-based approach to border management, and the need for a dedicated national public health agency.




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Maintaining elimination depends on adopting a highly strategic approach to risk management. This approach involves choosing an optimal mix of interventions and using resources in the most efficient way to keep the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at a consistently low level. Several measures can contribute to this goal over the next few months, while also allowing incremental increases in international travel:

  • resurgence planning for a border-control failure and outbreaks of various sizes, with state-of-the-art contact tracing and an upgraded alert level system

  • ensuring all New Zealanders own a re-useable fabric face mask with their use built into the alert level system

  • conducting exercises and simulations to test outbreak management procedures, possibly including “mass masking days” to engage the public in the response

  • carefully exploring processes to allow quarantine-free travel between jurisdictions free of COVID-19, notably various Pacific Islands, Tasmania and Taiwan (which may require digital tracking of arriving travellers for the first few weeks)

  • planning for carefully managed inbound travel by key long-term visitor groups such as tertiary students who would generally still need managed quarantine.

Building back better

New Zealand cannot change the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But it can leverage possible benefits.

We should conduct an official inquiry into the COVID-19 response so we learn everything we possibly can to improve our response capacity for future events.

We also need to establish a specialised national public health agency to manage serious threats to public health and provide critical mass to advance public health generally. Such an agency appears to have been a key factor in the success of Taiwan, which avoided a costly lockdown entirely.

Business as usual should not be an option for the recovery phase. A recent Massey University survey suggests seven out of ten New Zealanders support a green recovery approach.

New Zealand’s elimination of COVID-19 has drawn attention worldwide, with a description just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. We support a rejuvenated World Health Organization that can provide improved global leadership for pandemic prevention and control, including greater use of an elimination approach to combat COVID-19.The Conversation

Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago; Amanda Kvalsvig, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, and Nick Wilson, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should a COVID-19 vaccine be compulsory — and what would this mean for anti-vaxxers?



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Claire Breen, University of Waikato

With COVID-19 vaccine developers reporting promising results, it is probable we will one day face a major public health question: can the government compel New Zealanders to be vaccinated?

Just as inevitably, some people will refuse a vaccine. As we have seen overseas with debates over the wearing of masks, and more generally with anti-vaccination activists everywhere, compulsion is not a simple matter.

There are competing rights and duties on both sides. Forcing an individual to be vaccinated is a violation of their fundamental right to personal autonomy, which informs the more specific right to bodily integrity.

Basically, those rights mean every person can make decisions for themselves and what can and cannot be done to their bodies.

The state’s duty to protect

While international human rights treaties support this, they do not specifically talk about the right to refuse medical treatment. Rather, they state that everyone has the right not to be subjected to medical experimentation without free consent.

And here we see how quickly the stakes are raised. These rights are part of the broader right to be free from torture, cruel and inhuman degrading treatment or punishment. The specific reference to medical experimentation is a response to what happened under the Nazi regime during the second world war.




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But it’s the fundamental right to life that throws the COVID-19 vaccine issue into stark relief, because it also means governments must make some effort to safeguard citzens’ lives by protecting them from life-threatening diseases.

Although everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, this includes the right to be free from non-consensual medical treatment. But this in turn may be subject to the state’s obligation to prevent and control disease.

The right to be free from non-consensual treatment can only be restricted under specific conditions that respect best practice and international standards.

The introduction of mass immunisation programs therefore requires quite a balancing act.

In New Zealand, the courts and their English predecessors have long recognised and protected the right to bodily integrity. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 also clearly states that everyone has the right to refuse medical treatment.




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Public health can trump individual rights

Any restriction of that right, any intrusion into the individual’s bodily integrity, would require explicit statutory authorisation. Such legislation would have to be interpreted very strictly and, wherever possible, consistently with the Bill of Rights Act.

There are examples of how this would work in practice. A recent decision from the Supreme Court of New Zealand addressed whether the fluoridation of water as a public health measure was a violation of the right to refuse medical treatment.

The court found it was. But – and it’s an important but – the court decided some public health measures could override the right to refuse medical treatment where these measures are clearly justified.

Clear justification would mean there must be a reasonable objective to compulsory vaccination that justifies the limits placed on the right to refuse medical treatment.

Such limits must be no more than are reasonably necessary to achieve the desired public health outcome, and they must be proportionate to the importance of mandatory vaccination.

Scientist in white coat in laboratory
A researcher at the Oxford Vaccine Group which is working on an experimental vaccine that has shown promise in early trials.
GettyImages

Consequences for refusing vaccination?

In the end, should a COVID-19 vaccine become available, New Zealanders would have the right (but not the absolute right) under international and domestic law to refuse to be vaccinated. And the government could – and might even be obliged to – override that right.

So, no definitive answer. Furthermore, just because the government could make vaccination compulsory doesn’t mean it should.

It might not even have to. A person could still exercise their right to refuse vaccination but the government could then impose limits on other rights and freedoms.




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In practical terms, this could mean no travel or access to school or the workplace if it placed the health and lives of others at risk. Similarly, a refusal to be vaccinated could limit jobs or social welfare benefits that depend on work availability.

But, again, the government would have to present clear justifications for any such restrictions.

Public consent is vital

Without a doubt, this would be highly controversial and the government would need to engage in another balancing act.

But a purely voluntary approach can have mixed results, too, as the 2019 measles outbreak showed. The main problem appears to have been a poorly designed immunisation program that missed various ethnic, socioeconomic and regional targets.

The success of a voluntary approach will be dependent on a highly performing vaccination program that is accessible to all New Zealanders and backed up by a strong public education campaign.

Ultimately, as the collective effort of the “team of 5 million” has already shown, the effectiveness of any law really depends on each one of us and the decisions we make.The Conversation

Claire Breen, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘An endless game of COVID-19 whack-a-mole’: a New Zealand expert on why Melbourne’s stage 4 lockdown should cover all of Victoria


Siouxsie Wiles

The restrictions in place for metropolitan Melbourne now are in some ways stricter than those that were in force during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown. A curfew is in place and most people have to wear masks when they leave their home – neither of which happened in New Zealand.

But the state of Victoria has lost valuable time to bring the outbreak under control. Stage 3 restrictions that came into force on July 8 for everyone living in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire provided too many opportunities for the virus to spread. As a result, there are now around 7,000 active cases, and still several hundred new cases each day. For more than 2,000 cases, contact tracers don’t yet know where people were exposed to the virus.

My major concern with Victoria’s approach is that cases outside Melbourne will continue to grow under stage 3 restrictions. The sad reality is that the more opportunities the virus has to spread from person to person, the harder it will be to stop community transmission.

Putting the entire state under stage 4 restrictions would give Victoria the best chance of success, rather than setting it up to play an endless game of COVID-19 whack-a-mole.

There is a major difference in how Australia and New Zealand approached COVID-19 when it first emerged. New Zealand decided on an elimination strategy, while Australia took the suppression path. It meant Australia could be looser with their earlier restrictions and relax them more quickly.




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In March, New Zealanders entered an alert level 4 lockdown, aimed at stopping community transmission of the virus altogether. And it worked. In contrast, the goal of Australia’s suppression strategy was to lower community transmission to some manageable level.

Between early April and the middle of June, new case numbers in the state of Victoria were between one and 20 each day, including some cases of community transmission. But they began to rise again from the end of June.

How asking people to stick to their ‘bubble’ could help

During New Zealand’s alert level 4, our households became “bubbles”.

There were no funerals and we couldn’t get takeaways. Bakeries and butchers were closed. Construction was shut down unless the work was needed to make a building safe.

The bubble concept helped people to restrict their contact to those within a home or between households with shared care arrangements. It reinforced that any contact with people from another bubble would provide an opportunity for the virus to spread.

Even under Melbourne’s stage 4 lockdown rules, that message of choosing a bubble at the start of lockdown and trying hard to stick to it could be a helpful addition to Victoria’s health messaging.

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While announcing the new business restrictions for Melbourne and regional Victoria yesterday, the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews was asked about how his lockdown rules compared to New Zealand – and he replied that “this is a uniquely Australian and Victorian approach”, adding:

If you look at what New Zealand did, they went a fair bit further than this.

And in many ways he’s right: while Melbourne has a curfew and compulsory mask wearing, it’s not closing as many non-essential businesses or restricting people’s movement for things like takeaways as strictly as New Zealand did in level 4 lockdown.

While Victoria and New Zealand have similar populations, no one should pretend that one country’s strategy is the perfect solution for another. Victoria today is at a very different stage to New Zealand a few months ago.

New Zealand went into lockdown with just 102 confirmed cases and no known deaths. Compare that to about 7,000 active cases for Victoria right now. That’s why I think it’s all the more important to make the stage 4 lockdown state-wide. Without it, Victoria runs a very high risk of having to do it all again in a few months’ time.The Conversation

Siouxsie Wiles, Associate Professor in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rogue poll or not, all the signs point to a tectonic shift in New Zealand politics


Richard Shaw, Massey University

Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour Party at 60.9% and for National at 25.1% – suggests the team is not looking that strong at all.

Nor will it be having much to say on jobs or the economy following the general election on September 19 if those numbers are close to the result.

As you might expect, National’s leadership dismissed the poll as rogue, saying the party’s internal polling (which hasn’t been publicly released) puts it in a much stronger position.

But this latest poll is consistent with three others released since May (June 1, June 25 and July 15). Averaged out, these polls put support for Labour and National at 55.5% and 29.1% respectively.

That is quite the gap. Assuming they are broadly accurate, what do they tell us about the state of politics in Aotearoa New Zealand?

The centre is now centre-left

For a start, the political centre appears to be shifting to the left. Across the past four polls, support for Labour and the Greens sits around 62%. When nearly two out of three voters in a naturally conservative nation support the centre-left, something is going on.

Correspondingly, as the notional median voter shifts left, parties on the right are being left high and dry. The Reid Research poll put the combined support for National, ACT and New Zealand First at 30.4%, a touch under half the level of support for the centre-left.




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In 2017 National secured nearly 45% of the party vote. Nearly half of that support has bled away – and most of it hasn’t gone to other conservative parties. New Zealand First is on life support; the right-wing ACT party is at 3%; and the other centre-right parties (including the New Conservatives, the Outdoors Party and the conspiratorially inclined Advance NZ/Public Party coalition) are well off the pace.

The leadership gap

Then there is the question of leadership. Judith Collins was installed in an attempt to re-establish National’s bona fides as New Zealand’s natural party of government. But she has not had the impact Jacinda Ardern did when she took Labour’s reins several weeks out from the 2017 election.

In fact, while 25% of those polled by Reid Research support National, the party’s leader sits at only 14% in the preferred prime minister stakes: nearly half of those who would vote National do not rate Collins as the prime minister.

The polling suggests that Collins’s penchant for attack politics is not resonating with voters. She has not been helped by the recent antics of (now departed or demoted) caucus colleagues Hamish Walker, Michael Woodhouse and Andrew Falloon, but the buck stops with her.

National’s default claim of being the better economic manager also took a blow in the most recent poll. Asked who they trusted most with the post-COVID economy, 62.3% of respondents preferred a Labour-led government and only 26.5% a National-led one.

Could we see an outright majority?

Something may be about to happen to the shape of our governments. Under New Zealand’s previous first-past-the-post (FPP) electoral system we saw a string of manufactured governing majorities.

For the better part of the 20th century either National or (less frequently) Labour would win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives with a minority of the popular vote. Indeed, the last time any party won a majority of the popular vote was 1951.

That may be about to change. Since the first mixed member proportional (MMP) election in 1996 we have not had a single-party majority government: multi-party (and often minority) governments have become the norm. That is because MMP does not permit manufactured majorities in the way FPP does. To win an outright majority you need to enjoy the support of a (near) majority of voters.




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Labour may be on the verge of doing precisely that. If it does, it will be a very different kind of single-party majority government to those formed after FPP elections.

In 1993, for instance, the National Party formed a single-party majority government on the basis of just 35% of the vote. If Labour is in a position to govern alone (even if Ardern looks to some sort of arrangement with the Greens) it will be because a genuine majority of voters want it to.

Rogue poll or outlier on the same trend, Collins has had her honeymoon (if it can even be called that). In a way, though, neither Ardern nor Collins is the real story here. Much can and will happen between now and September 5 when advance voting begins. But something bigger and more fundamental may be going on.

If the pollsters are anywhere near right, New Zealanders will look back at the 2020 election as one of those epochal events when the electoral tectonic plates moved.The Conversation

Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The dangerous new cold war brewing with China will test New Zealand even more than the old one



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Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato

A new cold war with China is coming and it will be just as dangerous, expensive and pointless as the last one.

The difference will be how much more New Zealand is involved.

Steering an independent course in these dangerous seas will be very difficult: our Five Eyes security partners will want us to jump one way, our largest economic partner the other.

This fine line was visible this week when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the China Business Summit in Auckland. New Zealand has “different perspectives on some issues”, said Ardern – to which China’s New Zealand ambassador Wu Xi replied:

Pursuing a zero-sum game and portraying others as adversaries or enemies will lead to nowhere and will only harm its own interests.

The Hong Kong crisis

The latest flashpoint is China’s decision to pass a new security law for Hong Kong. The New Zealand government has ordered a review of all policy settings, despite Foreign Minister Winston Peters having already criticised the law and being told by Beijing to stop interfering in Hong Kong’s and China’s internal affairs.




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But New Zealand is right to be concerned about the new law. Designed to combat political dissidence, it covers serious but ill-defined crimes and imposes heavy penalties through opaque justice systems.

It also breaches the spirit of the 1997 Basic Law, which established the principles for the British handover to China.

Some might argue it’s a price worth paying if it brings stability and prosperity back to Hong Kong. After all, some of the key 1997 promises were never implemented, and China has quite properly taken the initiative.

Moreover, the Basic Law was going to lapse in 2047. What is happening now was going to happen anyway, just sooner than planned.

The new law may be repugnant to those who believe civil liberties enjoyed in Western democracies should be universal. But it is not unique within communist China, where social and economic progress has been achieved at a price of minimal dissent.

New Zealand is already out of step

Self-interest might have had other powers turning a blind eye in the past. But the new geopolitics have seen the security law become a line in the sand.

America is ready to impose sanctions on China over Hong Kong and Uyghur human rights. Australia is increasing its military spending by 40% over the next ten years, as part of a more assertive approach to China with less reliance on the US.




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Britain wants to offer citizenship to 3 million Hong Kong residents. Citing security risks, it has also mandated that all Huawei 5G technology be removed from British networks by 2027.

Following India, US President Donald Trump is pressing for a ban on the popular Chinese social media app TikTok due to security concerns.

Amid all this, New Zealand is increasingly out of step. Our criticism of the new security law was clear, but it wasn’t coordinated with the Five Eyes partners, nor did it employ the kind of language that has seen Hong Kong described as a “bastion of freedom”.

New Zealand has also announced it won’t follow Britain’s ban on Huawei and has avoided discussions about military build-ups or sanctions.

This is wise. There is no military solution to this problem and our economic relationship with China only complicates matters.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner in goods and second-largest overall including trade in services. Since the ground-breaking 2008 Free Trade Agreement, two-way trade has increased to NZ$30.6 billion per year, more than half of that in New Zealand’s favour.

Towards a new independence

In an ideal world, these problems would be resolved calmly through a rule-based order of law or arbitration.

Unfortunately, the chances of China consenting to a third party resolving any dispute over what it sees as its sovereign rights are near zero. When such a resolution was attempted over its island building project in the South China Sea, China put the unfavourable ruling in the bin.




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The question, therefore, is how New Zealand positions itself in the new cold war if all sides are angry and there is no clear middle ground. The announced policy review offers the best way forward.

The review needs to consider the tone and independence of our foreign policy voice. It should ensure our trade relations comply with the human rights standards we profess to value. And it should require free trade never comes at the expense of free speech.

Of course, we will have to measure the costs and benefits of elevating human rights goals in our foreign policy. If countries we disagree with can’t change, we need to articulate what our bottom line is.

Most critically of all, we must now learn to navigate for ourselves in what will be the most difficult foreign policy challenge the next government will face.

Because whether we like it or not, we are sailing into a new cold war.The Conversation

Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How New Zealand could keep eliminating coronavirus at its border for months to come, even as the global pandemic worsens



Mark Baker/AP

Michael Plank, University of Canterbury; Alex James, University of Canterbury; Audrey Lustig, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research; Nicholas Steyn; Rachelle Binny, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, and Shaun Hendy

Stringent border controls and mandatory quarantine give New Zealand a good chance to remain free of COVID-19 for months to come, according to our latest modelling.

It’s been 76 days since New Zealand’s last reported case of community transmission, and our model shows the risk of an infectious person slipping through the border undetected remains very low. Provided the rules are followed, we would expect this to happen only once over the next 18 months — and even then, this person may not infect anyone else.

New Zealand’s borders remain closed to everyone except residents, citizens and a small number of foreigners with special exemptions.

Currently about 400 people fly into New Zealand each day. Since June 16, 46 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and of those, 27 remain active cases (at the time of writing). All of them are in quarantine facilities.

Each week, about 12 people have arrived carrying the virus. Provided people are well separated at quarantine facilities and have regular symptom checks, our modelling suggests the risk of an infectious person being released into the community is around 0.1% — which means for every 1000 infected people who arrive at the border, one person will be released from quarantine while still infectious.




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Keeping COVID-19 out

New Zealand has had a total of 1,548 cases of COVID-19 and 22 people have died.

PM Jacinda Ardern.
Daniel Hicks/AP

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced plans for local or regional lockdowns should the virus reemerge in the community. She referred to the Australian state of Victoria, where the current outbreak appears to be linked to cases at a managed isolation facility, as a cautionary tale for New Zealand.

COVID-19 is exploding outside our borders and every country that we have sought to either replicate or draw experiences from in the fight against COVID-19 has now experienced further community outbreaks. We need only look to the experience of Victoria, Hong Kong, Singapore or Korea to see examples of other places that, like us, had the virus under control at a point in time only to see it emerge again.

Since New Zealand closed its borders on March 19, the rate of COVID-19 infections globally has increased 50-fold, to more than 13 million confirmed cases worldwide.

All new arrivals to New Zealand have to spend 14 days in quarantine at government-managed hotels. Each person has to have a COVID-19 swab test on the third and 12th day of their quarantine period and cannot leave without a negative test result.

A shorter quarantine period would significantly increase the risk of an infectious person being released. The swab tests for COVID-19 have quite high rates of false negative results, so even with multiple tests, a shorter quarantine period could miss too many cases.

Allowing mingling of people within quarantine, or contact between staff and recent arrivals, is also very risky. And our model doesn’t take into account people deliberately absconding from quarantine, which has happened four times. It is incumbent on everyone to do the right thing and follow the rules.




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Managing international travel

How many arrivals could New Zealand cope with? Pre-COVID-19, there were around 20,000 international arrivals on a typical day — 50 times the current number of arrivals. There’s obviously no way we could quarantine this number of people. On current trends, this would mean up to 600 infected people passing through at the border per week.

Reopening borders to return to business as usual is just not an option for the foreseeable future. Any plans to ease border restrictions need to be based on a careful risk assessment. For example, countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam and the Pacific Islands have very low levels of COVID-19. A travel bubble with countries that have eliminated community transmission would present a low risk.

Other groups such as international students or migrant workers who contribute to key parts of our economy should be considered. Anyone coming from countries where COVID-19 is widespread would need to be quarantined on arrival, but quarantine facilities are already stretched to the limit with returning New Zealanders. Implementing any plan to allow other groups into New Zealand safely will take time.

New Zealand is in a rare position of having eliminated community transmission of COVID-19. This means we currently enjoy more freedoms than people in most other countries.

But this elimination status poses its own challenges in returning to life as usual when the rest of the world is in an accelerating pandemic. Other countries that have followed a mitigation strategy are facing equally big social and economic challenges of their own. And this is on top of the devastating health impacts that New Zealand has so far managed to largely avoid.


Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker

Freedom within closed borders

The dilemma New Zealand now faces is whether to continue to enjoy Level 1 freedoms within closed borders or to open borders with more restrictions on what we can do. We could, for instance, allow quarantine-free travel from certain countries. But this might require us to implement Level 2 restrictions (including limits on the size of gatherings) to reduce the risk of superspreading events.




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These are difficult choices, but they are choices and not foregone conclusions. We disagree with the recent claim by former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, former prime minister Helen Clark and ex-Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe that new cases of community transmission are “logically inevitable” and New Zealand should therefore reopen borders more quickly.

The recent surge in cases in Melbourne – where 5 million people are now in a six-week lockdown – shows that managing a community outbreak is almost impossible without resorting to strict lockdowns. They have also shown that the most socio-economically disadvantaged people often bear the brunt of lockdown measures, as well as suffering disproportionately from the health impacts of the virus.

These events should serve to remind us just how lucky we are in New Zealand. Let’s not let our guard down now.The Conversation

Michael Plank, Professor in Mathematics, University of Canterbury; Alex James, Associate professor, University of Canterbury; Audrey Lustig, Research scientist, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research; Nicholas Steyn, Research assistant; Rachelle Binny, Research scientist, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, and Shaun Hendy, Professor of Physics

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.