Our health service is in crisis, unable to cope, and all-cause mortality is running at record levels.
Ministry of Health data, released two days ago, shows that it is not due to Covid. This morning both main newspapers rushed to ask the experts.
In the NZ Herald, Associate Professor Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, frequent media commentator and expert on the bioluminescence of superbugs, said she was frustrated because:
“There wasn’t a critical mass of people using basic Covid-19 protections…such as RATs, masks, self-isolation and vaccines…I don’t understand why we aren’t using these measures we know work.”
Even though we are arguably the most highly vaccinated, tested, and masked nation in the world, apparently it isn’t enough for Dr. Wiles.
Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Baker often referred to as “New Zealand’s expert”, echoed Dr. Wiles when he called for more compulsory masking and a return to strict government-mandated lockdown orders.
Vaccine-champion Dr. Baker diverged from Wiles and additionally called for new vaccines to be produced (presumably ones that he imagined might actually work).
In Stuff newspaper, Covid Response Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall said we are “flying blind,” and the situation is “getting more challenging.” The article summarised:
“Hospitals are under extreme pressure: In Northland, emergency department patients are being seen in corridors or treated in chairs. A woman who left an overloaded emergency department in Auckland due to an hours-long wait died, and Christchurch is reporting “all-time high” patient numbers.”
Dr. Verrall advised people to get masked up and boosted. Yes, Dr. Verall, but we already are.
Cellular immunologist Dr. Anna Brooks, who describes herself as a Long Covid advocate, joined the expert crowd in blaming Covid for our health woes but added the word ‘reinfection’, saying that 1% of Covid cases were reinfections.
Sorry Dr. Brooks, a 1% rate of Covid reinfections cannot be sinking our health service; that is a statistical impossibility.
Wellington epidemiologist and public health expert Dr. Amanda Kvalsvig also blamed Covid for our health woes and called for a high suppression strategy to protect our school system whereby we could hide at home while government workers bring us safely sanitized meals on wheels. An apparent adaptation of the unpopular and failing Chinese model.
NZ’s expert Dr. Baker elaborated—we need to “normalise the new normal” by launching “a new revolution in the air that we share.” We all need to follow suit for the foreseeable future by using high-quality, respirator-style masks. Did he mean aqualung suits? I’m not sure.
Dr. Baker described this as an “arms race.” The trouble is that no one knows who or what we are actually racing against.
If It Is Not Covid, What Is Going on?
Yesterday the Ministry of Health reported that just nine people in the whole of New Zealand are in intensive care for Covid—less than 4% of operative New Zealand intensive care beds.
In December last year, the government reported that we could triple ICU capacity at the drop of a hat should the need arise. Clearly, Covid hasn’t brought the New Zealand health service to its knees, so what has?
Dr. Verrall is right that we are flying blind.
As I reported two days ago, we are not being given the information we need to sort this out. Apparently, no one, including our Covid Response Minister, knows what people are crowding into hospitals for. We have no information on the rates of specific conditions.
If you have worked in food safety, you know that a little focused information gathering goes a long way. Dr. Verrall should know this; also, she received her expert qualification in tropical medicine, bioethics, and international health (yes, bioethics) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Alabama University, and the Gorgas Institute in Peru, focusing on tuberculosis.
The health service is stretched, but Dr. Verrall can quickly get a handle on the situation by undertaking focused sampling of specific conditions at a single DHB or hospital.
This should give her (and us) a reliable indication of why people are being hospitalized or reporting sick to their GPs in record numbers. I’m not sure why she hasn’t already done this?
Aside from blaming Covid, Dr. Verrall also mentioned winter flu, although no one appears sure if this has even arrived yet.
The UK also has excess all-cause mortality at a rate very similar to ours, but they are not in flu season; the northern hemisphere is in the middle of summer.
Their official figures also reveal excess mortality is not due to Covid, but like us, rates of specific conditions have not been made available.
We are in the midst of a health crisis. We have introduced a novel biotech ‘vaccine’ which operates in a way never before used on the public. The safety trials were never completed and their integrity has been questioned.
The rates of adverse effects, including serious effects, are running at 50 times any previous vaccine. Published studies are questioning vaccine safety.
Studies point to reduced immunity. Excess all cause deaths are at record levels. Birth rates have dropped to record lows around the world. What is difficult about these clues?
We are being told to treat the New Zealand government as our one source of truth and advised not to stray into the uncharted territory of other ‘sources’ (???).
What do we do if the government pretends not to know and apparently doesn’t appear ready to find out?
Do you feel like me that we are being trained not to ‘read’? People who ‘read’ are being labelled as alien conspiracy theorists, naughty nerds, or even by our PM as terrorists about to start a war. Is this the modern NZ equivalent of book burning?
You don’t have to stray very far from the authorised government expert reading list to find evidence of the source of our health crisis.
If you dare, have a quick gander for example, at the Australian magazine Air Line Pilot October/November 2021 edition, a page 15 table reports one pilot died in 2019, 6 in 2020, and 111 in 2021. Pilots are vaccine mandated.
There is a similar mysterious rise in sudden deaths among sports people. Or go and ask funeral homes, the ACC, emergency responders, or insurance companies what is happening. They’ll tell you, even if Dr. Verrall can’t or won’t
Apparently, no one in the conventional medical system wants to blame a vaccine for anything, but when all other possible causes have been eliminated, you may have to bow to the inevitable and accept the need for careful evaluation through the collection and publication of detailed statistics across a very broad range of conditions. It’s the traditional and reliable way these things are worked out,
Come on Dr. Verrall, step up to the plate. Wittering on about “troubled times ahead” due to as yet unknown Covid variants doesn’t cut the expert mustard.
Move out from under the shadow of our all-knowing Prime Minister. The house is on fire. First of all identify exactly which house is on fire, and then get out the fire hoses.
Wiles said it was “frustrating” when there wasn’t a critical mass of people using basic Covid-19 protections “when we have all these public health measures available”.
She listed RATs, masks, self-isolation and vaccines among the health measures that strengthened defences against Covid-19.
“I don’t understand why we aren’t using these measures we know work.”
Precautions that helped included using RATs before attending events, she said.
“That way if someone is positive then they won’t be going out.”
Wiles said reduced capacity limits for events and venues – as available in Level Red – would help “but this BA.5 variant is so infectious it will spread with all the other things we’re doing too”.
“BA.5 is causing surges in other places. We’re expecting it to happen here, on top of influenza.
“It’s not a restriction to be thinking about ventilation, or opening windows. Those are just sensible precautions to take.
“My hope is that schools bring masks back more widely because it’s obvious that schools which kept masks in place have far fewer absences and illness.”
Wiles said those who had been ill and chanced infection again could not predict the severity based on their previous experience.
“Every time you get infected you roll a dice – it may leave you with heart problems, brain fog, or worse.”
Hospitals are packed to the rafters with respiratory illness patients, and the Covid response minister warns that Aotearoa faces a “tough few weeks”. Experts say we need an urgent reset, as Hannah Martin reports.
Kiwis should brace for a rough few months of winter, amid concerns that we’re “flying blind” at the riskiest point yet for New Zealand’s Covid-19 response.
Hospitals are under extreme pressure: In Northland, emergency department patients are being seen in corridors or treated in chairs. A woman who left an overloaded emergency department in Auckland due to an hours-long wait died, and Christchurch is reporting “all-time high” patient numbers.
Covid Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall acknowledges the current situation is “getting more challenging”.
“We’re in for a tough few weeks ahead, cases will continue to rise, there will be a lot of pressure on the health system which is why we are asking everyone to mask up, get vaccinated including for flu and get boosted.”
Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations are creeping back up, with more than 10,000 new daily cases this week for the first time since late April.
The threat of reinfection is looming.
Urgent update needed
Earlier in the pandemic, New Zealand’s Covid-19 response was considered among the best in the world. But two years in, experts say we haven’t got out of that initial crisis mode, and urgently need to tighten mask rules and other public health measures in the absence of greater restrictions.
University of Otago (Wellington) epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says it appears Aotearoa is seeing the beginning of another wave, at a speed more abrupt than he expected.
We’re in an “arm’s race” with the virus, Baker says. While we’re waiting for better vaccines, vaccine immunity is waning, and Covid-19 is getting better at evading immunity..
With the rate of reinfections rising, the rate of change of the virus itself, and the consequences it poses, the situation has got “quite a bit more concerning” over these past few months, he says.
In late April, more than 150 doctors and scientists signed their names to an open letter to the Government calling for a strengthened public health response to the ongoing pandemic. Little changed.
Baker says we’re not recording how people are responding to controls, how much mask-wearing there is, or how well people are complying with isolation. We aren’t doing infection prevalence surveys – to find out the true rate of infection in the community – or serology studies to get a handle on immunity.
“We are flying blind about what the virus is actually doing.”
The risk of complacency
Complacency crept in as more people became infected in the Omicron wave.
The notion that Covid-19 is ‘one and done’ is a fallacy: “Many are behaving this way, and it’s dangerous”, says University of Auckland senior lecturer and long Covid researcher Dr Anna Brooks.
The ‘inevitability’ of reinfection is still unknown – we don’t know who amongst us has a chance of reinfection, or if it’s all of us. Already, 1% of all confirmed Covid-19 cases have been infected more than once.
But evidence is emerging that repeat infections could increase the risk of getting long Covid (affecting approximately 1 in 10 Covid-19 cases) and other long-term health impacts. It’s also unclear who will fall into that 10% of long Covid cases.
A study of 5.6 million older United States veterans found those with two or more documented infections had more than twice the risk of dying and three times the risk of being hospitalised within six months of their last infection.
Brooks says we are at the “riskiest” point in time – particularly for those boosted back in February/March who have so far managed to avoid being infected.
Many healthcare workers will have only just become eligible for their second booster, while the rest of those under 50 are not yet eligible and have waning immunity as a result.
BA.5 also evades vaccine-acquired and viral immunity at a time too many people are assuming they and those around them are “safe”, having got Covid “over and done with”.
“We’re really hanging in the balance right now,” Brooks says, and need to take masking in high-risk situations “much more seriously”.
Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, epidemiologist at University of Otago (Wellington)’s Department of Public Health, says there’s no justification in waiting passively for large numbers of Kiwis to catch Covid and flu.
Kvalsvig is among experts calling for a Covid Action Plan for Schools as an “urgent” intervention to address the infection risks to students, staff, and their whānau to protect children’s access to education.
Baker says the consequences of getting our response right or wrong are significant: high rates of transmission and infection will mean more deaths, more long-term health impacts, and continued strain on the health sector.
So what’s to be done?
Kvalsvig says it won’t make much difference which traffic light setting Aotearoa is in: the system is heavily vaccine-dependent and doesn’t include additional protections that are needed “right now”.
Instead, she’s advocating for an upgraded and revised alert level system – focusing on preventing viral spread without needing to use lockdowns, including ensuring food security for low-income households and enabling people to stay home when unwell.
In the absence of that, Kvalsvig says it’s not too late for Aotearoa to put a “high suppression” strategy in place for winter 2022 – to prevent the spread of Covid, influenza and other seasonal infections.
Universal mask use indoors over winter would make a difference right away, she says.
Baker says we need a clear strategy on what we want to achieve as a country, and buy-in from society to “normalise a new normal”.
There have been revolutions in public health throughout history: not drinking water contaminated with sewage, or doctors washing their hands before surgery.
“Now we need a new revolution in the air that we share.”
Rather than imposing new restrictions, Baker says we need a cultural shift in the way we think and act. One based on being considerate and protecting those vulnerable around us, rather than because the Government says so.
Decades ago, people would joke about having ‘one for the road’. Today, drink-driving is considered abhorrent. Our attitude to masking – using high-quality, respirator-style masks, specifically – needs to follow suit, Baker says.
“You get in a car, and put on your safety belt. You go outside, you put on sunscreen. If you go to any indoor event, you put on a mask. It won’t be forever, but we will have to for the foreseeable future.”
Verrall says Cabinet is not against strengthening mask rules in principle, if it feels they’d make a “significant difference”.
“We do however need to balance more stringent requirements with practicality, availability of masks and ensure the complexity of requiring certain types of masks could easily be communicated.”
The Ministry of Health says it’s well under way on planning for future management of Covid-19, including securing vaccines and for potential future Covid variants.
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