Kiwi Polemicist

August 27, 2008

National wants an investigation of the norovirus outbreak

Dunedin is just coming out of a norovirus (stomach flu) outbreak that saw their hospital locked down. Now National wants an independent investigation into what happened: what a waste of taxpayers’ money. Allow me to explain a bit about norovirus then I’ll get back to National.

Norovirus is highly contagious and is well known for outbreaks in hospitals, nursing homes, cruise ships, and the like. According to the Mayo Clinic you’re contagious as soon as you have the virus but it can take up to three days to see symptoms; in other words you can be spreading the bug around for up to three days without knowing it. Then you’re sick for a couple of days, and once you’re feeling better you’re contagious for at least three days more, or up to two weeks in some cases. Most people assume that they’re not contagious once they’re feeling better so they cease any precautions and spread the virus around. It’s a highly unpleasant bug causing vomiting and diarrhoea, amongst other things.

Obviously a bug like this will spread like wildfire in a hospital, or any place where people are in close proximity: a sick person just has to leave a small quantity of virus particles on a surface and the next person who touches that surface has the bug. Dunedin Hospital was described as “locked down” but it wasn’t really, because staff and a few visitors were going in and out. Most visitors weren’t allowed in but they could drop off items for patients, and the virus was able to get into the hospital on those items. The “lock down” might have helped a bit but it was pretty much window dressing, because unless you lock everyone inside the building – and don’t let anyone in – until at least three days after the last person appears well you haven’t got a true quarantine. A true quarantine is effective with viral illnesses but obviously that’s impractical for a hospital. A submarine that goes to sea for several months is in true quarantine if it doesn’t surface, and in those cases there will a lot of viral illness early on, then everyone will be fine for the rest of the trip.

Now National wants an independent investigation to see if the hospital had applied the so-called lock down soon enough. This is typical of the modern attitude which says that if something goes wrong, someone must be to blame. People cannot accept that bad things happen without apparent reason, because they have been bought up to expect life to be fair. If people believe that the natural order of life is fairness, then perceived unfairness is someone’s fault and someone owes them restitution*. The “poor” haven’t got as much money as the guys in the rich part of town? That isn’t fair, so it’s the government’s duty to steal money from the rich man and give it to the “poor” man. Someone caught norovirus? That isn’t fair, so someone is to blame for not locking down the hospital soon enough.

I live in a small house, while many people live in huge houses. I have clean water to drink, millions of people of people don’t. Life isn’t fair: as anyone who has had norovirus will tell you, “stuff” happens.


* this is a Marxist attitude. Here Engels attempts to foment the sense of perceived injustice and unfairness that is rife today. Note that he mentions “social fairness”, which today is usually called “social justice” to make it sound like a moral issue. Engels considers social justice to be above and law and morality: in other words, whatever achieves this nebulous goal of social fairness is justifiable simply because it is achieving social fairness.



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