COVID-19 Emergency Powers

The New Zealand State, Medical Capture & the Role of Strategic Ignorance.


New Zealand’s Unite Against COVID-19 ‘stamp it out’, or ‘elimination’ strategy is revealing it’s democratic and political deficit. The strategy relied on the deployment of policy, legislation and simple slogans focusing on case rates, vaccination, masking and mandates.

Early ‘elimination’ based policies disregarded basic principles of public health, and effectively locked-in policy that conveyed that every ‘case’ was bad for New Zealand. This created the political conditions for acceptance of a novel and largely untested technology and the rapid production of democratically questionable legislation to legally enforce acceptance of the technology. At the same time, important public conversations regarding hospitalisation and death rates and age stratified risk, were not undertaken.

This paper applies a sociological approach to explore the methods used by New Zealand institutions to exclude inconvenient knowledge that might have compromised the Unite Against COVID-19 strategy. This paper recognises the basic truism, that all human institutions can be ‘gamed’ or manipulated in the interests of those with greatest access to the machinery of those institutions. From 2020-2022 it has been much easier to prescribe a medicine for all, than to act differently (with proportionality) to improve and protect health.

Artist unknown

As the pandemic progressed, waves of law-making were not accompanied by policy that reviewed the peer-reviewed literature to evaluate risk based on principles of public health. Literature reviews, as intelligence, could have reassessed – and communicated – the changing data on hospitalisation and death by age; and on the safety and efficacy of medical treatments selected by the state and rejected by the state. Lacking this basic intelligence, policy supporting law-making contained persistent errors of judgement. It could not be accurate, trustworthy and timely if known risks remained outside the policy literature.

The Ardern Government prioritised modelling from a directly contracted institution for its ‘evidence base’. Ethically relevant issues were ignored. For example, modelling excluded important considerations such as age-stratified risk and the role of natural immunity, as respiratory viruses become endemic across a population. Modelling ignored the fact that endpoints in the clinical trials did not require that the vaccine prevented transmission of infection.

Ignorance relating to relative risk produced a knowledge vacuum from 2020 to March 2022. Ethically and legally questionable mandates were constructed, which limited access to employment, state utilities and community engagement, unless the Comirnaty genetic vaccine was accepted. As if anticipating kickback, Te Pūnaha Matatini was contracted to research misinformation, disinformation and ‘anti-vax’ tactics.

The activities of the state reflect as much a medicalised culture as any nefarious, or conspiracy agenda. Before the mandates, the scientific literature signalled that: (a) the genetic vaccine was harmful; (b) that most of the population was not at risk from COVID-19; (c) that natural immunity was robust and long-lived; (d) that there were safe and inexpensive early treatments that could be used in place of a novel technology; and that (e) healthy groups were likely to be more at risk of harm from the genetic vaccine. However, there was little opportunity to debate this, as this information was outside both the scope of discussion promoted by the Unite campaign,and the New Zealand media. In the process, the principle of informed consent was jettisoned.

COVID-19 rules have been demonstrably socially, economically and physically harmful. By mid-2021 the genetic vaccine was demonstrated to be more harmful than COVID-19 to most groups, including healthy pregnant women, children and young people. Yet data which inferred caution and hesitancy, was excluded from policy. Long-established principles of infectious disease, which required that actions are proportionate to individual risks, have been overlooked.

This paper proposes that the combination of rapid output of legislation and flawed policy processes have produced deficient COVID-19 legislation that was never scientifically nor democratically accountable. The use of narrowly formed modelling to justify strategies, were never balanced by scrutiny of the peer reviewed scientific literature. Laws that required that the public accepted a medical treatment in order to participate in economic life, continue to present grave ethical, legal and moral implications for human rights, and the resilience of democracies in times of crisis, in the years ahead.

J.R. Bruning is a sociologist based in the Bay of Plenty. A 2021 Masters thesis, analysed the relationship between policy, funding and the experiences of scientists in securing funding to research the upstream drivers of health and disease.

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