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Conquering COVID-19: New Zealand's Amazing Story

By Brian Woolf
June 10, 2020

Celebrations erupted in New Zealand last Monday (June 8) when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the removal of all internal Covid-19 (CV) restrictions-no more social distancing; No special spacing in restaurants, planes, or churches; No limiting requirements when shopping or working; No rigid regulations for weddings, funerals, or functions...

Do you remember those days? Well, New Zealand now has theirs back, thanks to their complete eradication of Covid-19.

Only the Lockout remains. Non-New Zealanders can't fly in to enjoy this beautiful South Pacific island nation, whose nearest neighbor, Australia, is 1,300 miles away. That isolation has been NZ's ace-in-the-hole. Here's their story.

Just five months ago, in January, NZ businessmen with deep trade ties to China saw the early impact of the virus there and started adjusting their business flows. At the end of February, NZ registered its first CV case. CV then started to appear throughout the country. Given this, the Government, on March 20, blocked all travel to NZ (returning citizens were allowed.) Then, three days after announcing this Lockout, it implemented a heavy internal Lockdown. Both blockages were draconic. Overnight, the visitor blockade cut off the country's biggest foreign currency earner, Tourism, which employed 300,000 people. The Government was deadly serious about a deadly virus whose real effect was still something of a mystery.

For seven weeks, there was total citizen Lockdown. On May 13 it was partly relaxed and, this week, it has been fully lifted. But the Lockout of overseas visitors remains (with some small exceptions introduced.) Current plans indicate that NZ will maintain its physical isolation until a CV vaccine has been developed, despite Tourism's huge economic hole that comprises about 10% of the economy.

That loss is part of the cost the Government chose to incur to eradicate Covid-19. It worked. So today there are no active CV cases. So, no active Covid-19 means no internal restrictions. The Prime Minister wisely warns, however, that new cases will likely appear again, brought in by someone from overseas. But the country will be ready to identify and conquer.

Key Metrics
One byproduct of this amazing story is its data. Every person who contracted the virus has been carefully recorded on, NZ's outstanding CV website. It is a full recording of Covid-19 from beginning to end. The data provides a framework of measures that leaders of states and countries can learn from. Understand that in the absence of a vaccine, NZ beat this virus because it was able to quarantine itself as a nation. Few states or countries in the world can do that, meaning that appropriate adjustments are necessary when comparing NZ's data with other states and nations.

Oregon, which also went through Lockdown, provides an interesting comparative example. They have similar sizes and populations: NZ is 103,500 sq. miles with 5 million people; Oregon is 98,400 sq. miles with 4.3 million people. NZ has a density of 48 people per sq. mile; OR has 44. (Note: there are a number of low-density US states with similar results to Oregon.)

Table 1 compares New Zealand's and Oregon's key CV metrics:

Background: my research of the 50 US states shows a trendline linking their density (people per square mile) with their death rate (percentage of people dying from the virus.) With some explainable exceptions, the higher the density, the higher the death rate percentage. Why? Because the higher the density, the greater the number of different people you encounter (eg, subways, streets, stores); therefore, the greater your chance of contracting the virus.

Given that background, here's what Table 1 tells us:

The density similarity of NZ and OR are seen on R3 (Row 3), calculated by dividing R1 by R2.

R4 and R5 contain two critical CV numbers: Cases-how many people were infected; and Deaths-how many later died. The term "Cases" (R4) describe people who have tested positive for the virus, ie, they were infected. The infection may be asymptomatic (ie, no visible signs), mild, medium, or severe. Milder cases are sent home for rest and recovery; serious cases may be put in hospital for attention. It's important to note that while you have the infection (ie, you are an "Active" case) you are not necessarily infectious. You may never pass it on; or you might -to a few or to many. Yes, the last group does, unfortunately, exist. We call those active cases Super Spreaders. Identifying them, of course, is a priority.

Deaths (R5), of course, are the cases that succumb to the virus and are described as "CV-Attributed" for a reason. When a CV death occurs with co-morbidities (ie, other contributing causes of death, such as heart problems), its usually filed as being caused only by the virus.

Now, in NZ, from the end of February through the end of May, when CV infections had ceased, the nation experienced 1,504 cases (R4) of which 22 (R5) resulted in death. To make those numbers meaningful, we turn them into percentages which allows us to readily compare NZ with states and countries of all different sizes.

So, on R6, we see that only 0.03% of all Kiwis (as NZ-ers call themselves) were infected with the virus. This, as expected, was better than OR's 0.103%, mainly because it wasn't able to quarantine itself like NZ. Restating those percentages "in English" rather than "in Math," means that only three one-hundredths of one percent of all NZ citizens actually contracted the virus. In comparison, OR had only one-tenth of one percent of its citizens infected. [If you look at Table 3 (my Percentage "Cheat Sheet"), you'll see how to express percentages less than 1%.]

Both above percentages are very low and tell us that not many people contracted the virus in the first three months of its widely recognized debut in NZ or OR.

The next question is, over the past 3 months, if you had contracted the virus what was the chance of then dying with it? In NZ, 1.5% of them died (R7). In OR, 3.6% succumbed.

When you put those two steps together for NZ, ie, 0.03% of all people were infected, and, of those 1.5% died, we find a third, crucial metric, the actual death rate, ie, deaths-not as a percentage of those infected, but as a percentage of the whole population. The easiest way to calculate that is to divide Deaths by the Population, ie, R5/R1. The answer appears on R8. NZ's Death Rate was four ten-thousandths of 1% (0.0004%) and OR was just under four one-thousandths of one percent (0.0037%). Friends, those are very small numbers.

But the story gets even better for you. On R16, you'll see that over half the CV Deaths occurred in Nursing Homes in both NZ and OR (77.3% in NZ and 55.9% in OR.) If you read the news, this will be no surprise. Canada says its figure is 82%! US states hover around the 50% mark. Being below is often caused by Nursing Home CV patients being transferred to hospitals in their final days for specialist treatment and, because they were not at their Nursing Home at death, they weren't counted as such.

Let's assume that 50% of deaths are in Nursing Homes. That means that the rest of society has just had their probability of dying by CV cut in half from the above numbers. In fact, as we see on R14, in NZ no one (0.0%) who was under the age of 60 died from the virus! In OR, only 5.6% of the CV deaths were citizens under 60. Covid-19 is definitely aimed at older folk, and the older and feebler we become, the weaker our immune systems become.

Perspective is a funny thing. In Table 1, we discussed the probability of dying from CV, in NZ and OR this year through May. Why not be optimistic and look at the converse-the probability of not dying from CV. Those probabilities are shown on R9. We see the probability of not dying from CV for Kiwis was 99.9996% and for Oregonians it was 99.9963%. Now that really put things into perspective, doesn't it? Do you feel your fear factor easing?

Two other metrics in Table 1 worth noting are:
1. More women than men contracted the virus (R11), but more men than women died of the virus (R12). Any thoughts why?
2. Over a 3-month period, NZ tested almost 5% of its population (R18) while OR tested 3.3%. One result of this is seen on R20 which indicates that the more tests you have, the more you expand your pool of those who don't think (and likely aren't) infected. Result: R20 shows NZ with a lower percentage of the Testing total that were positive (ie, infected.)

Age of who gets Infected. Age of those who Die.
In the case of both NZ and OR, every age segment was infected by the virus-but the primary age groups that died of the virus were over 60. This is seen in Table 2, where even children 0-9 contracted it. About 2% of all who were infected in NZ and OR were 0-9 (R2). Despite this, neither NZ or OR recorded any CV deaths under the age of 30 (R13-15). NZ had none under 60!

As seen in Table 2 (R18-21), the share of total CV deaths increases every decade above 50. The medical explanation is that as we move from childhood to old age our immune system goes from strong to weak due to such things as overweight and obesity (and their attendant problems of high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary disease) and cancer. The weaker the immune system, the easier for the virus to invade.

Closing Comments
One fact pricks many a balloon of opinion. The results above of NZ and OR are a simple demonstration how numbers can clarify our thinking and help us focus on what's important.

I hope they helped you.

Copyright © 2020 Brian Woolf

About the author...

Besides a full business life in retailing, and later, loyalty marketing, the other part of Brian Woolf's life has been filled with diverse interests: particularly speaking (including Toastmasters), travel (including all seven continents), and reading (including history). And he has written seven books sharing what he has learned along the journey. Ask him, two favorite trips? Antarctica and the Nile. Ask him, two favorite books? The Lessons of History (Will & Ariel Durant) and Over the Edge of the World (Laurence Bergreen). He loves learning and sharing.

Copyright © 2020 Brian Woolf