By its continued dithering and slow action on a raft of matters concerning Covid-19 after it successfully put a lid on it with its swift early action, the Labour government has squandered the opportunity to capitalise and build on those impressive gains over the past year.
Every single Covid-19 case that we have had in New Zealand so far, including the present outbreak of the more infectious delta variant has come in through the rickety MIQ system and yet there has been no substantial investment – whether in terms of finances or ideas – in improving that single most important portal of entry into the country for the virus.
The government ignored expert advice on considering building dedicated quarantine centres away from urban hubs, notably Auckland, where it sent overseas passengers straight into hotels in the CBD. Today, we know that is the main reason why we have the country’s biggest economic engine with its hard-working citizens in lockdown for more than 50 days.
Other countries have had purpose-built facilities built away from crowded, dense population centres even as the pandemic raged in those countries. We had nearly a year at Level one when we did nothing of the sort – and continue to do nothing – instead conjuring up wasteful ideas like a dedicated cycleway across the harbour for hundreds of millions of dollars only to dump it into the Waitemata – but not before wasting $51 million on preparing the hare-brained proposal.
Much of that money could have been diverted in these dire times to build dedicated quarantine facilities and strengthening our second line of defence against Covid – building more healthcare facilities – what with New Zealand having less than five ICU beds per 100,000 population, among the lowest in the OECD.
In an ostensible display of misplaced altruism, the government went slow on its vaccination programme so that other poorer nations could have it, since it had so brilliantly succeeded in keeping Covid out for so long, becoming a posterchild for the world to follow in the process.
We now know that behind that smugness is the fact that the government kept vaccine provider Pfizer waiting for six weeks before the first meeting after Pfizer had made the approach to finalise vaccine contracts. As a result, New Zealand has had one of the tardiest rollouts among the world’s developed nations.
When Delta hit, only twenty percent of Kiwis were vaccinated. Delta caught the government completely off guard and then it scrambled madly to get doses in urgency. Had the contracts been signed in time and doses steadily been imported in late 2020 through to mid-2021, we would have had most of our population vaccinated before the arrival of Delta having reached 90 per cent cover by, being able to embrace the oncoming summer without a worry.
The government still does not have a plan out of the pandemic. Nations worse off on the pandemic scale have set forth clear plans of how they plan to live with endemic Covid instead of pandemic Covid. Though the Labour government has all but given up pretensions to stick steadfastly to its much-avowed total elimination strategy, it has still not come up with firm and clear plans of how New Zealanders will live with Covid as an endemic.
This has unfortunately led to speculation and a growing sense of despondency especially among businesses and employers. The government’s easy way out has been to borrow to the hilt to continue paying subsidies.
All that scrambling since Delta has left the government look as clueless as babes in the wood. With no clear pathway or even a semblance of a plan, New Zealanders’ frustrations are bound to rise, and we are only likely to see more Covid protocol violations and defiance from growing sections of the public in the coming weeks as we head toward Christmas.
The government needs to rise out of its decision-making paralysis ––now.
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