Covid is a new, different world, and we need to get out there and live in it. We can’t stay in the cave, and we can get out of it safely. –Scott Morrison on the “elimination strategy”.
By Roger Childs
Over the last few years a lot of folks have enjoyed scoffing at Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. He often makes himself an easy target such as when he went holidaying in Hawaii while forest fires were raging back home. Comparisons with Nero were too good for cartoonists to miss. He also made a complete idiot of himself getting the media to film his jiving antics at the local evangelical church, akin to Judith Collins’s pathetic election stunt last year of kneeling in prayer with dubious sincerity at her church.
Scotty from Marketing is quick to seize opportunities to criticize New Zealand in that typically brash Australian way, but occasionally gets it right in the trans-Tasman rivalry. Jacinda was desperately wanting New Zealand to do better than Australia in lockdown success last year. However, as Aussie authorities observed in May 2020, on a per capita basis their country had fewer cases and deaths from Covid-19. Things have changed since then, of course.
Many Kiwis have been rather smug in observing the Delta strain cases soar in New South Wales, but now we face the same. We have, of course, blamed Australia for the unwanted export.
Get out of the cave?
Scott Morrison’s comments about getting out of the cave and living in a “covid world” have annoyed the premier of Western Australia and New Zealand authorities. But whatever the ultimate government strategy for dealing with the delta strain, in the end, lockdowns can’t continue indefinitely because of the dire economic consequences.
Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, commented recently: “If we continue with the policy of lockdowns and economically destructive restrictions, we will simply collapse economically.“
This equally applies to New Zealand. We can seal the borders to try and keep covid out for a short time, but we can’t do that forever. The Delta strain sneaked through recently as we know, and will probably do so again. Last year’s five week Lockdown was economically and socially damaging — the extent of the economic damage depending on the industry — with a massive decline in growth and a significant rise in unemployment. Millions of dollars went out to shore up the incomes of workers, and selected businesses, but that was very costly. We are fortunate that our economy is largely based on the primary sector and that is a key reason why we didn’t have a total collapse and ultimately had a better than expected economic recovery.
So what should we do?
Living in a covid world
A big question is whether the Delta strain is really as “dangerous” as some health “experts” would have us believe. So far in the current outbreak in New Zealand with 345+ cases no-one has died. There have been a few deaths in New South Wales and Victoria, but well below 1% of all cases.
In New Zealand every year about 500 people die of influenza and the government in the last hundred years has never dived for the panic button of lockdowns when an outbreak has occurred.
It is desirable to try to keep Delta under control and to get people’s immune systems boosted — and yes — including having as many people as possible vaccinated who want to be vaccinated.
But the vaccine is not a panacea: the evidence from overseas is that vaccinated people can still catch the virus, although it is often quite mild and rarely fatal.
New Zealand should keep vaccinating, but move out of lockdown. In the present situation, as everyone knows, the cabinet has decided to ring-fence Auckland and Northland which have had over 95% of the cases in the current outbreak. The rest of the country will go to alert Level 3 in the middle of next week. It makes sense to continue lockdown up north as long as cases continue to rise in many places, but once they start coming down, north of the Bombay Hills should at least drop to Level 3 and allow butchers and bakers to open. Cafés should also be able to do business selling food and beverages without customers sitting down.
The rest of the country where there has been no Delta cases so far apart from a handful in Wellington, should go below Level 3 quickly after next week to allow the economy to operate normally again and have access to Auckland. Until it is felt safe to open Auckland up completely, we should continue to do the QR scanning, socially distance and observe good hygiene practices.
As has happened in many countries in the northern hemisphere, there must be recognition that covid is and will be an on-going reality with an acceptance that it can be lived with while taking sensible precautions. Our government will have to accept that elimination will probably not work this time, or ever again. We have to come out of the cave some time soon.
Fundamentally, the country needs to accept that like poor people, covid and the flu will always be with us. Basic common sense which we have long practised on health issues should be our guide, and the government should never again rush to the Lockdown reaction.