Settling in was the feeling today. We’ve had two weekends and it’s the third working week we’re in. After my walk this evening I felt quite tired again, not sure why. Have I got Daylight Savings around the wrong way somehow!?
I suspect it’s running on adrenaline for too long, but it could also be all the walking – don’t tell anyone but I have got quite a lot of exercise done – or should I say more regular exercise during the lockdown. Even lost some weight!
Over the weekend I noticed lots of walkers, runners and cyclists out and about, enjoying the great weather in Auckland and getting their essential Lockdown exercise. Walking past the Olympic Pool in Newmarket a bus pulled up and the driver exited. I joked that it was a busy day on the bus today. “No one at all” he said. I commented that you can only get in the back door, and so I assume you can only use your Auckland Transport Hop Card. He told me there were three ways of travelling: If you’re an essential worker, it’s no charge, if you have a Hop Card, you swipe it, and if you haven’t got a Hop Card, you “just take a ride for free“. Weird times we live in. Even weirder than the payment options, is where do you go, and when you get there what do you do?
Which is more or less what we’ll be asking in 16 days and a bit. We were told it was a minimum of 4 weeks and I’m picking it’s unlikely we’ll be free earlier, until all likelihood of risk is eliminated.
When we assess risks in almost any field that I am aware of we assess Likelihood of the event occurring and the Impact of the event (virus in this case) should it occur. So in assessing the risks of COVID-19 it is firstly necessary to assess the likelihood of the virus spreading. So if nothing is done to mitigate the virus there is probably a strong likelihood that it will enter the community, obviously really.
One would then look a the actual impact. There seems little doubt that there is harm from the virus. In studies I have read, acknowledging that there’s still lots of research to be done, some general themes appear:
- Most people suffer mild symptoms. One Chinese study put this as high as 80%. This must mean that there are many more cases of COVID-19 than the records show, I would have thought. I wonder whether the figure is exponentially higher, globally. But that’s my speculation, but if it’s the case, the death rate is much lower.
- The death rate increases by age. Although there was a media report recently of a 5 year old dying, it hasn’t come through in the statistics, and subject to that, the death rate for ages 0-9 is zero. By far the greater risk of death is to those over 60-70+ and those with underlying medical conditions. This BBC article suggests that many of those that died would have died from something in the short term anyhow, and argues that to attribute those deaths to COVID-19 is not realistic. That sounds harsh, but everyone dies of something, and if COVID-19 is the final trigger, it paints a different picture of harm. Be that as it may, patients with cardiovascular disease are much more likely to die, so if you’re 75 with heart disease you’re at high risk of serious harm. Of course, death is not the only harm – being on a ventilator, struggling to breathe for an extended period is not exactly a picnic.
- There are non-medical impacts too: If there were many cases, we might not have enough medical resources to manage it i.e. beds and personnel.
What we’re hearing a lot more of now is the economic impact of the Lockdown which, on the face of it, has tackled the risk by ensuring that virtually none of the impacts – barring a very small number of exceptions – have come to fruition. And this is where it gets really complicated.
Early information released was that there was the likelihood of 80,000 deaths in New Zealand alone, then it was adjusted to 14,000, then back up to 20,000+. I doubt that many people think now (or even then) that those figures were even remotely possible, given the relatively small global death rate – I say small because it’s never going to get anywhere near the 1.8m people that died from the Spanish Flu in 1918, and might be within the ballpark of the 150,000 who die each year globally from influenza.
Taking an approach that has virtually eliminated all harm in New Zealand is attractive, but all risk decisions have winners and losers. In this decision there are a probably relatively small number of winners (we may never know) and many losers, in economic and social terms.
Leaders make decisions on risk daily. No decision is perfect and leaders know that you can’t eliminate risk completely – be that regulatory, economic, timeframes, Cyber protection, or the myriad of other things that need to be assessed for risk. But there will always be risks that leaders determine the impact of is just too great to bear, and will take maximum steps, at the cost of other activities, to eliminate that risk. Physical workforce safety is one of those things.
Whether the virtually complete elimination of the impact of the COVID-19 was the right thing to do is a judgment call made by the Country’s political leaders. We won’t know whether the consensus that this was right or wrong until much later, when the economic and social impacts – the new harm caused to eliminate the virus harm – are properly known.
But I do feel more relaxed about it all having lightly analysed a decision making process!
And that could well be my longest blog – way too long – sorry about that!