NZCPR WEEKLY: By Dr Muriel Newman
Last week, a press release issued by the new Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall about the Government’s preparedness for more dangerous Covid variants stated “lockdowns and other strict measures would be a last resort”.
Her comments raise an important question. Does New Zealand want future governments to have the unrestricted ability to impose nation-wide blanket lockdowns or should there be thresholds of scrutiny to prevent an abuse of that authority?
Former British Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption, an outspoken critic of the excessive use of force by democratic governments, questioned the use of lockdowns for Covid at the start of the pandemic: “Is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy, destroying businesses that honest and hardworking people have taken years to build up, saddling future generations with debt, depression, stress, heart attacks, suicides and unbelievable distress inflicted on millions of people who are not especially vulnerable and will suffer only mild symptoms or none at all?”
And that’s the problem. Contrary to the political narrative, Covid for the vast majority of people is no worse than a bad flu. That’s not to diminish the danger to some, but those most at risk of more serious complications could have been targeted for extra precautions, since they are, in the main, readily identifiable – including the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Lord Sumption strongly believes that whenever democratic safeguards are suspended, it is the public’s duty to hold their government to account.
So, let’s cast our minds back to the beginning.
During most winters, influenza can affect over a million New Zealanders, with upwards of 500 deaths. Although our hospitals can be overwhelmed, for most Kiwis life continues on without too much disruption.
It was a different story, of course, in 1918 when the ‘Spanish’ flu hit New Zealand – over 9,000 people died. So when the Ministry of Health developed New Zealand’s Influenza Pandemic Plan in 2002, they had that degree of emergency in mind.
The Pandemic Plan has three main goals. The first is to minimise the impact of the disease and mitigate its effects. The second is to keep society functioning as normally as possible during and after a pandemic. The third is to minimise the economic consequences.
John Key’s National Government used the Pandemic Plan in 2009, when faced with the swine flu. The H1N1 influenza virus which originated in Mexico infected 1.4 billion people world-wide, resulting in over 600,000 deaths.
Under the Pandemic Plan, the outbreak was managed in such a way as to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, whilst reducing the impact on society and the economy. While border controls were introduced, and some schools and businesses were temporarily closed to reduce the spread of the disease, there was minimum economic and social disruption. This in spite of an estimated 430,000 symptomatic cases, around 116,000 GP visits, some 1,100 hospitalisations, and 119 intensive care admissions. Of the forty-nine deaths attributed to the disease, 86 percent had underlying health complications, most notably, respiratory illnesses, obesity, and substance abuse.
So, when the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus emerged in January 2020, as a highly contagious respiratory disease with little natural immunity and no effective vaccination, New Zealand’s Pandemic Plan was enacted.
Border controls, testing and tracing, and an Alert Level system were all introduced and by mid-March, with fewer than 50 reported cases and no deaths, but more New Zealanders arriving home from infected areas, the Ministry of Health recommended moving the country to Alert Level 2 for a month. They wanted stricter border controls, increased testing and tracing, a restriction on gatherings to 100 people, with those at the greatest risk urged to take extra precautions.
For Labour, the arrival of Covid in election year not only represented a grave risk to the country, but it also provided a great political opportunity to turn around the Party’s waning electoral fortunes.
In mid-March the PM took over control. A ‘team’ of PR advisors was appointed, and models were prepared that predicted tens of thousands of deaths. Without any official regulatory impact statement or cost-benefit analysis to inform decision-making, the tried and tested Pandemic Plan, was ditched and the country was ordered into the world’s harshest lockdown.
Jacinda Ardern won the election in a landslide.
But fast forward 18 months and we now know the authoritarian measures imposed by the Ardern Government have had extremely serious consequences.
This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator Waikato University’s Economics Professor John Gibson has been investigating the Government’s Covid response, not only finding that lockdowns resulted in a surge of excess deaths in New Zealand, but that the recent Covid booster vaccine rollout is already associated with hundreds of excess deaths:
“The boosters in New Zealand are just the original Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 recipe, so this repeated use may fixate people’s immune system to respond to the original Wuhan strain of SARS CoV-2 that is no longer circulating. Accumulated dosage also rises with booster use. In the initial randomized trials for mRNA vaccines, the Moderna shots that use a higher dose (100mg versus 30mg for Pfizer) had higher rates of serious adverse side-effects. So using the Pfizer boosters may cause this same dose-dependent vaccine adverse events process.
“Thus, compared to the rollout of the original protocol doses, the booster rollout is likely to have fewer benefits and greater harms. It would therefore be expected that stronger evidence underpins mass use of boosters compared to the evidence used for the initial vaccine rollout. Yet perversely the evidence for using boosters is weaker, with large randomized trials either not being done or having various biases that inflate apparent vaccine efficacy.
“Thus, overseas health professionals have called for booster vaccinations to be discontinued for safety reasons, and have suggested that coercive vaccine policies are doing more harm than good.”
What we can take from this and other research, is that sufficient scientific evidence now exists to raise serious concerns about the public safety of the Covid-19 vaccine booster programme.
Furthermore, since Justice Cooke, in his High Court finding that vaccine mandates imposed on some State sector workers were unlawful, revealed that the Ministry of Health did not recommend their use, and, contrary to what the public has been led to believe, neither were they introduced to prevent the spread of the virus, all remaining vaccine mandates should now be withdrawn.
Without a doubt, Jacinda Ardern’s Covid response has significantly damaged economic and social wellbeing. The actions of her Government needs to be scrutinised.
Let’s start by asking on exactly whose authority the Ministry of Health’s Pandemic Plan was abandoned? Why was Jacinda Ardern able to lock down the entire country – for the first time in our history – without any official advice, nor even the legal powers to do so?
Why was medical treatment to patients with cancer and other serious health conditions suspended during lockdowns – didn’t their lives matter to Jacinda Ardern and her team of advisors?
And what was subsequently done by the Government to ensure a proper waiting list catch-up – or have they been so obsessed with pushing through Maori control of the health system that they have turned their back on the critical problems their lockdowns created.
Why were medical experts like former New Zealander of the Year Sir Ray Avery ignored? He warned against trying to eliminate a flu-type virus – “In the history of all humankind, we have only ever eliminated one major infectious disease: smallpox” – and he warned that if the Government continued down this path, “this virus will have caused more economic damage, loss of livelihoods, increased suicides, disruption to our education system, inhuman treatment of our elderly and irreversible social changes than actual deaths.”
Who reviewed the alarmist mathematical models Jacinda Ardern used to justify her authoritarian approach? And when such models were discredited overseas, why were they still accepted here?
When Jacinda Ardern made the absurd claim that her Government was the ‘single source of truth’, why did the media allow her to get away with it? Not only that, but why did the media then begin to demonise experts with alternative views?
What hold did the Government have over the media to prevent them from acting as an unbiased Fourth Estate? We all know that like many other businesses, the media received funding during the lockdown, but were strings attached?
And why weren’t alternative Covid treatments and preventatives discussed in New Zealand? People could see off-label medications were proving beneficial overseas, so why were our doctors banned from prescribing similar options? Since New Zealand doctors have never been prevented from making their own decisions about what’s right for their patients before, why were restrictions introduced? Who authorised the undermining of the medical independence of GPs?
Then there’s the whole issue of the vaccine. Why was an experimental mRNA genetic vaccine forced onto the population without proper informed consent and a full disclosure of possible side effects? Why hasn’t the Pfizer purchase agreement been released? Does it prevent the promotion of alternative remedies? Does it absolve the company of legal liability for vaccine injury? Does it force the Government to continue promoting boosters even though there are now serious concerns about their safety and efficacy?
And why on earth are the mandates still being enforced if they don’t prevent the spread of the virus – and if safety concerns exist over vaccine dose accumulation? Why are some doctors and nurses still mandated out of a job when our health care system is in crisis?
And we haven’t even mentioned the impact that the Government’s Covid strategy has had on children and their education. Nor the serious concerns being raised by the Auditor General over Labour’s ‘splashing the cash’ on Covid, and their appalling lack of accountability for the spending of vast amounts of taxpayers’ money.
The Ardern Government’s response to the Covid pandemic has been unprecedented in the history of our country and the harm inflicted is of unparalleled proportions. It’s simply not good enough that those who have been negatively impacted are just ignored and forgotten. They are victims of Government action, and their concerns should be heard.
If the Prime Minister and her Government are to be held to account for their actions, nothing less than a Royal Commission of Inquiry is needed.
The fundamental question is, in whose best interest was Jacinda Ardern’s Government acting when they implemented their Covid response – Labour’s interest or the public interest?
We have just scratched the surface with the questions that require answers, but since this administration is unlikely to consider an inquiry, surely it should be regarded as a top priority for the new government following the 2023 election.
What is particularly galling for many New Zealanders is our Prime Minister’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge genuine concerns and indeed her continuing smear campaign against those who challenge her ‘truth’.
Just last week, she used her overseas platform to yet again attempt to discredit those involved in the anti-mandate protest on Parliament grounds – this time accusing them of being influenced by Russian activists!
According to Stuff: “Ardern said misinformation, often originated as propaganda from foreign actors such as Russia, was harming New Zealand’s social cohesion and was proven to fuel terrorism… She said this misinformation appeared to be well-organised and was often part of a concerted information war. ‘Recent research by Microsoft found a sudden and pronounced spike in the consumption of Russian disinformation by New Zealanders, which increased by 30% relative to our neighbours in Australia, or the United States, in the period after December 2021. I cannot yet tell you why this is happening. But I can tell you that it matters that it is’.”
Such comments which appear to be increasingly obsessive and irrational, are now raising questions about the fitness of Jacinda Ardern to remain as New Zealand’s Prime Minister.