Hard News by Russell Brown


ICYMI: Links and things I've been doing

Like most people, I've been staying at home, doing a bit in the garden, cooking a lot and managing occasional bouts of anxiety. I've also written more here than I have done for a while. At a time when every Friday night has me missing my mates, it's been nice to see you all again.

But in the midst of it all – and after everything else disappeared – I got a new gig. It's with my friends from Spark Lab, it's called The Pivot Reports and it's a series of live-streamed shows over the next six weeks talking to business owners who've responded to the extraordinary times in which we are living.

The first one went out yesterday and it looks at lockdown stories: the gym owners who switched to online fitness services; Good George Brewing, who turned to making hand sanitiser because they couldn't source any for their staff; No Ugly tonics, who opened up their e-commerce site and fulfillment system to anyone who needed it – and wound up becoming their distributor's new distributor; and David Ross, the civil servant who built the brilliant SOS Business, a way for customers to support thousands of shuttered local businesses buy buying vouchers to redeem in future (I bough future beers from our local) or simply donating.

Two things stood out. Firstly, customer loyalty is a vital and underrated part of business resilience. Secondly, it's surprising how fast you can act when you really have to.

Going live was a little nerve-wracking – I've done lots of TV, just never from  my kitchen table – but apart from the cat turning up and trying to open the door behind me just as we were about to launch (a near cat-astrophe!) it all went really well. You can watch the archived 45-minute Facebook Live stream and we'll be back this week.

Last weekend, a story I've been working on for a while – and which I feared might be spiked by the virus crisis – appeared in the Herald on Sunday. It's a profile of  67 year-old Pearl Schomburg, the most influential medicinal cannabis advocate you've probably never heard of. Pearl's a networker and a facilitator and she's genuinely kind – even in the midst of her own battle with multiple auto-immune conditions.

On Friday, I had a look at the freshly-published final text of the Cannabis Legalisation. I could only cover part of the detail, but the new elements around licensing and market allocation are tremendous; as good as we could have hoped for.

You might also have missed the post I wrote looking at signs that doctors in Iran may have found that an existing antiviral drug combination – originally developed to treat hepatitis C – is an effective treatment for Covid-19 infection. At the least (and this was really the whole point of the post) it seems to warrant wider trials, more so than hydroxychloroquine, trials of which are currently using valuable resources. It's the most-read post I've made here in a long time. I also talked to Lillian Hanly for 95bFM's The Wire about the story, and you can listen to me choosing my words verrrry carefully here. It appears there will be some significant news on this this week, by the way.

Also on Public Address lately, there's Michelle Walmsley's frank and compelling post about living through lockdown as a disabled person and the return of Fiona Rae with a typically perceptive consideration of four new sci-fi TV series.

Fiona, who most of you will know is my partner, was among those made redundant at Bauer Media last month. It was a rough week, that one: all my work had disppeared and now Fiona's job, which we've always relied on when things dry up for me, had vanished too. Things have improved for me with six weeks of The Pivot Reports turning up and it may be that The Listener will find a new owner and she'll be back to work, but we just don't know.

In the meantime, if you felt moved to chip in a little here via Press Patron, be assured it won't go to waste. I'll continue to be around here more than usual – someone needs to delete the irksome new flood of spam comments every morning – and I'm talking to CactusLab about finally doing that tidy-up of the site, which will cost a little money.

In the meantime, let me recommend (again) the transcript of the Splore Listening Lounge discussion about how we can all move past our differences, get together and save the world. That post needs more love.


The other work I've had recently is four days' producing for RNZ Afternoons, where I managed to put together three Tuesdaymusic features. This week's one was a lot of fun – it's a look at our history of music TV, with serial music TV hosts Hugh Sundae and Francesca Rudkin, and bunch of TV show themes for the listeners to try and identify.

And yes, I would very much like to see a new New Zealand Music TV show, in line with the reinvented "Buy Local" theme of this year's New Zealand Music Month. (I wrote about NZ music's predicament in a post here three weeks ago.)

I'm pleased to say I helped a little too with the excellent series of online discussions about Covid-19 with Siouxsie Wiles and Damian Christie. Damian came through with a little work for a couple of weeks at a time when I had nothing and I'm very grateful for that.


The last – and best – parts of the cannabis bill have arrived

Regular readers will know that I've been hanging out for the "market allocation" parts of the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which will be the subject of a referendum this year.

While most media outlets ran inane stories last year on how many joints 14 grams added up to, it was clear to anyone who took the subject seriously that the questions of who would get to produce and sell cannabis and how licences would be awarded were vastly more important. And we've had to wait for answers to those.

Well, they're here. And it's very good news. From the summary of the proposed bill (there's a link to the full text at the bottom of the summary):

A cap would limit the amount of cannabis available for sale in the licensed market. Licensed businesses would apply for a portion of the cap. The Authority would be able to adjust the cap each year as required. No licence holder would be able to hold more than 20% of the cap.

The Bill includes 3 guiding principles, which the Authority would apply when deciding which businesses would be given a portion of the cap. The Authority would consider the degree to which the licence applicant:

  • represents or partners with communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis
  • generates social benefit and builds community partnerships
  • promotes employment opportunities and career pathways.

The cap could change over time and affect the amount of cannabis businesses would be able to supply to the market.

Part of the cap would be set aside for micro-cultivators (licensed businesses growing on a small scale).

Businesses allowed to grow cannabis would not be able to operate premises where cannabis is sold or consumed.

Why is this good? Because it effectively cuts off the prospect of Big Cannabis. Canada undermined an otherwise thoughtful set of regulations by allowing its already-large medicinal cannabis businesses to rush into the market, setting off an investment gold rush that was destabilising and unhealthy. California handed out licences to pretty much anyone, but imposed compliance costs so high that they effectively cut out the small producers that legalisation was supposed to bring in from the illicit market: it was pretty much a Big Cannabis charter.

Neither regime has actually ushered in any public health crisis – in both places, as everywhere, legalisation has seen a small increase in overall use by adults and a consistent fall in youth use – but they have both sidelined communities who suffered most under prohibition. Also, we should have already learned the lessons of alcohol and tobacco in allowing large companies to control drug markets – and using their resources to seek political influence. And apart from anything else, "Big Cannabis" is scare messaging for prohibitionists.

A different set of approaches, usually grouped under the heading "social equity", has begun to emerge in some US states, and what we're seeing in this bill is that written into law. It's made even clearer in the explatory notes of the bill itself:

Other provisions of the Act that recognise the interests of Māori in the context of the regulation of cannabis include—

  1. (a)  section 85, which relates to how the amount of licensed cannabis that may be cultivated within the annual cultivation cap may be allocated, and requires the Authority to have regard to applications that realise the following social equity principles:—

    1. (i)  representing or partnering with communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis, including Māori and people from economi- cally deprived areas; and

    1. (ii)  the generation of social benefit and build community partnerships by engaging individuals, whānau, and communities in the design and delivery of their authorised activities; and

    2. (iii)  the promotion of employment opportunities and career pathways in the cannabis industry for Māori and people from economically deprived areas; and

  1. (b)  section 202, which relates to the manner in which the Authority must set the maximum potency limits for licensed cannabis products, and pro- vides that these limits should aim to minimise problematic use, espe- cially for Māori; and

  2. (c)  sections 260 and 263, which require the Crown, when setting the harm reduction levy and excise duties, to have regard to the extent to which the levy and the excise duties share the costs associated with can- nabis use and its regulation in an equitable and non-regressive manner among those who buy, sell and produce cannabis.

Māori communities which have suffered the most harm under cannabis prohibition, will have a head start in getting a stake in a regulated industry and, in general, prospective licencees will need to show their own social merit or miss out. Licences will be limited.

Small producers will also have a reserved stake under the new regime. It would be up to the proposed Cannabis Regulatory Authority to say how much of a permitted annual cap on cultivation would be reserved for holders of micro-cultivation licences. Hopefully, lessons will be learned from Canada's experience with its own "artisan" producer licences.

The bottom line of the section quoted above also embodies a more recent approach: a ban on vertical integration, which has been an element of reform in Mexico. No business will be able to both produce cannabis and sell it to the consumer, which restricts market dominance.

The economist Eric Crampton has already noted that the vertical integration ban would preclude "cellar door" type operations, where a producer could show and sell farm-grown cannabis to visitors (which would undoubtedly be popular with tourists). But I think there are larger impediments to that, most notably in the banket ban on advertising – including advertising inside R20 stores. You won't be able to smell or see your weed – or even a picture of it – just a price list.

It's not clear to me the extent to which even attributes of of the products will be able to be described, to tight is the advertising ban. But the particular effects of any given cannabis strain strain are governed as much by which terpenes are present as by THC level – weed that smells like cheese will have a very different effect to weed that smells like piney or citrusy, believe or or not – and anyone buying it needs some way of knowing that.

Update: it appears that clause 158 g (iii) appears to actually address this, offering an exemption to the advertising ban for:

the following actions of a licence holder who has a retail or consumption premises authorisation if done in the approved premises and in accordance with regulations:

  1. (i)  the giving of advice and recommendations about cannabis products to customers who are inside the premises, including information about the THC content of cannabis products:

  2. (ii)  the display and provision of public health messages or other messages relating to harm reduction by third parties approved by the Authority:

  3. (iii)  the display of a sample of cannabis products within the premises for the purpose of allowing customers to see and handle but not consume the cannabis products available for purchase.

I hope so, otherwise there's a level where this gets infantilising. If we've decided, as a nation, that adults can use this drug, then not letting them see it or get information about it, even on licensed premises, until they've bought it – when they will be free to look at it, smell it and consume it, even right there on the spot – just seems a bit silly.

I suspect that provision has been grandfathered in from smokefree regulations. Ditto for one surprising new part: you'll be able to buy onsite or BYO on suitably licensed premises and consume your cannabis – but there would be no smoking or even vaping indoors. So prospective retailers would need to find premises that were not only discreet and not visible from the street but had large outdoor areas. Rooftop gardens might suddenly become very popular.

You would presumably be able to enjoy edible products. But Justice minister Andrew Little confirmed today that edibles wouldn't initially be permitted for sale – you'd still be allowed to make your own, from weed you've bought or grown yourself. I do get the desire to take it slowly, which will also be behind the exclusion of cannabis extracts and concentrates for the time being.

But cannabis topicals – balms to rub on your sore bits – will also not be allowed at first. And I think that points to a bigger shortcoming: the failure to take into account the green fairy networks, which already deal in extracts and topicals. We're already at a point where police are less likely to prosecute genuine medicinal supply and, if they do, courts are relucant to to convict. Perhaps this group of sub-pharmaceutical therapeutic products needs its own regulations – what Pearl Schomburg proposed in my Herald profile last weekend could be a basis for that – but leaving that community swinging in the wind isn't sensible or compassionate.

Elsewhere, there would be an excise tax linked to THC content, a limit of 15% THC content for whole flower and a requirement for THC and CBD content to be stated on packaging. But it would seem to make sense for other cannabinoids (some of which have emerging therapeutic uses) to be stated on the label – and for CBD levels to be linked to excise rates, with higher-CBD products being treated more favourably.

There's much more in the bill, but it'll take time to go through and I wanted to get this written. Overall, this is what we'd been led to expect: it's a very tight regulatory framework, more so than alcohol or tobacco, and of course much more so than in the current cannabis black market – as befits legislation with a public health goal.

In the event of a "Yes" vote there will be a tension between between the traditional public health approach of taxing and restricting harmful substances and the desire to take the trade away from the criminal market, but a balance should be found.

But for now, I'm absolutely delighted with the licensing and market allocation parts. They have helped confirm this bill as genuinely world-leading legislation that incorporates lessons from other countries and address the needs of our country. We just now need to wait and see whether it ever gets in front of a Parliament that can make it into law.


Has Iran found an effective Covid-19 treatment?

For obvious reasons, there has been a lot of attention paid to work going into developing vaccines that could prevent Covid-19 infection, and drugs that could treat it. In particular, there has been some excitement about new animal trial data for remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences. Gilead's share price rose nearly 10% on the day the trial data were announced.

It will be some time yet before the safety and efficacy of remdesvir is established, if ever (it's worth noting that it was tried, unsuccessfully, as a treatment for Ebola). And since I started work on this post yesterday, the results of the first full trial have leaked out and are frankly discouraging. Remdesvir made no difference to mortality or recovery time and more than 10% of treatments had to be halted because of adverse effects.

But what if we already had an antiviral drug that was effective against Covid infection? (No, not hydroxychloroquine, which for all Donald Trump's marketing efforts is performing badly in trials.) Its an active field of inquiry and the HIV advocacy site i-Base has published a list of potential candidates – which include remdesivir – with a focus on the cost of generic manufacture.

It's another treatment on that list that Australian doctor James Freeman believes may have emerged as an effective treatment in trials in Iran: a daily oral dose combining sofosbuvir (which was developed by Gilead) and daclatasvir (which was developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb). The two have been previously combined as a treatment for hepatitis C – indeed, that's pretty much the only way daclatasvir is used. The combination was easy to use in a trial in Iran because it's manufactured there as a fixed-dose tablet called Sovodak.

There's a description of such a trial here in the Iran Registry of Cinical Trials.

Dr Freeman's analysis was outlined in an email newsletter sent out to his network this week, which I've pubished below with his permission.

I know Dr Freeman through work I've done over five years writing about hepatitis C and the new generation of direct-acting antivirals that have emerged in recent years as functionally a miracle cure for that infection. He has cooperated here with Professor Ed Gane, initially on validating generic DAAs as a treatment, then, as funded treatments became available, promoting a "test and treat" campaign as he did in Australia. He continues to advise Hep C Action here.

It was also through writing about Hep C that I learned about Gilead's market strategy for sofosbuvir. The company beat everyone else to market in 2013 – in part by acquiring other pharmaceutical companies for their IP – and sought to quickly recoup its investment via predatory pricing. Gilead priced by country and in developed nations, it charged as much as $US1000 a tablet for a one-tablet-daily 12 week course. The drug, marketed as Sovaldi, cost $11 billion to get to market, trial costs included. A 12-week course contains about $300 in actual ingredients – and it made $31.5 billion in its first three years on the market.

It was that pricing that drove Dr Freeman to set up the Fix Hep C buyers' club to get generically-manufactured antivirals to patients who needed them. The pricing issue was only fully resolved in New Zealand when Pharmac struck a deal for a new, competing antiviral, Maviret.

Pharma is a brutal business in a number of ways. In particular, it relies on novelty to sustain revenue growth. It's plausible that Gilead might choose to focus on a "new" drug rather than one which has had its market cycle and can be cheaply produced in a number of countries – Iran included. More so if the effective medicine is a combination with another company's drug. It might not make financial sense to conduct trials that benefit another company. Or sofosbivur/daclatasvir might simply have got lost in the rush – everywhere but Iran.

Dr Freeman has a line of communication with Iranian researchers and is sufficiently certain of what he's seeing and hearing that he has offered to put up his own money for a trial. The case for trials outside Iran would seem to be no less then for remdesvir, or for hydroxychloroquine – particularly given that sofosbuvir/daclatasvir poses a notably low risk of adverse effects.

There are currently three hydroxychloroquine trials underway in New Zealand – two examing it as a treatment and one as a prophylactic measure for health workers. In Australia, the ASCOT trial of hydroxychloroquine and kaletra (a combination of the antiviral drugs lopinavir and ritonavir which has previously been used to treat HIV) involves 50 hospitals.

There are complexities in dose and formulation around all these drugs, and  a question as to whether sofosbuvir, a prodrug, would be activated in the lungs the same way as it is in the liver (Dr Freeman believes that to be the case). But if Iranian researchers have found that a treatment already in manufacture offers benefit as even a short-term treatment, it would be a tragedy if culture, commerce or geopolitics got in the way.


Letter from James Freeman, 21/4/20

For those of you who like executive summaries, here it is. It may surprise you to know that doctors in Iran have commenced 109 clinical trials on treatments for COVID-19 and have recently announced that they have found a cure, where that cure looks like no ICU deaths and rapid recovery for patients.

While Iran has not announced the name of the drug it can be accurately deduced via an analysis of their clinical trials database. The drug is a locally produced fixed-dose combination of Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and Daclatasvir (Daklinza) which is normally used to treat Hepatitis C virus. In what I personally consider a staggering oversight doctors in developed countries are not testing this combination. It has been right under our noses the whole time and we have left it to Iran to prove it works.

What follows gets a little technical for a moment then moves on to some Sherlock Holmes style investigation and a call for action to duplicate the trials in Iran as see if their observations hold true.

Keeping in mind that both Hepatitis C (HCV) and SARS-CoV-2 are +ve sense RNA viruses (quite similar in plain English) it would be reasonable to assume that nucleotide analogues (NUCs) proven to work for HCV might work on SARS-CoV-2. In simple terms, NUCs are fake letters in the RNA genetic alphabet CGAU.

Ribavirin, Remdesvir and Sofosbuvir are all NUCs and represent fake letters "G", "A" and "U" respectively. The strategy of using fake genetic letters to impair the activity of critical viral polymerases (the thing that clones the genetic material) is well known and will not be discussed further.

With Hepatitis C we can observe Ribavirin is weak with a log kill of only 0.5 (2/3 viruses killed) and a wide range of well-known side effects because it is not very selective. Conversely, Sofosbuvir is very potent with a log kill of 4.5 (31999/32000 viruses killed). Besides staggering potency, the key feature of Sofosbuvir is its lack of toxicity. Almost every other NUC developed for HCV, HIV and other viruses failed, not due to a lack of potency, but rather

due to toxicity on human cells.

While there are high hopes for a Gilead drug called Remdesvir, the reality is that Remdesvir is intravenous only and currently only exists at experimental scale, so, even if it is proven to work, the likely global utility is small unless you are super-rich. 

Conversely, Sofosbuvir is a tablet and widely deployed,making it a superior trials candidate on those grounds alone. We know Sofosbuvir is safe in humans, we know the doses, so why are we not testing it? We did, in fact, consider testing it way back in February but for reasons that elude me that avenue of investigation appears to simply evaporate.

Fortunately, some people are testing it, in humans, and the results appear very encouraging.

In an article titled Abadan Protocol in the Treatment of COVID-19 (in Persian) we see a news report, which translated to English reads as follows:

 Abadan Protocol in the Treatment of COVID-19

Today, Iranian news agencies reported the success of a new treatment in Abadan that has been effective in improving patients with COVID-19. But unlike the usual procedure, no explanation has been given about the details of the treatment.

"In this study, the effect of an antiviral drug on critically ill patients with COVID-19 was examined at Ayatollah Taleghani Hospital in Abadan," said Dr. Salmanzadeh, head of the Abadan School of Medical Sciences.

Dr. Sara Mubarak, the faculty's vice chancellor for education and research, said: "Patients were divided into two groups: the first group received the national standard protocol and the second group received the proposed Abadan protocol, and the result was zero. "The group has also declined."

"It was very important that the people who were in the intensive care unit and received artificial respiration return to normal breathing after four days and get the conditions for discharge from the hospital," Mubarak added.

Due to the unknown type of treatment, we asked one of the members of the treatment team for this research. He also insisted on not naming the drug used, citing the possibility of individuals and patients invading pharmacies to supply and use it arbitrarily, adding that "we have left the Ministry of Health to confirm the results of the study and the introduction of the drug."

"According to the national protocol, hydroxychloroquine is in the treatment and only one antivirus has been added to the protocol," he said in a brief description of the treatment.

"The new protocol was prescribed to 30 patients and compared with 30 patients in the control group compared to the national protocol after one month," the researcher said of the study groups.

The doctor of Taleghani Hospital in Abadan also said about the results: "Five

patients who were intubated were all extubated." [ie patients on ventilators were taken off them]

A longer version of this press release was published by the Islamic Republic News Agency here and sheds more light on the clinical impact of the Abadan protocol as well as a relevant fact, namely that ethics approval for a clinical trial was sought. That allows us to find the trial. The report selected for translation above was used to shed some light on the secrecy around this.

  1. In Iran, Sofosbuvir/Daclatasvir is available as a locally manufactured single-pill fixed-dose combination under the name Sovodak.
  2. There are a total of 109 clinical trials for COVID-19 registered in Iran with 5 trials of Sofosbuvir/Daclatasvir, one each for Sofosbuvir/Velpatasvir and Sofosbuvir alone, and 102 others researching various therapies.
  3. A trial of Sofosbuvir/Daclatasvir for COVID-19 in Abadan, for 60 patients (30 controls, 30 treatment) — is listed on the Iranian Clinical Trials Registry and the responsible person listed is  Sara Mubarak as mentioned in the news story.
  4. There are 4 COVID-19 trials registered as being in progress in Abadan, so with N-acetylcysteine, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Naproxen not being recognised as antiviral medications the only candidate trial that fits the mystery description of “one antiviral” is the Sofosbuvir/Daclatasvir trial noted above.
  5. An astute observer will note this trial corresponds to the time the death rate in Iran started to fall and further note the Abadan trial has recently been updated with a comment: “Adding other hospitals for recruiting patients”.
  6. Although relations between many nations and Iran are frosty, their medical system is first class and their clinical trial system stringent, so it seems unwise to simply ignore or discount their observations.

With respect to Daclatasvir, we know it is easy to make, in the Medicines Patent Pool, and currently widely deployed. It is broad-spectrum on Hepatitis C (working for all genotypes) and has very few side effects. It was predicted by South Korean rational drug designers to be active against SARS-CoV-2 back at the end of January but to the best of my knowledge is not being tested outside of Iran, although trials are scheduled to start in Algeria and Uruguay soon.

As a generic, Daclatasvir costs about $0.50 a tablet so could treat patients in bulk at an affordable price. It has a simple 4 step synthesis making it trivial to manufacture at mass scale if existing stocks exhaust as they have done for Kaletra (an HIV drug being repurposed for COVID-19). 

As a single agent virological breakthrough is not observed for 6-8 weeks which, if it turns out to be more important than Sofosbuvir in the Abadan protocol, appears adequate for the short term requirements of treating acute COVID-19.

Because the drug used in the Abadan protocol is a fixed-dose combination it is unclear if the efficacy observed relates to only one, or both components. 

Urgent further investigation seems warranted so my call to action is for researchers worldwide to add this seemingly proven combination to the array of medications we are looking to re-purpose. It would, I think be sad if cure was indeed right under our noses but we refused to research/use it because Iran found it first. 


How do we all move past our differences, get together and save the world?

The closing panel in The Listening Lounge at February's Splore festival was a fairly ambitious one, I wasn't sure whether it was going to work and I knew I was going to depend on my panelists – a psychologist, a brilliant young Zimbabwean New Zealander, an evangelical pastor and a campaign expert – to make it work.

I'm never really sure after these discussions what's actually happened – I've spent the whole time in the moment. But re-reading the transcript (thank you to Emma Hart for that), I felt good about it.

I also felt that the subtitle: "How do we all move past our differences, get together and save the world?" seemed more relvant than ever, given all that's happened to us since. RB


Righto, it's time for our last panel, it's the big one, it's actually not about drugs, which you might be slightly relieved to hear. But it does touch on the feeling that a lot of people have when it's time to go home from Splore: sadness at having to leave a place where people are basically decent to each other and wondering how the rest of the world could be more like that.

This panel started when I became aware of a book called The Infinite Game: How to Live Well Together, which addresses that very issue and proposes a way forward – essentially by playing for everyone rather than to win. Its author, University of Auckland Associate Professor of Psychology Niki Harré is with us here.

Joining her is Takunda Muzondiwa, whose speech last year about identity and racism – in her Mt Albert Grammar uniform, with her head girl's badge on – was stunning. It turned heads not just nationally but internationally.

On the end here, Mark Pierson. People actually have done a double take when I've said, I've got a pastor, an evangelical pastor on the panel, because I guess maybe in this community we're not necessarily used to hearing that. But from my point of view, churches know a lot about community. And when they work well, they foster it. Mark's a very interesting guy and he has a good approach to it. He's at the Rhythms of Grace church community in Auckland as a worship curator.

And finally, Renee Shingles, campaign advisor to the New Zealand Drug Foundation. I did mention during our talk on the cannabis referendum that she has an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the public by virtue of her training and her work in the past for Crosby Textor, an organisation who've been really good at knowing what we're thinking. So she's kind of here as our expert on what we really think.

I'll start with Niki. What's the book about in a nutshell, and why did you write it?

N: The book is about, that in life there are at least two kinds of games. The infinite game, in which the purpose is to keep what we most deeply value in play and to invite others in, and finite games, which are the rules, bureaucracies, laws and competitions by which we organise ourselves. The metaphor was originally put forward by a philosopher, James Carse, and I've been developing it over the last several years, so you'll get my version today. 

The reason that I wrote the book and got really interested in this idea of life as an infinite game is because I'd done a previous book about how to inspire people to get involved in social justice and environmental movements, and one of the things I realised as I did lots of talks and workshops with people is that they, that we, needed a metaphor or way of talking about how all of these issues come together.

And I've always been very interested in religion. I was brought up atheist, and so have never had that experience of being part of a church community, but I think I've always really craved that. I heard on the radio once somebody interviewed who said, I don't believe in God but I feel God. And I thought, Oh yeah, I get that idea.

So with the demise, not complete demise obviously, but the reduction in churches and God as a way of talking about the majesty and humility of creation and the mystery of life, I felt like we needed something else.

And when I came across James Carse's talk about the infinite game, I thought, that's the metaphor. Because one of the really cool things about games is they don't ask you to believe in anything. Nobody says to you, do you believe in Monopoly? Do you want to play? Do you believe in Cluedo, do you want to play? That's not the question, it's just, do you want to play? So one of the things I love about the infinite game is you don't, you can think whatever you like, it's just do you want to play? And essentially playing is keeping all of those things that are in the core of our selves as evolved human beings of planet Earth that know full well, I think, at some level, what it means to be in community and to look after this amazing planet, and to try to make those values salient. Bring those into our practice.

I was interested, quite early on in the book, you metaphorically compare beach cricket and test cricket. And beach cricket is the infinite game because everyone's involved and no one's going to go out unless they've had a fair bat, and it exists purely for the people who are involved. But that was an interesting one, because test cricket is full of moments like that, where decisions are made on the basis of other than "what's our best winning strategy?". The captain will keep the batting team in for as long as it takes for one guy to get his century, that kind of thing. I wonder whether we have elements of that infinite game in a lot of the things that we do.

N: I think the important thing to remember is, if you're buying what I'm saying, then essentially the infinite game comes out of our evolved nature as human beings, something about us that knows how to live. Finite games, however, are necessary to structure what we do together.

So we've heard about, for example, drug law reform. We need laws. We need ways in which things work and in which we agree to certain practices. So finite games aren't necessarily against the infinite game, and there's a sense in which the infinite game's always coming through those, always seeping through because it's in our nature.

So if you take test cricket for example, on the one level it's very definitely a finite game. It's really precise rules, you have to train to become a player, you learn from the rules of the past. In fact, a premium test cricket player is a cricket clone. Mind, body, absolutely geared towards that game in a very precise kind of way. But at the same time, they're human beings, and as human beings that impulse to include, to be fair, to cooperate, keeps coming through.

So I think the trick here is to think about those finite games, the rules, structures, roles, bureaucracies, competitions – and think, are those finite values coming through? The danger is when those games, perhaps they're laws about drugs for example, start to just oscillate around themselves. We've almost forgotten why we've got them but they're there and we're going to defend them at any cost. So that's when the problem comes in.

Takunda, the subtitle of Niki's book was "How to Live Well Together", and I thought your 'Dear Racism' speech touched on that. Your ability to be a cohesive and useful part of this society relied on your identity being accessible to you, didn't it?

T: Absolutely. My family emigrated from Zimbabwe when I was around seven years old and we kind of go back and forth frequently. So I would say that I'm kind of a person who has a dual identity going on as a Zimbabwean and a New Zealander as well. And I think I went through this process, especially when we first emigrated, of wanting to assimilate to the culture and feeling like that was a necessary thing in order for me to belong. But I think that thing of coming together and being united comes more so from a better understanding of one another as opposed to trying to be similar, or like one person.

Unity in diversity.

T: Yes, exactly. And I think, for a long time I thought that assimilation was what I needed to do in order to feel united and understood within the community, but I think the more beautiful thing is when you can celebrate each other's differences and acknowledge them and be able to live together as one community, having that understanding of different people.

So what's community look like for your here, you and your family here? Where do you get your identity affirmed?

T: I would say I have my sense of identity affirmed most when I'm with my family. I'm in a culture where I'm speaking my first language which is Shona. Also, just other Zimbabweans around me. But also I think it had a lot to do with the school that I went to, Mt Albert Grammar, which is a very diverse school culturally, and just being involved in other people's culture and kind of getting to understand how different people live in different parts of the world. And understanding that there's not exactly one correct way of being, but there are different ways of being and it's important to understand those. 

Mark, we talked about churches and community before. How does Rhythms of Grace work? Because I think people might be surprised at the things you incorporate into what you consider worship.

M: Rhythms of Grace is just a name given to a Sunday morning 8:30 to 9:30 congregation that's part of a broader church. And our focus is human flourishing and wellbeing. The backstory always is that's from a Christian world view for us. It's about following Jesus. Having said that, the infinite game is what is most important to us.

Human flourishing, wellbeing, being the best people we can, being before doing, drawing on historic Christian faith, Biblical texts – but very much about building a community that is open at the edges, that is accepting and people find safe to be themselves in, and yet all the time looking to be moving forward into deeper community, moving forward into better and deeper understanding of ourselves. And I'm not using the God language, but in a different context I might, but that is the back story, that's the foundation for us, but that's also what we're trying to build into it.

You can use the God language if you like.

M: It's just not generally understood, that's all.

I've been fascinated in recent years, I'm at the age where your friends start dying. And we were a pretty secular group, our generation, and I'm seeing them farewelled in churches that actually show respect to us. We're not being hectored. Do you think churches are reclaiming that role in the community?

M: I'd like to think that they were. I'm not sure. It's certainly not as prevalent, not as widespread as I would like to see it. I think churches have tended in the last 50 years to play much more of a finite game of being fearful, protecting their borders. So these things, drug law is changing, so we're going to kind of gather the troops in and make our boundaries more clearly defined so we know who we are. There's a lot of fear.

That's an interesting metaphor, gathering the troops, like you're under threat. Because I have to say after the massacre in Christchurch last year, after a brief period of grace, I saw some awful things being said on social media, by people who were claiming it off the back of their Christian faith. It was like it was a zero sum game. If we're going to be nice to Muslims then maybe Christians will miss out.

M: I think if God was in Her grave, She would have been deeply disturbed by that. I don't think those kinds of people can claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Renee, do we all share values? You're the one who's done the research. What are they? What are our shared values that we can unite over?

R: Yeah, we actually do. The research that you usually conduct to test this stuff is two different types. The traditional research which is what I spoke about previously, is when you have a product or a solution and you want to test how people think about it.

Values-based research is when you want to understand why people think about an issue. So you really want to understand what is the personal relevance to them, why is it important. It all comes down to the fact that most people do have shared values.

But what's different is we all have different choices that come up against us based on where we come from, our culture, where we were born, what sex we are, so many different things. So even though we all share these values, we're not always given the same choices. Whenever you're talking about values-based research, the idea is that we want to understand this particular issue and the shared values everyone has. So no matter what choice, what background or everything they come from, it will always come down to that absolute soul of how we make decisions.

Values that are shared by most people are actually pretty common-sense ones. Respect. Belonging. Sense of achievement. Things that we will all feel in every part, every day, they are feelings that we are always going to feel every single day, and we all share them. They just don't lay out the same way as everyone else.

If we have shared values, do we actually have a shared set of facts? Because that seems to be one of the major problems in terms of us actually having any kind of common purpose. We have a completely different understanding of the world. Of what's true. How much of a problem is that?

R: It's funny you say that, because I know you put on Twitter that I came from Crosby Textor. And then I looked at the comments, and there were some really nasty things being said about me.

Yeah, I know, sorry.

R: No that's fine. Each to their own. I'm tougher than I look. But these people don't know me. They don't know what I came from. They don't know what I had to survive. Because the fact is every human being is just trying to survive. That's our basic instinct as human beings. So these facts and everything, they're different to everyone, because everyone's coming from different things. Facts are different. Information, everything that we take on, is different for everyone, but the values that drive our decisions accordingly, that's what we can start turning towards and sharing and trying to understand with one another.

What do we do about it when the facts at issue are for instance the existence of anthropogenic climate change? Because that's kind of serious, and you would think with what happened in Australia this summer that people would go, Okay, it's real, but instead people are coming up with ludicrous conspiracy theories that the Greenies did it or something like that. How do we get past that?

R: One of the things I think is really important here is there's different levels at which people are operating. When we say people have different facts, it's often about things that they haven't got a clue about actually. You and I had an earlier conversation, Russell, where you were sort of asking, Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the world, it's like, How would I know? The world is an incredibly complex space in which numerous things are going to happen. There's going to be all sorts of feedback loops.

What happens next is beyond any human being to be able to predict. That's the sort of humility if you like of the infinite game. So very often these supposed facts that people supposedly believe in are these stories we're telling ourselves that are layered, that are a layer above what we really know as human beings.

So the average person is trying to survive, to thrive, to look after their children, to do their best, to be creative, to be a good person, that's what they're trying to do. And then somebody asks them, Do you believe in drug law reform? Do you think the fires in Australia were caused by anthropogenic climate change? They sort of pull something out of the hat, but how would they know? How do any of us know how those Australian bush fires were caused?

All we're doing is drawing on sources that we believe in to make those judgements, so I think we have to really clearly distinguish between the things people know in that very original kind of Biblical sense in a way, that they have experience of and that are part of their lived reality. Those are the things they know. These others are these sort of mythical castles in the air that they draw upon because they're part of a certain tribe, essentially.

Takunda, you have taken on leadership, and I wonder whether you see that as an important way of actually moving forward. Is it going to take individual leaders? You've said you want to go back at some point and be the President of Zimbabwe. I hope you do.

T: I think it's interesting, because after my speech kind of blew up, it's not something I ever expected to be doing. I can see how I've kind of come to this part of my life, the journey that I've gone through after immigrating, this process of assimilation and going through this self-discovery process and my own internalised racism. I didn't exactly want to be this token person speaking up for racism. I thought it was common sense, don't be racist, period. But some people clearly aren't getting the message.

I think being a leader for me, I think maybe my understanding of what that means stems from me coming from a collectivist community, as opposed to an individualist community. It's more about the people you're living with, the achievement of people as one, I think that's a common mentality of indigenous communities of tangata whenua here.

So I think my understanding of what I want leadership to be for me is, everything that I do is about black empowerment, minority empowerment, indigenous empowerment. So it's being able to give people that sense of empowerment. For me it's been through my spoken-word poetry, seeing how I can unite and bring forward people of the diaspora who feel like their sense of belonging is somewhat elusive and is something that's very difficult for them to grasp. So if my words can help empower people and make them feels as though, yes I belong, I'm capable of making change, to me, building other leaders, that is leadership.

And you've done it through an art form as well, through a creative art, and I wonder whether that's important. Because Mark, the church that Rhythms of Grace is part of, the Upper Room, is quite big on that idea of creative arts and creating things together, isn't it?

M: Yes we are. Can I just step back a little bit further? I think that all of us, to one extent or another, live in an echo chamber or a bubble. And it's extremely difficult and often painful for us to get out of that. So I listened to Chris and Renee earlier talking about cannabis law reform. I've been reading about the micro psychedelics thing, which I knew nothing about before I saw it on the program. And they're not things that I normally would hear.

No, because you've just been at another festival called Festival One, where I presume the topics are different.

M: Yes, that's right. So I see a very important role of church communities as being open at the edges to have a Renee or a Niki come along and talk about what's going on, so that we're not just living in this echo chamber where things are getting narrower and narrower and more and more restricted. That requires some maturity – and maybe pain –that most people aren't willing to step up to.

A few years ago I read Johann Hari's book Lost Connections. It was a profound moment for me, where basically he lays the blame for high levels of anxiety and stress and suicide at the door of six or seven lost connections in our society. Meaningful connections between people, meaningful values, meaningful work.

It just really resonated with me and I thought, actually the church should be answering at least six out of the seven of these reconnections just in our daily life and our being together and building community. So the lost connections thing has become very important to me.

Our community is built around offering opportunities to remake some of those connections. We can't do all of the things but we can do some of it. We can't provide meaningful work for everyone.

So a couple of years ago we developed a thing called the Tea and Be sessions. And we've served tea to over a thousand people in the last twelve months, in different parts of the world but mostly in New Zealand and it's just a very simple concept, it's not a fancy kind of high-faluting thing. It's simply, in its purest form, at Festival One, a 14-seater table, seven people each side, 45 minute session where you register in advance for this 45 minute session, you have an introduction to the beautiful Zealong teas, New Zealand's only commercial tea estate, and they're gorgeous teas, an introduction to those teas and a choice of five of them, and a placemat that has some conversation starter questions for you, and an introduction to tea and how to steep it and about slurping, a little bit about the history of tea, and then you have about 30 minutes just to talk to people that you don't necessarily know – you're not supposed to register with more than three people you do know.

And we have trouble stopping people at the end of 45 minutes. They just want to keep talking. And they write on their placemats, there's some sort of journaling spot there, and they leave them behind and we make a piece of art out of them and stuff like that. And over and over again, people make comments, that how wonderful it was to have the chance, a structured opportunity, to sit and talk to someone for 30 or 40 minutes, someone they didn't necessarily know. And it seems that that little thing, that opportunity is missing. You go up and talk to someone on the street, you can't quite do that. So that's just what we do with the tea. The tea is just an excuse.

Right. Sharing food and drink is a very basic way of people getting together. Renee, one thing that I see when we talk about change, and I see it all the time, over something as little as a bloody cycle lane, is that there's a sizeable portion of the community that is really fearful of change, is really uncomfortable with it. And maybe in a way that they've never quite been before – they're against any and every change. Do you see that in research, and how do we deal with it?

R: Yeah, fear is a very powerful motivator. It's a very powerful emotion. That's why politicians use it. It's really powerful. People like us live in a really great country, look at where we are, we're doing pretty well considering where we are in the world at the moment. So the fear mainly comes from being scared that things are going to get taken away from you. You'll see it in politics most of the time, the politicians, the issues they're loudest on is when things could possibly get taken away. That's how politicians motivate, with fear.

The idea of change and what scares people the most is the unknown. What do I currently have that I am going to lose? What does that mean for my life? Beause everyone's making decisions based on what they know, so the idea of change comes down to the basics of fear, and that comes down to: what am I going to lose in this agreement?

Takunda, have you ever had the experience of people seeing you as a threat? To their privilege? 

T: Yeah, absolutely. I think the way humans operate, we all operate in a sense of, feeling a sense of fragility towards our own privileges that we uphold. Even myself, the idea of privilege that I uphold as an able-bodied person, as a cis woman, it's that sense of not wanting to get that taken away.

Certainly after my speech went online – with the hate comments and everything that I got – I think for me that was almost a way to provide the evidence and be like, yeah, we can say that New Zealand is a really great place, it's safe for the most part, but we have a lot of confronting issues that we need to address. This is what we are, we are a racist country which is built on stolen land, and that is such an important thing to acknowledge and take action on.

So how do we take action on that? We're halfway through the discussion, or slightly more, what are the issues, if we're talking about getting together and saving the world, what things are we doing? Let's start with the racism.

T: I would always say the first thing to do is always acknowledgement of past wrongdoings in history, things like that we're seeing now with what is going on at Ihumatau, it's being able to say, Yes I have this privilege here, and operating with your privilege that you have, whether it be you're a politician, a person who's not a person of colour being able to utilise your privilege to uplift and empower others. And to help to take away this oppression which is passed on from generation to generation. So it's always a sense of acknowledgement first, utilising your privilege to give voice to those who, at an institutional level, are not always given it. 

Niki, your book focuses on pressing environmental issues, and you talk about things like joining your local recycling drive and that kind of thing, but you also acknowledge that that might look like a luxury for people who are just hoping to make it to next week. Is that a problem for moving forward together, for inclusion, if people actually aren't able to do nice things because they just need to get the food for next week?

N: I want to pick up briefly on this idea of change, and then come back to that a little bit, because I've thought a lot about this idea of what resistance to change actually is. And it's fear. But you know what kind of fear I think it is? I think it's fear of talking to other people.

There's kind of good resistance to change, let's face it, a lot of us might feel like something's happening in our institution that feels motivated by things that we don't agree with, and that resistance can be good resistance. But if we think of, say, somebody wants to put a cycle lane in a residential road and we get resistance to change, the more I've thought about it, the more that resistance to change is fear of talking to the people around you, and assuming that together you can figure out a solution.

What finite games do is that we can get caught up in them. And you can get caught up in them if you're involved in the social welfare system and you have to queue for hours and you have to go to different systems and your children are hungry  and all sorts of other stuff's going on in your life, you can get caught up in finite games in that situation. Recycling can seem like a luxury.

You can also get caught up in them at the highest level, if you like. I mean, imagine being the CEO of a huge company and having all those people that you're responsible for, all your employees. If you're in the mining industry or whatever, those are still real people with real jobs, it's not as simple as, you're doing this awful work, get out of it. It's not like that. So I think finite games can absorb our thinking and our attention and distract from our ability to contribute to the common good at any level of the system.

Because they're often zero sum. We're focused on, a result for us is probably someone else losing out. In a finite game. So is that part of the problem with our thinking?

R: Yeah.

Oh my god, someone's getting something, that's probably bad for me.

R: Because when you think about things like money for example, which are almost always involved in every finite game in societies like ours, they literally are zero sum. If you pay me more, then you have less money left. It's like that.

To me, the thing that we need to be really thinking about is how can we have community-level conversations? Because all of the research on values, these sort of deep core intrinsic values that we seems to understand as human beings, shows that people almost consistently think that, I value love, nature, respect, all of that, but not so much you. And if I don't think that you have the same kinds of values, then I'm scared of entering a conversation with you.

So one of the things that's really essential is that we develop conversations in which we're starting from a place of trust. So like Takunda said, we've got all of this diversity and that's beautiful and amazing, but we've also got all this commonality. And I think it's really important we start with that conversation, and then move on from that.

T: I'm actually going to add a layer onto that. I would question whether it's that people don't want to have conversations, but they don't know how to. I feel that this world, our world is so complex. We're all having discussions that we agree with each other, but we don't know, I don't know your background, I don't know your background, and Russell, I don't know yours. I don't know where you guys come from. I don't know what are going to be emotional triggers. I don't know if I'm going to say something to upset you. I don't know all this stuff.

It's how we have a conversation. Sometimes how you say something is so much more important than what you say. And I think that's where we're having the barriers, is people, we are living in a world where people are a bit worried about triggering other people. Maybe they're a bit more sensitive, or they're just so wrapped up in their own world that that's all they can see. It's how are we going to have these really hard conversations, especially as the world gets so much more complex.

M: Come to a Tea and Be.

You mentioned before Mark, about you avoiding saying the God word. You don't have to do that. You're here because my friend the Reverend Frank Ritchie couldn't be here, and we have a good relationship. We believe different things, we accept that of each other, and we have a lot in common. And I find him really useful to tap into on matters of values. Is that an example, particularly from a church point of view, of how we can move past barriers about what we believe?

M: Certainly, and infinite games, it's being open at the edges, or getting through and past the fear of the other. And it's having more than a two-minute conversation.

If we're sitting out the back talking amongst ourselves for five minutes before we come here, then there's a whole lot of things we're probably not going to broach, just because we don't know where we'd go with them. But if you've got half an hour or an hour to sit round around a dinner table or somewhere and have a conversation, then those things come up. I think our culture doesn't lend itself to that kind of conversation with people, and we need to find some places where we can do more of that, and in my opinion the church should be one of those key places again.

Takunda, for your speech, you could have given a very dry speech full of all the right words, but you did it as performance poetry. And that cut through.

T: Yeah, I think, for me, it's kind of a strange little paradox that goes on, but I think it's better for me to articulate what I'm feeling through metaphors rather than in the literal form. That's how I best understand my thoughts. That's how I best see the world around me in more of a creative sense, and I think that being able to deliver my speech and deliver poetry, it taps into people's emotions. It's our best way to develop a sense of empathy, to understand experience. And I think it goes back to that thing I was saying about how unity only comes from a sense of understanding of one another, and I think that art is one of the most powerful ways to deliver that and get that across to people.

I did promise advice on saving the world, so perhaps we should turn to that. What are the problems we need to solve? I know for you the first one is racism. What else do we need to address? Are you concerned about the state of the world and what do we need to fix?

T: That's quite the loaded question. Oh my goodness. Concerned for the state of the world, quite a dire way to look at it, but I think it differs from place to place and for me being a person who lives in two places, Zimbabwe and New Zealand, the two scenarios we have of what are top issues to look at are polarising.

There are different problems in Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

T: I think it's about just utilising what your talents, your gifts are, what you're knowledgeable and kind of intellectual at. For me, my plan has always been to go back to Zimbabwe and I always say that Africa is my first love and that's where I belong, so I think my dream would be to go back to Zimbabwe, somewhere I could get politically involved and be a person who can be for the people.

Zimbabwe's been under a government of corruption for such a long time now, it hasn't had its own currency I think since 2009. One thing that I appreciate about Zimbabwe so much is that the people there are living under some of the worst conditions you've ever seen, but I don't think I've ever seen happier people in my entire life. And every time I go back to Zimbabwe I think I get back to the priorities in life, recognising that those small things are so important. Family. Eating. Friends. Going back to those basic things.

I would like to vitalise and bring back the quality of life, because Zimbabwe's such a beautiful place. I think the thing I appreciate about being able to be part of the diaspora and live here in New Zealand is that I've been able to get a sense of what Western culture is like, and the beautiful thing about being part of the diaspora is that I think I viewed it as, I'm lesser because I'm less African. I'm too white for black communities, too black for white communities. But one thing I'm coming to learn is that I can be a bridge between two cultures, learning to connect people from around the world and I think that's a really beautiful and powerful thing.

That's a great job. Excellent role, good luck with it. Renee, what are our problems? What do we need to lick, and how?

R: I think communication. I think we are building more devices to communicate, but we're communicating less. I think when we talk about understanding, comes from listening. Communication isn't just talking, it's also listening. We are the only being on this planet that has the full ability to have reasoning, full-blown language, and we're communicating less and less. So I think to me, it's listening. It's talking. It's trying to see someone else's point of view, even if you can't fully understand it, listen to it.


I have been in the environmental space for a long time, and I'm pretty worried about the major weather events that are likely to happen, and how we're going to respond to those. I think that goes absolutely hand in hand with these strong, resilient communities in which we support and trust each other.

For example, just imagine you've got a community that's say threatened by sea level rise, or there's a major drought, or something like that. Then you're trying to have a conversation or a response as a community to this event. And I'm trying to get my head around how you can do that properly if there's all these inequalities, if some people own half the land, if some people have got a house elsewhere, if some people are renting. If there's all this difference in our ownership and power and capacity, how do we have these conversations that mean we move forward as a community?

So I think in a really practical sense, the environmental issues and the social justice and ability to communicate issues go together hand in hand. I had somebody the other day said to me, she was thinking of doing this experiment and I thought this was amazing. Imagine that you had a situation where there was an alien who came down from outer space and they said to a group of people, "Get together and figure out a solution to this problem". Let's just imagine you've got a drought and you need to figure out a solution to that problem.

The trick is, though, that I'm going to pick one person at random from this group, and I'm going to implement whatever that one person says. And I thought, what an incredible idea. Because you can't afford them to leave anyone out of the decision making. You've got to have everybody get to at least some point of compromise. So I think, yeah, environmental, social justice, living together well.

M: Just building on what everyone else has said, really. My perspective would be that with the image of God in each of us, that we need to learn somehow to listen to each other much more, to get to know each other much more deeply. It's very difficult to be violent towards someone you know. Much more easy to create the other out there when you know them only as an opinion or an idea. So finding ways that we can get to know people better.

The internet makes it very easy for us to do othering, doesn't it?

M: It makes it easier for us to find out information about people, but not to get to know them.

I'm going to call it now. I think one of the best things we can do is actually all be in the same space and breathe the same air and talk. That works. We have the most marvellous communication tools in history, but there is still great virtue and utility in getting together in the same room and breathing the same air and talking. And also listening.

The thing that I like is that you've all met each other. I think benefit will come from you guys meeting each other. These things are a little bit like a dinner party. Or being a DJ. Something like that.


Towards new human spaces

Good Friday in lockdown was a time to be alive and on a bicycle. Without even the supermarkets as an excusefor anyone to get in the car and drive somewhere, the roads were gloriously clear. Clear enough to carve big gentle curvess with worrying. People, too, were actually walking on the road in some places, but there was plenty of space for everyone.

When it ends we will, a friend of mine observed, miss these human-friendly spaces that have suddenly opened up for us.

Or maybe not. Perhaps things will change because they have to. Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter has announced new funding – immediately available to local authorities, but relevant at such time as Alert Level 4 ends – to quickly expand footpaths and roll out temporary new bike lanes. These won't be the endless "upgrade" works we currently  see in the cities, but quick solutions wrought with planter boxes, sticks and cones.

There are obvious reasons for this. Even if, as everyone hopes, we're able to drop back to a Level 3 Covid-19 alert status, we'll still want to be able to achieve physical distancing in public. Some people might see riding a bike as preferable to being cooped inside a bus or a train. There still won't be as many places drive to as we're used to.

There's also another issue I'm seeing quite a few people talk about – the paths that walkers and riders are usually expected to share are often not wide enough to provide for proper distancing, especially given the additional demand on them now.

We may well start to wonder about how we've designed our cities, with with people – who in central-city Auckland make more than half a million walking trips a day, a number that dwarfs vehicle journeys – almost always squeezed into thin strips along the sides of wide corridors of danger. Somehow, we've managed to make these corridors of danger the central facet of the places we live, and to give them most of the available public space.

Maybe we'll finally pedestrianise central Auckland. Or we'll eliminate the danger of powered scooters injuring people by making separate spaces for them, or expanding the space in which they can operate. At the least, I expect we'll hear fewer complaints that the new footpaths being built as part of the current K Road upgrade are unecessarily wide.

I am wary of the perils of seizing on the current crisis as a signal that the time for our respective causes has come (yes, I hear you, UBI folk, and I promise I'll read your post on Medium soon). But sometimes a crisis makes  sensible ideas look not just compelling but inevitable.

These instant news spaces are an idea being adopted in cities all over the world: in Berlin, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Denver, Sydney, Budapest and Bogota. Experts are urging governments and city authorities to urgently fund cycleways, not least because bikes are really good in urban emergencies (I've always felt the absence of bicycles is a major flaw in the dystopia of The Walking Dead).

It may be that this charge towards greater human human spaces will stick; that the outsize spatial ratio in the motor car's favour will be permanently corrected. That might see other benefits. Less  than a week in our lockdown NIWA scientists announced that air quality in Auckland had "dramatically improved". It's not realistic to suppose that cars won't return to the roads after our social restrictions are eased – most of us who ride or walk also drive sometimes, after all – but it might just be that in seeking to curb the virus we'll end up curbing the emissions that contribute to an even more serious long-term problem.

It might also be that the new behaviour we're seeing from city drivers –some of whom do seem to be driving slower and watching out better – will persist beyond the lockdown days. That might be the most prodigious and surprising change of all.